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The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Six Wives in Brief

This is a guide to the six wives of King Henry VIII of England and is created for those in the Medieval and Renaissance Studies (MERS) minor at Brandeis University. It follows the learning objectives of the minor.

How Many Wives Will He Have

This page gives a brief background of the time period and the women that are covered in this LibGuide. The timeline below spans the Tudor period of history and the descriptions of each of Henry VIII's wives will help you keep track of who is who (and which Catherine is which).

Timeline of the Tudors

This brief timeline shows how interconnected the lives of Henry VIII and his wives were (you'll note the political and familial relations between some of them). You can refer back to this timeline during any point in your study. 

December 1485: Catherine of Aragon born in Madrid to Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the ruling monarchs of Spain

June 1491: Henry VIII born near London to King Henry VII of England and his wife Elizabeth of York

November 1501: Catherine of Aragon marries Arthur Tudor, heir to the English throne

April 1502: Arthur Tudor dies, Catherine remains in England

c. 1507: Anne Boleyn born (exact date and year unknown)

c. 1509: Jane Seymour born (exact date and year unknown)

June 1509: Henry VIII becomes King of England and marries his brother's widow Catherine of Aragon

1512: Catherine Parr born (exact date unknown)

September 1515: Anne of Cleves is born in Dusseldorf, Holy Roman Empire (present day Germany)

February 1516: Mary I, future Queen of England, is born to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. She is their only child to survive infancy into adulthood.

March 1522: Anne Boleyn returns to England and joins the court as one of Queen Catherine's ladies

c. 1524: Catherine Howard born (exact date and year unknown)

1529: Catherine Parr marries her first husband Edward Burgh

July 1531: Henry VIII separates from Catherine of Aragon and seeks an annulment from her to marry Anne Boleyn, beginning a religious schism later called The Great Matter

1533:

January: Henry VIII marries Anne Boleyn in a private ceremony

May: Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, annuls Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon

September: Elizabeth I is born to Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, the only child of their union to survive into adulthood

1534: After the death of her first husband Burgh the previous year, Catherine Parr marries her second husband John Neville

1536:

January: Catherine of Aragon dies

May: Anne Boleyn executed at the Tower of London; Henry marries Jane Seymour in private a few days later

October 1537: The future Edward VI is born to Jane Seymour and Henry VIII, their only child; Jane Seymour dies shortly after giving birth to him

1540:

January: Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII marry; Catherine Howard serves as a maid of honor to Anne

July: Anne of Cleves and Henry's marriage officially annulled; Catherine Howard and Henry marry in private

February 1542: Catherine Howard executed at the Tower of London

July 1543: Months after her second husband John Neville dies, Catherine Parr and Henry VIII marry

January 1547: Henry VIII dies; Catherine Parr marries Thomas Seymour, brother to late queen Jane Seymour

September 1548: Catherine Parr dies

July 1553: Edward VI dies after only a few years on the throne

July 1557: Anne of Cleves dies

November 1558: Mary I dies

January 1559: Elizabeth I becomes Queen of England in her own right

March 1603: Elizabeth I dies after an illustrious reign, ending the Tudor dynasty in England

Who Were Henry VIII's Wives?

English schoolchildren are taught a rhyme to remember the fates of King Henry VIII's wives:

Divorced, beheaded, died

Divorced, beheaded, survived.

Although this simple ditty works for schoolchildren, history is more complicated than that. King Henry VIII of Great Britain and Scotland ruled for 38 years. Throughout the course of his reign, he married six different women. These women were:

Catherine of Aragon

 

Catherine of Aragon (1485--1536) Daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Catherine was sent to England at 16 to marry Henry's older brother Arthur. When he died shortly after their marriage, Catherine remained in England for seven years, until it was determined she would marry Arthur's younger brother Henry. They stayed married for over 20 years, during which time only their daughter Mary survived infancy. Henry banished her to a convent in the waning years of their marriage, when Anne Boleyn, and the prospect of siring a son, caught his eye.

 

 

 

 

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn (c. 1507--1536) Raised in the French courts, Anne returned to England in 1522 as a lady to his first wife. She caught Henry's eye and over the course of a few years he attempted to legally annul his first marriage so he could marry Anne. This created a great schism in the Catholic Church (of which England was a part) and resulted in the formation of the Anglican Church, or Church of England, which is still the state religion in the United Kingdom today. Anne's ambition and intelligence ultimately led to her downfall and execution. During their marriage she gave birth to Elizabeth (the future queen Elizabeth I) their only child to survive infancy.

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour (c. 1509--1537) A lady in waiting for both of his previous wives, Jane was a young woman from a noble English family. Seen as more passive and agreeable than fiery Anne, Henry soon made moves to court Jane, even while Anne Boleyn awaited her execution in the Tower of London. Jane was a Catholic and thus desirable to those in English court who wanted to return to Catholicism. She died shortly after she gave birth to their only child and Henry's only surviving son Edward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves (1515--1557) Daughter of a German duke, Anne was chosen to marry Henry after Hans Holbein painted portraits of her and her sister Amalia. She left her native Cleves for England and remained married to Henry for 6 months during which time their marriage was not consummated. She reluctantly agreed to an annulment and became known as the King's "sister," a title which afforded her a place in court and land income of her own. Her favor in court ebbed and flowed during the rest of her life and she survived Henry and his other wives, dying in 1557.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard (c. 1524--1542) Raised and largely neglected in her step-grandmother's household, Catherine Howard was a maternal first cousin to Anne Boleyn. While serving as a maid of honor (a role younger girls and teens fulfilled rather than slightly older ladies in waiting) for Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII became taken with her and plotted to marry her once Anne accepted his annulment. After almost two years of marriage, Catherine was convicted of treason against the king for an alleged affair with one of the king's Privy Councilors Thomas Culpepper. She was executed in the Tower of London like her infamous first cousin.

 

 

 

 

Catherine Parr 

Catherine Parr (1512--1548) Catherine Parr was married twice before she met Henry VIII (both of her husbands died of natural causes). While much younger than him, she was closer to the monarch in age than his two previous wives were. She was a reform minded Catholic who wrote treatises on religion, one of the only Englishwomen to publish under her own name not once but twice. These texts were dedicated to Princess Mary, her stepdaughter, with whom she generally had a genial relationship. When Henry VIII died, she and her new husband (Jane Seymour's brother Thomas Seymour), took stepdaughter Elizabeth into their household. After an alleged relationship between Elizabeth and Thomas was uncovered, Catherine was distraught and spent her final months of life distraught at the perceived betrayal.