History Extra explains… Why did Henry VIII have six wives?

As part of our new 'History Extra explains' series, leading historians answer the burning questions you were too afraid to ask...


One could be forgiven for assuming Henry had notoriously bad luck when it came to marriage, but in truth it was his desire for a male son and heir to the Tudor dynasty that was the driving force behind most of his marital decisions. This, coupled with Henry’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn, was behind his desire to divorce his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and marry her.


Henry would divorce two wives, and behead two – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – for adultery and treason. He no doubt would have remained married to his third wife, Jane Seymour, who gave him his son and heir, but she died in childbirth.

In the end, only two wives – Anne of Cleves, who he divorced years prior, and his final wife, Katharine Parr – would outlive him.


Lauren Mackay is the author of Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the Life and Writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys (Amberley Publishing).

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