“Lessons on Love and Marriage from King Henry VIII” by Laura Navarre

As a man six times married and the veteran of numerous illicit affairs, King Henry VIII must have had the opportunity to learn quite  a bit about what NOT to do in his love life.  Henry only appears in a cameo role in my dark Tudor romance, The Devil’s Mistress. After all, I didn’t want him to steal the show from my hero, Sir Joscelin Boleyn!  But Henry couldn’t resist making a few overtures toward my heroine, Italian perfumer and apothecary Allegra Grimaldi–never realizing, of course, that she’s a reluctant lady assassin blackmailed to poison Anne Boleyn.

It’s true that Henry was never the most self-aware of kings.  Still, he WAS known for his intellect, so maybe he would have figured a few things out.  If I could have interviewed the guy and asked him to give Samhain readers a few tips on love and marriage, he would probably have said the following:

1. THOU SHALT NOT COVE T THY BROTHER’S WIFE.   Henry made his first mistakes in love when he was still a kid, destined for a career in the clergy, and his older brother Arthur married Isabelle of Castile’s beautiful and stately daughter, Katherine of Aragon.  The young Henry, who would have been in fourth grade in the modern world, had to escort the splendid young redhead down the aisle at her wedding.  Thus began the youthful infatuation that would sustain him through Katherine’s brief and unsuccessful marriage to Henry’s brother Arthur, and several years of her subsequent widowhood.  We all know how this (Henry’s first marriage) ended:  with Katherine’s abandonment and divorce (very much under protest) so Henry could marry that bewitching upstart, Anne Boleyn.  Still, Henry and Katherine were married with all apparent amity for twenty years before that time, and they were arguably the happiest twenty years of Henry’s life.

2. THOU SHALT NOT MARRY TO EASE THY CODPIECE.  When Henry fell in love with Anne Boleyn, who led him a merry chase for six years without succumbing to his charms, Henry claimed his marriage to Katherine was invalid due to consanguinity—in other words, the fact that she’s been married to his brother.  Closer to the mark, Henry was dissatisfied because Katherine could produce only a string of miscarriages and stillbirths except for one inadequate daughter, Princess Mary (the same Mary who would later become Bloody Mary Tudor).  But most of all, Henry made life a merry hell his councilors, people and Pope because he needed that divorce in order to marry Anne Boleyn, and coax the reluctant temptress finally into his bed.  And we all know how THAT marriage ended.  Anne too could produce only miscarriages and a lone daughter, (who would subsequently rise to glory as the virgin queen Elizabeth.  Besides, Anne’s sharp tongue grated on Henry’s nerves.  Thus, Henry found he needed another wife. This time, he didn’t fiddle around with popes and excommunication and protracted divorce proceedings.

3. THOU SHALT NOT MURDER ONE WIFE AND RUSH ON TO THE NEXT.  Unfortunate Anne was the first wife Henry beheaded.  Well before Anne’s arrest and imprisonment in the Tower of London, Henry had fallen in love again—this time with Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour.  Meek and modest, this Plain Jane was the perfect antidote to the temperamental and challenging Anne.  Of course, Jane modestly declined to succumb to Henry’s blandishments outside the sanctity of the marriage bed.  He wooed her eagerly even before Anne’s beheading, and the two married shortly thereafter.  History doesn’t record what she thought about the proceeding, but Jane dutifully produced Henry’s only legitimate son, the fragile and fanatical Protestant boy who would become King Edward VI.  When Henry died, Edward became King of England at the age of nine, but would rule for only six years before he died of a wasting illness.  As for Jane, she succumbed to puerperal fever mere days after giving birth, plunging poor Henry into grief again.  However, one sickly son was a fragile legacy on which to hang the future of the Tudor dynasty, so Henry decided to marry again, and quickly…

4. THOU SHALT NOT MARRY SIGHT UNSEEN.  This time, Henry chose to marry a foreign princess.  Trouble was, no one would have him, because by this time the position of Henry’s wife was considered to be decidedly unlucky!  One candidate for the role stated publicly that if she’d had two heads, one would be at Henry’s disposal.  Finally, German noblewoman Anne of Cleves was pushed into the role by her strait-laced Protestant brother the Duke of Cleves.   Henry agreed to the marriage on the basis of a flattering painting by Hans Holbein the Younger.  When the lady traveled in state to England for the wedding, and it was too late to back down, Henry found her appearance and demeanor disappointing.  (Among other shortcomings, she wore unflattering fashions and spoke no English, and Henry complained she exuded “evil smells”.)  I can’t imagine she was much disappointed when Henry refused to consummate the marriage, and she wisely granted him a quick divorce.  Afterwards, she lived prosperously and singly in England, and was treated as Henry’s sister.

5. THOU SHALT NOT MARRY A WOMAN ONE-THIRD THY AGE.  Mere months after his whirlwind marriage and divorce from Anne of Cleves, the indefatigable Henry fell in love AGAIN.  In the now-familiar pattern, fifteen-year-old beauty Katherine Howard refused his amorous advances, forcing the lustful Henry to marry a fifth time.  Although she was certainly beautiful, Katherine Howard was not wise.  Like the sophomore in high school she would have been in modern times, Kat was fickle in love.  Understandably, the enormously fat forty-nine year old king failed to enchant her.  It followed that the unfortunate Kat had at least one affair with dashing courtier Thomas Culpeper, and it further emerged that she hadn’t arrived a virgin in Henry’s bed.  Heartbroken and enraged, his Tudor pride smarting, Henry ordered her beheaded.  Reportedly, Kat was only seventeen when she died.

6. IF THOU SHOULD MARRY FIVE TIMES AND FIVE TIMES FIND DISASTER, THOU SHALT NOT MARRY AGAIN AT ALL.  From Henry’s perspective, the situation by now was desperate.  At this time, he was fifty-one and his health was failing, and still he had only one legitimate son to succeed him.  Moreover, Kat’s infidelities had bruised his famous ego.  Wealthy widow Catherine Parr was the antidote for flighty and girlish Kat Howard.  Already in love with another man, a mature and well-educated woman of independent means, Catherine can’t have found much incentive to marry the notorious king, but of course Henry would have his way.  Thus, Catherine Parr became Henry’s sixth wife.  Although they were married for only four years, Henry still found time to draw up an arrest warrant for her on religious grounds, but she managed to persuade him of her innocence.  Still, Henry’s ill health claimed him before he could enjoy the marriage for long, freeing Catherine to marry her prior love.

So, a summary for the novice Tudor scholar.  The tale of Henry’s six wives:  divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.  If he himself had survived, Henry could probably have written a few self-help books and given a lecture tour on his lessons in love and marriage.  Since he didn’t, we can only speculate what (if anything) he may have learned!

Hope you enjoyed the read. 🙂

Laura Navarre

The Devil’s Mistress


Desire has never been so dangerous.


5 Responses to ““Lessons on Love and Marriage from King Henry VIII” by Laura Navarre”

  1. Diana Layne Says:

    King Henry VIII was certainly a fascinating character!

  2. Bev Pettersen Says:

    Really enjoyed this post, Laura. Thanks for the history lesson and congratulations!

  3. CJ Archer Says:

    Fascinating post, Laura, thank you. Henry VIII was a bit of a cad but he certainly made the Tudor period entertaining for us several hundred years later.

  4. Debby Lee Says:

    Nice write up on Henry the VIII, Laura. My husband is half English so I enjoy learning about English history.

  5. bleakballoons Says:

    He must have been an intriguing man. Thanks for writing!

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