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The six wives of Henry VIII

Henry VIII is well known for being the king of England who had six wives. For him one thing was fundamental: to have a son, an heir who could carry on the name “Tudor” in history and solidify the presence of the family on the throne. In order to get what he wanted more than anything else, he married six different women during his life, beheading them or divorcing them when it was clear that they would not give him a son. Many of the women who became his wives were used as political pawns by ambitious men (often their own fathers). Some of them had royal blood, others were the last hopes of noble families in decline. Almost all of them had no word on the situation in which they found themselves involved and that forever changed their destinies.

CATERINA D’ARAGONA

Born December 16, 1485, Catherine of Aragon was the youngest surviving daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, the royal family of Spain. Shortly after his birth, Spaniards and English decided to make a political alliance, negotiating the engagement between Catherine and Prince Arthur of England, that is the elder brother of Henry VIII. Caterina was 16 when she married, but the marriage did not last long, since Arturo died six months after the wedding. It is not yet clear whether the two had consummated marriage carnally, the fact is that Catherine, too young to remain a childless widow, was promised in marriage to Henry VIII. When he ascended the throne in 1509, the two married.

Skilled and born to lead, Caterina was an intelligent woman. The people soon became proud of its balance, its grace and its charm. She was also much admired for her beauty – with fair skin, blue eyes and light brown hair, she was considered “the most beautiful creature in the world” as a young woman.

The couple looked happy and Caterina found herself pregnant shortly after the wedding. Nevertheless, in 1510 a dead daughter was born. Being the daughter of a king herself, she knew it would be essential to give a male heir to her husband who could solidify her position and the power of the monarchy, especially considering the precarious political climate in England. Their marriage, however, was plagued by misfortune. The following year he gave birth to a child who died after 52 days, the next child was born dead and another child still died after a few hours. The only one to survive was a daughter, Maria (known in history as “Maria la Sanguinaria”) but the king would not have been enough.

Enrico was frustrated due to the lack of a male heir, but the thought of leaving his wife took shape only when he became infatuated with Anna Bolena, an ambitious and apparently fertile young woman, unlike Caterina, now forty-two years old and unable to conceive. In secret, Enrico began trying to divorce his Spanish wife, stating that because he had married his brother’s wife, their marriage was cursed and sinful.

When Catherine discovered Henry’s plans she was devastated, but she kept her tenacity. He proved inflexible that the marriage with Arturo had never been consummated and, when he was suggested to peacefully retreat to a convent, he stated, “God has never intended me for a convent. I am the true and legitimate wife of the king ”. The queen showed her firmness not only before the king but also before the Pope, who at that time was a prisoner of Catherine’s nephew, Charles V, emperor of Spain. But even this fact failed to save Catherine’s marriage and honor. She was thrown out of court and separated from her daughter when Henry married Anna. He lived the next three years in damp and dark manors, immersing himself in prayer.

Enrico, perhaps struck by compassion, offered her the chance to see her daughter if only both had recognized Anna as queen, but Maria had inherited the vein of pride of her mother, and both refused. Despite being ordered to renounce her title, Catherine appeared as Queen of England until the day of her death, on 7 January 1536.

ANNA BOLENA

His name is linked to a romantic tragedy, but little is known about the life he spent before he got into Enrico’s favor. There are even controversies concerning his year of birth: some claim 1501, some 1507. He was the second daughter, born after Maria Bolena (court lady of Catherine and lover of Henry VIII before he fell in love with Anna) of Thomas Bolena, descendant of a noble English aristocratic family, and Elizabeth Howard.

The young Anna was sent to the court of Margaret of Austria to receive a good education; here he learned to ride, dance, sing and write. Later he became a lady of honor of Queen Claudia of France and acquired certain knowledge that would later impress Enrico, for example in terms of art, fashion, good manners, and courtly love. In France he met the gentlemen Thomas Wyatt and Henry Percy, he became engaged to the latter in secret but was forced to give up their relationship to enter the service of Queen Catherine of Aragon, as ordered by his father, who had in mind for her a far more important husband. It was here that, thanks to his intelligence, beauty, and refinement, he struck Enrico’s attention, which he found irresistible. In fact, he wrote her numerous letters (17 of which are kept in the Vatican Library) and flooded her with gifts, asking her to become his official lover. But Anna refused this “title” and demanded to become queen.

Completely infatuated, Enrico broke all ties with the Catholic Church in order to obtain a divorce from Catherine and this led to the Reformation in England. Despite the fervent debates regarding the legality or illegality of marriage and the fact that the people did not love her as much as Enrico did, Anna felt perfectly at ease as a sovereign (she was crowned in 1533, after years of struggle to obtain the divorce) and soon found herself pregnant. In 1533 Elisabetta was born, the future great queen with red hair, but the lack of a male heir cost dear to Anna, who aborted several times. his enemies at court took advantage of his precarious situation to plot behind him and, in 1536, he was arrested on charges of adultery, incest (with his brother George) and treason. Despite little evidence of her guilt, she was found guilty, tried and beheaded.

JANE SEYMOUR

In many respects, Jane’s life before marriage and her rise to power were similar to those of her predecessor. He descended from a respectable and ambitious family of men who wanted to use her as a pawn for their personal interests. Thanks to the skill of her father, Sir John Seymour, Jane gained a place as court lady of Catherine of Aragon in the late 1920s of the ‘500. He was then witnessed to the controversial rise to power of Anna Bolena, then moving on to his service.

Jane was different from Anna in many ways. Anna was ambitious, shrewd and frank; Jane, on the other hand, was quiet, sweet and submissive, known for her efforts to keep the peace at court. Also from the physical point of view, the two women were opposites: Anna had dark hair, deep brown eyes and was of unusual beauty; Jane had a fair complexion, with long blond hair. It is not strange that when Enrico began to tire of his astute and vehement wife, he wanted a wife who could serve him without complaints, and Jane was absolutely perfect.

Although it is not known for certain when their relationship began, in 1536 Enrico was certainly interested in Jane. Their approaches were conducted in secret, but he could not keep himself from giving her sumptuous gifts. The public reaction to his relationship with Anna had taught him that discretion was important. This was perfect for Jane, who was not as ambitious as Anna and was more than happy to remain the king’s secret lover, although the situation was destined to change.

Only a day after Anna’s execution, Jane and Enrico became engaged, only to marry ten days later. Although it was thought that she was not as intelligent or educated as to the previous wives, the compassionate treatment given by Jane to Catherine of Aragon assured her certain popularity. Unlike Anna, she was not crowned; the justification for this was an epidemic of plague in London, but probably Henry, before crowning another queen, wanted to make sure he was able to give him a child.

The pressures to which Jane was subjected at this point were unimaginable. Henry’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, had with his lover Bessie Blount at the time of Catherine, had died, so there was no longer any possible successor to the throne, if not two daughters considered illegitimate. In 1537 Jane discovered she was pregnant and probably her pregnancy was the most anticipated and taken into consideration throughout the country’s history. After a long and difficult birth, which lasted two nights and three days, Jane gave birth to a baby. After 29 years of reign in England, Enrico had his heir, but things were not so optimistic for Jane, who remained weak and exhausted due to complications due to childbirth. On October 24, 12 days after the birth of her son Edward, Jane died, only 29 years old. He was the only one of Enrico’s wives to receive a royal funeral and he wore the black of mourning for three months. He also appeared changed as a person; he waited years before remarrying and began to gain weight, as can be seen from the paintings in which he is depicted. When the king died, in 1547, he was buried next to her, the mother of the son for whom, in order to obtain it, he changed the history of England. In one part of the epitaph for the death of Jane Seymour we read “Here rests Jane, a phoenix who died giving birth to another phoenix”.

ANNA OF CLEVES

Although Enrico had not been married for several years following Jane’s death, negotiations for a wedding soon began. With the break between Rome and England, Enrico’s country remained isolated and therefore it was decided that a political union, rather than a loving union, would be favorable for him. Enrico had agents in several countries charged with finding out possible partnerships and giving him opinions on the appearance of women.

Cleves, a small German duchy, was seen as a possible ally by Henry’s secretary, Thomas Cromwell, who proved decisive in a union with the sister of the Duke of Cleves, Anna. Enrico, interested in having an attractive wife as well as entering into a political union, sent the court painter, Hans Holbein the Younger, to paint a portrait of Anna. Enrico judged it acceptable enough to begin preparations for the wedding.

Anna, however, was not adequate to the life of the English court; she was refined and virtuous, but did not boast of that sophistication or intelligence that so attracted Enrico. She had always lived at home and was more interested in embroidery than books. On New Year’s Day in 1540, Enrico disguised himself and entered the room where Anna was staying, then suddenly embraced and kissed her. Anna, unaware that this was her future husband, did not pay him any great attention.

Enrico was not enthusiastic about the union. Anna had been described as a beautiful woman, with light hair and a lovely face, but Enrico’s apprehensions grew, despite the marriage was celebrated, as planned, on 6 January 1540. Henry’s inability to consume marriage on the night of the wedding led him to say “I didn’t like it much before, now I like it even less”. He claimed that he had been deceived not only by the portrait but also by the people who had complimented the woman’s appearance.

On June 24, Enrico finally got what he wanted and Anna was ordered to leave the court. When she was offered a marriage annulment, she accepted. He confirmed that the marriage had never been consummated and was rewarded for his obedience with valuable property and the new title of “beloved sister of the king”. He remained on good terms with Enrico and lived quietly in the countryside. Although the marriage was brief, he came out with his life and his honor intact, surviving all of Henry’s wives. Although Enrico had not been married for several years following Jane’s death, negotiations for a wedding soon began. With the break between Rome and England, Enrico’s country remained isolated and therefore it was decided that a political union, rather than a loving union, would be favorable for him. Enrico had agents in several countries charged with finding out possible partnerships and giving him opinions on the appearance of women.

Cleves, a small German duchy, was seen as a possible ally by Henry’s secretary, Thomas Cromwell, who proved decisive in a union with the sister of the Duke of Cleves, Anna. Enrico, interested in having an attractive wife as well as entering into a political union, sent the court painter, Hans Holbein the Younger, to paint a portrait of Anna. Enrico judged it acceptable enough to begin preparations for the wedding.

Anna, however, was not adequate to the life of the English court; she was refined and virtuous but did not boast of that sophistication or intelligence that so attracted Enrico. She had always lived at home and was more interested in embroidery than books. On New Year’s Day in 1540, Enrico disguised himself and entered the room where Anna was staying, then suddenly embraced and kissed her. Anna, unaware that this was her future husband, did not pay him any great attention.

Enrico was not enthusiastic about the union. Anna had been described as a beautiful woman, with light hair and a lovely face, but Enrico’s apprehensions grew, despite the marriage was celebrated, as planned, on 6 January 1540. Henry’s inability to consume marriage on the night of the wedding led him to say “I didn’t like it much before, now I like it even less”. He claimed that he had been deceived not only by the portrait but also by the people who had complimented the woman’s appearance.

On June 24, Enrico finally got what he wanted and Anna was ordered to leave the court. When she was offered a marriage annulment, she accepted. He confirmed that the marriage had never been consummated and was rewarded for his obedience with valuable property and the new title of “beloved sister of the king”. He remained on good terms with Enrico and lived quietly in the countryside. Although the marriage was brief, he came out with his life and his honor intact, surviving all of Enrico’s wives.

CATERINA HOWARD

Catherine Howard was the young and vital daughter of Lord Edmund, brother of Elizabeth Howard, the mother of Anna Bolena – which made her a cousin of the unfortunate queen. Despite aristocratic blood flowing through his veins, his father was a not particularly rich man. Catherine was sent to live by the Duchess Widow of Norfolk, but received little attention. He spent most of his time with the other girls, letting guys into their rooms in secret, rather than writing or reading. He was lively, full of spirit and of good nature, but he had a wandering mind and found it difficult to concentrate on one thing for a time. He began to have a sexual relationship with the secretary of the house, Francis Dereham. The relationship flourished and they began to call each other their wife and husband, leaving many to believe that they had negotiated a future marriage, but the relationship ended when it was discovered by the Duchess Vedova.

At the age of 19, Catherine entered the court, serving Anne of Cleves, who cared little for Henry, who soon took a liking to the charming young maid. Caterina was known for her charm and Enrico, now 49, could not resist that exciting girl. Sixteen days after the annulment of the marriage with Anna, Enrico married Caterina, who represented what the king needed to revive his spirit. He persuaded him with frivolities and a new taste for life and he overwhelmed her with gifts, baptizing her as “her rose without thorns”.

For Catherine’s family, the relationship was a miracle and a curse at the same time. The ambitious Howards hoped that the new position of the young woman would help them gain the influence they had at the time of the reign of Anna Bolena and restore Catholicism. But Caterina, unlike Anna, had not grown up in royal courts. He was not clever or even attentive and found it difficult to get rid of his flirtatious manners. However, her past was haunting her. Those who knew his past asked for court positions in exchange for their silence and therefore soon Caterina found herself surrounded by enemies who knew all her secrets.

Married to an old and sickly man, it is not surprising that the girl sought comfort elsewhere. It was not long before his carelessness affected her and in November 1541 there was enough evidence against the queen to inform the king. He, still infatuated with his new bride, initially refused to believe these claims, but when Dereham and another declared lover, Thomas Culpepper, were tortured, confessed their faults and were executed. Despite having repeatedly denied any prenuptial contract with Dereham, Catherine’s fate was marked, she was found guilty of treason and beheaded February 13, 1542. Unlike Anna Bolena, it appears that the charges against her were well-founded, but believed that if the King was happy (and he was) they wouldn’t count much. Caterina was a naive and inattentive young woman, not cut for the intricate life of the court, and paid for her with her life.

CATERINA PARR

Following the disastrous end of Henry’s marriage to Catherine, the new and severe laws of the king made the position of queen truly dangerous. A new clause in the Act of Attainder (with which the Parliament took the place of a judge or a jury in trying a person) foresaw that whoever knew something unpleasant about his new queen and did not confess, would be sentenced to death. In short, those who knew of certain facts would have to speak before marriage or would have been killed. Ambitious courtiers paid great attention and the climate at court was tense.

When Enrico’s attentions turned to a 31-year-old widow, the feeling of relief was general. Known as Lady Latimer at that time, Catherine was the daughter of Maud Green, who served Catherine of Aragon as a damsel. He had a great passion for studying and could speak fluently in French, Italian and Latin.

Catherine was married for the first time at the age of 17, but only four years later her husband died and she was widowed for the first time. Her next husband was 40 years old. This union made Catherine a stepmother, and she turned out to be a loving and compassionate wife for her sickly husband. He died in 1543 and, at the age of 31, Catherine found herself again a widow.

It was around this time that Enrico began to be attracted to Caterina, her qualities as a stepmother and a great scholar. Despite being about 20 years younger than the king, she was of a reasonable and controlled nature and he began to send her sumptuous gifts. But Caterina had her eyes on another, namely Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Jane. Caterina had served two husbands dutifully and wanted to get married, at least for the last time, out of love. But with the king involved, he was not destined to be so, and Catherine knew that the duty towards the king far exceeded the desires of his heart. He married again with an older and sickly man on 12 July 1543. The new queen was immediately well seen not only by the king but also by her children: she worried about the education of Elisabetta and Edoardo and played an important part in the reconciliation of the king with his two daughters. Catherine ruled like a respected queen. She was the first woman to publish a book in English under her own name and when Henry went to France for the capture of Boulogne, she assumed the role of regent. However, his ability did not prevent several enemies from plotting his fall. Shortly before Henry died he commanded that Catherine should be treated like a queen, despite her position as a widow. It seemed that Catherine had had enough of her life as a queen and, only six months after Enrico’s death, she married Thomas Seymour, his love of a lifetime, in secret. When it was discovered, the union created a scandal. In 1548 Caterina found herself unexpectedly pregnant at the age of 35, but shortly after birth, the child became ill and died. Shortly thereafter, on 5 September 1548, the mother followed her son, dying of the same illness that had struck Jane Seymour.

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