Why Did The King Of England Execute His Wives?


An infamous mnemonic device to remember the
fate of all six of King Henry VIII’s wives goes as follows: “divorced, beheaded, died;
divorced, beheaded, survived.” Needless to say, King Henry has a less than
favorable reputation when it comes to the subject of his personal life. Though we often look back and think of him
as the overweight tyrant he became in his later years, it can be easy to forget that
he had once been a well liked, good looking, athletic celebrity in his youth. He was, at the time of the early 16th century,
a popular, charismatic figure and the most eligible prince in Europe. So how did this promising, young monarch become
so cruel and end up executing two of his wives? Henry VIII took the throne in 1509 and this
is also when he married his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. If you watched our other video, “The Worst
Breakup in History,” then you probably already know how this marriage ended. Though Catherine wasn’t executed, her pride
was damaged when she was ostracized and humiliated by her public rejection from the king. So why did he treat her this way? To understand what was going through Henry’s
mind, we must remember that he was a product of his time. During this period in history, it was imperative
that Henry produce a son and heir to inherit the throne and Catherine had only been able
to deliver one girl, the future Queen Mary I. The rest of their children had either been
miscarried or stillborn. In Tudor England, image was everything and
a failure to produce a male heir was a direct hit against Henry’s fragile ego. His masculinity felt threatened and he wanted
to ensure that everyone knew it wasn’t his fault. He had portraits and sketches of himself drawn
to exaggerate his masculine features, make him look taller, add in a large bulge under
his outfit to emphasize the size of his… well, private area. He participated in many sports such as hunting,
jousting and tennis. He wanted to make it known that he was a strong
leader and the epitome of virility. So, it was easier to place the blame on Catherine
than to confront the possibility that he could have any shortcomings of his own. We think the greatest influential factor for
leaving his first wife, however, came from the seductive powers of one woman: Anne Boleyn. It is very possible that Anne Boleyn was aware
of the king’s insecurities and that she played them to her advantage – very well,
we might add. Some say she was motivated by family ambition. She appealed to his vanity while simultaneously
keeping him wanting more. She did this by denying his advances. When Henry would buy her expensive gifts,
she’d refuse them. She was “playing hard to get” in a very
high-stakes game. In hindsight though, this was an ingenious
tactic for alluring the king because it fueled his interest and caused him to be completely
infatuated with her, practically to the point of worship. There are some claims that the traditional
English song, Greensleeves, was composed by King Henry VIII for his love of Anne, mainly
due to the lyrics “cast me off discourteously,” which are thought to refer to Anne’s initial
rejection of him. This, however, is only speculation since there
is no real definitive evidence for the origin of the tune. Nevertheless, once Anne Boleyn entered the
picture, Queen Catherine had to go. Anne Boleyn promised to grant Henry the son
and heir he desperately wanted – a very tempting bargaining chip – but only if he made her
his wife and queen. She would not settle for less and would also
not enter his bed, refusing to sleep with him until his first wife was out of the way. Henry moved mountains to divorce his first
wife, motivated by his lust for Anne. When he failed to get approval from the Pope,
Henry took matters into his own hands. He established his own church, The Church
of England, and separated England from the Roman Catholic Church. This caused division in his country, the start
of a feud between Catholic citizens and Protestants. Henry then granted himself his divorce and
married Anne. Once they were married, however, Anne Boleyn’s
powerful hold over the king started to slip from her grasp. She had the title that she wanted but no longer
possessed her bargaining chip to play and there was intense pressure on both Henry and
Anne to produce a son, especially now that he had uprooted his entire country just to
be with her. Anne did fall pregnant and gave birth to a
healthy baby, but it was a girl, the future Queen Elizabeth I. Henry was bitterly disappointed,
and Anne would start sliding on a downwards slope from here. After this, Anne’s future pregnancies would
end in two more miscarriages, which made her increasingly vulnerable. Her influence on the king waned and she was
in a very precarious situation. It is easy to imagine that she would have
been feeling intensely stressed by this point, recalling what happened to her predecessor,
Catherine. It can be speculated that, based on the unique
circumstances of how they came together, Henry may have felt a certain level of resentment
against Anne for pushing him to the point of dividing his country, separating from Rome. When she couldn’t keep up her end of the
bargain by providing him with an heir, this must have delivered another humiliating blow
to Henry’s image. He was also growing increasingly older, impatient
and more desperate to have a son. Additionally, Henry’s interest was being
redirected towards another woman named Jane Seymour. The foundation of his relationship with Anne
was falling apart. Anne’s downfall hit rock bottom when she
was attacked with accusations for committing adultery with multiple men, including her
own brother. Supporters of Anne Boleyn today would argue
the possibility that these treasonous offenses were fabricated to eliminate Anne from the
scene, possibly so that Henry could start fresh with his new love, Jane. After all, a lot of the evidence that was
used against Anne seem a little phony. Innocent actions, such as dancing with her
brother, were used as testimony. At the time though, no one would have been
bold enough to jump to Anne’s defense and there were a lot of people who resented her
for the shameful treatment of Catherine of Aragon. Even the fact that Anne had alibis for 12
of the occasions when she was thought to be committing adultery did not seem to matter. Though she was never actually on trial for
witchcraft, there was a myth circulating that she had bewitched the king into marrying her. There was nothing that Anne could do or say
at this point to prevent her fate, as her once strong influencing power over the king
was now entirely obsolete. Anne was executed in May 1536 after only three
years of marriage. Henry ordered a skilled, French swordsman
to do the job so that the beheading would be quick and painless. We suppose that, in a twisted way, this was
a final gesture of love. This made Anne Boleyn the first English queen
to be executed. So how could Henry switch from being head-over-heels
in love with someone to then having her killed? Well, aside from the factors already discussed,
there is another idea in the mix, a possible medical explanation. Many experts blame a jousting accident that
Henry endured, which occurred at a tournament at Greenwich palace on the 24th of January
1536, not long prior to Anne’s execution. His horse fell on top of him and he was unconscious
for two long hours. This serious accident reportedly caused a
personality change in Henry whereby he transformed dramatically from being sporty and generous
to cruel and tyrannical. According to the History Channel documentary,
“Inside the Body of Henry VIII,” this accident could well have caused undetected
brain damage in Henry, turning him into the tyrant we think of today. So, could brain damage have pushed Henry to
execute his second wife? If we had today’s medical knowledge and
technology somehow magically transported back in time to examine him, perhaps then we could
know for sure. Just over a week after Anne was beheaded,
Henry quickly moved on and married his mistress, Jane Seymour. Who knows what Jane was thinking? Knowing what happened to the previous queen,
it’s easy to imagine that anyone would be frightened to be in her shoes. Luckily for her, she gave birth to a son,
the future king Edward VI of England. After the childbirth, however, Jane died from
postnatal complications. She was said to be Henry’s favorite wife
out of them all but that may have only been because she didn’t live long enough for
him to grow tired of her. That and she delivered him a son, of course. Unbeknownst to Henry, however, Edward would
die not long after him. While in the process of searching for a new
wife, Christina of Denmark was considered. But she refused the offer, supposedly saying
to the English ambassador, “Had I but two heads, I would gladly put one at his disposal.” Wife number four turned out to be the Tudor
version of an online dating experience gone wrong. Henry was shown a portrait of Anne of Cleves
but when he met her personally, he felt that the artist did not accurately represent her
image. Henry was very vocal about this, angrily expressing
that he found her to be hideous and undesirable. At one point, he allegedly mentioned that
she “looked like a horse.” Still, Henry was forced to go through with
the marriage under political pressure to avoid endangering his alliance with the Germans. The couple’s first night as husband and
wife was a total disaster. He was recorded saying “I liked her before
not well, but now I like her much worse.” Unsurprisingly, the marriage was soon annulled
under the grounds that it was never consummated. Despite the insult over her appearance, Anne
of Cleves was arguably granted the best ending out of all of Henry’s wives. She was ordained the title as “The King’s
Beloved Sister” and provided with a generous settlement, which included Richmond Palace
and Hever Castle, home to Henry’s prior in-laws, the Boleyns. Anne of Cleves was smart enough not to argue
against this transaction, gracefully relinquishing her title as queen. Who could blame her? Knowing what Henry was capable of with his
past actions against his previous wives, anyone in her position would have probably done the
same. The next queen to be executed was Henry’s
fifth wife, Katherine Howard. By this time, Henry was 50, had a nasty ulcerated
wound on his leg, and his girth had greatly increased. Needless to say, he had become very unappealing
from the attractive, young king he once had been. Though her exact birthdate is unknown, Katherine
Howard was only in her early teens when she married the king and the contrast would be
disturbing by today’s standards. Still, she managed to amuse the king and he
loved her madly, calling her his “Rose Without a Thorn” and spoiling her with lavish gifts. Katherine, however, had many secret affairs
and liaisons with other men, as well as having a less than wholesome past with her sexuality. Her flirtations could probably be construed
as understandable though since it would have only been natural for her to want to be with
boys her own age, rather than the old, smelly king that she was stuck being married to. Her affairs, however, turned out to be a huge
mistake that would ultimately lead to her downfall once word spread and suspicion grew. At first, Henry denied the initial accusations
against her. He thought her innocent and didn’t want
to believe otherwise. But as the evidence increasingly stacked up,
there could be no denying her infidelity. Henry was heartbroken and infuriated. Upon her arrest, it is thought that Katherine
broke free from her guards and ran, screaming down the corridor towards Chapel Royal at
Hampton Court Palace in 1541. She screamed for mercy but to no avail. Today this corridor is said to be haunted
and some speculate that her ghost can be seen and heard begging for her life during that
moment of utter desperation. Unlike her cousin and Henry’s second wife,
Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard wasn’t graced with the mercy of a master swordsman to perform
her execution. Instead, she was placed under the axe. Henry’s sixth and final wife, Catherine
Parr was fortunate enough to outlive him, but not without its fair share of scares. There were rumors about her reading banned
religious books. Appealing to Henry’s ego was what ended
up keeping her alive in the end. She was said to appease him through self-deprecating
tactics, stating, “I am but a woman, with all the imperfections natural to the weakness
of my sex,” and claiming that she yearned for his wisdom. Henry accepted her explanation. At this point in his life, his health was
deteriorating and he probably also felt fed up and tired with the idea of re-entering
the dating scene. What do you think of this story? Which one of King Henry VIII’s wives do
you think had the worst experience? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video
The Worst Breakup In History! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!

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