The Wives of Henry VIII

Henry VIII was king of England from 1509 to 1547. During that time he had a total of six wives! The main reason for this was his desire for a son to be the heir to his throne. He was nervous that a daughter might not be able to hold on to power in England (ironically enough, his daughter Elizabeth would rule for over 40 years). 

Some of his wives met very tragic ends. There’s a rhyme to make it easy to remember what happened to each wife: Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. 

Henry VIII’s first wife was Catherine of Aragon. Together they had only one child, a daughter named Mary. Unfortunately, it was risky for girls to inherit the throne and Henry felt that he needed a male heir. With Catherine unable to give him a male heir, Henry sought an annulment from the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church denied the annulment because marriage was supposed to be for life in the Catholic Church.  Henry broke away from the church and formed his own church, known as the Church of England. In that church he got a divorce from Catherine.

After divorcing Catherine, Henry married his second wife, Anne Boleyn. They quickly had a child, but it was another daughter, Elizabeth. Desperate for a male heir, Henry had Anne charged with a variety of crimes against him and she was beheaded. 

Following Anne Boleyn’s execution, Henry married Jane Seymour, wife number three. With Jane, Henry finally got his long-awaited son! Tragically, Jane died of complications from childbirth. Henry was heartbroken, but despite his heartbreak, would eventually marry again. 

henry viii england

Henry VIII’s fourth wife was Anne of Cleves. Anne of Cleves was German and Henry married her to form a political alliance. The marriage was very short lived, however, because Henry did not like Anne. He called her smelly and said she looked like a horse! Therefore Henry divorced her quickly. He did, however, pay for a nice house for her to live in as long as she wanted. 

After Anne of Cleves, Henry fell in love with a less aristocratic wife named Catherine Howard. For a while things went fine, until Henry suspected Catherine of cheating on him and accused her of adultery. Catherine was executed on charges of adultery, whether they were true or not. 

Henry’s last wife was Catherine Parr. She was the only wife to outlive him! By this time Henry was older and in poor health, so Catherine served almost as a nurse to him. She also convinced Henry to make peace with his daughters from his first two marriages, so that Mary and Elizabeth would each eventually inherit the throne of England.