Information about Henry VIII and his wives:
Henry VIII was born on June 28, 1491. His father and mother, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, were loving parents, although they saw little of their children. Henry, their second son, was styled the Duke of York. He had his own servants and minstrels, and a fool named John Goose. He even had a whipping boy who was punished when Henry did something wrong.
Henry VII loved entertainers, and the court attracted acrobats, jesters, magicians and musicians. Prince Henry enjoyed music and grew up to be an accomplished musician (although he did not write "Greensleeves," as legend suggests). At the age of 10 he could play many instruments, including the fife, harp, viola and drums.
Henry's older brother Arthur married a Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon, when he was fifteen. Prince Arthur danced at his wedding and seemed to be in good health, but within a few months he was dead. Some historians think Arthur had tuberculosis. Or he may have had plague or sweating sickness.
Young Henry was now heir to the throne. He was guarded at all times and allowed to see few people. Henry was a very tall, athletic, handsome teenager. He kept his exuberant personality under control on public occasions because he feared his father's temper. He received little training for his future role as king, and would rely heavily on his counselors in the early years of his reign.
In 1509 Henry VII died of tuberculosis and his son became King Henry VIII. He was 17.
Although most people today think of Henry VIII as a fat tyrant, in his youth he was admired for his intelligence, good looks, good nature and athletic ability. One of his contemporaries wrote that he was "one of the goodliest men that lived in his time, in manners more than a man, most amiable, courteous and benign in gesture unto all persons."
But of course, Henry is remembered today for just one thing - well, six things. Six wives, to be exact.
Wife #1 - Catherine of Aragon
It may surprise you to learn that Henry VIII was married to his first wife for over 20 years, and for a long time they were happy together. Catherine (the widow of Henry's brother Arthur) was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, and had received an excellent education at their court. She had long red-gold hair and blue eyes, and in her youth was considered pretty.
As a young man Henry enjoyed dancing, gambling, hunting, hawking, horseback riding, jousting, tennis, archery, wrestling, writing and composing music, dancing, masques and pageants. Catherine was five years older and much more sedate. She was interested in politics and Henry often turned to her for advice. In 1513 she ruled as regent while Henry was campaigning in France.
Although Catherine was pregnant many times, only one of her children, Princess Mary, survived. Henry was a doting father and didn't seem to blame Catherine for her failure to bear healthy sons. Henry is only known to have had two mistresses during his marriage to Catherine, which made him a reasonably faithful husband by the standards of the time. Catherine knew of his affairs but kept silent.
Then Henry met the woman who was to be his second wife. . .
Wife #2 - Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn was probably born in 1500 or 1501. Her father was an English diplomat and her mother was the daughter of an earl. When Anne was around 12 she became a maid of honor to Margaret of Austria, the regent of the Netherlands. A year and a half later she moved to the French court, where she served Henry VIII's sister Mary, who had married the king of France. King Louis soon died and Mary returned to England, but Anne stayed in France as maid of honor to the new queen, Claude.
In 1522 Anne returned to England and went to live at King Henry's court as a member of Queen Catherine's household. There she became secretly betrothed to a young courtier, Henry Percy - secretly because Percy was already promised to another woman, and his family would not approve of his marrying the less aristocratic Anne Boleyn. But the lord chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, heard of the engagement and alerted the king, who told Wolsey to end the relationship. Wolsey did just that, lecturing Percy for becoming involved with a "foolish girl" and summoning Percy's father, who forbade him to see Anne again. Percy was forced to marry the bride his father had chosen for him, and Anne never forgave Wolsey.
Anne was banished from the royal court after the abrupt ending of her romance with Percy and did not return until 1524 or 1525. In 1526 Henry began to pursue Anne openly. But Anne refused to become his mistress, saying, "I would rather lose my life than my honesty."
Bewitched by Anne's sparkling black eyes, long dark hair and vivacious personality, the king began scheming to end his marriage to Catherine. He claimed that it had never really been a marriage because she had been his brother's wife. Catherine insisted that her first marriage didn't count because it hadn't been consummated, and church authorities agreed. For years Henry struggled unsuccessfully to have his marriage annulled. In the end, determined to have his way, he broke free of the Catholic Church, established the Church of England, banished Catherine from court, had his first marriage declared invalid, and married Anne Boleyn.
Queen Anne was crowned in June of 1533. Later that year she gave birth to her only surviving child, Elizabeth. The years of waiting had been hard on Anne. She was in her thirties now, moody and sharp tongued, and Henry was falling out of love with her. She had friends at court, but also many enemies. She had brought about the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey, who died in 1530, and she also plotted against Catherine of Aragon and her daughter Mary.
Catherine died on January 7, 1536, and Anne rejoiced. She was pregnant again, and if she gave birth to a healthy son her position as queen would be secure. But on the day of Catherine's funeral Anne found the king with one of her maids of honor, Jane Seymour, sitting on his knee. She became hysterical and had a miscarriage. "She has miscarried of her savior," the Spanish ambassador wrote.
In May Anne was arrested and charged with having affairs with five men, including her own brother George. The charges were false, but Anne and all of the men were convicted and sentenced to death. On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was beheaded. And on May 30 Henry VIII married his third wife . . .
Wife #3 - Jane Seymour
The Seymours were an old and noble family. Jane, who was probably born between 1507 and 1509, had been maid of honor to both Queen Catherine and Queen Anne. As Henry grew tired of Anne's tantrums he was drawn to Jane's gentle, modest ways. Jane sympathized with Catherine and was apparently happy to help bring about Queen Anne's downfall. Like Anne before her, Jane virtuously rejected the king's advances, and once again Henry fell in love with the woman he could not have.
After their marriage Jane remained quietly obedient to Henry. Once she fell on her knees in public and begged the king to change one of his policies. This did not go over well with the king, and Jane never tried it again.
In October of 1537 Jane gave birth to a son, Edward. Twelve days later she died. Henry grieved for her, but he also began looking for a new wife. This time he wanted to make a politically advantageous marriage. The royal women of Europe were understandably reluctant to marry him, and it was two years before Henry VIII became betrothed to his fourth wife . . .
Wife #4 - Anne of Cleves
Cleves was a dukedom in modern day Germany and Anne was the sister of its ruler, Duke William. Born in 1515, she was given a sheltered upbringing, and was less educated and worldly than Henry's previous wives. Henry approved of her portrait, so in 1539 a marriage treaty was signed and Anne set sail for England.
When she arrived Henry was so eager to see her that he raced to where she was staying and burst in upon her unannounced. Anne didn't speak English, didn't know who this fat stranger was, and was busy watching something out the window, so she more or less ignored Henry. The king's pride was wounded. "I like her not!" he told all and sundry. He found her ugly - downright repulsive - and the last thing he wanted to do was marry her.
But Henry couldn't wriggle out of his treaty with Cleves. The wedding took place on January 6, 1540 with the groom protesting every step of the way. At first Anne had no idea that her husband was displeased with her. She told her ladies, "Why, when he comes to bed he kisseth me, and taketh me by the hand, and biddeth me 'Good night, sweetheart.'" Her ladies had to tell her that this wasn't enough to cause a pregnancy.
Eventually Anne learned that her husband wished to be rid of her. She was shrewd enough to realize that her life was in danger. To Henry's amazement, she cooperated with his desire to have the marriage annulled. Relieved, he gave her money and property and treated her very well. Anne remained in England, and never remarried. Henry called her his sister and often invited her to court. She outlived Henry and was certainly the most fortunate of his wives.
Less than twenty days after his marriage to Anne of Cleves ended, Henry married his fifth wife. . .
Wife #5 - Katherine Howard
Katherine Howard, a first cousin of Anne Boleyn, was fifteen or sixteen when she married Henry. She was lively, pretty and kind, and Henry saw her as perfect and unspoiled, a "rose without a thorn."
But Katherine had secrets. Several years earlier she'd had an affair with a man named Francis Dereham and promised to marry him. This alone made her ineligible to marry the king. She had also been involved with her music teacher, Thomas Culpepper, and as queen she resumed her relationship with him. In time, of course, her infidelity was discovered and she was arrested.
In December of 1541 Dereham and Culpepper were executed. Katherine Howard was beheaded in February 1542. Henry was horrified and heartbroken, but he had not given up on matrimony. The following year he married his sixth and final wife. . .
Wife #6 - Katherine Parr
Katherine Parr was born around 1512. In her teens she married a man named Lord Borough, who was in his sixties. He soon died and Katherine married another older man, Lord Latimer. Katherine and her second husband frequently visited the royal court, and Henry became fond of the auburn-haired Lady Latimer.
Lord Latimer died in March 1543 and Henry quickly began courting Katherine. She was in love with Jane Seymour's handsome brother Thomas, but she didn't dare refuse the king. On July 12, 1543, Henry and Katherine were married.
Henry was old and ill now, and Katherine was as much a nurse to him as a wife. She was good to his children and helped him reconcile with Catherine of Aragon's daughter Mary. But Katherine's keen intellect and radical religious views placed her in danger. She argued with Henry about religion and he angrily ordered her arrest. Learning of this, Katherine took to her bed crying, which so distressed Henry that he cancelled the arrest warrant. After that Katherine took care not to dispute with the king.
Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547. Within months Katherine had married her true love, Thomas Seymour. But Seymour soon betrayed her by trying to seduce her stepdaughter, Henry's daughter Elizabeth. Henry VIII's last unfortunate wife died from complications of childbirth on September 7, 1548.
Books about Henry VIII
Great Harry: The Extravagant Life of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson is a historical biography.
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1566491991/theworldofroyaltThe Life and Times of Henry VIII. A book about Henry VIII, his court and his world, with an introduction by historian Antonia Fraser.
Henry VIII & His Queens by David Loades.
Henry VIII by J. J. Scarisbrick and J. J. Scalapino. An excellent biography.
Henry VIII: The Mask of Royalty by Lacey B. Smith. This is by far the best book I've read about Henry VIII. It explains his personality and actions in the context of his times. If you've never read a biography of Henry VIII, I wouldn't start with this book, but if you're already familiar with his life story, this is definitely worth reading.
The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George. A well-researched, entertaining novel. Highly recommended.
King Henry VIII by William Shakespeare. This play was written during the reign of Henry's daughter Elizabeth I.
Henry VIII is a documentary from the A&E "Biography" series.
Character Sketches: Henry VIII and His Court by David Starkey, published by National Portrait Gallery Publications.
Henry VIII: Images of a Tudor King by Christopher Lloyd, Simon Thurley, and Hampton Court. Portraits of Henry.
All the King's Cooks: The Tudor Kitchens of King Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace by Brears.
Inventory of King Henry VIII: Transcript of the Inventory edited by David Starey.
The Six Wives of Henry VIII
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir. My favorite book about his wives. It's fascinating, fun to read, and contains much information not available in other recent books about Henry's wives.
The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser. An absorbing look at Henry's six unfortunate wives.
Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII by Karen Lindsey. This book will definitely make you look at Henry's wives in a different light. The details Lindsey provides about Katherine Howard are particularly interesting.
The Six Wives of Henry VIII (video set). The famous six-part BBC series. Accurate and highly enjoyable.
Letters of the Queens of England 1100-1547, edited by Anne Crawford, includes letters written by all of Henry's wives.
Catherine of Aragon
Catherine of Aragon by Garrett Mattingly is a classic biography of Henry's first wife.
Mistress Anne by Carolly Erickson. A biography of Henry's second doomed wife.
The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn by Retha M. Warnicke is a scholarly look at family politics at the court of Henry VIII.
Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret C. Barnes. Novel about Anne Boleyn.
The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell. A novel told from Queen Anne's viewpoint.
Anne of the Thousand Days. This movie about Anne Boleyn is wildly inaccurate, but fun to watch. Stars Genevieve Bujold as Anne and Richard Burton as Henry VIII.
Jane, the Quene, Third Consort of King Henry VIII by Pamela M. Gross illuminates the life of Henry's most mysterious queen.
Anne of Cleves
Ann Of Cleves: Fourth Wife of Henry VIII by Mary Saaler. Biography.
The Marrying of Anne of Cleves: Royal Protocol in Early Modern England by Retha M. Warnicke.
The Fifth Queen by Ford Madox Ford. Acclaimed novel in which Katherine Howard is portrayed as an intelligent woman battling for social change.
The Rose Without a Thorn by Jean Plaidy. Novel about Katherine Howard. Large print.
Kateryn Parr: The Making of a Queen by Susan E. James. A biography of Henry's last tragic queen.
Other People Who Lived During the Reign of Henry VIII
The Sisters of Henry VIII by Maria Perry. The fascinating lives of Henry's sisters Margaret, who became the queen of Scotland, and Mary, who became the queen of France (and later defied Henry by marrying his best friend).
The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune by David M. Head is a biography of Thomas Howard, Third Duke of Norfolk. Norfolk, a brother-in-law of Henry VII, was the uncle of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. He assisted in the rise and downfall of both women.
Thorns and Thistles by C. Patrick Hotle deals with diplomacy between Henry VIII and James V of Scotland (husband of Henry's sister Margaret).
When Knighthood Was in Flower: Or, the Love Story of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor, the King's Sister by Charles Major. Novel about Henry's sister Mary, who bravely defied the king by marrying his best friend, Charles Brandon.
Henry VIII's Conservative Scholar by Andrew A. Chibi is about Bishop John Stokesley and the divorce, royal supremacy and doctrinal reform.
Cardinal Wolsey: Church, State and Art by S. J. Gunn, edited P.G. Lindley. A biography.
Thomas Cranmer: A Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch. Don't confuse Thomas Cranmer with Thomas More. Cranmer made Henry VIII's divorce from Anne Boleyn happen, More lost his head over it. Cranmer wrote the Book of Common Prayer, More was the author of Utopia. And it was More who was canonized a saint, while Cranmer was executed by "Bloody" Mary for his fiendish plotting on behalf of Lady Jane Grey. In this highly readable biography we get the first new treatment of Cranmer in three decades.
The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir. A cohesive and impeccably researched book. Weir, an expert in the period and author of a book on Henry's VIII wives, focuses on the children of Henry VIII who reigned after his death: Edward VI, Mary I ("Bloody Mary") and Elizabeth I. The three shared little - living in separate homes - except for a familial legacy of blood and terror. This is exciting history and fascinating reading.
Books about Edward VI, Jane Grey, and Mary I
Books about Elizabeth I
The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd. More was Henry's good friend -- until he refused to endorse the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn. This biography traces the life, from baptism to beheading, of the lawyer who became a saint.
The King's Good Servant but God's First: The Life and Writings of Saint Thomas More by James Monti.
Thomas More (Great Christian Thinkers) by Anne Murphy and Peter Vardy. An examination of More's religious beliefs and writings.
Utopia by Thomas More. More's most famous work, in which he describes his idea of the perfect world. First published in 1516.
A Man for All Seasons. A wonderful 1966 movie about Thomas More and Henry VIII. Paul Scofield won an Oscar for his portrayal of More. The movie also won Oscars for best director, best picture, best screenplay, best cinematography, and best costumes. Robert Shaw plays Henry VIII, and Orson Wells appears as Cardinal Wolsey. Highly recommended!
A Man for All Seasons: A Play in Two Acts by Robert Bolt. The script of the play on which the movie was based.
Henry VIII: In History, Historiography and Literature edited by Uwe Baumann
War, Taxation and Rebellion in Early Tudor England by G.W. Bernard is about Henry VIII, Wolsey, and the Amicable Grant of 1525.
Reign of Henry Eighth from His Accession to the Death of Wolsey by John S. Brewer, edited by James Gairdner.
Dangerous Talk and Strange Behavior by Sharon L. Jansen is about women and popular resistance to the reforms of Henry VIII.
Courtly Letters in the Age of Henry VIII by Seth Lerer is about Tudor literary culture and the arts of deceit.
The Reign of Henry VIII: Politics, Policy and Piety edited by Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Henry VIII and the Conforming Catholics by Paul O'Grady.
Henry VIII: A European Court in England edited by David Starkey.
More Books about the Tudor era
Children's Books about Henry VIII
NEW! Henry the VIII and His Chopping Block (Famous Dead People) by Alan MacDonald, illustrated by Philip Reeve. For children ages 9-12. Published August 2000.
Henry VIII by Frank Dwyer and Arthur M. Schlesinger. A biography for children ages 9-12.
King Henry VIII by Robert Green. Another biography for kids ages 9-12.
Henry VIII and His Wives is a coloring book!
Henry VIII and His Wives Paper Dolls by Tom Tierney.
Founders of the Tudor Dynasty: Owen Tudor and Henry VII
The Middle Tudor Monarchs: Edward VI, Jane Grey, and Mary I
The Last Tudor: Queen Elizabeth I
Hampton Court History
The Mary Rose
The Six Wives of Henry VIII: A New (I Hope) Perspective
The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Portraits