Thursday, October 3, 2013

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How many wives did Henry VIII have?

We make it two. Or four if you’re a Catholic.

Henry’s fourth marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled. This is very different from divorce.
Legally, it means the marriage never took place.

There were two grounds for the annulment. Anne and Henry never consummated the marriage; that is, they never had intercourse. Refusal or inability to consummate a marriage is still grounds for
annulment today.
How many wives did Henry VIII have?

In addition, Anne was already betrothed to Francis, Duke of Lorraine when she married Henry. At
that time, the formal act of betrothal was a legal bar to marrying someone else.
All parties agreed no legal marriage had taken place. So that leaves five.

The Pope declared Henry’s second marriage to Anne Boleyn illegal, because the King was still
married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Henry, as head of the new Church of England, declared in turn that his first marriage was invalid
on the legal ground that a man could not sleep with his brother’s widow. The King cited the Old
Testament, which he claimed as ‘God’s Law’, whether the Pope liked it or not.

Depending on whether you believe the Pope or the King, this brings it down to either four or three

Henry annulled his marriage to Anne Boleyn just before he had her executed for adultery. This was
somewhat illogical: if the marriage had never existed, Anne could hardly be accused of betraying it.

He did the same with his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. All the evidence suggests she was
unfaithful to him before and during their marriage. This time, Henry passed a special act making it
treasonable for a queen to commit adultery. Once again, he also had the marriage annulled.
So that makes four annulments, and only two incontestably legal marriages.

Apart from Henry’s last wife, Catherine Parr (who outlived him), the lady who got off lightest was
Anne of Cleves. After their annulment, the King showered her with gifts and the official title of
‘beloved sister’. She visited court often, swapping cooks, recipes, and household gadgets with the
man who had never been her husband.

JEREMY CLARKSON He had major, major commitment problems, didn’t he? I imagine,
every time, he said, ‘Oh, it’s not you. It’s me.’ And then, I suppose, they had a trial
separation, which involved a brief trial and a very major separation!


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