We all know a little something about the six wives of King Henry VIII. Many of us remember them by the phrase, “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”, but some of the most interesting details about their lives are the ones we never learned in school. Here are some facts that will wow even the nerdiest history buff. How many have you heard before?
1. Anne Boleyn may have been bulimic. She was known to vomit between courses, something the court began observing at her coronation banquet in 1533. Her ladies in waiting would hold up sheets in front of the queen whenever she wished to do this, and she would often vomit several times during one single meal.
2. Henry VIII enjoyed playing dress-up and surprising his wives in their private chambers whilst wearing his favorite disguises. He is most remembered for doing this with his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, who enjoyed the game and was known to play along. Once, in 1524, Henry stormed Katherine’s chambers with a group of his comrades, dressed as Robin Hood and his Merry Men. In response, the queen and her ladies threw a party in their honor.
3. Henry’s last wife, Katherine Parr was named after his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Katherine of Aragon was reigning queen when Parr was born in 1512, and the name was a popular choice for baby girls at the time.
4. Katherine of Aragon loved monkeys because they reminded her of the Andalusia province in Spain, her native country. Katherine’s monkeys were kept at the royal menagerie at the Tower of London, along with lions and other exotic animals gifted to the crown.
5. During her pregnancy with Edward VI, Jane Seymour became known at court for her particular cravings, especially for quail. The bird was out of season at the time, so Henry VIII had to have the birds shipped to England from Calais. She experienced rapid weight gain during her pregnancy, and once ate 24 birds in a single day.
6. While Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr is primarily remembered for being the king’s nurse and caretaker through the final years of his life, her own intellectual accomplishments were far more noteworthy. She became the first published queen of England when she wrote her first book, Psalms or Prayers in 1544. She published two additional religious books in 1545 and 1548, all anonymously.
7. During her rise to power, Anne Boleyn adopted the motto, “Aisi sera groigne qui groigne”, which means, “Let them grumble; that is how it is going to be”. She had this phrase embroidered on the coats of each of her servants as gesture of defiance against the general public, who favored the reigning queen, Katherine of Aragon.
8. One of Anne of Cleves’ favorite pastimes was gambling. Originally from Germany, she developed a fondness for card games and drinking in the English court. Though she received a generous stipend from the crown following her divorce from the king, she encountered financial troubles in her later life and would often beseech the king for more money.
9. Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard and his second wife, Anne Boleyn were first cousins. Katherine’s father, Edmund Howard was the brother of Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Howard. Coincidentally, Anne and Katherine were both executed by the king on charges of adultery.
10. Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, was by far his favorite, perhaps because she was the only queen to die before he could grow tired of her, or because she was the only one to provide him with a son. The king mourned her loss for years and wore black for over six months following her death. Against the advice of his counselors, he refused to marry for two years. Jane was the only one of his wives to receive a queen’s funeral.
11. During Henry VIII’s search for his fourth wife, he sent ambassadors across Europe to commission portraits of his potential queens. This was viewed as highly controversial, as a king was supposed to marry a woman based on her virtue, not for his own benefit, but for the good of his people. Upon meeting the protestant princess, Anne of Cleves, he was outraged to discover that she looked different than her portrait had led him to imagine.
12. Katherine Howard was the only wife of Henry VIII to openly admit to adultery during her marriage with the king. The man with whom she had an affair, Thomas Culpepper, was not only one of the king’s courtiers, but also Katherine’s maternal cousin.
Bonus fact: Princess Diana of Wales is also a cousin to them both, as they all share the common ancestor, Sir Thomas Culpepper (b.1170).
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