Wives of King Henry VIII

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Jane Seymour (right) became Henry's third wife, pictured with Henry and the young Prince Edward, c. 1545, by an unknown artist. At the time that this was painted, Henry was married to his sixth wife, Catherine Parr. Family of Henry VIII c 1545 detail.jpg
Jane Seymour (right) became Henry's third wife, pictured with Henry and the young Prince Edward, c. 1545, by an unknown artist. At the time that this was painted, Henry was married to his sixth wife, Catherine Parr.

In common parlance, the wives of Henry VIII were the six queens consort wedded to Henry between 1509 and his death in 1547. In legal terms, King Henry VIII of England had only three wives, because three of his marriages were annulled by the Church of England. However, he was never granted an Annulment from the Pope, as he desired for Catherine of Aragon, his first wife. Annulments declare that a true marriage never took place, unlike a divorce, in which a married couple end their union. [1] Along with his six wives, Henry took mistresses. [2] [3]



The six women who were married to Henry VIII, in chronological order:

No.NameMarriage dates and lengthFate of marriageIssue and fate
1 Catherine of Aragon 11 June 1509 – 23 May 1533
(23 years, 11 months and 12 days)
AnnulledDied 7 January 1536. Mother of Queen Mary I.
2 Anne Boleyn 25 January 1533 – 17 May 1536
(2 years, 11 months and 19 days)
AnnulledBeheaded 19 May 1536 at the Tower of London.
Mother of Queen Elizabeth I. [4]
3 Jane Seymour 30 May 1536 – 24 October 1537
(1 year, 4 months and 24 days)
Ended with Seymour's deathDied 24 October 1537, due to complications twelve days after giving birth.
Mother of King Edward VI.
4 Anne of Cleves 6 January 1540 – 9 July 1540
(6 months and 3 days)
AnnulledDied 16 July 1557.
5 Catherine Howard 28 July 1540 – 23 November 1541
(1 year, 3 months and 26 days)
Ended with Howard's arrestBeheaded 13 February 1542 at the Tower of London.
6 Catherine Parr 12 July 1543 – 28 January 1547
(3 years, 6 months and 16 days)
Ended with Henry's deathSurvived Henry VIII, remarried to Thomas Seymour.
Died 5 September 1548. [5]

Henry's first marriage lasted nearly 24 years, while the following five lasted less than 10 years combined.

Catherine ParrCatherine HowardAnne of ClevesJane SeymourAnne BoleynCatherine of AragonHenry VIIIWives of King Henry VIII

A mnemonic device to remember the names of Henry's consorts is “Arrogant Boys Seem Clever, Howard Particularly”; a mnemonic for their fates is "Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived". There are also two rhymes:[ citation needed ][ year needed ]

King Henry VIII,
To six wives he was wedded.
One died, one survived,
Two divorced, two beheaded.


Boleyn and Howard lost their heads,
Anne of Cleves he would not bed,
Jane Seymour gave him a son – but died before the week was done,
Aragon he did divorce,
Which just left Catherine Parr, of course!

It is often noted that Catherine Parr survived Henry, but Anne of Cleves also survived him and was the last of his queens to die. Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour each gave him one child who survived infancy: two daughters and one son. All three of these children eventually ascended to the throne as King Edward VI, Queen Mary I, and Queen Elizabeth I.

Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn were first cousins and were both beheaded. Several of Henry's wives worked in service to another wife, typically as a lady-in-waiting. Anne Boleyn served Catherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour served both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, and Catherine Howard served Anne of Cleves.

Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon Catalina de Aragon, por un artista anonimo.jpg
Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon (16 December 1485 7 January 1536; Spanish: Catalina de Aragón) was Henry's first wife. [6] [7] Her name is most commonly spelled Katherine, or occasionally Katharine. She also spelled and signed her name with a "K," which was an accepted spelling in England at the time. [8] After the death of Arthur, her first husband and Henry's brother, a papal dispensation was obtained to enable her to marry Henry, though the marriage did not take place until he came to the throne in 1509. Catherine became pregnant in 1510 but the girl was stillborn. She became pregnant again in 1511, and gave birth to Henry, Duke of Cornwall, who died almost two months later. She gave birth to a stillborn boy in 1513, and to another boy who died within hours in 1515. Finally she bore a healthy daughter, Mary, in 1516. It was two years before she conceived again, the pregnancy ended with a short-lived girl. It is said[ by whom? ] that Henry truly loved Catherine of Aragon, as he himself professed it many times.

Henry, at the time a Roman Catholic, sought the Pope's approval for an annulment on the grounds that Catherine had first been his brother's wife, using a passage from the Old Testament (Leviticus Chapter 20 Verse 21): "If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an impurity; he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.” Henry had begun an affair with Anne Boleyn, who refused to become his mistress. (He had already had and ended an affair with Anne's sister, Mary Boleyn).[ citation needed ] Despite the pope's refusal to annul the marriage Henry separated from Catherine in 1531. He ordered the highest church official in England, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, to convene a court. On 23 May 1533, [7] Cranmer ruled the marriage to Catherine null and void. On 28 May 1533, he pronounced the King legally married to Anne (with whom Henry had already secretly exchanged wedding vows). This led to England breaking from the Roman Catholic Church and the establishment of the Church of England.

William Shakespeare, in the play Henry VIII, called Catherine "The queen of earthly queens" (2.4.138).

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn Anne boleyn.jpg
Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn (c. 1501 19 May 1536) was Henry's second wife and the mother of Elizabeth I. Henry's marriage to Anne and her execution made her a key figure in the political and religious upheaval at the start of the English Reformation. She was the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (born Lady Elizabeth Howard), and she was of nobler birth than Jane Seymour, Henry's later wife. She was dark-haired with beautiful features and lively manners; she was educated in Europe, largely as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude of France.

Anne resisted the King's attempts to seduce her, and she refused to become his mistress as her sister Mary Boleyn had been. It soon became the one absorbing object of the King's desires to secure a divorce from his wife Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne. He wrote a love letter which provides evidence of some level of intimacy between them, in which he admires her "pretty duckies" (breasts). [9] It eventually became clear that Pope Clement VII was unlikely to give the king an annulment, so Henry began to break the power of the Catholic Church in England.

Henry dismissed Thomas Wolsey from public office and later had the Boleyn family's chaplain Thomas Cranmer appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1533, Henry and Anne went through a secret wedding service. [10] She soon became pregnant and there was a second, public wedding service in London on 25 January 1533. On 23 May 1533, Cranmer declared the marriage of Henry and Catherine null and void. Five days later, Cranmer declared the marriage of Henry and Anne to be good and valid. Soon after, the Pope launched sentences of excommunication against the King and the Archbishop. As a result of Anne's marriage to the King, the Church of England was forced to break with Rome and was brought under the king's control. [10] Anne was crowned Queen Consort of England on 1 June 1533, and she gave birth to Henry's second daughter Elizabeth on 7 September. She failed to produce a male heir, her only son being stillborn, and the King grew tired of her and had their marriage annulled. Thomas Cromwell devised a plot to execute her.

Despite unconvincing evidence she was found guilty, and beheaded on 19 May 1536 for adultery, incest, witchcraft, and high treason. After the coronation of her daughter, Elizabeth I, Anne was venerated as a martyr and heroine of the English Reformation, particularly through the works of John Foxe. Over the centuries, she has inspired or been mentioned in numerous artistic and cultural works.

Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour Hans Holbein the Younger - Jane Seymour, Queen of England - Google Art Project.jpg
Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour (c. 1508 24 October 1537) was Henry's third wife. She served Catherine of Aragon and was one of Anne Boleyn's ladies-in-waiting. [11] It is believed[ by whom? ] that she is the mistress who disposed of Anne, who was executed just 11 days before Jane's marriage to the king. The daughter of a knight, she was of lower birth than most of Henry's wives. Almost a year and a half after marriage Jane gave birth to a male heir, Edward, but she died twelve days later from postpartum complications. Henry apparently suffered genuine grief, as she was the only one of his queens to receive a Queen's burial, and when he died he was buried next to her.

Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves AnneCleves.jpg
Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves (22 September 1515 16 July 1557) was a German princess [12] and Henry's wife for just six months in 1540, from 6 January to 9 July. Henry may have referred to her as "A Flanders Mare", and the label has stuck. [13] Her pre-contract of marriage with Francis I, Duke of Lorraine, was cited as grounds for annulment. Anne did not resist the annulment, claiming the marriage had not been consummated, and was rewarded with a generous settlement including Hever Castle, the former home of the Boleyns, Henry's former in-laws. She was given the name "The King's Sister", and was a lifelong friend to him and his children. She outlived the King and all his wives.

Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard HowardCatherine02.jpeg
Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard (c.1521 13 February 1542) was Henry's fifth wife between 1540–1542, sometimes known as "the rose without a thorn". Henry was informed of her alleged adultery with Thomas Culpeper on 1 November 1541. [14]

Catherine Parr

Catherine Parr Catherine Parr from NPG.jpg
Catherine Parr

Catherine Parr (1512 5 September 1548), also spelled Kateryn, was the sixth and last wife of Henry VIII, 1543–1547. She was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr of Kendal and his wife Maud Green. Through her father, Catherine was a descendant of John of Gaunt, son of King Edward III. Through John of Gaunt's daughter Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmoreland (Henry's great-great grandmother), she was Henry's third cousin, once removed. By Henry's paternal descent from another of John of Gaunt's children, John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, the two were also fourth cousins once removed. [15]

Catherine showed herself to be the restorer of Henry's court as a family home for his children. Catherine was determined to present the royal household as a close-knit one in order to demonstrate strength through unity to Henry's opposers.[ citation needed ] Perhaps Catherine's most significant achievement was Henry's passing of an act that confirmed both Mary's and Elizabeth's line in succession for the throne, despite the fact that they had both been made illegitimate by divorce or remarriage. Such was Henry's trust in Catherine that he chose her to rule as Regent while he was attending to the war in France and in the unlikely event of the loss of his life, she was to rule as Regent until nine-year-old Edward came of age.

Catherine also has a special place in history as she was the most married queen of England, having had four husbands in all; Henry was her third. She had been widowed twice before marrying Henry. After Henry's death, she married Thomas Seymour, uncle of Edward VI of England, to whom she had formed an attachment prior to her marriage with Henry. She had one child by Seymour, Mary, and died shortly after childbirth. Lady Mary's history is unknown, but she is not believed to have survived childhood.


Henry was distantly related to all six of his wives through their common ancestor, King Edward I of England, [16] through more than one ancestor. [17]

The following family tree of Henry VIII's six wives is the closest lineage of him.

Edward I
King of England
Duchess of Brabant
c. 1282–1316
Countess of Hereford
Edward II
King of England
John III
Duke of Brabant
1st Earl of
Edward III
King of England
Countess of Flanders
c. 1350–1385
Countess of Arundel
1st Duke of
1st Duke of
Margaret III
Countess of Flanders [18]
Duchess of Norfolk
5th Countess
of Ulster
Queen of
c. 1379–1440
Countess of
Duke of Burgundy
de Mowbray
Lady Elizabeth
John II
King of Castile
5th Earl of
of Cleves [19]
c. 1425–1485
1st Duke
of Norfolk
c. 1395–1436
Lady Elizabeth
de Clifford
Isabella I
Queen of Castile
c. 1430-?
Baroness FitzHugh
of Ravensworth
John I
Duke of Cleves
2nd Duke
of Norfolk
Mary Clifford [20] [21]
of Aragon

Lady Parr
of Kendal
John II
Duke of Cleves
c. 1478–1539
Lord Edmund
c. 1480–1536
Countess of
Henry Wentworth
c. 1483–1517
Sir Thomas
John III
Duke of Cleves [22]

c. 1523–1542
Anne Boleyn
c. 1501–1536
c. 1478–1550
Catherine Parr
Anne of Cleves
Jane Seymour
c. 1508–1537

Armorial bearings

Coat of Arms of the Wives of King Henry VIII of England
Coat of ArmsArmiger
(Date as Queen)
Coat of Arms of Catherine of Aragon.svg
Catherine of Aragon
1509 – 1533
The Royal Arms, impaled with that of her parents the Catholic Monarchs. The blazon: [23] [24]

Supporters: [23] [24]

Badges: [25]

  • The pomegranate, the rose and the sheaf of arrows.

The sinister supporter came from the coat of arms of her father, Ferdinand II of Aragon, who displayed his shield on the breast of a single-headed Apostolic eagle displayed. Catherine's badges were a commemoration of the conquest of Granada from the Moors, when the superiority of the Spanish archers gained a victory. Both badges were combined with the Tudor rose (Henry's dynastic symbol). [26]

Pomegranate & Rose Badge.svg
Coat of Arms of Anne Boleyn.svg
Anne Boleyn
1533 – 1536
The Royal Arms, impaled with that of her own arms as Marquess of Pembroke, which alluded to several of her ancestors, however remote. The blazon: [23] [27]

Supporters: [27] [28]

  • Dexter: a leopard gorged with a royal coronet pendant therefrom a chain reflexed, over the back Or.
  • Sinister: a male griffin Argent, armed and tufted Or similarly gorged and chained.

Badge: [29]

  • A crowned falcon holding a sceptre.

The noted antiquarian and heraldist Charles Boutell commented that the: "Arms of Queen Anne Boleyn are the first which exemplify the usage, introduced by Henry VIII, of granting to his Consorts "Augmentations" to their paternal arms. It is a striking illustration of the degenerate condition of Heraldry under the second Tudor Sovereign." [23] The dexter supporter was intended to represent the leopard of Guyenne (Aquitaine). The sinister supporter was a heraldic creature from the badge of the Boleyn, as descended from Earls of Ormond (Butler). [30] The falcon badge was granted to Anne as Countess of Pembroke, this badge was also used by her daughter Queen Elizabeth I.

Silver Falcon Badge.svg
Coat of Arms of Jane Seymour.svg
Jane Seymour
1536 – 1537
The Royal Arms, impaled with that of her own arms and that of the Seymour family. The blazon: [28] [31]
  • Quarterly of six, 1st; an Augmentation, Or, on a pile Gules, between six fleur-de-lis Azure, three lions passant guardant Or.
  • 2nd; Gules, two wings conjoined in lure Or (Seymour).
  • 3rd; Vair Azure and Argent (Beauchamp).
  • 4th; Argent, three demi-lions rampant, Gules (Stiny).
  • 5th; Per bend, Argent and Gules, three roses, bendwise countercharged (MacWilliams).
  • 6th; Argent, on a bend Gules, three leopard's head Or.

Supporters: [28]

  • Dexter: a lion guardant Or imperially crowned Proper.
  • Sinister: Unicorn Argent.

Badge: [29]

  • A phoenix rising from a castle, between Tudor roses.

An alternative set of supporters for Queen Jane was reportedly: "Dexter a unicorn argent, crowned and unguled or, collared with a double wreath of white daisies and red roses; Sinister, a panther incensed, striped with various colours, gorged with a coronet of crosses patée and fleurs de lys alternately and chained or." [31] The badge of the phoenix rising from the flames was granted posthumously by her son King Edward VI to his maternal relations (who became the Dukes of Somerset), who continue to use it as a crest in their coat of arms to this day. [32] [33]

Phoenix and Castle Badge.svg
Coat of Arms of Anne of Cleves.svg
Anne of Cleves
January - July 1540
The Royal Arms, impaled with that of her father John III, Duke of Cleves. The blazon: [34]
  • Quarterly of seven, four in chief and three in base, 1st; Gules, an Inescutcheon Argent, overall an escarbuncle Or (Cleves).
  • 2nd; Or, a lion rampant Sable (Jülich).
  • 3rd; Azure, a lion rampant crowned Or (Schwarzburg).
  • 4th; Argent, a lion rampant double-queued gules, crowned Or (Limburg).
  • 5th; Or, a fess chequy Argent and Gules (Mark).
  • 6th; Argent, a lion rampant Gules, crowned Azure (Berg).
  • 7th; Argent, three chevronels Gules (Ravensberg).

Alternatively the arms of Cleves is used only, the blazon: [28]

  • Gules, an Inescutcheon Argent, overall an Escarbuncle Or (Cleves)

Badge: [35]

  • a lion rampant Sable
  • a escarbuncle Or

The black lion badge was apparently derived from her mother Maria of Jülich-Berg, who was the sole heir of William IV the Duke of Jülich-Berg. [35]

Coat of Arms of Catherine Howard.svg
Catherine Howard
1540 – 1541
The Royal Arms, impaled with that of her own as granted by the King. Her arms incorporated those of her family the Howards. Catherine's father Lord Edmund Howard, was the third son of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. The blazon: [28] [36]
  • Quarterly of four, 1st and 4th were Augmentations, 1st; Azure, three Fleurs-de-lys, in pale Or, between two flasches Ermine, each charged with a Rose Gules.
  • 2nd; Gules, three lions passant guardant Or, a label of three point Argent (Thomas of Brotherton).
  • 3rd; Gules, a bend between six cross-crosslets fitchy Argent, for augmentation to be charged on the bend, the Royal Shield of Scotland having a demi-lion only, which is pierced through the mouth with an arrow (Howard).
  • 4th; Azure, two Lions of England, the verge of the escutcheon charged with four half fleurs-de-lys Or.


  • Dexter: a lion guardant Or imperially crowned Proper.
  • Sinister: a white horse of Howard.
Coat of Arms of Catherine Parr.svg
Catherine Parr
1543 – 1547
The Royal Arms, impaled with that of her own as granted by the King. The arms allude to those of her family and the titles of her father Sir Thomas Parr. The blazon: [28] [36] [37]
  • Quarterly of six, 1st; an Augmentation, Argent, on a Pile Gules, between six Roses Gules, three other Roses Argent.
  • 2nd; Argent, two bars Azure, within a bordure engrailed Sable (Parr).
  • 3rd; Or, three water-bougets Sable (Ross of Kendal).
  • 4th; Vairy, a fesse Gules (Marmion).
  • 5th; Azure, three chevrons interlaced in base, a chief Or (FitzHugh).
  • 6th; Vert, three harts at gaze Or (Green).

Supporters: [36]

  • Dexter: a lion guardant Or imperially crowned Proper.
  • Sinister: a panther incensed, striped with various colours, gorged with a coronet of crosses patée and fleurs de lys alternately and chained Or.

Badge: [29]

  • A maiden's head crowned, rising from a large Tudor rose.

The sinister supporter was inherited from her maternal grandfather William FitzHugh, 4th Baron FitzHugh. Her badge was granted by the king, it combined the Tudor rose badge of Henry with a previous one used by the Queen's family. The House of Parr had assumed as a badge "a maiden's head, couped below the breasts, vested in ermine and gold, her hair of the last, and her temples encircled with red and white roses." This they inherited from the badge of Ross, of Kendal. [38]

Rose Maiden Badge.svg

Theatrical adaptations

Six is a pop-rock musical featuring each of Henry's wives. A major theme of the show is that women should be the ones to tell their story and how much more there is to their story than how their relationship with Henry ended. The musical was written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. [39] It originated in Edinburgh in 2017, moving to the West End in January 2019. In May 2019, Six had its North American premier at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. [40] and moved to Broadway in March 2020. The tag line of the show, "Divorced. Beheaded. LIVE in concert!", alludes to the rhyme describing the queens' fates. [39]

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  20. Richardson I 2011, pp. 507–8.
  21. Richardson III 2011, p. 236.
  22. Antonia Fraser. The Wives of Henry VIII (Vintage Books, 1993), Chapter: Anne of Cleves.
  23. 1 2 3 4 Boutell p. 242
  24. 1 2 Pinces & Pinces p. 141
  25. Aveling p. 307
  26. Pinces & Pinces p. 142
  27. 1 2 Pinces & Pinces p. 144
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Boutell p. 243
  29. 1 2 3 Aveling p. 308
  30. Willement p. 69
  31. 1 2 Pinces & Pinces p. 146
  32. Willement p. 71
  33. Fox Davies p. 597
  34. Pinces & Pinces p. 147
  35. 1 2 Willement p. 72
  36. 1 2 3 Pinces & Pinces p. 148
  37. Boutell p. 244
  38. Willement p. 75
  39. 1 2 http://feastcreative.com, Feast Creative |. "Six the Musical". www.sixthemusical.com. Retrieved 11 June 2019.
  40. "Chicago Shakespeare Theater: SIX". www.chicagoshakes.com. Retrieved 11 June 2019.