The famous story rhyme – divorced, beheaded, dead, divorced, beheaded, survived – is ingrained in every KS3 history student across the country; the story of henry viii and his six wives. The rhyme suggests that his last wife, Catherine Parr, was the survivor of the notorious womanizer, but is that really true? What about his fourth wife, “his beloved sister” Anne of Cleeves?
After losing his ‘first true wife,’ Jane Seymour, in childbirth, Henry VIII embarked on a political marriage to the German princess Anne of Cleeves. the couple had never met, but portraits were sent back and forth, to which they both approved, and the marriage was arranged. Upon seeing Anne for the first time, it was said that Henry, disguised as her, was disappointed in her; he felt cheated because she was not as she was promised or described.
at the time of their marriage on January 6, 1540, the king was already looking for ways out of it; the political alliance at this point was not as relevant as it had been. Henry called Anne his “flanders mare” because of her ugly appearance. All this was not helped by the fact that she now had eyes for the young and popular Katherine Howard.
Anne was not like his other wives. it is well known that she liked her wives to be well-read, well-educated in both literature and music, and able to offer her advice and suggestions. this was not anna she had grown sheltered at her court, focusing her time on domestic skills. she liked to sew and she was a great card player, but she didn’t speak english.
The marriage was never consummated. After four nights in his bedroom, Enrique declared that his lack of physical attractiveness left him incapable of fulfilling his royal duty. One could argue that the innocent Anne and the potentially impotent Henry VIII may have had something to do with this.
King Henry in 1542
after 6 months, the marriage was annulled on the grounds that it had never been consummated and therefore would not need a divorce. she ana did not oppose the annulment, she accepted it and on July 9, 1540 the marriage was dissolved. Twenty-one days later, Henry VIII married his fifth wife, Katherine Howard.
Many consider Anne the discarded wife, or the ugly one, however it can be argued that she is, in fact, the true survivor. After the annulment of the marriage, Henry and Anne were on good terms, in part because she did not make a fuss and allow the annulment to take place. By this Anne she was given the title ‘The King’s Sister’ and placed as the tallest woman in the country, except for her wife and Henry’s children.
This gave Anne a great deal of power, along with a generous allowance, including various castles and estates bestowed on her by Henry. Among these were Hever Castle, formerly owned by the family of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, and Richmond Castle. ann was considered an honorary member of the king’s family and was often invited to court, even at christmas, where it is said that she danced happily with henry’s new wife, katherine howard.
Anne of Cleeves outlived all of Henry’s wives and she lived to see and participate in the coronation of their first daughter, Mary I. She lived in great comfort in her castle and formed strong bonds with Henry’s daughters.
The reason we can consider Anne of Cleeves more of a survivor than Catherine Parr is because of what happened after the death of Henry VIII.
When Henry died in 1547, his widow Catherine Parr was freed to remarry. Six months after Henry’s death, Catherine married Sir Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Queen, Jane Seymour.
Six months after the marriage and a year after the death of her third husband, Henry VIII, Catherine became pregnant. this came as a shock to the Dowager Queen, as she had not conceived in her first three marriages.
during her pregnancy, it was discovered that catherine’s husband had taken an interest in lady elizabeth, who would become elizabeth i. Rumors began to circulate that he had planned to marry Elizabeth before marrying Catherine. These rumors led to Elizabeth being taken away from her beloved stepmother, and the two would never see each other again.
catherine parr died eight days after giving birth to a daughter, believed to be of childbed fever. Ella Mary’s daughter was to grow up without a mother or father, for after a plot to put the Protestant Elizabeth on the throne was uncovered, her father, Sir Thomas Seymour, was beheaded for treason.
So, was Catherine Parr really the survivor of the tyrannical and womanizing Henry VIII? I think not, as she outlived the king by only a year and that year she was less than happy, with a potentially unfaithful husband and a difficult pregnancy that led to her death.
I maintain that Anne of Cleeves was the true survivor, living a very happy and fulfilling life, advising and corresponding with Henry’s children. Her last days, thanks to Queen Mary I, were spent in the luxury of Chelsea Old House, where Catherine Parr had lived after her remarriage.
by laura hudson. I’m a history teacher on the south coast of England.