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The many marriages of King Henry VIII


By Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger 1497/8 (German)Details of artist on Google Art Project - eAHC0d0WiemXSA at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Henry VIII is famous for many things but perhaps the most talked about is his penchant for weddings. The king with six wives clearly enjoyed being married even if those he tied the knot with ended up less than impressed. However, Henry didn’t like to make a fuss about his weddings. He preferred a discreet and often private ceremony and several of his brides weren’t confirmed publicly as his consort until after their marriages.

Catherine of Aragon, June 1509

Henry’s first wedding set the template for the many other that would follow. Despite being a brand new king, desperately in love with his royal bride, Henry chose a private ceremony as he said ‘I do’ to Catherine of Aragon. The young monarch, still several weeks short of his 18th birthday, wed his brother’s widow at the Church of the Observant Friars outside Greenwich Palace on June 11th 1509.

Their wedding had been talked about since the death of Henry’s older sibling, Arthur, in 1502 but had been stalled time and again until the new king took power. The couple were apparently happy for a long time until Henry met Anne Boleyn and began proceedings to end the union, claiming his marriage was invalid as his wife had been wed to his brother. After six years of wrangling, Henry finally got his way and in early 1533, Catherine was divorced and given the title of Dowager Princess of Wales. She died at Kimbolton Castle in January 1536.

Anne Boleyn, November 1532 and January 1533

Henry turned the world he knew upside down again to bring about his second marriage but he ended up wedding Anne Boleyn twice, just to be sure their union was legitimate. The king had decided a new queen would be a good move as early as 1525 but his first wife had other ideas and getting his own way proved harder than Henry had hoped for. By the autumn of 1532, he had allies in very useful places and, having taken Anne on a visit to France with him, the king arranged a secret marriage ceremony with her on their return to England. They were wed privately in Dover in November 1532.

However, Henry was still technically married to Catherine. On January 25th 1533, when Anne was in the early stages of pregnancy, she and Henry married again in another private ceremony at Whitehall Palace in London. On May 23rd 1533, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, ruled that Henry’s marriage to Catherine was invalid. Five days later, he declared Henry and Anne’s marriage valid. The union would prove to be brief, however. In May 1536, Anne was arrested on charges of treason and adultery and executed at the Tower of London on May 19th that year.

Jane Seymour, May 1536

Henry’s third queen would give him his longed for legitimate son but her later reputation for meekness is at odds with her royal wedding. For Jane Seymour married her king just eleven days after his previous wife had been beheaded on his orders.

Henry’s interest in her dated back several months. He visited her family home at Wolf Hall in Wiltshire in the autumn of 1535 and by the following spring, was showing a clear interest in Jane whose ambitious brothers were already rising in favour at court. Within twenty four hours of Anne’s execution, Jane was betrothed to Henry and they married on May 30th 1536 in the Queen’s’ Closet at Whitehall Palace, London. Jane gave birth to a son, Edward, on October 12th 1537 but died of complications on October 24th. She was buried at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor where Henry was eventually laid to rest beside her.

Anne of Cleves, January 1540

Another bride, another small ceremony. Henry VIII famously thought better of his fourth marriage before it had even happened but diplomatic links meant that he and Anne of Cleves had little choice but to say ‘I do’ to one another in a low key ceremony at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich on January 6th 1540. Henry famously spoke the next morning of not consummating the marriage and within weeks he was looking for a way to end the union.

Anne agreed to an annulment and the marriage was dissolved on July 9th 1540 with the bride receiving a rather generous settlement. Anne lived longer than any of Henry’s other wives, dying in 1557, a full ten years after her one time husband.

Catherine Howard, July 1540

The man who arranged Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves, Thomas Cromwell, paid with his life. Attainted for treason, he was executed on July 28th 1540 but Henry had other things on his mind. For that was also the date of his fifth wedding.

The king, now in his forties, had first set eyes on his new bride as she acted as lady in waiting to Anne of Cleves. Catherine was just a teenager and a relation of the Duke of Norfolk. Henry was soon besotted and hastened to arrange a private wedding to Catherine at Oatlands Palace in Surrey. The marriage was made public on August 8th 1540 and Henry made no secret of his passion for his new queen. However, in November 1541, she was accused of adultery and was executed on February 13th 1542 at the Tower of London.

Katherine Parr, July 1543

Henry soon had another bride his sights. Katherine Parr had already had two husbands and was making plans to take another when the king intervened. He persuaded her to marry him and they wed, in another private ceremony, on July 12th 1543. This time Henry chose to say ‘I do’ at the Queen’s Closet at Hampton Court Palace.

Katherine clearly impressed her husband as he made her regent when he travelled to France in the early part of their marriage. However, she made dangerous enemies and had to talk her way out of arrest, narrowly avoiding a trip to the Tower. She was still married to Henry when he died on January 28th 1547 but wasted no time in finding another husband, marrying again within months. Katherine died on September 5th 1548, soon after giving birth to her only child.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton, a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. June has been a reporter, producer and editor, picking up several awards over the years. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.