THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII

 

 

 

The Tudor citizens profiled here lived through a century of incredible change; their lives reflect the tumultuous spirit of Tudor England. They also provide insight into the personalities and politics of the Tudor monarchs.

Follow the links on this page to learn more about these fascinating men and women. You can also visit Tudor England: Images to view portraits of the courtiers. Primary Sources includes contemporary chronicles and letters.

 

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to Tudor England

the above portrait is of Thomas Cranmer

 

Charles Brandon
duke of Suffolk

The Boleyn Family

Thomas Wolsey
Cardinal and Lord Chancellor

Thomas Cromwell
Lord Chancellor and earl of Essex

Thomas Cranmer
archbishop of Canterbury and martyr

St Thomas More
Lord Chancellor, author, and martyr

 

Henry VIII of England

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Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was also Lord of Ireland (later King of Ireland) and claimant to the Kingdom of France. Henry was the second monarch of the House of Tudor, succeeding his father, Henry VII.

Henry VIII was a significant figure in the history of the English monarchy. Although in the great part of his reign he brutally suppressed the influence of the Protestant Reformation in England, a movement having some roots with John Wycliffe in the 14th century, he is more popularly known for his political struggles with Rome. These struggles ultimately led to the separation of the Church of England from papal authority, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and establishing himself as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Although some[who?] claim that Henry became a Protestant on his death-bed, he advocated Catholic ceremony and doctrine throughout his life. Royal support for the English Reformation began with his heirs, the devout Edward VI and the renowned Elizabeth I, whilst daughter Mary I temporarily reinstated papal authority over England. Henry also oversaw the legal union of England and Wales with the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542. He is also noted for his six wives, two of whom were beheaded.

 

THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII

1-  KATHARINE OF ARAGON – married 1509, divorced 1533 (daughter: Mary I)

2-  ANNE BOLEYN – married 1533, beheaded 1536 (daughter: Elizabeth I)

3-  JANE SEYMOUR – married 1536, died 1537 (son: Edwaed VI)

4-  ANNE OF CLEVES – married 1540 divorced 1540, (marriage annulled, never consummated)

5-  CATHERINE HOWARD – married 1540, beheaded 1542

6-  KATHARINE PARR – married 1543, survived

 

Letters written by the six wives of Henry VIII

 

‘In this world I will confess myself to be the king’s true wife, and in the next they will know how unreasonably I am afflicted.’
Katharine of Aragon, 1532

Katharine of Aragon

portrait of Katharine of Aragon by Michael Sittow, c1502

Letter from Katharine of Aragon to her husband, King Henry VIII
16 September 1513

Background
This letter concerns the great English victory against the Scots at Flodden Field. Henry VIII was busy at war in France, along with most of his great nobles and councilors. Katharine was Queen Regent in his absence, but she tactfully credits the victory against the Scots to Henry himself. Along with letter, she sent a piece of King James IV of Scotland’s coat. Though he was married to Henry’s older sister Margaret, James remained at odds with the English and was killed at Flodden Field.


Sir,
My Lord Howard hath sent me a letter open to your Grace, within one of mine, by the which you shall see at length the great Victory that our Lord hath sent your subjects in your absence; and for this cause there is no need herein to trouble your Grace with long writing, but, to my thinking, this battle hath been to your Grace and all your realm the greatest honor that could be, and more than you should win all the crown of France; thanked be God of it, and I am sure your Grace forgetteth not to do this, which shall be cause to send you many more such great victories, as I trust he shall do. My husband, for hastiness, with Rougecross I could not send your Grace the piece of the King of Scots coat which John Glynn now brings. In this your Grace shall see how I keep my promise, sending you for your banners a king’s coat. I thought to send himself unto you, but our Englishmens’ hearts would not suffer it. It should have been better for him to have been in peace than have this reward. All that God sends is for the best.
My Lord of Surrey, my Henry, would fain know your pleasure in the burying of the King of Scots’ body, for he has written to me so. With the next messenger your Grace’s pleasure may be herein known. And with this I make an end, praying God to send you home shortly, for without this no joy here can be accomplished; and for the same I pray, and now go to Our Lady of Walsingham that I promised so long ago to see. At Woburn the 16th of September.
I send your Grace herein a bill found in a Scotsman’s purse of such things as the French King sent to the said King of Scots to make war against you, beseeching you to send Mathew hither as soon as this messenger comes to bring me tidings from your Grace.
Your humble wife and true servant, Katharine.

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ANNE BOLEYN

These famous love letters from King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn are undated.  They were found in the Vatican Library, possibly stolen from Anne and sent to the papacy during Henry VIII’s struggle for an annulment of his marriage to Katharine of Aragon.  Though Henry argued for an annulment on the basis of his conscience (he stated that the marriage was in direct contradiction to the Bible), most people believed he simply wanted to marry Anne Boleyn.

Anne’s replies to these letters are lost.

The letters were written in French.

 

Anne Boleyn

the most famous portrait of Anne Boleyn; at the NPG, London

 

My mistress and friend:  I and my heart put ourselves in your hands, begging you to have them suitors for your good favour, and that your affection for them should not grow less through absence.  For it would be a great pity to increase their sorrow since absence does it sufficiently, and more than ever I could have thought possible reminding us of a point in astronomy, which is, that the longer the days are the farther off is the sun, and yet the more fierce.  So it is with our love, for by absence we are parted, yet nevertheless it keeps its fervour, at least on my side, and I hope on yours also:  assuring you that on my side the ennui of absence is already too much for me:  and when I think of the increase of what I must needs suffer it would be well nigh unbearable for me were it not for the firm hope I have and as I cannot be with you in person, I am sending you the nearest possible thing to that, namely, my picture set in a bracelet, with the whole device which you already know.  Wishing myself in their place when it shall please you.  This by the hand of

Your loyal servant and friend

H. Rex


No more to you at this present mine own darling for lack of time but that I would you were in my arms or I in yours for I think it long since I kissed you.  Written after the killing of an hart at a xj. of the clock minding with God’s grace tomorrow mightily timely to kill another: by the hand of him which I trust shortly shall be yours.

Henry R.


Mine own sweetheart, these shall be to advertise you of the great loneliness that I find here since your departing, for I ensure you methinketh the time longer since your departing now last than I was wont to do a whole fortnight:  I think your kindness and my fervents of love causeth it, for otherwise I would not have thought it possible that for so little a while it should have grieved me, but now that I am coming toward you methinketh my pains been half released….  Wishing myself (specially an evening) in my sweetheart’s arms, whose pretty dukkys I trust shortly to kiss.  Written with the hand of him that was, is, and shall be yours by his will.

H.R.

 

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Letter of Queen Jane Seymour to the Privy Council of England
12 October 1537

 

Who died in giving another phoenix birth.
Let her be mourned, for birds like these
Are rare indeed.
Jane Seymour’s epitaph

Jane Seymour

miniature portrait of Jane Seymour by Lucas Horenbout

 

Background
Jane was the mother of Henry VIII’s longed-for heir, Prince Edward. He was born on 12 October 1537, and this letter was immediately sent to the Privy Council by the queen. Jane may not have personally composed the letter; however, it was sent in her name and sealed with her signet. Though she died of puerperal fever twelve days after the birth, she was not immediately ill. In fact, the letter muses upon the precariousness of the infant prince’s health. This sentiment was understandable enough in an age of high infant mortality.


Right trusty and well beloved, we greet you well, and for as much as by the inestimable goodness and grace of Almighty God, we be delivered and brought in childbed of a prince, conceived in most lawful matrimony between my lord the king’s majesty and us, doubting not but that for the love and affection which you bear unto us and to the commonwealth of this realm, the knowledge thereof should be joyous and glad tidings unto you, we have thought good to certify you of the same. To the intent you might not only render unto God condign thanks and prayers for so great a benefit but also continually pray for the long continuance and preservation of the same here in this life to the honor of God, joy and pleasure of my lord the king and us, and the universal weal, quiet and tranquility of this whole realm. Given under our signet at my lord’s manor of Hampton Court the 12th day of October.
Jane the Quene.

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Letter of Anne of Cleves to her husband, King Henry VIII
11 July 1540

‘My Lord, if it were not to satisfy the world, and My Realm, I would not do that I must do this day for none earthly thing.’
Henry VIII to Cromwell on his wedding day to Anne of Cleves

miniature portrait of Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger

Background
The following letter was Anne of Cleves’s very diplomatic response to Henry VIII’s request for an annulment of their brief marriage. Though her brother pressed her to return home to the duchy of Cleves, Anne was content to remain in England. There were two reasons for this – first, Henry was so grateful for her easy submission and gracious manners, he rewarded her with a very comfortable lifestyle. She was able to live as a wealthy dowager and enjoyed a close relationship with the king (now termed her ‘brother’) and his three children. Secondly, she did not want to face an ignominious return to Cleves. After Henry’s public rejection of their union, she would not have found another husband and would have been forced to rely on her brother’s generosity.

Henry was very impressed by this letter. Its tone of respectful subservience to his wishes inspired his gratitude. Despite his reputation for tyranny, the great king could be kind and generous. Anne had little cause to think ill of him. After all, most historians focus on Henry’s feelings in this matter – but perhaps the lady from Cleves was less than enamored with her husband and was equally desperate to escape the marriage. According to all reports, she learned to love English beer and grew plump and happy in her adopted country.


Pleaseth your most excellent majesty to understand that, whereas, at sundry times heretofore, I have been informed and perceived by certain lords and others your grace’s council, of the doubts and questions which have been moved and found in our marriage; and how hath petition thereupon been made to your highness by your nobles and commons, that the same might be examined and determined by the holy clergy of this realm; to testify to your highness by my writing, that which I have before promised by my word and will, that is to say, that the matter should be examined and determined by the said clergy; it may please your majesty to know that, though this case must needs be most hard and sorrowful unto me, for the great love which I bear to your most noble person, yet, having more regard to God and his truth than to any worldly affection, as it beseemed me, at the beginning, to submit me to such examination and determination of the said clergy, whom I have and do accept for judges competent in that behalf. So now being ascertained how the same clergy hath therein given their judgment and sentence, I acknowledge myself hereby to accept and approve the same, wholly and entirely putting myself, for my state and condition, to your highness’ goodness and pleasure; most humbly beseeching your majesty that, though it be determined that the pretended matrimony between us is void and of none effect, whereby I neither can nor will repute myself for your grace’s wife, considering this sentence (whereunto I stand) and your majesty’s clean and pure living with me, yet it will please you to take me for one of your humble servants, and so determine of me, as I may sometimes have the fruition of your most noble presence; which as I shall esteem for a great benefit, so, my lords and others of your majesty’s council, now being with me, have put me in comfort thereof; and that your highness will take me for your sister; for the which I most humbly thank you accordingly.
Thus, most gracious prince, I beseech our Lord God to send your majesty long life and good health, to God’s glory, your own honor, and the wealth of this noble realm.
From Richmond, the 11th day of July, the 32nd year of your majesty’s most noble reign.
Your majesty’s most humble sister and servant, Anne the daughter of Cleves.

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Letter of Queen Catherine Howard to Master Thomas Culpeper
spring 1541

miniature portrait of Queen Catherine Howard Background
This is the only surviving letter written by Henry VIII’s fifth wife. It was written in the spring of 1541, roughly eight months after she married the king. After Catherine’s fall from grace, Culpeper was among the men charged with committing adultery with the queen. It was a treasonable offense, and he was executed for it (along with Francis Dereham.) Culpeper tried to save himself by arguing that he had met with Catherine only because the young queen was ‘dying of love for him’, and would not let him end the relationship.

Catherine, for her part, argued otherwise; she told her interrogators that Culpeper ceaselessly begged for a meeting and she was too fearful to refuse. However, the letter clearly supports Culpeper’s version of events. After all, the queen did write ‘it makes my heart die to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company.’

The affection she felt for Culpeper led to a legend surrounding Catherine’s last words – ‘I die a Queen, but would rather die the wife of Culpeper.’ This final declaration of love did not occur; its invention was an attempt to give Catherine’s pathetic and tragic story some mark of distinction.

Catherine was not as well educated as Henry’s other wives, though her mere ability to read and write was impressive enough for the time. This letter taxed her greatly, as she points out in the closing lines. It is transcribed here as originally written, and the grammatical mistakes are Catherine’s own.


Master Culpeper,
I heartily recommend me unto you, praying you to send me word how that you do. It was showed me that you was sick, the which thing troubled me very much till such time that I hear from you praying you to send me word how that you do, for I never longed so much for a thing as I do to see you and to speak with you, the which I trust shall be shortly now. That which doth comfortly me very much when I think of it, and when I think again that you shall depart from me again it makes my heart die to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company. It my trust is always in you that you will be as you have promised me, and in that hope I trust upon still, praying you that you will come when my Lady Rochford is here for then I shall be best at leisure to be at your commandment, thanking you for that you have promised me to be so good unto that poor fellow my man which is one of the griefs that I do feel to depart from him for then I do know no one that I dare trust to send to you, and therefore I pray you take him to be with you that I may sometime hear from you one thing. I pray you to give me a horse for my man for I had much ado to get one and therefore I pray send me one by him and in so doing I am as I said afor, and thus I take my leave of you, trusting to see you shortly again and I would you was with me now that you might see what pain I take in writing to you.
Yours as long as life endures,
Katheryn.
One thing I had forgotten and that is to instruct my man to tarry here with me still for he says whatsomever you bid him he will do it.

 

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Letter of Katharine Parr to her husband, King Henry VIII
July 1544

 

‘They curse and ban my words everyday, and all their thoughts be set to do me harm….
I am so vexed that I am utterly weary.’
Katharine Parr in 1544, regarding Catholic attempts to discredit her

Katharine Parr

miniature portrait of Katharine Parr by Lucas Horenbout


Katharine Parr was the sixth and last wife of King Henry VIII, destined to outlive the mercurial ruler. She was already twice-widowed and childless when they wed in 1543; she was also in love with Thomas Seymour, the brother of Henry’s third queen Jane. But the king’s will was law and Katharine bowed to his demands with grace. She was an admirable wife to Henry and a loving stepmother to his two youngest children, Elizabeth and Edward. She was also the most intellectual of Henry’s wives, caught up in the turbulent religious climate of the times. And it was this passionate interest in theology which nearly ended her life, for the king was old and sickly but still capable of destroying those closest to him. Katharine saved herself and earned Henry’s respect enough to be appointed Regent of England during his military campaign in Boulogne. Upon his death in 1547, she married Seymour with indecent haste, the only one of four husbands she had chosen herself. Her greatest achievement was the popularity of her devotional works; they were 16th century bestsellers and capture Katharine’s complex and abiding piety.

Read the biography of Katharine Parr.


Primary Sources

Read letters written by Katharine.

Visit Tudor England: Images to view portraits of Katharine.

Test your knowledge of Katharine’s life and times at Tudor Quizzes.


Interact
Meet other Six Wives enthusiasts at Ladies All: A Fanlisting for the Six Wives of Henry VIII.
Tudor Talk This email discussion list is sponsored by Tudorhistory.org.
Reign of the Tudors This is a role-playing game set in 16th century England. If you would like to ‘play’ Jane Grey or Anne Boleyn or other Tudors, click the link to join.

 

 

Background
Katharine Parr wed King Henry VIII on 12 July 1543 at Hampton Court Palace. Henry was her third husband and not her personal choice. She was in love with Thomas Seymour, the brother of Henry’s third wife, Jane; he eventually became her fourth husband just a few months after Henry’s death in 1547. Once the marriage to Henry was settled upon, Katharine worked to make it successful. She was, in all respects, admirably suited to the task. She had experience managing temperamental elderly men and nursing their various ailments. She was very intelligent and committed to scholarship, but she also participated fully in the life of Henry’s court. She grew as fond of finery as any of his wives and dressed magnificently.

She and Henry grew close. He refused to allow anyone else to wrap his badly ulcered leg; he also made her Queen-Regent while he attended the siege of Boulogne in 1544. This letter was written during that six-week absence and its tone is loving and respectful. In it, Katharine mentions the King of Scotland’s widow, Marie de Guise, as well as Henry’s three children. In addition to her success as a sixth wife, Katharine was an admirable stepmother who genuinely loved the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth and Prince Edward.


Although the distance of time and account of days neither is long nor many of your majesty’s absence, yet the want of your presence, so much desired and beloved by me, maketh me that I cannot quietly pleasure in anything until I hear from your majesty. The time, therefore, seemeth to me very long, with a great desire to know how your highness hath done since your departing hence, whose prosperity and health I prefer and desire more than mine own. And whereas I know your majesty’s absence is never without great need, yet love and affection compel me to desire your presence.
Again, the same zeal and affection force me to be best content with that which is your will and pleasure. Thus love maketh me in all things to set apart mine own convenience and pleasure, and to embrace most joyfully his will and pleasure whom I love. God, the knower of secrets, can judge these words not to be written only with ink, but most truly impressed on the heart. Much more I omit, lest it be thought I go about to praise myself, or crave a thank; which thing to do I mind nothing less, but a plain, simple relation of the love and zeal I bear your majesty, proceeding from the abundance of the heart. Wherein I must confess I desire no commendation, having such just occasion to do the same.
I make like account with your majesty as I do with God for his benefits and gifts heaped upon me daily, acknowledging myself a great debtor to him, not being able to recompense the least of his benefits; in which state I am certain and sure to die, yet I hope in His gracious acceptation of my goodwill. Even such confidence have I in your majesty’s gentleness, knowing myself never to have done my duty as were requisite and meet for such a noble prince, at whose hands I have found and received so much love and goodness, that with words I cannot express it. Lest I should be too tedious to your majesty, I finish this my scribbled letter, committing you to the governance of the Lord with long and prosperous life here, and after this life to enjoy the kingdom of his elect.
From Greenwich, by your majesty’s humble and obedient servant,
Katharine the Queen.

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