Wives of Henry Viii

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April 2011
Europe & the West: Modern Europe

Henry VIII & Catherine of Aragon

King Henry VIII of England is most famous for his six wives and desperate attempt to have a son in order to provide an heir to the throne. He spent 38 years of his life jumping from one wife to the next until his death in 1547. Perhaps none of this would have happened if his first wife Catherine was able to successfully give birth to a healthy son in the first place. In my opinion, their relationship is the most fascinating out of any of the other wives. Henry was married to her longer than the other five wives combined and there’s no doubt that they had a strong and romantic bond. However, this all ended with one of the most famous divorces in history.

It all began with Henry’s older brother Arthur. When he was just two years old, he was already chosen to marry Catherine of Aragon. She was the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand who were the joint rulers of Spain (nndb). Immediately after she was born they began to search for someone with political rank to marry her. Since Arthur was eventually going to become the King of England, they decided that he was the best choice. The two married in 1501 shortly after Catherine made the three month long voyage to London (nndb).

Catherine became a widow when Arthur died less than six months after they were married. Many people believe that he suffered from a disease called the “sweating sickness” which was well known in England at the time for killing it’s victims in just a few hours (Eakins). Arthur and Henry’s father Henry VII kept Catherine in his court for several months (nndb). Eventually Henry VIII became very interested in her and right after his father died, the two sought to get married. The only thing in their way was a church law that stated that a man was not allowed to marry his brother’s widow. Technically, Catherine and Arthur were never really married since the church stated that consummation must occur before it becomes official. Catherine was still a virgin at the time, so she was able to legally marry Henry in 1509 and the two became the new King and Queen of England.

Catherine and Henry were very much in love. They both shared common interests in dance and music, and got along quite well. Henry was known for calling himself “Sir Faithful Heart” to show his love and loyalty towards his wife (Jokinen). Catherine was also very supportive of her husband. She maintained a perfect balance between a housewife and a queen. She would do simple chores and run her own estates in the same day. The poor also liked Catherine because she would care for them by giving them food and supplies in the cold winters. Henry trusted her and the two were extremely close.

The trouble slowly started when Catherine first gave birth to a premature daughter in 1510 (nndb). The baby was stillborn but Catherine assured Henry that she would provide him a healthy son next time. Soon, she became pregnant again and gave birth to a baby boy in 1511 (Jokinen). Henry was absolutely thrilled and many celebrations were thrown to acknowledge the future King of England. Unfortunately, the baby died just a few weeks after birth (Eakins). The couple kept trying to have a son but something was wrong. Catherine had a miscarriage, then she gave birth to another son who also died shortly after birth, and finally she successfully gave birth to a healthy baby girl. One might assume that after all of these failed attempts, Henry might be thrilled to just have a healthy baby especially with the high death rate among women during child birth at the time. However, he was obsessed with having a son to be able to provide an heir to the throne so he was ultimately disappointed with the birth of his daughter Mary.

Henry began to panic and became extremely frustrated with Catherine for not giving him a son. He remained faithful until 1526 when he slowly began to separate from Catherine when she became too old to have any more...
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