Henry VIII’s six wives in a different light

From the scheming sophisticate who lost her head, to the hapless 'mare' who repulsed the king, the reputations of Henry VIII's spouses are secure. But do the stereotypes stand up to scrutiny? Lucy Worsley investigates...

Portrait of Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII, 1536. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the Christmas 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine 

Catherine of Aragon

She’s been cast as a humourless Spanish harridan, but Catherine was highly popular in England

Bitter, conservative, graceless: Henry’s first wife (married 1509–33) has often been portrayed as a foreign harridan, lecturing her erring husband about the loyalty he lacked. This is the picture painted by Protestant historians who disliked her deeply held traditional religious views.

But, today, Catherine enjoys a far more favourable press – one that reflects the adulatory views that many of her subjects held about a queen whom they loved to the end. When Henry abandoned Catherine (he had the marriage annulled), these subjects thought of her as a wronged woman, while Anne Boleyn, her younger, sexier, replacement, was “the goggle-eyed whore”. For most of the nearly 24-year marriage, Catherine was Henry’s beloved wife.

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