The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Probably the single biggest reason that Henry VIII is so famous in British history is because he had six wives - two of which he beheaded. Never in our history before or since has a ruling monarch married on such numerous occasions. Henry's six queens are in turn some of the most prominent and well known characters from this period of history, particularly his first two wives - Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Henry's many marriages were driven through either the desperate need to solidify his legacy in producing a male heir to follow him, or the need to strengthen relationships with overseas territories.
Henrys six wives were:
Catherine of Aragon Anne Boleyn Jane Seymour
Anne of Cleves Catherine Howard Katherine Parr
Henrys first marriage was not particularly straightforward. Catherine of Aragon was a Spanish princess. As the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain - easily two of the most powerful rulers in Europe, she was a phenomenal marriage prospect for an English Prince who would one day become King. At the time of the marriage alliance being made however, the groom wasn't Henry VIII but his older brother, Prince Arthur. A marriage between Arthur and Catherine took place by proxy in 1499, and was followed by a wedding in person two years later on the 14th November 1501. Unfortunately the marriage was short-lived, as just five months later Prince Arthur died, most likely of the sweating sickness. Catherine was left a widow in a foreign land with little money or prospects. Eventually it was decided that Catherine would marry the now heir to the throne, Prince Henry, but due to complications brought about from both her father Ferdinand and her father-in-law Henry VII, the marriage did not eventually take place until Prince Henry ascended the throne as King Henry VIII in 1509. Catherine at 23 was five years older than the teenage King.
At the start of their marriage, it would appear that Henry and Catherine were deeply in love. She was crowned alongside him in a dual-coronation, and was accorded the highest level of respect from the nobility of the country. Catherine was also incredibly popular with the English people. She was pious, dutiful and committed to helping those less fortunate than herself. Unfortunately for Catherine, the one thing that was perhaps her most important duty as queen was also the one about which she had zero control - providing the King with healthy living sons. Unlike today when the idea of a Queen ruling by herself is considered completely normal, in the Tudor era power resided very firmly with men. Men ruled, woman served. It was Henry's belief and the belief of many of his council that only a son could succeed him. Sadly for Catherine this would be her undoing. Catherine was not successful in the child bed, and would carry six children to full term, but only one would survive infancy, Mary. for the King, this simply would not do. No woman had ever ruled England in her own right. The very idea was essentially laughable to the people of the Tudor court. Henry had to have a legitimate son to succeed him. Sadly for Catherine, her position was greatly undermined when Henry begot a son by his mistress, Bessie