Everyone knows that Henry VIII was married six times, right? Divorced, beheaded, died – Divorced, beheaded, survived – that’s the rhyme to remember them by. But in all the fuss about Catharine, Anne, Jane, Anne, Katherine and Catherine, we’ve forgotten the ‘lucky’ ones that got away.
Catharine of Aragon was, of course, married to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, who died very soon after their wedding night in 1501. For the next eight years, Henry’s dad kept promising him that he could marry Catharine in public, but in private he was looking out for a better catch for his remaining son.
In 1505, Catharine’s mother died and her elder sister became the Queen of Castile. Henry’s dad thought that Catharine’s niece, Eleanor of Austria (who was only five years old at the time), would be a more high status daughter-in-law. Luckily for Catharine, Henry was in love with her and when his dad died, he married her straight away. Eleanor went on to marry King Manuel I of Portugal and then, after he died, King Francis I of France, so she didn’t do too badly.
Lucky Escape: Eleanor of Austria
The next time Henry was in a position to choose a wife wasn’t until after Jane Seymour, his third wife, died after giving birth to his only son. By this time he was in his 40s, was starting to get quite large around the middle, and he had already beheaded one wife (Anne Boleyn) and set up his own church. Not quite a catch eh? Who would marry him now?
Well, several ladies were suggested. Relations with France and Spain were not favourable, since Henry had turned away from the Pope. So he looked to the northern Protestant countries. Perhaps the lovely young widow, Christina of Milan; the daughter of King Christian II of Denmark. She was staying with her aunt in the Netherlands and Henry’s painter, Hans Holbein, was sent to paint her picture. Henry was impressed, but Christina was not. She said she had heard:
“that her great-aunt [Catharine of Aragon] was poisoned, that the second was innocently put to death, and the third lost for lack of keeping her childbed.”
She respectfully declined the union; Henry went on to blunder into marriage with Anne of Cleves, who he disliked on first sight. Christina went on to marry the Duke of Lorraine. Her son with the Duke was captured as hostage when the French invaded her lands. She visited England in 1557, after Henry was safely dead and gone.
A woman not afraid to speak her mind: Christina of Milan
Two more wives came and went. One of whom, Katherine Howard (like Anne Boleyn) had her head chopped off for cheating on him. By 1542, Henry was getting quite ill, with infected sores on his legs that gave him hallucinations and a very bad temper. However, he still had an eye for the ladies. Anne of Cleves thought she could have Henry back after little Katherine Howard was gone, however he quickly put her right. His eye had been caught by one Anne Basset, one of Katherine Howard’s ladies-in-waiting. He sent her a saddle as a gift in early 1542, something he’d done when pursuing Anne Boleyn many years before.
In the end, though, Anne Basset backed off. Henry had passed a new law which deemed that anyone who wanted to marry him, had to declare any pre-marital indiscretions so he could avoid another Katherine Howard. Anne Basset may have dabbled in a little affair a few years earlier, so effectively, couldn’t marry Henry. She went on to serve Henry’s daughter, Queen Mary I, where she met Walter Hungerford, who became her husband 1554. Unfortunately she died in 1557, perhaps in childbirth.
As there are no pictures of Anne Basset, here is a photo of Kim dressed up as the lady herself. Fabulous!
Source: Photo courtesy of JMD&Co/The Tudor Tailor: tudortailor.com
It was a lucky escape for all these women, as I don’t think any of Henry’s wives had a particularly good time being married to him, even Catherine Parr who outlived him. He nearly had her charged with heresy. But imagine what would have happened if Henry had married Eleanor of Castile instead of Catharine of Aragon. Would he have had the argument with the Pope? Would he have married anyone else at all? If not, would we think he was as interesting as we do now? Probably not.