The paintings of Henry VIII's six wives in Parliament (Westminster)
The wives of Henry VIII were the six queens consort wedded to Henry VIII of England between 1509 and 1547.
The six women to hold the title "queen consort" of King Henry VIII were, in chronological order:
- Catherine of Aragon, (divorced, died while detained under guard at Kimbolton Castle, mother of Mary I)
- Anne Boleyn, (divorced and later executed, mother of Elizabeth I)
- Jane Seymour, (died days after giving birth to Edward VI, believed to be caused by birth complications)
- Anne of Cleves, (divorced, outlived the rest of the wives)
- Catherine Howard, (divorced and later executed)
- Catherine Parr, (widowed)
Henry's first marriage lasted nearly 24 years, while the remaining five totaled less than 10 years combined.
Catherine of Aragon circa 1503
Catherine was around 18 years old
29 × 20,5 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria
This portrait of an unknown noblewoman from the early 16 century was identified as a young Catherine of Aragon, c. 1500-1505, by Friedländer in 1915, based on comparisons with other paintings by Sittow
Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) was born on December 16, 1485, in Spain, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the prestigious House of Trastamara. She was also a legitimate descendant of King Edward III of England.
On November 14, 1501, Catherine was married to Arthur, Price of Wales. Her marriage gave the Tudors (a dynasty begun under Henry VII) a greater appearance of legitimacy.
Prince Arthur died on April 2, 1502. Following his death, Catherine lived in England as the Dowager Princess of Wales. Her father, King Ferdinand, made her the Spanish ambassador for a period in 1507. Catherine of Aragon became the first female foreign ambassador in European history.
Arthur's younger brother, Henry, succeeded to the English throne as Henry VIII in 1509. The Tudors were unwilling to give up the opportunity to marry into the Trastamaras (the Spanish throne), and so shortly after he was crowned, Henry VIII married his brother's widow (June 11, 1509). At the time of their marriage, Catherine was 23 years old and Henry was soon to turn 18 years old.
Although Catherine of Aragon became pregnant at least six times during her marriage to Henry VIII, only one of the couple's children survived (the future Mary I). Henry feared that the Tudors would not survive without a male heir. This fear, along with Henry's budding relationship with Anne Boleyn, caused Henry to seek an annulment from his wife, Catherine. Henry claimed that his marriage to Catherine was invalid on grounds of incest (since she presumably had sexual relations with Henry's late brother).
The pope sided with Catherine. Henry's only recourse was to split with the Catholic Church, thereby bringing the Protestant Reformation to England. In 1533, the Church of England granted Henry's petition for an annulment. Catherine was reduced to her former status as Dowager Princess of Wales.
Catherine died at Kimbolton Castle on January 7, 1536. On the day of Catherine's funeral, Anne Boleyn miscarried a son. More on Catherine of Aragon
Michael Sittow (c. 1469 – 1525), also known as Master Michiel, Michel Sittow,Michiel, Miguel and many other variants, was a painter from Reval (now Tallinn, Estonia) who was trained in the tradition of Early Netherlandish painting. For most of his life, Sittow worked as a court portrait painter, for Isabella of Castille, the Habsburgs and others in Spain and the Netherlands. He was one of the most important Flemish painters of the era. More on Michael Sittow
Anne Boleyn, 1534
Original portrait is on display at Hever Castle, Kent
Anne Boleyn (c. 1501 – 19 May 1536) was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536 as the second wife of King Henry VIII, and Marquess of Pembroke in her own right. Henry's marriage to Anne, and her subsequent execution, made her a key figure in the political and religious upheaval that was the start of the English Reformation.
Anne was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, and was educated in the Netherlands and France. She returned to England in early 1522. Cardinal Wolsey, secured her a post at court as maid of honour to Henry VIII's wife, Catherine of Aragon.
Henry VIII began his pursuit of Anne. She resisted his attempts to seduce her, refusing to become his mistress – which her sister Mary had been. Henry soon wanted to annul his marriage to Queen Catherine so he would be free to marry Anne. When Pope Clement VII would not annul the marriage, in 1532, Henry granted Anne the Marquessate of Pembroke.
Henry and Anne married on 25 January 1533. On 23 May 1533, Thomas Cranmer declared Henry and Catherine's marriage null and void; five days later, he declared Henry and Anne's marriage valid. Anne was crowned Queen of England on 1 June 1533. On 7 September, she gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth I. Henry was disappointed. Anne subsequently had three miscarriages, and by March 1536, Henry was courting Jane Seymour.
Henry had Anne investigated for high treason in April 1536. On 2 May she was arrested and sent to the Tower of London, where she was tried before a jury of peers. The charges against her, included adultery, incest, and witchcraft. She was beheaded four days later. More on Anne Boleyn
Hans Holbein the Younger, (1498–1543)
Jane Seymour, Queen of England, 1536
Oil on Wood
Height: 654 mm (25.75 in). Width: 407 mm (16.02 in).
Jane Seymour (c. 1508 – 24 October 1537) was born at Wulfhall, Wiltshire, the daughter of Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth. Through her grandfather, she was a descendant of King Edward III of England; she and King Henry VIII were fifth cousins. She and Anne Boleyn, shared a great-grandmother.
King Henry VIII was betrothed to Jane on 20 May 1536, just one day after Anne Boleyn's execution and married, at the Palace of Whitehall, on 30 May 1536. She was publicly proclaimed as queen consort on 4 June.
Jane’s well-publicized sympathy for the late Queen Catherine and the Lady Mary showed her to be compassionate and made her a popular figure with the common people and most of the courtiers. Jane would form a very close relationship with Mary Tudor.
The lavish entertainments, gaiety, and extravagance of the Queen's household, which had reached its peak during the time of Anne Boleyn, was replaced by a strict enforcement of decorum. For example, she banned the French fashions that Anne Boleyn had introduced. Politically, Seymour appears to have been conservative.
Jane put forth much effort to restore Henry's first child, Princess Mary, to court and to the royal succession, behind any children that Jane might have with Henry. Jane brought up the issue of Mary's restoration both before and after she became Queen. While Jane was unable to restore Mary to the line of succession, she was able to reconcile her with Henry.
In early 1537, Jane became pregnant. In September 1537 and gave birth to the coveted male heir, the future King Edward VI. Edward was christened on 15 October 1537, without his mother in attendance, as was the custom. Both of the King's daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, were present and carried the infant's train during the ceremony.
Jane Seymour's labour had been difficult, lasting two nights and three days. After the christening, it became clear that she was seriously ill. She died on 24 October 1537. Jane Seymour was buried on 12 November 1537 in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle after the funeral in which her stepdaughter, Mary, acted as chief mourner. A procession of 29 mourners followed Lady Mary, one for every year of Queen Jane’s life. Jane was the only one of Henry's wives to receive a queen's funeral. More on Jane Seymour
Hans Holbein the Younger (German: Hans Holbein der Jüngere; c. 1497 – between 7 October and 29 November 1543) was one of the most accomplished portraitists of the 16th century. He spent two periods of his life in England (1526-8 and 1532-43), portraying the nobility of the Tudor court. Holbein's famous portrait of Henry VIII (London, National Portrait Gallery) dates from the second of these periods. 'The Ambassadors', also from this period, depicts two visitors to the court of Henry VIII. 'Christina of Denmark' is a portrait of a potential wife for the king.
Holbein was born in Augsburg in southern Germany in the winter of 1497-8. He was taught by his father, Hans Holbein the Elder. He became a member of the Basel artists' guild in 1519. He travelled a great deal, and is recorded in Lucerne, northern Italy and France. In these years he produced woodcuts and fresco designs as well as panel paintings. With the spread of the Reformation in Northern Europe the demand for religious images declined and artists sought alternative work. Holbein first travelled to England in 1526 with a recommendation to Thomas More from the scholar Erasmus. In 1532 he settled in England, dying of the plague in London in 1543.
Holbein was a highly versatile and technically accomplished artist who worked in different media. He also designed jewellery and metalwork. More on Hans Holbein
Hans Holbein the Younger (1498–1543)
Anne de Clèves circa 1539
Parchment mounted on canvas
H. : 0,65 m. ; L. : 0,48 m.
Anne of Cleves (German: Anna; 22 September 1515 – 16 July 1557) was Queen of England from 6 January 1540 to 9 July 1540 as the fourth wife of King Henry VIII. The marriage was declared never consummated, and, as a result, she was not crowned queen consort. She lived to see the coronation of Queen Mary I, outliving the rest of Henry's wives.
Anne was born in 1515, in Düsseldorf. At the age of 11, Anne was betrothed to Francis, son and heir of the Duke of Lorraine when he was only 10. The betrothal was considered unofficial and was cancelled in 1535. Her father's ongoing dispute over Gelderland with Emperor Charles V made them suitable allies for England's King Henry VIII in the wake of the Truce of Nice. The match with Anne was urged on the King by his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell.
The artist Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to paint portraits of Anne and her younger sister, Amalia, each of whom Henry was considering as his fourth wife. Henry required the artist to be as accurate as possible, not to flatter the sisters.
Negotiations with Cleves were in full swing by March 1539. Cromwell oversaw the talks, and a marriage treaty was signed on 4 October of that year.
Henry valued education and cultural sophistication in women, but Anne lacked these. She had received no formal education but was skilled in needlework and liked playing card games. She could read and write, but only in German.
Henry met her privately on New Year's Day 1540, on her journey from Dover. Henry and some of his courtiers, following tradition, went disguised into the room where Anne was staying, and Henry boldly kissed her. Anne "regarded him little", though it is unknown if she knew if this was the king or not. Henry did then reveal his true identity to Anne, although he is said to have been put off the marriage from then on.
Most historians believe that he later used Anne's alleged 'bad' appearance and failure to inspire him to consummate the marriage as excuses, saying how he felt he had been misled. Henry urged Cromwell to find a legal way to avoid the marriage but, by this point, doing so was impossible without endangering the vital alliance with the Germans.
They were married on 6 January 1540. In February 1540, Anne praised the King as a kind husband. Anne was commanded to leave the Court on 24 June, and on 6 July she was informed of her husband's decision to reconsider the marriage and asked for her consent to an annulment, to which she agreed. The marriage was annulled on 9 July 1540, on the grounds of non-consummation and her pre-contract to Francis of Lorraine. On 28 July Henry married his fifth wife, Katherine Howard: on the same day Thomas Cromwell was executed for treason.
Mary allowed Anne to live at Chelsea Old Manor when her health began to fail. In the middle of July 1557, Anne dictated her last will. She died on 16 July 1557, eight weeks before her forty-second birthday. She was buried in Westminster Abbey, on 3 August. More on Anne of Cleves
Hans Holbein the Younger (German: Hans Holbein der Jüngere; c. 1497 – between 7 October and 29 November 1543) See above
Hans Holbein (1497/1498–1543)
Portrait of a lady, probably Catherine Howard, between 1535 and 1540
Oil on panel
Height: 72 cm (28.3 ″); Width: 49.5 cm (19.4 ″)
Toledo Museum of Art
Catherine Howard (c.1521 – 13 February 1542) was a daughter of Lord Edmund Howard (c 1478 – 1539). Her father's sister, Elizabeth Howard, was the mother of Anne Boleyn. Therefore Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn were first cousins, and Catherine Howard and Anne's daughter, Lady Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I), were first-cousins-once-removed.
Catherine had an aristocratic pedigree, but her father was not wealthy, being a younger son among 21 children. Catherine was her mother's tenth child. In 1531, her father was appointed Controller of Calais. He was dismissed from his post in 1539, and died in March of the same year.
Catherine was born in Lambeth (now part of London) in about 1521; soon after her mother died (c 1528), She was sent with some of her siblings to live with her father's stepmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk who presided over several households, comprising numerous male and female attendants, usually the children of poor relatives. Supervision was apparently lax. The Duchess was often at Court and seems to have had little direct involvement in the upbringing of her wards and young female attendants.
Catherine became influenced by some older girls who candidly allowed men into the sleeping areas at night. The girls were rewarded with food and wine and gifts. Catherine was not as well educated as some of Henry's other wives, but her ability to read and write was impressive for the time.
In the Duchess's household, in around 1536, Catherine and her music teacher, Henry Mannox, began a sexual relationship. Catherine was then aged about thirteen. Mannox and Catherine both confessed during her adultery inquisitions that they had engaged in sexual contact, but not actual coitus.
Her affair with Mannox came to an end in 1538, when Catherine was pursued by a secretary of the Duchess's household. They became lovers, addressing each other as "husband" and "wife". The relationship ended in 1539 when the Duchess found out.
Catherine's uncle found her a place at Court in the household of the King's fourth wife, the German Anne of Cleves. As a young and attractive lady-in-waiting, Catherine quickly caught the eye of Henry. Within months of her arrival at Court, Henry bestowed gifts of land and expensive cloth upon Catherine
King Henry and Catherine married on 28 July 1540
It was alleged, early in 1541, that Catherine embarked upon a romance with Henry's favourite male courtier. The couple's meetings were arranged by Lady Rochford, the widow of George Boleyn, Anne Boleyn's brother.
Catherine and Henry toured England together in the summer of 1541, and preparations were in place for any signs of pregnancy, which would have led to a coronation. People who had witnessed her indiscretions at Lambeth began to contact her for favours in return for their silence, and many of them were appointed to her household.
By late 1541, Catherine's indiscretions had become known. Catherine was not fully aware of the charges against her until the Archbishop of Canterbury and a delegation of councillors were sent to question her on 7 November 1541. Catherine became frantic and incoherent, and guards were ordered to remove any objects that she might use to commit suicide.
Catherine was stripped of her title as queen on 23 November,and imprisoned in Syon Abbey, Middlesex, where she remained throughout the winter of 1541. Her lovers were executed at Tyburn on 10 December 1541. According to custom, their heads were placed on top of London Bridge.
Catherine remained in limbo until Parliament passed a bill of attainder on 7 February 1542. The Royal Assent by Commission Act 1541 made it treason, and punishable by death, for a queen consort to fail to disclose her sexual history to the king within twenty days of their marriage, or to incite someone to commit adultery with her.
She was subsequently taken by boat to the Tower on Friday 10 February, her flotilla passing under London Bridge where the heads of her lovers were impaled. Entering through the Traitors' Gate she was led to her prison cell. The next day, the bill of attainder received Royal Assent, and Catherine's execution was scheduled for 7 am on Monday, 13 February.
She died with relative composure, but looked pale and terrified and required assistance to climb the scaffold. She made a speech describing her punishment as "worthy and just" and asked for mercy for her family and prayers for her soul.
Catherine was beheaded with a single stroke of the executioner's axe. Her body were buried in an unmarked grave in the nearby chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where the bodies of Catherine's cousins, Anne and George Boleyn, also lay.
Catherine was the third of Henry VIII's wives to have been a member of the English nobility or gentry; Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves were of European royalty. More on Catherine Howard
Hans Holbein the Younger (German: Hans Holbein der Jüngere; c. 1497 – between 7 October and 29 November 1543) See above
Queen Katherine, circa 1545
Oil on panel
25 in. x 20 in. (635 mm x 508 mm)
National Portrait Gallery
Catherine Parr (1512 – 5 September 1548) was born in 1512. She was the eldest surviving child of Sir Thomas Parr, lord of the manor of Kendal in Westmorland. Catherine's mother was a close friend and attendant of Catherine of Aragon, and Catherine Parr was probably named after Queen Catherine, who was her godmother. Catherine's father died when she was young, and she was close to her mother as she grew up.
Catherine's initial education was similar to other well-born women, but she developed a passion for learning which would continue throughout her life. She was fluent in French, Latin, and Italian, and began learning Spanish after becoming queen.
In 1529, when she was seventeen, Catherine married Sir Edward Borough. Catherine's first husband was in his twenties and may have been in poor health. He served as a feoffee and as a justice of the peace. He died in the spring of 1533.
In the summer of 1534 Catherine married John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer. The twice-widowed Latimer was twice Catherine's age. From his first marriage to he had two children, John and Margaret. Catherine now had a home of her own, a husband with a position and influence in the north, and a title.
In October 1536, a mob of rebellious Roman Catholics appeared before the Latimers' home threatening violence if he did not join their efforts to reinstate the links between England and Rome. Catherine watched as her husband was dragged away. Between October 1536 and April 1537 Catherine lived alone in fear with her step-children. In these uncertain times, Catherine's strong reaction against the rebellion strengthened her adherence to the reformed Church of England. In January 1537 Catherine and her step-children were held hostage at Snape Castle in Yorkshire. Latimer somehow talked the rebels into releasing his family and leaving, but the aftermath would prove to be taxing on the whole family.
The King and Thomas Cromwell heard conflicting reports as to whether Latimer was a prisoner or a conspirator and pressing Latimer to make sure Latimer would "condemn that villain Aske and submit to our clemency". Latimer complied.
Although no charges were laid against him, Latimer's reputation, which reflected upon Catherine, was tarnished for the rest of his life. After Cromwell's death in 1540, the Latimers reclaimed some dignity. In 1542 the family spent time in London as Latimer attended Parliament. Catherine visited her brother William and her sister Anne at court. It was here that Catherine became acquainted with her future fourth husband, Sir Thomas Seymour. In London, Catherine could find the latest trends, not only in religious matters, but in less weighty secular matters such as fashion and jewellery.
By the winter of 1542, Lord Latimer's health had worsened until his death in 1543. In his will, Catherine was named as guardian of his daughter. Latimer left Catherine the manor of Stowe and other properties. He also bequeathed money for supporting his daughter. Catherine was left a rich widow. It is likely that Catherine sincerely mourned her husband; she kept his New Testament with his name inscribed inside, until her death.
Catherine took the opportunity to renew her friendship with Catherine of Aragon's daughter, Lady Mary. By 16 February 1543, Catherine had established herself as part of Mary's household, and it was there that Catherine caught the attention of the King.
Catherine married Henry VIII on 12 July 1543 at Hampton Court Palace. She was the first Queen of England also to be Queen of Ireland following Henry's adoption of the title King of Ireland. Catherine and her new husband shared several common ancestors making them multiple cousins.
On becoming queen, Catherine installed her former stepdaughter, Margaret Neville, as her lady-in-waiting, and gave her stepson John's wife a position in her household. Catherine was partially responsible for reconciling Henry with his daughters from his first two marriages, and also developed a good relationship with Henry's son Edward.
Shortly before he died, Henry made provision for an allowance of £7,000 per year for Catherine to support herself. He further ordered that Catherine should be given the respect of a queen of England, as if he were still alive. Catherine retired from court after the coronation of her stepson, Edward VI, on 31 January 1547, to her home at Old Manor in Chelsea.
Following Henry's death, Catherine's old love, Sir Thomas Seymour, returned to court. Catherine was quick to accept when Seymour renewed his suit of marriage. Since only six months had passed since the death of King Henry, Catherine and Seymour married in secret. When their union became public knowledge, it caused a small scandal.
In November 1547, Catherine published her second book, Lamentations of a Sinner. The book was a success and widely praised.
In March 1548, at age 35, Catherine became pregnant. This pregnancy was a surprise as Catherine had not conceived during her first three marriages. Catherine gave birth to her only child — a daughter, Mary Seymour, named after Catherine's stepdaughter Mary – on 30 August 1548, and died only six days later, on 5 September 1548. More on Catherine Parr
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