Did Henry VIII Love Any of His Wives?

I recently saw a thread on a forum about this topic and many of those that responded said no, that Henry VIII did not love any of his wives and that he just wanted a son.

I’m going to go ahead and say this isn’t true. He loved all of his wives in different ways and for different reasons.

Keep in mind that our definition of love and romance wasn’t born until a few hundred years after the Tudor reign ended, but that doesn’t mean that people didn’t truly love one another. It just may not have looked the same as a modern relationship.

Anne of Cleves

This one probably doesn’t even count, but Henry fell in love with her portrait. She is his only wife that he became betrothed to before meeting in person. The pale portrait of Anne by Hans Holbein was a canvas for what Henry wanted in a queen and he cast all his hopes and dreams of marital bliss onto the calm smile. But a picture is only a picture and the chemistry just wasn’t there, especially on their wedding day in 1540.

Katharine Parr

Henry and Katharine didn’t seem to have a passionate relationship. Nearing the end of his life, Henry didn’t have much passion left in him. They seem to have been good friends and companions more than anything. Although he occasionally grumbled about his fifth wife, Katherine Howard, not becoming pregnant during their marriage, that didn’t really come up during his marriage to Parr. Not that you can’t have a passionate, loving relationship without physical intimacy, but he didn’t shower Parr with nearly as many gifts and affection on her as his previous wives.

He did however leave her as consort when he went to France. His relationship with his sixth and final wife seems to have been very much like his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon—one of a strong friendship, trust and respect.

Catherine of Aragon

Catherine was the first wife of Henry’s to fulfill one of his desires: to be a hero. Catherine had been stuck in limbo for years between the time of Arthur’s death in 1502 and, after Henry VII’s death in 1509, Henry VIII’s succession. Henry was especially chivalric as a young man and endeavoured to emulate the heroes of Arthurian legend. One way to do this was to rescue the trapped princess and make her his bride. The two had a good marriage and partnership for many years and Catherine was frequently pregnant, so passion was involved for some time. As his love for her faded, other women came into his life and the rest is history.

Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour is the only one of Henry’s wives that provided him with what he wanted most in the world, a son, and for that, he loved her. She is also the only one of his queens to be buried with Henry VIII at Windsor Castle. She was demure and he was grateful to for the first time, have a wife who was completely subservient to his wishes. However, there was a time when Henry regretted marrying Jane and mentioned this to one of his companions, having recently taken notice another woman at court. He also snapped at her viciously for speaking up against him during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. If Jane hadn’t become pregnant and delivered a son, it’s highly doubtful she would be sharing his grave today.

Katherine Howard

Spring/Winter marriages were much more common in the 16th century than they are today, but when Henry married the 16-year-old Katherine Howard in 1540, he married her for a very modern reason: her tender age, her charm, her beauty and, most importantly, the recapturing of his youth. There is no doubt Henry loved Katherine. He showered her with jewels and affection constantly. His reaction to learning about her previous sexual activity and infidelities give us even more evidence about his love for his teenage queen: if he didn’t love her and only saw her as a prince-carrying vessel, he wouldn’t have reacted so strongly. He was heartbroken by a woman that Katherine and the Howard clan had made her out to be. But the marriage hadn’t lasted long enough for his love to fade over time and Katherine was never pregnant. It’s interesting to consider what might have happened if Katherine had been pregnant before her previous escapades came to light.

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn is usually stated as the woman Henry VIII loved most and that’s probably correct. Yes, England separated from the Catholic Church so they could marry but there is so much more to it than that. Henry despised writing letters but Anne’s appeal for him made him pick up a pen and write several love letters to her. He was in awe of her sophistication, her confidence and her charm. Her dark eyes had won over both Henry Percy and Thomas Wyatt before the King of England made his intentions known.

Would England have separated from Rome without the determination of Anne Boleyn? Probably. This is just a guess, but there’s a real possibility that Henry would have waited until Catherine had passed away before marrying another woman, thus staying tied to the powers of the Catholic Church and staying in the good graces of the Spanish royal family. Yes, Henry was looking at the possibility of separating and taking another wife before Anne Boleyn came along but it was Anne and her family that nudged Henry continually in that direction.

However, like his loving relationship with Catherine of Aragon, his love for Anne Boleyn began to fade, probably even before they tied the knot. But in the first few years of their relationship, Henry’s love for her was true, deep and powerful.

If Anne (or someone like her) hadn’t come along, it’s also possible that Henry would have continued taking mistresses and had their sons legitimized like he did with Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond while Catherine looked on in frustration.

If Henry VIII only saw his six wives as a method of providing England with a male heir, he could have gone about it a different way. He could have specifically chosen a widow with sons, proving she was fertile and able to bear children. He could have chosen younger women with more years to have children than most of his wives were when he married them (Catherine was 23, Anne Boleyn was approximately 30-33, Jane was about 28, Anne of Cleves was 24 and Katharine Parr was about 31.)

No, it was more than just baby making on Henry’s mind when he chose his wives. He loved all of his wives for different reasons as each one of them provided something different for him.

jillianne hamilton headshotJillianne Hamilton is an author, history enthusiast, book lover, and graphic designer. Her debut novel, Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, was shortlisted for the 2016 Prince Edward Island Book Award. Her debut non-fiction book, The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII is now available. She lives in Charlottetown on Canada's beautiful east coast and is working on her debut historical fiction novel.
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  • Sofi

    My question is what did his people think of him having so many wives.

    • Jillianne

      People questioned why he took so many women as his wife rather than as his mistress, moreso than they wondered about the number of wives. People were mad when he discarded his first wife for another—that was certainly a surprise. But after Anne was executed, the English were thrilled to see him take another wife because they still needed a male heir. After she died, the throne was still insecure so it was expected he would take another wife—it just so happened that this was wife #4. I’m sure questions of the number of queens he might end up having came up when he discarded wife #4 for #5. When #5 turned out to be an adulteress, again, it was expected he would take another wife, if not to produce a male heir, at least to serve as his companion in old age. And he did just that.

      I think the circumstances at the time would have been more understandable to contemporary folks while it looks hasty and inappropriate to modern ideals. A queen’s number one purpose in that time was to provide male heirs so until that happened, a king was expected to keep bringing in new queens.

      Henry’s last wife was married four times and that was not considered a scandal by any means.

  • Bettina McKay

    I ‘m happy to have stumbled upon your website ! I was in Chicago recently and was lucky enough to see Six, the musical about Henry’s wives ! I was wondering what you thought of it, historically ?

    • Jillianne

      Would you believe I’d never heard of it… until earlier today?? I don’t actually know much about it but I’ll check out the soundtrack soon.


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