Henry VIII (1491-1547), king of England (1509-1547), the image of the Renaissance king as immortalized by German artist Hans Holbein, who painted him hands on hips, legs astride, exuding confidence and power. Henry VIII had six wives, fought numerous wars in Europe, and even aspired to become Holy Roman Emperor in order to extend his control to Europe. He ruthlessly increased the power of royal government, using Parliament to sanction his actions.
Henry ruled through powerful ministers who, like his six wives, were never safe in their positions. His greatest achievement was to initiate the Protestant Reformation in England. He rejected the authority of the pope and the Roman Catholic Church, confiscated church lands, and promoted religious reformers to power.
Henry Tudor, named after his father, Henry VII, was born June 28, 1491 in Greenwich Palace. Since he was the second son, and not expected to become king, we know little of his childhood until the death of his older brother Arthur. We know that he attended the wedding celebrations of Arthur and his bride, Catherine of Aragon, in November 1501 when he was 10 years old. Shortly after the wedding, Arthur and Catherine went to live in Wales, as was tradition for the heir to the throne. But, four months after the marriage began, it ended, with the death of Arthur Prince of Wales.
A treaty was signed that would allow Catherine to marry the next heir to the throne -- Prince Henry. Until then, Catherine's parents, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain would send over 100,000 crowns worth of plate and gold as a wedding gift and Henry would pay the agreed upon dowry. It was deemed necessary for a papal dispensation to be issued allowing Henry to marry Catherine, as she was his dead brother's wife, and this marriage was prohibited in Leviticus.
At the time, and throughout her life, Catherine denied that her marriage to Arthur had even been consummated (and given the boy's health, that is most likely the case) so no dispensation was needed. However, both the parties in Spain and England wanted to be sure of the legitimacy of the marriage, so permission from the pope was sought and received. This issue would be very important during the Divorce and the Break with Rome. The marriage still did not take place however.
Henry VII had been slow to pay his part of the arrangement and her parents were refusing to send the marriage portion of plate and gold. The stalemate continued until Henry VII died on April 22, 1509 and his son became Henry VIII. Henry was just shy of 18 years old when he became king, and had been preparing for it from the time of his older brother Arthur's death. At this age, he was not the image that we usually call to mind when we hear the name Henry VIII.
He was not the overweight and ill man of his later years. In his youth, he was handsome and athletic. He was tall and had a bright red-gold cap of hair and beard, a far cry from the fat, balding and unhealthy man that is often remembered.Henry's marital career is probably the thing that he is most known for. The story of Henry's wives is told on their own pages.
King Henry VIII
Shortly after becoming king, Henry VIII took Catherine of Aragon as his bride. He inherited Ł1.5 million pounds from his father. There has probably been more interest in the wives of Henry VIII than in the King himself, although it is impossible not to wonder about the man that brought these six women together in history. Their lives were all unique, yet all had fates ultimately decided by the same man. Two were divorced, with one getting a much better deal than the other. Two were beheaded, one falsely accused, the other probably not.
One died shortly after giving birth to the male heir Henry so desperately longed for. One survived as his widow. There has been some of discussion of the spelling of the wives' names, especially with regards to the three Catherines. It is not possible to say that any one spelling is correct or incorrect since in all cases, they each employed different spellings for their own names. Here is the convention I decided to use after reading "Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII" by Karen Lindsey: Catherine of Aragon, Kathryn Howard and Katherine Parr.
Catherine of Aragon was the youngest surviving child of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. She was born on the 16th of December 1485. As was common for princesses of the day, her parents almost immediately began looking for a political match for her. When she was three year old, she was betrothed to Arthur, the son of Henry VII of England. Arthur was not even quite two at the time. When she was almost 16, in 1501, Catherine made the journey to England.
It took her three months, and her ships weathered several storms, but she safely made landfall at Plymouth on October 2, 1501. Catherine and Arthur were married on 14 November 1501 in Old St. Paul's Cathedral, London. Catherine was escorted by the groom's younger brother, Henry. After the wedding and celebrations, the young couple moved to Ludlow Castle on the Welsh border. Less than six months later, Arthur was dead, possibly of the 'sweating sickness'.
Although this marriage was short, it was very important in the history of England, as will be apparent. Catherine was now a widow, and still young enough to be married again. Henry VII still had a son, this one much more robust and healthy than his dead older brother. The English king was interested in keeping Catherine's dowry, so 14 months after her husband's death, she was betrothed to the future Henry VIII, who was too young to marry at the time.
By 1505, when Henry was old enough to wed, Henry VII wasn't as keen on a Spanish alliance, and young Henry was forced to repudiate the betrothal. Catherine's future was uncertain for the next four years. When Henry VII died in 1509 and one of the new young king's actions was to marry Catherine. She was finally crowned Queen of England in a joint coronation ceremony with her husband Henry VIII on June 24, 1509. Shortly after their marriage, Catherine found herself pregnant.
This first child was a stillborn daughter born prematurely in January 1510. This disappointment was soon followed by another pregnancy. Prince Henry was born on January 1, 1511 and the was christened on the 5th. There were great celebrations for the birth of the young prince, but they were halted by the baby's death after 52 days of life. Catherine then had a miscarriage, followed by a short-lived son. On February 1516, she gave birth a daughter named Mary, and this child lived.
There were probably two more pregnancies, the last recorded in 1518. Henry was growing frustrated by his lack of a male heir, but he remained a devoted husband. He had at least two mistresses that we know of: Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn. By 1526 though, he had begun to separate from Catherine because he had fallen in love with one of her ladies (and sister of one of his mistresses): Anne Boleyn. It is here that the lives of Henry's first and second wives begin to interweave. By the time his interest in Anne became common knowledge, Catherine was 42 years old and was no longer able to conceive.
Henry's main goal now was to get a male heir, which his wife was not able to provide. Somewhere along the way, Henry began to look at the texts of Leviticus which says that if a man takes his brother's wife, they shall be childless. As evidenced above, Catherine and Henry were far from childless, and still had one living child. But, that child was a girl, and didn't count in Henry's mind. The King began to petition the Pope for an annulment. At first, Catherine was kept in the dark about Henry's plans for their annulment.
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