The Six Wives of Henry VIII
To six wives was wedded. One died, one survived. Two divorced, two beheaded. Like so many children's rhymes, the singsong innocence conceals a brutal reality. As a husband and as a ruler, Henry could be cruel. His private appetites could dictate international policy, most famously when the drive to divorce his first wife caused England's break with the Catholic Church. As contended by Antonia Frasier in her book The Wives of Henry VIII, there is not much that connects each of his six wives, except for that they were all cruelly treated by Henry and were unwilling victims of his tyranny. Catherine of Aragon was the well-educated daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. As an infant she was engaged to the prince of England and she married Henry's older brother, Arthur, in 1501. She was 16 years old, and he was just a few months younger. When Arthur died, she married the new heir to the throne, Prince Henry. She was able to marry him because she denied that she had ever slept with Prince Arthur in the months of their marriage. Whether or not that was true, we will never know. It became the subject of much speculation 20 years later. Catherine had been raised to rule, and she did it well. When Henry went fought the French, and James IV of Scotland invaded England, she crushed James's army and sent his cloak to Henry as a victory souvenir. But she produced just one daughter, Mary, and when her lady in waiting, the delectable Anne Boleyn, caught Henry's eye, the 20-year marriage was over. The supposed reason for the divorce: Catherine had been married to Henry’s brother and therefore he had been living in sin. God punished him by not giving him a son. How Catherine fought the divorce is fascinating and upsetting. One could say she was tortured – separated from her daughter and forced to live in smaller and smaller houses. She was deprived of everything to subdue her. When she finally died, alone and abandoned, King Henry, Anne Boleyn...
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