Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Title: The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Author: Alison Weir

Category: History (Tudor)

Format: Paperback, 656 pages

Published: UK, 2007

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir is one of the most comprehensive, interesting and easily-read books detailing the lives of each of Henry Tudor's unfortunate brides: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, & Katherine Parr. Each woman was different to the others, each aware of what their ambition should be: A good marriage and healthy male offspring. Snaring a King should have been the greatest achievement of all, but for some of Henry's wives it was nothing more than a terrifying disaster.

Katherine of Aragon

Henry VIII's first bride was Katherine of Aragon, daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. She was born in 1485, and when she was betrothed at the age of 2 she was considered a most prestigious match for Henry's older brother, Arthur, the Prince of Wales. Katherine and Arthur were married in 1501 when Katherine was 16 years old. Just four months after their wedding, Arthur died from a viral infection, leaving Katherine's destiny of being Queen of England in apparent pieces.

However, after Arthur's death Isabella and Ferdinand decided to press Henry's father for their daughter to be married to the young Prince Henry instead, now heir to the English throne. Katherine received a dispensation from the Pope to marry Henry in 1504, granted on the basis that Katherine and Arthur had never consummated their marriage. Yet it wasnt until 1509 that Henry VIII proposed marriage to Katherine, and the two were married immediately.

During her marriage to Henry, Katherine played the role of an obedient, dutiful and modest wife. She gave birth to six children: three daughters and three sons. However, only one survived to reach adulthood: Mary I.

The inability for Henry and Katherine to produce a living male heir, along with an increasing infatuation (read: obsession) with Anne Boleyn, lead Henry to separate from Katherine in 1527. Henry claimed that God was punishing him for having married his brother's wife, and that he and Katherine could no longer continue living as spouses.

However, if he thought Katherine was going to be the obedient and dutiful wife that she had been by agreeing that her marriage to Henry was invalid, Henry was to be sorely disappointed. For the rest of her life Katherine would refuse to accept her marriage to Henry as anything other than legal, continuing to refer to herself as the King's true wife and Queen of England.

Katherine was a devout Catholic and died in 1536 from a tumor on the heart. At the time it was believed she had been poisoned by her rival Anne Boleyn.

Anne Boleyn

Born around the year 1500, Anne Boleyn caught King Henry's attention when she was a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon in 1526. She had been educated predominantly in the French Court, and was known for her foreign dress, wit and intelligence. Her long courtship with King Henry continued until he was finally granted freedom to marry her in 1533.

Anne Boleyn was a determined, head-strong woman who saw Henry as her equal and therefore treated him as such. Their relationship was often fiesty and dramatic, but her influence resulted in some of the most drastic and historically important changes to the Church heirarchy in England. Her family, however, saw her as their right to privilege and power, and used her position to get as much as they could before eagerly abandoning her to the scaffold when it all fell apart.

After their marriage, Henry believed that Anne would quickly provide him with a living male heir. Henry and Anne were married only three years, but during this time Anne was pregnant four times. However, like Katherine of Aragon, she was unable to provide Henry with a living Prince, only a daughter: Elizabeth.

Anne Boleyn was sent to trial to answer charges of High Treason in May 1536. The charge was evidenced on lies, fabricated by those Courtiers within the Tudor Court who were unhappy with Anne's influence on the King. King Henry, disappointed in Anne's inability to produce a male heir, allowed it to happen. Anne was found guilty and promptly beheaded. Her daughter, Elizabeth, was soon after declared a bastard.

Jane Seymour

Fifteen days after Anne Boleyn's death Henry quickly married his third wife, Jane Seymour. Jane was born around 1507, and was a lady-in-waiting to both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.

Henry, desperate to produce a living male heir before age and impotence got the better of him, had seemingly chosen a wife who was the complete opposite to Anne Boleyn: Quiet and obedient. Jane did not question Henry or offer her opinion on matters of State or Religion, nor was she as wordly as Anne Boleyn had been. However, Jane Seymour was extremely clever and cunning, and used what she had seen from Anne Boleyn to secure her future as Queen of England.

Henry and Jane had been married for just over a year when Jane gave birth to a Prince: Edward VI. However, it would turn out to be a solemn event as twelve days after Edward's birth, Jane Seymour died of an infection. Henry was so fond of his third wife that he would request to be buried with her after his death in 1547.

Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves was born in 1515, the second daughter of the Duke of Cleves. She was chosen by Henry as his fourth wife after he viewed a painting of her, and they were married in 1540.

On her arrival in England, Anne did not speak a word of English. Her native tongue was German, and she was barely literate. The location of Cleves in relation to France and Spain made Anne's marriage to Henry a politically advantageous one, yet it was not to last for long.

Henry claimed that he did not like his new bride, that she was unattractive and boring, and that this lead to him being unable to consummate their marriage. Anne and Henry's marriage was annulled a mere 7 months after their wedding, on the grounds that Anne had been contracted to marry another (although there was no evidence of this) and that the marriage had not been consummated. It is not known what Anne thought of Henry, who was significantly older than her and had grown quite obese, yet she readily agreed to the annulment of their marriage.

Anne of Cleves was made the King's honourary sister, and was well-provided for by the King and subsequent monarchs until her death in 1557. She never remarried.

Katherine Howard

The true reason that Henry was so eager to have his marriage to Anne of Cleves annuled was a 15 year old lady-in-waiting named Katherine Howard, cousin to Anne Boleyn. Henry married Katherine a mere 19 days after his marriage to Anne of Cleves was officially declared non-existent.

Katherine Howard was young, vain and silly. She was incredibly naive, and was used as a pawn by her family (the same family of Anne Boleyn) to see her married to the King and declared as Queen of England.

However, like Anne Boleyn she would be sent to the scaffold for committing adultery against the King. She had not even been married to Henry for 2 years when she was beheaded in 1542. She was only 17 years old.

Katherine Parr

Katherine Parr had just become a widow for the second time when Henry first declared his interest in her being his sixth wife. She was significantly younger than Henry, who by this time was mostly an invalid, but she accepted Henry's proposal of marriage and they were wedded in 1543.

Although Katherine Parr never bore Henry any children, she was a much-loved and respected step-mother to Henry's existing children: Mary, Elizabeth and Edward. She also provided Henry with companionship, harbouring an unrelenting dedication to her ill and infirm husband. Henry saw her as his most trusted friend, and even when some of Henry's advisors tried to claim that Katherine was a Heretic and have her arrested as such, Henry would not allow it.

After Henry's death, Katherine went on to marry Thomas Seymour, and they had a daughter, Mary. However, Katherine died from complications resulting from childbirth, and not long after Thomas Seymour passed away as well, leaving their daughter an orphan. It is not known what became of Mary Seymour, although it is assumed she died before reaching adulthood.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the fascinating insight into the book - sounds like one I might look out for in the book shop.

    BTW - love the name of your dog!

    Best Regards


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