What comes to your mind when you hear “Henry VIII?” Perhaps, he became King of England centuries ago who married six women and beheaded all of them. Actually, he beheaded only two of his wives, but beheaded thousands of people during his reign. But, how and why did he marry so many times?
Henry VIII was arguably England’s most infamous king, and one of the worst monarch who had ever ruled. Historians have used the most unfavorable adjectives to describe this Medieval English ruler, such as: wife-murderer, tyrant, obsessive, greedy, self-indulgent, and gluttonous. What was most important to Henry, like most kings throughout history, was to marry to solidify political alliances, gain status, wealth, land, and, especially, to produce a male heir. Henry VIII did not marry to be a happily wedded man. As his six wives could testify, Henry was an intolerable husband.
Henry began his life as a husband in 1509 when he was eighteen years old. He married Catherine of Aragon who was the youngest daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, as well as husband to Henry’s deceased brother. While this marriage lasted twenty-four years and solidified ties between England and Spain, Catherine was expected to have a son to succeed Henry as the next king of England. But among seven pregnancies that ended in miscarriages and stillbirths or produced babies that died shortly after their births, Catherine only gave him one daughter – the future Queen Mary I of Scotland. To Catherine’s horror, Henry was so displeased with her for not producing a male heir that he asked the Pope for an annulment. The Pope didn’t allow it, so Henry rebelled against Rome and started his own church. Although breaking away from the Catholic Church resulted in heresy and excommunication, Henry’s own church, called the “Church of England” enabled him to divorce Catherine. Henry was the head of the Church of England which, eventually forced England to sever ties with, not just the Pope, but most other Catholic countries. It should be noted that during their marriage, Henry had developed severe mental and physical illnesses which contributed to his erratic, tyrannical behavior.
After his divorce to Catherine of Aragon, it was back to business to find a woman who could produce a male heir. Henry married Anne Boleyn. Their marriage didn’t last as long as Henry’s first to Catherine. Anne became enraged at Henry. She was so notorious for her irritability that Henry’s court tried to avoid her. Henry grew so tired of Anne’s strong-willed attitude, he had her beheaded. Anne had many miscarriages with Henry, but she gave birth to a baby girl who later became Queen Elizabeth I.
Jane Seymour became Henry’s third wife immediately after Anne death. Unlike Anne Boleyn, Jane was a quiet and complacent woman who Henry genuinely loved and respected. The king was even more pleased when she gave birth to a baby boy, Edward IV. Henry finally got the male heir he wanted. Unfortunately, after their first year of marriage, Jane died two weeks after giving birth to Prince Edward. Henry was devastated because Jane was the love of his life.
Henry didn’t immediately look for anyone to marry after Jane Seymour’s death but was encouraged to marry for political reasons. A marriage was arranged between him and a noble woman from Germany named Anne of Cleves. Henry disliked her at first sight because she wasn’t nearly as beautiful as reported. She never became pregnant after consummation. Anne and Henry got along well enough, but he made early plans to annul their marriage after six months. Much to Anne’s joy, she was given money and several homes out in the English countryside.
Several weeks after his annulment with Anne, Henry became infatuated with Catherine Howard, a younger member of Anne’s own household. Catherine was a seventeen-year-old promiscuous, conniving girl who won the attention of the king. She attended to his health needs since he was considered old at forty-nine years of age and in increasingly poor health. Unfortunately, Catherine had many affairs with younger men at court. When Henry learned about her betrayal, he had her beheaded.
As Henry grew older, his health continued to deteriorate. Nevertheless, he married one last time. His last wife, Katherine Parr became Henry’s friend. Henry developed many illnesses and she took care of him during his final years. Katherine loved Henry’s children, and showered them with a lot of attention. She loved him and even mourned the great king after his death.
When Henry died in 1547, he had been married thirty-six out of his fifty-six-year life span. England’s most infamous king was no wonderful, loving husband to four of his wives. His strong-willed second wife, Anne Boleyn and wildly promiscuous fifth wife, Catherine Howard were executed. He divorced first wife, Catherine of Aragon, which led to historical changes in Christianity and lost important ties to other European countries. Yet, Henry’s annulment to fourth wife, Anne of Cleves resulted in far fewer consequences, except for the fact she was happy to leave him. Only his third wife, Jane Seymour died a natural death, which King Henry mourned for a long time. His last wife, Catherine Parr was the only wife who actually loved Henry, and mourned him after his death. During his final years of life, Henry ate obsessively and ballooned to 400 pounds. At 56 years old, Henry died a sick, heartbroken monarch who only had three legitimate children from six wives. At least two of them-Mary I and, especially Elizabeth I would later play crucial roles in English history.