Divorced, beheaded, and died… divorced, beheaded survived. King Henry’s six wives have become defined not so much by their lives as the way these lives ended. Their fate has inspired numerous books and movies as well as Royal Doulton’s most popular limited-edition figurine collection by Pauline Parsons. Henry’s first two queens were launched in 1990 and the set was completed by 1992. Doulton’s first portrait of Catherine of Aragon by Charles Noke depicted Ellen Terry, the great Victorian actress, in Shakespeare’s play King Henry VIII. The figure was first made in ivory Vellum in 1893 and was introduced in color to the HN collection as HN379 in 1920.
Catherine of Aragon – the Betrayed Wife
Henry VIII was betrothed to Catherine of Aragon, his brother’s widow, when he was just 10 years old. Queen Catherine was a devoted wife for 20 years from 1509 to 1533 but her failure to produce a male heir led to divorce and England’s split from the Roman Catholic church. Her daughter, Mary Tudor, later became Queen Mary I.
Anne Boleyn – The Temptress
Henry’s passion for Anne Boleyn, Queen Catherine’s lady-in-waiting accelerated his divorce. Ann was pregnant at the time of her coronation in 1533 and her daughter later became Queen Elizabeth I. However, the delivery of a still-born son three years after her wedding led to her demise. Accused of witchcraft and adultery, she was beheaded at the Tower of London.
Jane Seymour – The Good Woman
The day after Anne’s execution, Henry was engaged to his new love Jane Seymour, one of Queen Anne’s ladies in waiting, Poor Jane only lasted 18 months as Henry’s third Queen as she died of fever after giving birth to the King’s long-awaited son, Edward. The King was distraught at the loss of his sweet, sensible wife, who was described as ‘the most virtuous lady that ever lived’.
Anne of Cleves – the Ugly Sister
After two years of mourning, Henry was persuaded to marry his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, having been impressed with a portrait by the court painter Hans Holbein. However, when they met he likened her looks to a Flanders mare. The marriage went ahead in 1540 but it was never consummated. Anne was promised an ‘honoured position’ as ‘the King’s sister’ if she went quickly and quietly. Anne of Cleves outlived the King.
Catherine Howard – the Bad Girl
Henry’s fifth wife was Catherine Howard, a cousin of Ann Boleyn. Catherine flirted her way to the top and caught the eye of the 49-year-old King when she was just 21. Henry loved his ‘dainty Kate’ but the new Queen kept some of her old flames burning and she was beheaded for adultery.
Catherine Parr – the Survivor
At the age of 51, the obese King Henry was more in need of a nurse than a lover so his last wife, Catherine Parr, was ideal. A kind and sensible widow, she survived marriage to the ailing and impotent king and married again a few months after his death. Read about the Tudor Succession in Louise’s next article.