Sorting out the Many Wives & Children of Henry VIII

Henry VII


Father: Henry Tudor, aka Henry VII, the man who killed Richard III and ended the War of the Roses
Mother: Elizabeth York

Infamous for: having 6 wives

Famous for: separating England from the grip of the Roman Catholic Church by establishing the Church of England during the Reformation

Henry's Wives

Catherine of Aragon


Father: Ferdinand II, King of Spain
Mother: Isabella I, Queen of Spain
Children: Henry (lived 50 days), another Henry (lived only hours), Mary I. She had 3 other children (1 boy, 2 girls) by Henry that died quite young or miscarried.

Born in 1485 to Ferdinand & Isabella (yes - that Ferdinand & Isabella), Catherine was first married to Arthur Tudor, the Prince of Wales in 1501. When Arthur died the following year, Catherine married Henry, Arthur's little brother, so that England wouldn't have to return her massive dowry to Spain.

Henry VIII was 5 years younger than her; their marriage in 1509 was more or less doomed by Henry's philandering ways. Henry noticed a hot little number among her ladies-in-waiting, a gal named Anne Boleyn, and started chasing after her. Unfortunately for Henry, Anne was a devout Calvinist and refused to become Henry's mistress.

Suddenly, Henry decided that because Catherine had been married to his brother, their marriage was improper. He petitioned the pope, Clement VII, for an annulment. In the midst of the Protestant Reformation, there was no way the pope was going to alienate his most powerful Catholic allies (the king & queen of Spain) by tainting their daughter with that stigma. Also, at the time, Clement was living more or less as the hostage of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, who was Catherine's nephew. With all this coming into play, of course he refused the annulment.

Henry decided that was a good time to join the Reformation. He broke his nation away from the Roman Catholic Church by having Parliament approve two laws that said, basically, that English royalty has a higher authority than the papacy. The Archibishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, became the head of the Church of England. Before he was Archbishop, Cranmer had been the personal chaplain to Anne Boleyn's father.

Cranmer declared Henry's marriage to Catherine illegal and banished her to a castle called The More. She moved to Kimbolton Castle a few years later, where she lived out her life (less than year) as a nun according to the Order of St. Francis. Henry allowed her to retain the title "Dowager Princess of Wales," her official title as his brother Arthur's widow. She was prohibited from seeing her only surviving child, Mary, but the two of them exchanged letters until Catherine's death.

Catherine refused to acknowledge Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn, referring to herself as the Queen throughout her life.

Anne Boleyn


Father: Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire
Mother: Elizabeth Howard
Children: Elizabeth I

After a romance of a couple of years, Anne married Henry in a secret ceremony and became the Queen Consort. She couldn't be Queen full-out because her father wasn't royalty.

She bore Henry no sons, giving him only one live child, which they named Elizabeth to honor both of their mothers. While Anne was much beloved by the public early on in her relationship with Henry, when she failed to produce an heir after a few years, the mood of the public turned against her.

After a few years of marriage, Henry's wandering eye fixed upon Jane Seymour, one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting as well as being Anne's cousin; she probably should have seen *that* coming. Jane became Henry's official mistress and moved into the castle.

With Catherine dead, all doubts as to whether Henry's marriage to Anne (or anybody else) was legal were put to rest. It should come as no surprise, then, that Henry soon accused Anne of adultery, incest and treason, leading to the executions of Anne, Mark Smeaton (a Flemish musician), and noblemen Henry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton, Thomas Wyatt, and George Boleyn. The men were hanged. Anne should have been burned at the stake, but Henry took mercy upon her and had her beheaded.

Jane Seymour


Father: John Seymour
Mother: Margery Wentworth
Children: Edward VI

Henry and Jane married on 30 May 1536, the day after Anne's execution. Henry's only son to survive infancy, Edward, was born on 12 October 1537, resulting in Jane's death. While nobody knows for sure, it's most likely that Jane contracted an infection from failing to pass the placenta or a perineal tear sustained during Edward's birth.

Mary and Elizabeth attended Edward's christening.

Jane's brothers, Thomas & Edward, traded on her memory for several years to gain positions of power & influence. They were both executed some years later.

Anne of Cleves


Father: John III, the Duke of Cleves
Mother: Maria of Julich-Berg
Children: None

Henry and this Anne were married only 7 months and Henry attained an annulment by claiming the marriage was never consummated. Given that Anne was a strict Catholic, this is certainly possible, but doubtful due to Henry's reputation as a skirt-chaser.

Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry's most trusted advisors & ministers, pushed for this marriage as a way to secure the alliance of the Duke of Julich-Berg, Anne's father, against Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. Henry wasn't super excited about the marriage; he dismissed her after 6 months and gave her a ton of money and several prominent castles. They remained friends, with Henry referring to Anne as his "beloved sister" for the rest of his life. She outlived all of Henry's other wives.

Catherine Howard


Father: Lord Edmund Howard
Mother: Joyce Culpeper
Children: None

This Catherine was one of Anne of Cleves' ladies-in-waiting. You can imagine what happened. Henry, uninterested in Anne from the beginning, fixated on Catherine. They were soon married, just a couple of weeks after the marriage between Henry & Anne was annulled.

In a weird turn of events, Catherine Howard was introduced to Anne of Cleves by Jane, the Lady Rochford, who was George Boleyn's widow.

When she was about 13, Catherine enjoyed a tempestuous affair with her music teacher, Henry Mannox. She ended this flirtation when she became interested in Francis Dereham, an employee of her mother whom she often referred to as "husband."

After marrying Henry, Catherine was accused of initiating an affair with Thomas Culpeper, a young friend of Henry's. Lady Rochford was implicated in facilitating the trysts of the young lovers, resulting in the executions of both Anne and Lady Rochford. Anne was just 18 at the time of her execution.

Catherine Parr


Father: Thomas Parr
Mother: Maud Green
Children: None with Henry

Catherine Parr has the ignominy of being the only one of Henry's wives to be married more than twice. She had 4 husbands - 2 of them before Henry!

This Catherine was Henry's cousin through multiple familial connections on both sides of the Tudor line. From all accounts, this marriage was the least controversial and least contentious of all of Henry's couplings, and she remained in Henry's favor until his death in 1547.

Henry's Children

Edward VI

Edward became king at the tender young age of 9 and died, most likely of tuberculosis, at 15. He never really got to be king; his reign was run by a series of regents.

Perhaps the most kingly thing he did was to reinforce the bastardization of his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, which led to a crisis of succession after his premature death.

Mary I

Lady Jane Grey, cousin to Henry VIII's children, became queen upon Edward's death; when Jane was deposed and executed soon after, Mary became the Queen of England. Mary subsequently married Philip II, thus also becoming the Queen of Spain when Philip became king in 1556.

Mary, being a devout Catholic and hating everything about her father and his legacy, reestablished Catholicism as the religion of England upon her ascension.

In a brief 5-year reign, she earned her nickname of "Bloody" Mary by rounding up and torturing hundreds of her father's supporters, including the 280+ she had burned at the stake.

In 1558, she contracted and died of influenza, leaving a legacy of one of England's most brutal and unloved monarchs.

Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII, should not be confused with Mary, Queen of Scots, who, while confusingly also referred to as Mary I, was the daughter of James V, the King of Scotland.

Henry Fitzroy

Fitzroy was Henry VIII's son with Elizabeth Blount, one of his many mistresses. Because Fitzroy was illegitimate, he never stood a chance of ascending the throne, but as his mother was a noble and Henry recognized him as his child, Fitzroy was granted the title Duke of Richmond & Somerset and enjoyed a life of power and influence until his untimely death from tuberculosis in 1536. Fitzroy was only 17 when he died.

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth, then, became the lasting monarch England needed following the death of her sister, Mary. She lived to be 70 years old, ruling England and Ireland for 45 years.

Reversing Mary's re-Catholicism of England, Elizabeth re-established the Church of England. She also laid the groundwork for England's colonization of North America and sent Francis Drake to raid the Spanish fleet at Cadiz, leading to the disastrous journey of the Spanish Armada, which attempted to invade England in 1588.

Elizabeth is famously referred to as "the Virgin Queen," but every bit of information we have points to that as an affectation. She never married, rejecting several high-born and well-placed suitors, but by all accounts, she greatly enjoyed the company of men - especially men in military uniform. Some of the suitors she strung along included Philip II of Spain, her half-sister's widower; Archduke Charles of Austria, whose father was a Holy Roman Emperor; and Henry Valois, the Duke of Anjou - as well as his brother, Francis. To her death, Elizabeth always said she was married to her kingdom.

Since Elizabeth had no children, her death put England in another succession crisis, which led to the ascension of the King of Scotland, James Stuart (James VI in Scotland, James I of the United Kingdom of England, Ireland and Scotland), who was her cousin. James' mother was Elizabeth's Aunt Margaret, daughter of Henry VII.