The 6 Wives of Henry VIII

  • Marriage of Henry VIII
Marriage of Henry VIII
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Henry VIII left an indelible mark on British history, though he is remembered as much for his insatiable appetite for women and food as for his shrewd political maneuvers. Born in 1491, Henry ascended the throne at the young age of 17, succeeding his father, Henry VII. His youth was marked by interests in the arts, sports, and education, making him the embodiment of a Renaissance man, as well as a promising and charismatic ruler. It was the monarch’s matrimonial escapades, however, that came to define his legacy.

Henry’s reign, spanning from 1509 to 1547, was characterized by a series of tumultuous marriages entwined in Tudor politics. You may be familiar with the old rhyme, “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived,” but here’s a closer look at the six women who became the wives of Henry VIII.

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Catherine of Aragon (queen consort: 1509-1533) 

Henry VIII had been on the throne for only a few weeks when he married Catherine of Aragon. The daughter of Spanish rulers Ferdinand and Isabella, Catherine was six years older than Henry and was seen as a good match for the young monarch. Beautiful, well educated, and devoted to Henry, Catherine was also the king’s sister-in-law, having married his older brother Arthur in 1501, only to be widowed five months later at the age of 16. Her marriage to Henry lasted 24 years, but ended in divorce.

By all accounts, Henry had loved Catherine, but when she failed to give him a male heir, he asked Pope Clement VII to declare their marriage invalid, asserting that her marriage to Arthur made their union illegitimate in the eyes of God. When the pope refused, Henry divorced Catherine so he could marry his pregnant mistress (and Catherine’s lady-in-waiting), the French-educated Anne Boleyn, setting in motion his break from the Catholic Church and the establishment of the Church of England. Despite being divorced, dismissed from court, and kept from her only living child, Mary, Catherine’s devotion to Henry lasted until her death by cancer in 1536. The last line of the last letter she wrote him read, “Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.”

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