Episode 24: Last Four Wives of Henry VIII

With this episode we continue our series on the Tudors. Henry, Henry, Henry… First Catherine of Aragon didn’t produce, so you divorced her. Then Anne Boleyn failed as well, so you took care of that nuisance. In this episode we talk about the last four of your wives, or as we like to call them, Mommy, Sister, Party and Lucky.

First up, Jane Seymour! Henry VIII had his eyes set on Jane before Anne Boleyn was even out of the picture. She was born about 1504, and may have finished her education in France in service to Henry’s sister, Mary when she was Queen of France. Jane may have even come to Henry’s court in service to wife number one. It is known that she was a Maid of Honor to Anne Boleyn. And oh, how much fun do we have realizing what a wife/mistress feeding trough those ladies are to Henry VIII? (Lots.)

Jane Seymour: Wife #3

Jane’s brothers were also in service to King Henry VIII, and she was probably used as a pawn for family gain, but Henry wasted no time- betrothing her within 24 hours of Anne Boleyn’s execution.They were wed within two weeks.

We all know what Henry was after, a male heir. Jane looked like a promising vessel to bring that to him.  Henry’s illegitimate- but recognized- son, Henry Fitzroy, died shortly after the marriage at age 17.  With that, the back-up plan crumbled and Henry has no heir options.

We talk a bit about what happened in this short marriage during the podcast, but Jane is pregnant within a year and gives birth to a son, Edward, who would one day, briefly, succeed Henry VIII as King.

Future King Edward VI, Henry! You got a male heir!

Sadly, the hand that was dealt to his mother, Jane, was not so kind. She died of complications from childbirth about two weeks after Edward’s birth.

Henry needs a wife! So he quickly put his people on the task of  finding one. The fate of his previous wives has people rethinking the Get This Daughter Married to Henry to Further Our Family strategy. Pickings are getting slim, and political gain is the main objective.

Enter Anne Of Cleves.

Born in 1515 to John, Duke of Cleves and his wife Mary, Anne was intelligent, meek and proficient in needlework (which is middle ages speak for “She has a great personality”). Lord Cromwell sticks his nose into the scene yet again. He thinks that this Protestant German Princess, or her sister Amelia, is the ticket. Henry sends an artist to paint portraits of the women, sees Anne’s and signs the deal.

The bait and switch pic

Anne was a very charming teenager of about 19, but she was far from the image that the King saw.  The artist may have been mesmerized by her personality when he painted the portrait in her best light, and also neglected to add the smallpox scars that dotted her face. She was simple, spoke no English and was quite unsophisticated by English court standards.

But Henry really isn’t marrying her for her looks, merely for political gain. She travels from her home land to England, and they are married in January but Henry can’t take it. He claims that the marriage was never consummated, pulls some of his old tricks out of his pocket, and they are divorced by July.

But Henry wasn’t heartless, and he did seem to care for Anne. He sets her up, treats her like a sister and she lives her days out happily in England and- in 1557-she is the last of Henry’s wives to die.

But that doesn’t solve the Queen problem- Henry needs one. Court has always been a good place to look and he quickly finds his next vic…wife. Kathryn Howard.

Girls just wanna have fun…Kathryn Howard

Kathryn was born in 1521, the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard, who was the younger brother to the Duke of Norfolk who we have discussed before ( sneaky!). Kathryn was also the first cousin to Anne Boleyn. Her mother had died when Kathryn was nine and she was sent to live with her Step-grandmother. During this time, Kathryn probably did not have much guidance because she began her party-girl ways very early, having suspected lovers before she was sent to court to serve as – yes!- Lady in Waiting to Anne of Cleves.

This is where Henry falls for the beautiful young (19) Kathryn. A mere 16 days after his annulment from Anne, Henry VIII takes his fifth wife, Kathryn. He is quite smitten, calls her his, “rose without a thorn” and claims her to be the,”jewel of womanhood”.

But Henry, almost 50, overweight with an ulcerated leg is not exactly the most attractive man around. Oh, no. And Kathryn? She’s young and fun and after a year still not pregnant. She is linked to liaisons with several men; charges that she has had affairs materialize. Henry is devastated. He has the men executed and within two years of marriage, Kathryn and her Lady in Waiting, Jane Parker Boleyn,  (she had been married to Anne’s brother George) are sent to the Tower of London. Kathryn meets the same fate as her cousin, and is beheaded and buried near her.

Poor Henry, another wife gone. And heartbroken to boot! (insert tiny violin here).  Obviously his wife finding methods were faulty, this next time will be different.

Catherine Parr, Henry ended on a strong note

Enter Catherine Parr. Her parents, Sir Thomas and Lady Maud Parr served under Henry VIII. Her mother was a Lady in Waiting to Catherine of Aragon, and her father was the Controller of the Household. Catherine Parr may have been educated with Princess Mary who was only 4 years younger. She was bright, educated, refined and married, and widowed, by age 20.

Her second marriage lasted longer, although by age 30 she is once again a widow.

She  then fell in love with Thomas Seymour, brother to late Queen Jane, Uncle to Prince Edward, but Henry put a stop to that. His options for his next wife were becoming limited and he looked at this woman that he had known for a very long time and knows what he wants. He convinces Catherine to break ties with Thomas, and marry him.

She does.

She is a very loyal wife, a good companion to the aging, almost bed ridden, 300 pound monarch. She took her Queenly duties seriously and handled them with a composed and mature manner. Henry named her Regent when he headed off to invade France, showing his trust for her. We talk in details about the four year marriage, but Catherine was a good Queen and a provided stability to the royal family.

Her release from her duties came when Henry VIII died. Within four months she married the love that she had given up to serve her King, Thomas Seymour. She would give birth to a daughter, Mary Seymour, but died of complications of the birth at the age of 36.

Phew! What a wild ride! Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived- those were the wives of King Henry VIII.


Please go back and look at the media recommendations for the entire Tudors series. There is some great stuff out there for you to learn more. But if we had to recommend one book for this episode it would be this:

The Wives of Henry VIII by, Antonia Fraser

Okay, we love books.  And we don’t hesitate one second to recommend historical fiction, especially Philippa Gregory historical fiction.

The Boleyn Inheritance

PBS has a really excellent resource for an easy overview of all the wives with this, The Six Wives of Henry VIII

We also keep recommending this website for Tudor information. Great for homeschoolers, or the self-learners, or anyone who wants a quick read on the people of this era. Luminarium.org

Ahh, Twitter. Yes, you can  get character tweets by following  (only listing those with recent activity) Jane Seymour. Catherine Parr, Anne of Cleves, and Kathryn Howard all have accounts that seem to have been abandoned. If one of those women is your favorite, it seems like you have a project, right?

A Knight’s Tale is available for streaming on Netflix.

You only get this reference if you listen to the podcast

As always, music provided by MusicAlley. Visit them at Music.mevio.com