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Biographical Essay on Henry VIII and his Six Wives

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Henry VIII is one of the most well-known historical figures due to his marital relations. His life has been immortalized in literature from Shakespeare to Milton and beyond. Historical and literary essays are just a few of the essay writing services offered at Ultius and just one of the features that you can explore

The Wives of Henry VIII

King Henry VIII of England is infamous for his six marriages. They took place between 1509 and 1544. The six queens were Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katheryn Howard, and Katherine Parr. While the first marriage lasted for nearly a quarter of a century, the others lasted for less than ten years combined. Two marriages were annulled, two wives were beheaded, one died, and one survived him. The impacts of the actions of Henry are great and varied impacting literature in particular. It has been said that much of the marginalization of women in Shakespeare's writing could stem from Henry's behavior.

Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon was the youngest child of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, leaders of the Spanish Inquisition and her parents promised her to Prince Arthur, son of Henry VII of England, when she was three years old. At fifteen years old, she made the three-month journey to England and arrived on the second of October in 1501. She and Arthur were married the next month in Old St. Paul’s Cathedral in London with the bride being led down the aisle by the groom’s little brother, Henry VIII (“Catherin of Aragon”). The couple moved to Ludlow Castle on the border of Wales and Britain but Arthur was dead less than half a year later.

Catherine's nuptials to Henry

Now a widow, sixteen-year-old Catherine was still young enough to be married. Henry VII was interested in keeping her dowry and retaining his alliance with her parents and Spain, so fourteen months later, after an acceptable mourning period, Catherine was betrothed to Prince Henry VIII. When he was old enough to wed in 1505, Henry VII felt differently about Spain and hesitant to continue with the marriage. When he died four years later, his son married Catherine almost at once. 

Henry's obsession with an heir

Over the next decade, Catherine and Henry VIII became pregnant seven times. Their first child was a stillborn girl who was born prematurely and the second produced a son who died less than two months after he was born. The next two pregnancies resulted in one miscarriage and another boy who died shortly after birth. In February of 1516, Catherin gave birth to a healthy baby girl Princess Mary who lived into adulthood. It is believed that Catherine was pregnant twice more and both resulted in miscarriages (“Catherin of Aragon”).

Her husband grew frustrated with his lack of a male heir and had at least two known mistresses: Elizabeth Blount and Mary Boleyn. While by a sexual double standard he courted these women openly, he remained emotionally devoted to his wife and relished in her constant public praise. By 1526, though, he fell in love with Mary Boleyn’s sister Anne and began to resent his wife. He found a bible verse that stated that if a man takes his brother’s wife, they would not be able to bear children. Though their daughter Mary was clearly healthy, her sex meant she did not count in his eyes. 

Split with the church

King Henry VIII used this bible verse to justify annulling his marriage to her, which she appealed to the Pope. Under the shadow of the reformation, the battle lasted for six years and came to a point in 1533 when Anne Boleyn fell pregnant with Henry’s child. In a desperate act, he rejected the Pope’s authority and had the Archbishop of Canterbury grant him the annulment (“Catherin of Aragon”).

Though she was commanded to renounce her title as Queen, she refused to acknowledge this until the day she died. Her daughter was forced to leave court and Catherine lived the rest of her life in dark and inhospitable environments. Still, she was never-ending in her prayer. Catherine died in January three years later at Kimbolton Castle and is buried at Peterborough Cathedral.

Anne Boleyn

It is unknown exactly when Anne Boleyn caught the attention of the king but it said to be somewhere around 1526. Many believe that Henry sought to merely make Anne his mistress, as her sister Mary had been before her. But Anne refused hum sexual favors until he made her Queen (“Anne Boleyn”). Henry began to seek annulment from his wife. Though many say his attraction to Anne was just physical, love letters he wrote to Anne while she was away from court survive to this day in the Vatican library. 

Birth of Elizabeth

Anne was known for her sharp temper and tongue and could sometimes be seen arguing with the kind publicly over her frustrations that they remained unmarried. Near the end of 1532, though, Anne clearly gave in and she fell pregnant. King Henry hoped desperately for a male heir and aimed to avoid any question of the child’s legitimacy by marrying Anne without regard to the Catherine’s appeal to the Pope. On her coronation on the first of June in 1533, her procession down the Thames is said to have gone on for four miles (“Anne Boleyn”).

The child in her womb was already being referred to as a prince, but when the time came, Anne gave birth to a girl, Princess Elizabeth. Anne became pregnant again shortly after but the baby was a stillborn. The king and queen conceived another child the next year but Anne miscarried and the baby boy died. As Anne continued to bear a healthy baby boy, she began to fall out of favor with the king, who had become taken with Jane Seymour. 

The death of Anne Boleyn

The enemies Anne had gathered at court moved against her and she was charged with a series of crimes. Several men were arrested and tortured into speaking against the queen, including her own brother, George. She was soon arrested, as well, on the charges of adultery, incest, treason, and witchcrafts. Several men were charged with adultery with the queen and were executed at Tyburn. Anne and George were tried on May 15, 1536 in front of an audience of two thousand (“Anne Boleyn”).

Both were convicted of their crimes and sentenced to death. George was executed two days later along with the men charged with adultery with Anne. She was beheaded in private on the nineteenth of May, though her marriage had been declared invalid only days before. Anne was buried at the Chapel of St. Peter. 

Jane Seymour’s marriage to Henry VIII

Jane Seymour first came to court under the service of Queen Catherine of Aragon. Evidence of Henry’s favor for her dates back to February of 1536, though it is rumored to have started when he stayed with her family the previous autumn. Henry was losing interest in Anne and many suspect that Jane’s ambitious family used her as a pawn to gain the king’s favor (“Jane Seymour Biography”). Anne was brought up on charges of incest, practicing witchcraft similar to what would later cause the uproar in Salem, Massachusetts, adultery, and conspiracy against the throne and within 24 hours of her execution, Henry VIII and Jane were betrothed.

They were married shortly after, but Jane was never given a coronation. She became pregnant the following year and was much indulged by the king during her pregnancy. She gave birth to a son, Edward, at Hampton Court Palace. There is much stipulation over whether Jane gave birth to Edward by cesarean section as she died two weeks after the birth of her son. Of Henry’s six wives, she is the only one to be buried with him at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves

For two years after Jane’s death, Henry was single. He then began looking for a match that would be politically advantageous for him. He sent men and painters to find suitable matches and bring him images of the women they submitted. The Duke of Cleves had two daughters, one of which was Anne. The Duke was considered to be a good ally in case the Holy Roman Empire and France declared war against those who had defied Papal authority (“Anne of Cleves") or other European political shifts. Henry decided to have a marriage contract drawn up with Anne. 

A short lived union

They were married in early January of 1540, by which Henry was already looking for a way out of the marriage. Anne’s upbringing was not focused on the music and literature that was wildly popular in Henry’s court and instead more centered on domestic abilities. It was also a well-known fact that Henry did not find his wife attractive and publicly called her a “Flanders Mare” (“Anne of Cleves”). He was motivated to end the marriage politically as well. The Duke of Cleves’ tensions with the Holy Roman Empire were growing and Henry did not want to be called to war.

Unsurprisingly, Henry’s eye wandered to another woman; this time, it was Kathyrn Howard. Anne knew of the trouble that would befall her should she make the annulment difficult for Henry and she testified that their marriage had never been consummated and that her previous engagement to the Duke of Lorraine’s son had not been truly broken (“Anne of Cleves”). She accepted the honorary title of the ‘King’s Sister’ and lived in the countryside until her death in 1557, when she was buried at Westminster Abbey. 

Kathryn Howard

Kathryn Howard was first cousin to Anne Boleyn and came to court when she was nineteen to serve Anne of Cleves. She quickly caught Henry’s attention and they were married sixteen days after his marriage to Anne was annulled. Henry VIII was almost fifty at the time, had gained much weight, and experienced constant pain from an ulcerated leg. Kathryn kept his spirits high and renewed his zest for life (“Kathryn Howard”).

The king showered his young wife with extravagant gifts, but rumors of her infidelity began less than a year into their marriage. She even appointed one of her most amorous admirers as her personal secretary. There was soon enough evidence for the Archbishop Cranmer to take to Henry as proof of her infidelity. She was executed on February 13, 1542 and laid to rest near her cousin Anne (“Henry VIII’s wives”). 

Katherine Parr and Henry VIII

Katherine was a fan of church reformation and the actions of Martin Luther and was considered perhaps the most forward thinking of Henry's many wives. Named after Henry’s first wife, Katherine Parr first married at the age of seventeen to the son of the Baron of Gainsborough. She was widowed only a few years later and remarried to the Baron of Snape Castle in Yorkshire shortly after.

After a terrifying kidnapping ordeal a number of years later, Katherine was a widow for a second time in 1543. Though she soon fell in love with Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane Seymour, King Henry VIII requested her hand in marriage and she felt she could not refuse (“Katherine Parr”). They were married in July of that year in a small ceremony.

An unpopular queen with the people

She made enemies in the king’s court, leading to a plot against her by the court’s conservative members. It was well-known that Katherine and her ladies often read banned books. It was enough to issue a warrant for her arrest, which she was tipped off about the impending charges. Katherine fell suddenly ill, either from genuine panic or as a ruse to stall for time (“Katherine Parr”). Henry visited her and she appealed to his huge ego and was quickly forgiven of any wrong-doing.

Katherine remained in the king’s favor until his death in 1547. She quickly married Thomas Seymour and retained guardianship over Elizabeth, Anne Bolyen’s daughter, who was rumored to have a sexual relationship with her guardian’s husband (“Katherine Parr”). Katherine and Thomas had a daughter in the summer of 1548 and Katherine died soon after. She is buried at Sudeley Castle.


King Henry the 8th is perhaps most well-known for his six marriages. His wives did not have a history of finding fortunate fates, as his first wife was banished and forgotten, his second and fifth were beheaded, and his third and sixth died shortly after childbirth. King Henry was clearly not bound to the rule of law that his predecessors established in the Magna Carta. His fourth did not fare too poorly, though, as Anne of Cleves lived her remaining years in relative comfort. Though only one wife is buried with him and several were disgraced, history ties each of them together by one common factor: their husband.

Works Cited

“Anne of Cleves: Facts, Information, Biography & Portraits." English History. English History, 2016. Web. 30 May 2016. 

Eakens, Lara E. “Anne Boleyn." Tudor History. Lara E. Eakens, 1 June 2010. Web. 30 May 2016. 

Eakens, Lara E. “Catherine of Aragon." Tudor History. Lara E. Eakens, 1 June 2010. Web. 30 May 2016. 

“Jane Seymour Biography." Biography. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 30 May 2016. 

Eakens, Lara E. “Kathryn Howard." Tudor History. Lara E. Eakens, 1 June 2010. Web. 30 May 2016. 

“Henry VIII’s wives." Historic Royal Palaces. Historic Royal Palaces, 2016. Web. 30 May 2016. 



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Ultius, Inc. "Biographical Essay on Henry VIII and his Six Wives." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. June 21, 2016. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/biographical-essay-on-the-six-wives-of-henry-viii.html.

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