Henry VIII, Part 2: Marriages after His Divorce

After he divorced Queen Catherine of Aragon, his personal life and even the whole nation took unexpected turns. Includes basic facts about his wives after the divorce.

A genealogical table, to get the big picture about dynasty and succession:

J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII

The dynastic storyline is not complicated. None of Henry VIII’s children produced an heir or heiress.

Wives after Popular Queen Catherine of Aragon

1.. Anne Boleyn

She was born in 1507, the youngest daughter of Thomas Boleyn. Anne and Henry secretly married on 25 Jan 1533, so Henry for a brief period was a bigamist. Anne was crowned Queen Consort 1 June 1533. She was executed on 19 May 1536, for adultery and hence treason. Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Howard, had difficult pregnancies and keeping them. This may indicate how things are about to unfold after Anne Boleyn’s pregnancies after Elizabeth.

Sir Thomas Boleyn married above his station, for his wife was the daughter of the earl of Surrey. His main estate was Hever Castle in Kent.

Anne Boleyn: Executed

2.. Jane Seymour

She was the daughter of John Seymour of Wolf Hall. She was born about 1509. Henry and she married on 30 May 1536 at York Place (later renamed Whitehall) in the Queen’s Closet or Oratory. She died on 24 Oct 1537, from puerile fever. One historian says it was caused by caesarian surgery, but another historian doubts a caesarian was performed on her.

Jane Seymour: Died

3.. Anne of Cleves

She was the daughter of Johann III, Duke of Cleves, and Count of Ravensberg and von der Mark, by Marie, daughter of William, Duke of Juelich and Berg. She was born at Dusseldorf 22 Sep 1515. They were married on 6 Jan 1540. The marriage was annulled on 9 July 1540. She died testate at Chelsea Palace on 16 July 1557 and was buried at Westminster Abbey.

Anne of Cleves: Divorced and survived

4.. Catherine Howard

She was the daughter of (Lord) Edmund Howard. She was born at Lambeth, Surry, about 1509. They married on 28 July 1540, at Hampton Court Palace. She was executed for adultery and hence treason on 13 Feb 1542, at Tower Green. She was buried in St. Peter ad Vincula Chapel in the Tower.

Catherine Howard: Executed

5.. Catherine Parr

She was born at Kendal Castle about 1513 and was the daughter of Thomas Parr. She was the widow of Edward Burgh (d. before Apr 1533) and John Neville, 3rd Lord Latimer (d. 2 Mar 1542). Henry and Catherine were married 12 July 1543; she survived him and died 7 Sep 1548. She married Thomas Seymour at mid- or the end of May. She died testate at Sudley Castle, Gloucestershire, 5 Sep 1548 and was buried there in the castle chapel.

Catherine Parr: Survived by outliving him

His Many Marriages

  1. Anne Boleyn went to France in 1519, about 12 years old, to be educated by Queen Claude, wife of Francis I, who had other girls in her care.
  2. Anne left France at the outbreak of war in 1522. She was to marry James Butler, an Irish chieftain and claimant to the earldom of Ormond. The Butlers were feuding with the Boleyns, who also claimed the earldom. A match would ease the feud. But the Butlers’ price was too high, and Anne remained in England.
  3. Anne had a large Adam’s apple and a sixth “finger” on one of her hands—actually just a second nail growing on the side of one of her fingers. For this reason she wore long gloves, which became fashionable at court.
  4. Anne’s strength was the game of courtly love: “This was played enthusiastically in the antechambers of Westminster, Richmond, and Greenwich, and the rules were relatively simple. Every male player pretended to be desperately in love with one of the female players; he sent her love letters, poems, and small gifts, professing undying devotion. She responded as the mood took her; now encouraging her lover with small tokens and coy glances, now rebuffing him with disdain. There was no formal scoring system, but skilful players were those who could keep up the pretence longest and most convincingly Those with a gift for penning amorous verses, especially those whose social status was too low to enable them to be players, were much in demand to supply deficiencies of ardent but tongue-tied aristocrats. These jousts were not, or were not supposed to be, genuine sexual encounters, but human nature being what it is—some developed in that direction. It is very difficult for the observer, particularly at such long range, to discover when this was happening. The most important slide from make belief into reality was that which occurred between Anne and the king” (Loades 6)
  5. This passionate courtship turned into a long struggle to get married, including annulling Henry’s marriage to Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon. But it happened. In the afternoon on 7 Sep 1534 Anne was delivered of a girl. Elizabeth was christened and confirmed three days later in the chapel of the Observant Franciscans at Greenwich, with Cranmer named her godfather. One missing person: Henry (probably).
  6. On 21 Jan 1536 Henry was unhorsed by an opponent at a joust, and his horse fell on him. He was knocked unconscious for two hours.
  7. After the duke of Norfolk told Anne of the accident, Henry’s fall hurt Anne. She was pregnant and she explained that for this reason she miscarried three months later.
  8. Around this time the king took another Boleyn cousin as his mistress—Mary (Madge) Shelton. The shine was coming off the marriage.
  9. In December, Catherine wrote her will in which she expressed forgiveness to Henry.
  10. On 7 January 1536 Catherine died. Of course the inevitable rumors flew around that she had been poisoned. When she did Henry and Anne dressed in yellow satin, not black, the traditional color of mourning. They flaunted their glee.
  11. So how did Henry lose his love for Anne?
  12. In Anne’s privy chamber she had in an unguarded moment mocked Henry’s virility. She alleged that he was often unable to perform the sex act. Her enemies caught wind of the story, whether true or not, and so did Henry.
  13. Further, he had been infatuated with Anne only because he was bewitched. She was accused of plotting to poison Princess Mary, since both despised each other. All of this was a barrage in Henry’s mind.
  14. Around this time Jane Seymour, serving in Anne’s court, caught his attention. He used to send her gifts, and Anne saw it and lashed out with curses and slaps. Elizabeth, when she was queen, used to hit and yell at her serving ladies. Did she inherit this habit from her mother?
  15. In just a few days towards the end of April 1536, his long infatuation dissipated, to be “replaced with an equally irrational fear and loathing. Almost overnight his treasured and exciting companion, for whose sake he had risked so much, became a witch and a serial adulteress” (Loades 23).
  16. John Guy on Henry’s desire to destroy Anne and not just divorce her: “Very likely it was Henry’s emotional revulsion at the mutterings of incest—fed to him the eve of the May Day jousts—that did most to turn his long infatuation with Anne into a sudden murderous loathing. … [T]he suggestion of incest—so reminiscent of the revulsion he had come to feel for Katherine [of Aragon] sent him over the edge. Rarely did he destroy people on the spur of the moment; he would tend to brood first for days or even weeks. In Anne’s case, however, a torrent of jealousy, moral abhorrence and vengeful spite drove him uncontrollably forward. He believed that the scales had fallen from his eyes” (59).
  17. In other words, Henry genuinely believed Anne had bewitched him. Witchcraft was treasonous and a capital offense. Deadly serious.
  18. Further, she was unpopular at home and would never be acceptable to the European heads of state. She was accused of adultery with her courtiers, especially Mark Smeaton (a musician), Henry Norris and perhaps Francis Weston, officer holders in the king’s court. George Boleyn was her brother, and Anne was accused of inserting her tongue in his mouth, and his in hers.
  19. Most important: she never gave Henry a son. And Henry may have believed her miscarried son was deformed, which spawned the belief that Anne was subject to witchcraft.
  20. Or the deformed child was not the result of procreating with the king, but it must have come from incest—with her brother George.
  21. Anne was guilty of maintaining a court of “amour” (love) that a queen was expected to do in her context, of flirting, dancing too familiarly, love notes, love-tokens, sighing, but surely no physical adultery.
  22. Alexander Ales, a Scottish theologian and protégé of Cromwell, observed that Anne carried Elizabeth, a baby, and ran to the king to plead her case and innocence. Ales did not hear what was said, but the king was visibly angry. He recounted this to Queen Elizabeth later.
  23. Henry was glad to believe in her adultery and talked that she committed it with a hundred men. He even wrote a tragedy with his own hand.
  24. Waiting for her end, Anne alternated between hysterical laughter and tears.
  25. On 19 May 1536 Anne was executed, her head severed from her body with one swipe of a sword, by a specialist brought over from Calais. She wore a mantle of ermine over a loose gown of dark grey damask trimmed with fur and a crimson petticoat. Red was believed to keep the body warm, but it is also the color of martyrs. The crowd saw her eyes and lips move as if still in prayer.
  26. On the day of Anne’s execution, Henry entered his barge and visited Jane Seymour. He had been free of Catherine of Aragon by her “hurried” natural death, and he was now free of Anne by her “lawful” death. Now no political-religious authority or complicated law could block his easy path toward a marriage to the new love of his life.
  27. On May 30 Henry married Jane Seymour, then heavily pregnant, at York Place, in the Queen’s Closet or the Queen’s Oratory. (York Place was later renamed Whitehall.)
  28. In 1536 a second Succession Act was passed, which took into account the possibility that Henry would have no legitimate heir or heiress. He could appoint anyone he wished by will or letter patent. Apparently, he needed to clear up the legal limbo of his two daughters in light of the upcoming new birth.
  29. In the same year, Henry’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond, died of tuberculosis. He was seventeen years young. Henry ordered his body to be wrapped in lead, instead of a royal coffin, hidden in a wagon under straw and taken to Thetford, where the duke of Norfolk had him buried quietly.
  30. In the same year Henry’s daughter Mary (Catherine’s daughter) finally made peace with her father. She had strongly opposed the divorce and marriage to Anne (the whore, according to Mary’s mother). She opposed the Act of Supremacy.
  31. At Hampton Court on 12 Oct 1537 Jane delivered a boy, christened Edward. Henry was not there, for plague drove him away to Esher. But he hurried back. Twelve days later Jane died (24 Oct), but of what? Cromwell said she was the victim of those who served her and gave her anything she wanted. She was probably the victim of Tudor medicine. One historian says she had a caesarian surgery, while another said no. She died of puerile fever.
  32. It is possible that Henry was satisfied with the single life. He had his son. But international tensions told him he should marry a credible foreign woman and not a woman close to home in case there’s too much local political wrangling.
  33. His choice of brides at first: (a) Francis’ daughter Margaret; (2) Marie, daughter of the duke of Guise; (c) Christina, daughter of the deposed Christian II of Denmark; she had married the duke of Milan at thirteen and widowed at sixteen; would the duchy come with her? If so, that would bother Francis and Charles. Also, she had heard Catherine was poisoned, and Christina wanted to survive. (d) Louise de Guise, a second de Guise girl; (e) Renee, a third de Guise girl, more beautiful than the others; (f) Marie of Vendome; (g) Anne of Lorraine (Francis’ cousin); (h) Francis’ sister. In other words, Henry didn’t mind one bit marrying Catholics.
  34. Henry sent portraitist Holbein and his son to paint these women. Delighted, he collected their portraits and studied them.
  35. He even suggested that the French women should meet at Calais so he could go there and inspect them. “By God, the thing touches me too near. I wish to see them and know them some time before deciding,” he said. “Would the knights of the Round Table have treated the women in this way?” the French ambassador retorted. Henry blushed. The French king turned him down, saying it is not the French custom to make French noblewomen pass in review like a sale of horses.
  36. As noted, in 1538 Pope Paul III excommunicated Henry, but the main motive was not the divorce, but Henry’s anticlericalism and his pushing aside the authority of the pope in England.
  37. The marriage negotiations dragged on. Times were desperate, for Francis and Charles met at Nice under the pope’s aegis and signed a ten-year truce, called, oddly, the Treaty of Toledo in 1539. It said they were to sever ties with England. Pope Paul III was organizing a crusade against heretics, meaning Turks and Protestants. England was isolated.
  38. There was a real discussion of invading England to stop Henry’s extreme actions of dissolving monasteries and in some cases tearing down their abbeys and other sacred spaces. Henry responded by shoring up his coastal fortresses and reasserting his Catholic orthodoxy.
  39. The marriage proposals limped on, and the eight choices disappeared. Given the threat from the pope, Francis, and Charles, what about Saxony or Germany? He got a painting of Anne of Cleves, sister to the duke of Cleves. She wasn’t bad looking.
  40. However, an ambassador warned the king that she was plain and had not the lively spirit of Henry’s court. She didn’t even play music, but sewed and sat around. She was melancholic and didn’t like even coronation robes—so went a report at the time. But Henry pressed on.
  41. He couldn’t wait when she crossed the Channel on 27 Dec 1539. She was in Rochester. He barged into her apartments in disguise, and she failed to recognize him. He didn’t like the look of her. “I am ashamed that men have so praised her as they have done. I like her not.” Added criticism: She did not bathe. Odor.
  42. He wanted to bolt, but international relations restrained him, for Cromwell told him he needed allies. So Henry and Anne of Cleves were married on 6 Jan. He didn’t consummate the marriage and said as much—so the marriage could be easier to nullify. However, his doctor, Dr. Butts, said Henry was still virile, and if he didn’t consummate it, then he didn’t like her looks. Her fault.
  43. But how to divorce her? After political maneuvering, she agreed to the annulment, and she did not hurry home. She liked the divorce settlement: Two houses and £500 a year (not £50,000, as some on TV reported). One of them was Hever Castle, once the family home of Anne Boleyn. Anne of Cleves was now the king’s “Beloved Sister.” Smart lady. She survived and died in 1557. (Henry died in 1547.)
  44. The Howard family, a noble one, took advantage of the vacancy and put forward Catherine Howard, niece of the Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk. They met, and he flirted. The Howard family fortunes rose.
  45. On the same day that Cromwell was executed (28 July 1540), Henry married Catherine Howard.
  46. Catherine Howard was a young woman who was guarded in her pre-teen and teen years by her step-grandmother, the dowager duchess of Norfolk, at Lambeth. The duchess did not keep the keys to the sleeping quarters safe. Men used to sneak in: Henry Manox, her music teacher, Francis Dereham, a dashing gallant. In other words, she was an abused child.
  47. Then after she was drawn to the royal court, she assembled flirtatious courtiers like Thomas Paston and Thomas Culpepper, Jr., two gentlemen of the Privy Council. Thomas Culpepper had been accused of raping a park keeper’s wife. Sexual predator. And along came Francis Dereham to court. Foolish.
  48. On 30 June 1541, Henry set out on his promised “progress” to the north. There were five thousand horses, a thousand soldiers, and artillery—more like an army. Along the way, he went on hunting trips. Catherine Howard was having an affair with Thomas Culpepper.
  49. Thomas Culpepper, aided by Catherine herself and lady Rochford (matron of the queen’s suite and wife of Anne Boleyn’s brother), broke into her apartment at almost every stopping place.
  50. On Henry’s return from the north, he refused to believe the evidence. He tore up the paperwork that laid it out. But Dereham confessed. In a field outside Hampton Court, Henry, Wriosthesley, and the duke of Norfolk met secretly in a field, with the excuse that he was hunting. They accompanied him to an all-night meeting of the council at Gardiner’s palace in Southwark, where the truth finally bore in on him.
  51. Adultery, either by intent that must be established with evidence or by act, with the queen was treasonous to the king. She was executed on 13 Feb 1542, at Tower Green. So were the other intriguers.
  52. Henry grieved an extra-long time for his young wife, but he eventually recovered. He celebrated his recovery with a festival and banquet at which twenty-six ladies sat at table. Even Anne of Cleves, his “Beloved Sister,” sent him gifts. Would he take her back?
  53. Henry was too old for palace intrigue, and he settled down with a mature woman, Catherine Parr, whom he married on 12 July 1543. She had been widowed twice before and at the date of the marriage was courted by Thomas Seymour, brother to the late Queen Jane (mother of Edward). But Catherine couldn’t refuse the king’s proposal. She felt called. She was on a mission—a missionary.
  54. In the 1544 campaign against France, Henry appointed her governor and protector during the king’s absence.
  55. Parr was the most inclined to Protestant views. She discussed theology with her husband, and he eventually got annoyed. During an intense discussion, Henry complained to his conservative (Catholic leaning) bishop Stephen Gardiner that it was unseemly for her to have such discussions with him.
  56. The bishop, not liking her Protestant leanings, pounced and opened an investigation of her. The newly appointed Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriosthesley, another conservative, was charged with overseeing the investigation. He accused Parr of associating with outspoken Protestant Anne Askew, though the two women probably never met.
  57. On 24 May 1546, Askew was sent to the Tower of London and was put on the rack (over the constable’s initial objection), but did not implicate Parr. Askew was burned at the stake, on July 16.
  58. Wriosthesley persuaded the king to sign an arrest warrant for his queen.
  59. The king used to complain about his wife to his personal physician, Dr. Wendy. He told him about the bill of articles against her and swore him to secrecy.
  60. The warrant “fell out” of the “bosom” (dropped deliberately?) of one Henry’s councilors and was immediately brought to Catherine. When she saw the signature, she collapsed. The king sent the doctor to see her, and she told him what she read. She made him tell the whole story. Confirming her suspicions, he broke his promise of secrecy and assured her that if she submitted to the king, he would relent and tear up the warrant.
  61. She went immediately to the king and begged his forgiveness for her theological assertiveness and made it clear she would submit to his religious views. She only discussed such things to distract him from his leg ulcer pain. The king relented and said, “Then Kate, we are friends again. And is it even so, sweetheart, and tended your argument to no worse end [purpose]?” In other words, “you got into heated discussions with me to distract me from my pain? Ahhh, how noble of you! All is forgiven!”
  62. The following day Wriosthesley with forty men arrived with arrest warrant to haul away Catherine and her ladies-in-waiting, but saw Parr and the king walking together peacefully in the garden. Henry tore up the warrant and royally scolded his conservative lord chancellor. “Knave! Arrant knave! Beast! Fool!” The king said, sending the chancellor and his train on their way.
  63. The conservative faction—those who clung closely to Catholicism—lost favor.
  64. Some say the king set the whole thing up just to scare Catherine Parr. He loved her really. But she still might have been executed if she had not repented.
  65. In any case, Henry died on 28 Jan 1547. Catherine Parr outlived him, and so did Anne of Cleves.


Henry VII: First Tudor King

Henry VIII, Part 1: Early Life and Divorce from Catherine of Aragon

Henry VIII, Part 2: Marriages after His Divorce

Henry VIII, Part 3: Reformation and National Policies

Henry VIII, Part 4: International Policies

Henry VIII, Part 5: Personal Life, Death, and Conclusions

Edward VI: the Boy King

(Jane Grey, Queen of Nine Days: she was not a Tudor)

Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen

Elizabeth, Part 1: Early Years

Elizabeth, Part 2: Sibling Rivalry with Queen Mary

Elizabeth I, Part 3: The Coronation

Elizabeth I, Part 4: Mary Queen of Scots

Elizabeth I, Part 5: Reformation and International Policies

Elizabeth I, Part 6: Personal Life

Elizabeth I, Part 7: Her Male Favorites

Elizabeth I, Part 8: Summary and Death


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Gerald Bray, ed. Documents of the English Reformation (Fortress, 1994).

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—, Mary I: The Daughter of Time, Penguin Monarch Series (Allen Lane / Penguin, 2016).

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—, ed. Chronicles of the Tudor Kings (Penguin Viking 1990).

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W.. S. Reid, “Pilgrimage of Grace (1536-37),” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).

Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 5 vols. (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013).

J.. J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII, new edition, Yale English Monarchs (New Haven: Yale UP, 1997).

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David Starkey, Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne (New York: Harper Collins, 2001 [in England in 2000]).

Howard F. Vos, “Six Articles, the (1539),” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).

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