Interesting Facts About King Henry VIII and His Six Wives
One of England's most iconic rulers, King Henry VIII was the second monarch of the Tudor dynasty.
He played a key role in the the dramatic separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church.
He is also remembered for his six wives and problems in acquiring a male heir for his throne.
Facts about King Henry VIII
- Henry was born on 28 June 1491 at Greenwich Palace, Greenwich. His father was the ruling king, Henry VII.
- He received an excellent education and learned to speak Latin and French, as well as some Italian.
- He wasn’t expected to become King of England, but in 1502 his older brother Arthur died at the age of 15, and Henry was next in line for the throne.
- The young Henry was athletic and sporty. He loved jousting, hunting and playing tennis.
- He also loved music. He could play the lute and the organ and had a good singing voice.
- Henry had six wives during his lifetime: Catharine of Aragon (1509 - 1533); Anne Bolyn (1533 - 1536); Jane Seymour (1536 - 1537); Anne of Cleves (1540 - 1540); Catherine Howard (1540 - 1541); and Catherine Parr (1543 - 1547).
- After numerous disagreements with the pope, in 1534 he separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church and declared himself to be the head of the Church of England.
- Henry was a gambler and an extravagant spender. By the time of his death, he was seriously in debt.
- He was unhorsed in a jousting tournament in 1536 and received a serious injury to his leg. The injury may have contributed to the weight gains and mood swings that became common as he grew older.
- Henry became obese at the end of his life. His waistline measured 4 and half feet in circumference and there had to be mechanical devices constructed to help him get in and out of bed, as well as on and off his horse.
Catherine of Aragon
- Catherine of Aragon was the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who's marriage had united Spain.
- Before Henry, Catherine was married to his older brother, Arthur, but the marriage was brief due to Arthur's untimely death at age 15.
- She was tutored in religion and classics and was a devout Roman Catholic all of her life.
- Catherine of Aragon married Henry in 1509. Their wedding was low-key, but their coronation was a grand affair. She was 23 years old when they married, he was nearly 18.
- Catherine fell pregnant six times during the marriage. Unfortunately, only one of these pregnancies produced a child who lived beyond infancy (Mary I).
- With Catherine apparently unable to produce a male heir to the throne, Henry turned his attentions to her lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn.
- In 1527 Henry requested that the Pope annul his marriage, so he could marry his mistress. He declard that the marriage was cursed, due to Catherine being the widow of his brother.
- Supported by the pope, Catherine refused to give up the marriage, however.
- Meanwhile, Anne Boleyn was now pregnant with Henry's child. They married in secret in 1533. Henry passed the Act of Supremacy, declared himself head of the newly separated Church of England, and had his marriage to Catherine annulled.
- Catherine was forced to leave court, spending her final years in reduced circumstances and unable to keep contact with her daughter, Mary. Catherine died in 1536.
- The marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was fraught with problems pretty much from the start, mainly due to Anne refusing to slip into the passive role of being a royal wife. The couple had some calm periods, but it was their fierce arguments in public that people remembered.
- Despite Henry's desperation for a boy, Anne gave birth to a girl, Princess Elizabeth, on September 7 1533.
- Anne became pregnant again in 1534 and 1535, each time, suffering false pregnancy or miscarriage. Unable to produce a male heir, as well as Henry's increasing romantic interest in one of her ladies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, meant that Anne's life was now in danger.
- Anne had made lots of enemies in the king's court, and there were plots against her. On May 2 1536 she was arrested was charged with adultery, incest and plotting to murder the King. She was held in the Tower of London and later tried there in the On Monday the 15th, the Queen and her brother were put on trial at the Great Hall. It is estimated that around 2000 people attended the trial.
- At 8 am on 19 May 1536, Anne was executed on Tower Green.
O Death, rock me asleep, bring me to quiet rest, let pass my weary guiltless ghost out of my careful breast.— Anne Boleyn
- The day after Anne Boleyn's execution, Henry became engaged to Jane Seymour, and ten days later they were married.
- Jane formed a very close relationship with Henry's daughter, Mary Tudor (later Mary I), and helped to mend the relationship between Henry and Mary.
- In 1537 Jane became pregnant. She went on to give birth to a boy later that year. The child was a boy, the male heir Henry so desperately desired, and was named, Edward (later Edward VI).
- Jane died less than two weeks after Edward's christening, however, probably from complications following the birth.
- Jane Seymour was given a Queen's funeral, the only one of Henry's wives to have this honor, and when he died in 1547, Henry chose to be buried next to her grave, at his request.
Anne of Cleves
- Henry wanted to marry again, and after suggestions that Anne of Cleves might be suitable, Henry sent his favorite portrait painter, Hans Holbein the Younger, to Germany to paint a likeness of her. Henry liked what he saw in the picture and agreed to wed Anne.
- Henry quickly regretted the decision, however, and asked for an annulment. Anne was happy to agree to the union being dissolved on the grounds that it had not been consummated.
- She was rewarded with two houses and a generous allowance for her compliance with the king.
- Catherine Howard was a first cousin and lady-in-waiting of Anne Boleyn.
- Henry married her on 28 July 1540. The king was nearly fifty years old and a long way from his former vigorous self, while Catherine was only around 19 years of age (her birth year is not known for sure).
- She was attractive and lively, which gained her the attention of the king before marriage, but failed to adapt to her new, more formal role of being queen. She liked the company of younger men and her flirtatious nature encouraged malicious rumors about her to spread around the court.
- Henry initially didn't believe allegations of affairs behind his back, but when it came to light that Catherine had had sexual relations before her marriage to Henry, meaning she was not a virgin, Henry flew into a rage.
- Catherine Howard was beheaded on 13 February 1542.
- Henry VIII married his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr, in July 1543.
- Catherine Parr was a wealthy widow who argued with Henry about religion (Catherine was a reformer, whereas Henry held onto a unique mixture of Catholic and Protestant ideas).
- She helped to restore Henry's relationship with his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, and was involved in helping to get a law passed that put the two daughters back in the line of succession after Edward.
Catherine Parr outlived Henry and remarried after his death in 1547. The marriage was short-lived, however, and she died in 1548, probably due to complications in giving birth to her only child, Mary Seymour.
Questions & Answers
How many calories did Henry VIII consume in later life?
Towards the end of his life, Henry ate 13 dishes each day, which included meats such as pork, rabbit, and game. Additional calories came from the 70 pints of ale that he drank each week. In total, historians estimate that he averaged around 5,000 calories a day.
How many wives did Henry VIII have?
Henry VIII had six wives: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr.
© 2015 Paul Goodman