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Letters from London
How Many Wives Did Henry VIII Have?
By Shane Clarke
London Correspondent
Henry VIII

Contrary to popular belief, Henry VIII did not – strictly speaking – have six wives. In fact, he only had two – or four if you’re Catholic.

Okay, the whole thing comes down to technicalities and a tendency towards the pedantic, but that’s the very essence of any legal system. The fact remains that, by the letter of the law, not all of his marriages were valid.

Henry married Catherine of Aragon in 1509. This was a perfectly legal marriage in both the eyes of the law and the church. However, we will be coming back to this one.

The trouble really started 24 years later when Henry married Anne Boleyn. The Pope declared this marriage illegal because Henry was still married to Catherine of Aragon. In order to overcome this little problem with the church, Henry set up one of his own, and so the Church of England was born. Henry then declared his marriage to Catherine illegal, saying that the Old Testament says a man cannot sleep with his brother’s widow. So, we’re down to five, but which of the first two was valid comes down to your own beliefs.

In 1536, Henry decided he’d had enough of poor Anne Boleyn, so to avoid the problems that came up before, with his second marriage, he decided upon the ultimate divorce – he had her executed for adultery. Before he did this, he had the marriage annulled. This is where things get a little pedantic, because – by law – if a marriage is annulled, then it never existed. So, in that case, Henry was never actually married to Anne Boleyn. So, we’re down to four wives.

That same year, Jane Seymour became Henry’s next marital victim. Unfortunately, she died a year later as a result of complications arising from childbirth.

Next there came Anne of Cleves, whom Henry insultingly referred to as a “Flanders Mare”. This marriage was annulled on two grounds: First, they never consummated the marriage – which is still grounds for an annulment today. Second, Anne was already betrothed to Francis, Duke of Lorraine when she married Henry, and in those days, being betrothed to someone was a legal bar to you marrying someone else. That reduces the count to three.

Kathryn Howard was next. Henry married her in 1540, and then annulled it two years later, just before having her executed. There was evidence to suggest that she had been unfaithful both before and during their marriage. This led to Henry passing a special Act of Parliament which declared it a treasonable offence for a wife to cheat on the king.

Finally, there was Katherine Parr. Henry married her in 1543 and then died four years later, leaving her a widow – and quite relieved, you would think, taking into account his past history. Anyway, as to this marriage being valid, and depending upon which side you take – Henry or the Catholic Church – this was only either his second or his fourth.

However many wives Henry VIII had, it can surely be safe to say that he had what you might call an aggressive attitude towards women. He certainly didn’t endear himself to everyone; Charles Dickens once said of him, “The plain truth is that he was a most intolerable ruffian, a disgrace to human nature, and a blot of blood and grease upon the history of England.”



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Shane Clarke serves as London Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He has been involved in humanitarian work for numerous years. He’s also a freelance management consultant. Having completed an honors degree in Law at Wolverhampton University, he then moved on to an MBA at Warwick Business School. He’s heavily involved in the fight against international parental child abduction to Japan.

 

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