Daniel Sammon – Wives of Henry VIII

Daniel Sammon lives in Renvyle, Co. Galway. In November 2011 he came up with the novel idea of publishing a book of 60 poems to celebrate his 60th birthday. Two years previously, in 2009 to commemorate the long struggle for Irish Independence and Freedom he walked across Ireland from Renvyle to the GPO in Dublin. He found that walk so interesting and wrote a book about it and called it ‘My Great Walk Across Ireland’. The book was launched by Minister Eamon O’Cuiv in May 2010.

Wives of Henry VIII

By Daniel Sammon

Even today more than 500 years after he ascended the throne of England Henry VIII is sometimes portrayed as a jolly old man even if a dirty old man who was mad after women.
This image is far from the reality that pertained in the 16th century when he ruled with an iron fist.
He plundered monasteries and raided and murdered all round him.
He thought he could have any woman he wanted whether she was married or single as his mistress.
At a wedding he attended on Feb 4th 1520 he fancied the bride and had her, for his mistress shortly afterwards for three or four years.
Her name was Mary Boleyn, reputedly even better-looking than her sister Anne whom he married.
He destroyed the Boleyn family.
As well as cutting off the head of Anne Boleyn in 1536 he had her younger brother George also beheaded two days earlier on May 17th.
Their mother died of a broken heart the following year and their father soon afterwards as well.
Remaining members of the Boleyn family immigrated permantly to Ireland.
He also had the delicate and beautiful neck of Catherine Howard, wife No. 5 beheaded in 1542, when she was only twenty one. He was fifty one at the time.
Among the many titles that he had, including King of England, Lord of Ireland, he also liked the title King of Ireland even though he never set foot on Irish soil.
King Henry VIII is probably best known for the number of wives that he had.
It is a lesser known fact that he was a staunch Catholic in his early days!
What? Henry VIII a staunch Catholic?
Is this not the guy who was the head of the Protestant Church?
Henry VIII was doing his best to live within the rules of Catholicism until …well, they didn’t concur with his views!
What’s so different in that, you may ask, in comparison to millions of others?
In 1521 the Supreme Pontiff Pope Leo X gave him a special title Defender of the Faith or in Latin Fides Defensio that he naturally accepted and it has been passed on to his successors ever since to this present day.
He had a weird and warped childhood.
He wasn’t allowed to meet and mix with friends.
His room could only be accessed through his father’s bedroom.
Among many other things King Henry VIII was a talented composer and a musician capable of playing several instruments including the fife, harp, viola and drums as well as being an author.
He also had a capability for a number of languages.
Apart from English he could speak French, Spanish and Latin.
When Martin Luther was causing trouble for the Pope about the cost of indulgences and other matters the Pope had him excommunicated in 1521.
Martin Luther went on to establish Protestantism and Henry VIII wrote an article critical of Martin Luther and his carry-on.
The article was entitled “Defence of the Seven Sacraments.”
The Pope was so pleased with his support that he bestowed the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ on Henry.
Ironically Henry kept the title after he split with the church and the title continues to be passed down the centuries to the present British Monarch Queen Elizabeth II.
On every English coin you can still see it there, FD.
Henry wasn’t expected to be king at all.
It was his older brother Arthur who was in line for the throne.
Arthur was a weakling and delicate but nevertheless he married Catherine of Aragon when he was 15 and died a few months later aged 15 leaving his young wife a widow.
Henry got off to a bad start with the ladies!
Straight away he married his deceased brother’s young widow in 1509 [wife No. 1] and tried his best to produce a male heir as he was now next in line for the throne of England (as well as Ireland, well, in name anyway! though he never set foot on Irish soil.)
She did in fact produce a male heir but the child died in infancy.
This marriage which lasted almost 24 years, produced a daughter who became Queen Mary I in 1553, after her younger half-brother Edward VI died.
Himself and his wife went through several more miscarriages and deaths in infancy.
They had so many in fact that he gave up and divorced Catherine of Aragon in 1533.
He thought he was on such good terms with the Pope that the Pontiff would grant him a favour and allow him divorce.
On occasions the Church is great at accepting favours but sometimes is not so good at bending rules to suit particular situations! (at other times it is).
It’s a bad thing making threats, as sometimes one feels obliged to carry them out.
He went ahead anyway and married Anne Boleyn [wife No. 2] on January 25th 1533.
This didn’t please Pope Clement VII and he excommunicated Henry although the Pope didn’t mind at all the long affair the King had with ‘Bessie’ Blount who gave birth to his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond in June 1519.
After his excommunication he raided and plundered monasteries and slaughtered monks, priests and their associates left, right and centre, under what became known as The Dissolution of Monasteries Act 1535 and set himself up as the Supreme Head of the Church of England.
He had the same problem with Anne! that is trying to produce a male heir, although they did have a daughter, who later became Queen Elizabeth I in 1558 after Mary I died.
Queen Elizabeth was formally declared a bastard in 1542.
This further deepened the already dangerous divide between Protestants and Catholics.
Some people questioned her legitimacy to the throne claiming she was conceived before his (first) divorce came through.
Anne Boleyn failed to produce a son and worse still he believed she committed adultery.
She did have a miscarriage and he blamed her for some type of illicit sexual activity! (he must have had no mirror to look at his own behaviour!)
He tried but failed to get an annullment based on an old law at that time that stated where there were two sisters, if you slept with one you couldn’t marry the other.
Henry had a long affair with Mary before he married Anne.
In the 16th century miscarriages were regarded as the result of witchcraft and abnormal sexual activity.
Anne’s head was placed on the block and she was decapitated on 19th May 1536.
Next in line for the bould Henry was Jane Seymour, whom he married in 1536 [wife No. 3].
She did her best for him and for England.
She did indeed produce a son that became the next King of England, titled King Edward VI.
Like his uncle Arthur he was delicate and a weakling.
His father died in 1547 and though he was only nine years old he succeeded and took over the throne of England and ruled for six and a half years till he died at fifteen years of age in 1553.
Although he might have had many comforts as a chid and as a king, he never had the comfort of a mother as Jane Seymour died giving birth to him or very soon afterwards.
Straight away Henry was on the look-out for another wife.
This time the lucky (or unlucky) woman was Anne of Cleeves, a German princess but she didn’t look as good in real life as in the picture – some things never change! [wife No. 4].
She didn’t last long but at least she escaped with her life when they got the marriage annulled in the same year 1540.
Next one in line was Catherine Howard [wife No. 5] whom he married in 1540 at nineteen, when he was forty nine.
Certain traits are said to run in the family and this may be true.
Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn were cousins.
She suffered the same fate as Anne Boleyn and for the same reasons multiplied several times.
Catherine Howard was decapitated on 13th February 1542.
She had a reputation with the men! and is reputed to have had several short affairs with other men before and while she was married to the King.

Anne Boleyn on the other hand was thought to be completely innocent of the false charges against her.
Henry was like many a man who was married to one woman but preferred her sister.
Long before he had Anne Boleyn beheaded he attended the wedding of her sister Mary, when she married Sir William Carey in the Chapel Royal at Greenwich on February 4th 1520.
As a wedding gift he gave the couple a present of 6s 8d.
(he must have been a miser as well as all the other faults he had!)
Whether it was the glint in her eye or her charming good looks, and she was noted for her beauty, while married to Sir William she became a mistress to Henry, not long after she got married.
This affair started about 1522 and lasted three to four years until 1526. While this affair was going on Mary Boleyn bore two children, a son named Henry born March 4th 1526 and a daughter.
He didn’t acknowledge these children as his.
Henry hated to be without a wife or so at least it seemed.
Catherine Howard wasn’t long gone when he married Catherine Parr [wife No. 6].
You might imagine he was an old man at this stage having gone through (excuse the pun!) so many wives!
Eventually it had to happen and Catherine Parr whom he married on 12th July 1543 was the lucky one to survive him.
He died in 1547 at the age of fifty five from sexually transmitted diseases.
Catherine Parr had been married and widowed twice already, so Henry was her third husband.
The optimistic Henry thought he’d have at least one legitimate male heir with her but it proved to be beyond his capabilities.
Four months after he died, in May 1547 she married her fourth and final husband Thomas Seymour who was a brother of Jane Seymour [wife No. 4].
She died on 5th September 1548, having given birth to a daughter less than a week earlier on August 30th.
Thomas Seymour, ambitious man that he was, applied for permission (like planning permission nowadays!) to be a suitor of the young Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I) but he was refused.
He had paid early-morning visits to her bedchamber before she was dressed and there was even rumours she was pregnant by him but she swore she was still a virgin.
Thomas Seymour was found guilty of High Treason and hanged on 10th March 1549.
Henry VIII is buried in Windsor Castle.
He was the father of two Queens and one King but none of them had any children of their own.
Though he started out as a Catholic, (born 28th January 1491) when he died the ecclesiastical landscape of the British Isles had changed beyond recognition.
His son Edward VI ,who reigned from 1547 to 1553 was a Protestant.
His daughter Mary I, who reigned from 1553 to 1558 was a Catholic.
His daughter Elizabeth I, who reigned from 1558 to 1603 was Protestant.
[The reason for this seemingly baffling changing back and over from Catholic to Protestant regimes is very easily explained.
Mary was the oldest, then Elizabeth and then Edward but they reigned not according to age but based on gender, Edward succeeded his father, then Mary and then Elizabeth.
After Mary was born a Catholic, her father Henry VIII turned from Catholic to Protestant and so his daughter Elizabeth was a Protestant and so was his son Edward.]
With all the wives (and a few mistresses) Henry VIII had, one might think, and rightly so he was a whore for the women, but he would be only trotting after some other kings that came after him in the following century!
One in particular was Charles II who reigned from 1660 – 1685.
He had three children with his wife but sadly they didn’t survive infancy.
He took a leaf out Henry VIII’s book and went on a bit of a spree himself!
He had at least seventeen children he acknowledged, with at least eight mistresses.
He got on fine with the Pope and never crossed swords with him at all! One Pope in particular wasn’t beyond having many mistresses himself and numerous offspring.
He was Pope Alexander VI who reigned from 11th August 1492 to 18th August 1503.
The first three or four he didn’t acknowledge initially but they kept arriving so quickly he did acknowledge them and one of them became an archbishop first and then a cardinal.
He was nearly as bad as his father for the women!
When the Pope stopped counting he had at least fourteen illegitimate children.
Some people would say it was himself that was ‘illegitimate’ and not the children.

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