Henry VIII c. 1536, King of England (1509-1547)

© National Portrait Gallery, London
After Hans Holbein the Younger | c. 17th century, based on a work of 1536
Oil on copper | (11 in. x 7 7/8 in)
NPG 157

Henry VIII is famous for having had six wives.

This portrait shows Henry in his mid-forties, not long after the execution of his second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Henry had two daughters from his first two marriages, Mary and Elizabeth.

However, as both these marriages had been annulled, Henry did not yet have a legitimate heir.

Eleven days after Anne’s death, Henry married Jane Seymour.

Within two years Henry was a widower: Jane died shortly after giving birth to the couple’s son, Edward, in October 1537.

Thomas Cromwell engineered the king’s fourth marriage in 1540, this time to the German princess Anne of Cleves. This union was brief and embarrassing: within six months they divorced, apparently on grounds of incompatibility.

The failure of this marriage had larger political consequences. With his ego bruised, Henry finally listened to Cromwell’s enemies, and was persuaded that his chief minister was a heretic. In July 1540, the king ordered Cromwell’s execution.

On the same day Cromwell was beheaded, Henry married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard.

The following June, Henry and his new queen set off on an elaborate progress to York, during which he stayed at Leconfield Castle (which lay 3 miles north of Beverley).

Through this magnificent display, Henry sought to confirm royal authority in Yorkshire, just five years after the region had risen against him.

Not long after their return to London, Henry learnt that Catherine was having an affair with a royal courtier, Thomas Culpepper. In February 1542, Henry ordered the execution of another wife and queen.

Towards the end of his life, Henry suffered greatly from ulcers on his legs, and was likely in constant pain.

Perhaps he found some solace in his final wife, Katherine Parr, to whom he was married from 1543 until his death in January 1547.

Explore the Tudor history we tell through this portrait:



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