The Lazy Historian

Did Henry VIII Love Any of His Wives?
July 6, 2017

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 is a history enthusiast, a hoarder of books, and the author of The Lazy Historian’s Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. Jill launched The Lazy Historian in 2015. She lives in Charlottetown on Canada’s beautiful east coast. Learn more.
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16 Comments

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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  2. 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 ?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  3. You got their ages very wrong. Katherine Howard was 17 when she met H8, Anne only would have been 30 if you suppose her birth year as 1501 instead of 1507, which is unlikely given that she was with him for seven years before they were married, and a 37 year old woman would not have likely produced a healthy child I’m at that time.

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  4. H8 seemed to have loved and trusted Mary more than any of his wives. Their daughter Elizabeth was H8 th’s choice to replace him.
    Queen Elizabeth came to rule England.

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  5. Henry absolutely did not love Anne. He was a weak man in lust. She wanted power. That was not love at all

    Reply
  6. I feel so bad for Catherine of Aragon. Her story is one of sadness and lose. Multiple miscarriages, a cheating husband–who you solely want to please– the death of a son. Way to much grief for one woman…but heavy is the head who wears the crown right?

    Reply
  7. I didn’t like Anne she didn’t love Henry..she had loved power..and I feel bad for Catherine of agorn after all those miscarriage took a toll..I love history..and I had a report of king Henry the 8 in school..but I’m still asking how many mistress es had children by him..I feel there was many.

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  8. He fell out of love for Anne B very quickly. I think partly because no one would accept the marriage. The people didn’t love her like they loved Catherine. He had to bully them into it and it probably became tiresome.
    I think he loved Catherine of Aarogon the most. He could have had her poisoned or had someone contaminate her chambers with the sweating sickness. He cared enough to send her away so she was safe. Killing her would have been so much easier to get her out of the way. Instead he fought for years for an annulment. If he didn’t love her he would have had her killed somehow.

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  9. Oh, I completely disagree! Have you read letters from contemporaries and ambassadors from the time henry and Catherine of Aragon were married?? And Henry’s own letters too?? If you read them, you’ll know that Catherine doesn’t deserve to be 4th in the list of who henry loved the most! He genuinely and deeply loved her for many years after he married her!

    Read the letters by ambassadors about his behavior towards her, and Henrys letters describing his love for her. It was genuine, deep love. Much deeper than what he had for Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. I’ve been studying Henrys 6 marriages in detail for the last 7 years, and I think he loved Catherine of Aragon more than his other wives.

    Yes, he moved heaven and earth to mare Anne and wrote all those letters to her when he hated writing, but he was only interested in her in the first place because she refused to be his mistress! No woman had ever refused Henry before, so henry felt like he had to win her over!

    The only time she’d sleep with him was if he married her. So he decided to marry her. He was going to divorce Catherine anyway. Henry went through all that trouble to marry her simply because he liked the thrill of the chase, not because he was in love with her. I think he had deep lust for her, but that was it.
    The reason I think it was just the thrill of the chase for henry, was because after he married Anne and finally slept with her, he quickly got bored of her! We have ambassadors reporting as early as august to November 1533 that his love for Anne had noticeably cooled.
    And a lot of people don’t know this, but henry wanted to divorce her as early as 1534. He even discussed it with Cranmer and Cromwell but they couldn’t find a way to divorce her while Catherine was still alive, because then the public would pressure him to return to Catherine which he couldn’t do because there was zero chance of her giving him a son now. If his marriage to Anne was annulled, he had to accept that his marriage to Catherine was valid and return to her. So henry had no choice but to stay with Anne.

    And he didn’t treat Anne as well as he treated Catherine when he was married to each of them. After Evey single one of Catherine’s 5 miscarriages\stillbirths, henry felt bad for her and tried to comfort her. But when Anne had her first miscarriage in 1534, he discussed that divorce with Cromwell and he was hostile towards Anne, and when she had the miscarriage in 1536, he reprimanded her.

    Also, when he was married to Catherine, henry tried his best to keep his extramarital affairs secret out if respect for her. And he succeeded. His affairs were so secret and discreet that many ambassadors praised him for his fidelity. Yes, he did acknowledge henry Fitzroy, but that was only because he was worried Catherine wouldn’t give him a son, and he needed Fitzroy as a backup in case Catherine didnt get pregnant again.

    But when he married Anne, he never bothered to hide his affairs from her. Ambassadors reported that he was openly and ardently having affairs and didnt bother if Anne knew about it or not.

    As for Katherine Howard, I think his feelings for her were stronger than his feelings for Anne, but u don’t think.he was in love with. I think he was besotted by her and loved the idea of being married to a young beautiful, sweet, obedient and energetic girl. He loved the idea of her rather than her.

    That’s why he was more upset by the fact that she had sex before meeting him than the fact that she might have cheated on him. Because, in his mind, the ideal image of the young, beautiful, sweet virgin was shattered. That’s why Francis dereham got the worst execution of the group.

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  10. I think seeing Catherine Howard as just an air headed bimbo is unfair most of the adulterous acts were when she was barley a teen and it was forced on her when she was married

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  11. By many accounts, some 80,000 people were executed on Henry’s orders, including good men like More and Fisher. His daughter Mary had some 250 people executed during her reign, yet it’s she who got the moniker, “bloody”. Because of Henry and his quest for a male heir, the English people were torn from their almost 1,000 year old religious and spiritual heritage. Monasteries and convents were closed, with the residents either killed or pensioned off, and the buildings sold, torn down, or given to Henry’s cronies. Ancient vessels used at Mass and the shrines of English saints were looted, broken apart, or melted down. Vast monastic libraries were also broken up and destroyed, and the common people no longer had benefit of monastic schools, hospitals, orphanages and hospices, the only source of social services at that time.

    Under his son Edward, the carnage increased. Churches were vandalized, stained glass windows, rood screens, statues, paintings, carvings, vestments, sacred vessels, more books, musical traditions, monuments to the dead, and more were destroyed and swept away. I understand that the topic of this blog is, “Which wife did Henry love best?”, but that’s like asking, “Which woman did Hitler love best?” In the scheme of things, in relation to the death, carnage and destruction unleashed by these men, it’s at best a distraction, one that adds a fuzzy, warm glow to the realty of what they did. A tyrant is a tyrant, even if he did buy his wife an necklace and hug a puppy.

    Reply
  12. Anne was lust not love and also ‘the unobtainable’. When Henry got her and she failed to deliver that all-important son, the lust faded in a very short period of time Katherine was real companiable love, which was killed by Henry’s obsession with a male heir.
    AB was only meant to be another mistress like her sister, but she wouldn’t play the game.
    Jane Seymour, meanwhile he respected – as much as a man (and king) would, and was fond of but not love.

    Reply
  13. Was anne bolyn a woman of colour?

    Reply
    • No. It’s well-documented she was very fair complected. With that being said, I am looking forward to the new production where she is portrayed by an actress of color.

      Reply

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Hi, I'm Jillianne.

I'm a lover of history, a hoarder of books, and the author of The Spirited Mrs. Pringle and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII.

The Lazy Historian is a history blog featuring stories from the past with sass. With a focus on Western European and women's history, I delve into anything fascinating. Learn more.

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