Henry VIII, one of England’s most famous kings, died on this day in 1547. Interestingly, that was 90 years to the day that his father, Henry VII, was born. Henry VIII was an important figure in the Protestant movement, as he split the Church of England from the Catholic Church and formed an English alliance with the Holy Roman Empire to take on their common enemy, France. However, there’s one thing that Henry VIII is most famous for. Well, more like six things: his wives.
Now the common mnemonic for remembering the fates of Henry VIII’s six wives is as follows: Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Amusingly, this is a tiny bit inaccurate as the Church of English under Henry VIII didn’t permit divorce. However, annulments were permitted and as Henry VIII was the head of the Church, he was free to annul any marriage; especially his own, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Anyway, let’s meet the wives!
Catalina de Aragón (Anglicized as Catherine of Aragon) was the first, and in fact the cause of the Church of England/Roman Catholic split. Catalina was originally married to Henry’s brother Arthur. After Arthur died, Henry asked the Pope for a papal dispensation to marry his late brother’s wife (an act that could be viewed by some in the church as incest). During their 23 years of marriage, Catherine became pregnant six times, giving birth to four stillborn children, a boy who died two months after his birth and one girl who would grow up to become Queen Mary I.
Although it is said that Henry really did love Catherine, he loved the idea of a male heir more. So, he threw himself at the Pope saying that the multiple stillbirths were a sign that God did not approve of this union, so the marriage must be annulled. Oh, also, by this point Henry had already began an affair with a lady of the court named Anne Boleyn, who might have already been pregnant at the time. The Pope wasn’t buying it at all, and said that he wouldn’t grant Henry an annulment after granting a special dispensation for the marriage. However, Henry was going to get his way no matter what the Pope said, at which point he said something along the lines of “Well, I’m going to go form my own church and have all the annulments I want.”
Henry’s second wife was the previously mentioned Anne Boleyn. Interestingly, she initially rejected Henry’s advances, as her sister Mary had once been Henry’s mistress. In the end though, she married the corpulent king, but this marriage was short lived. The union produced a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I, and a stillborn son. As she was not able to produce a male heir, Henry’s advisers hatched a scheme to get rid of Boleyn. A hasty trial, based on weak evidence, quickly found Boleyn guilty of adultery, incest, and high treason and she was swiftly beheaded.
The third wife was Jane Seymour, who tragically died due to post-natal complications from the birth of the future King Edward VI. Henry was deeply affected by Seymour’s death. He made sure that Seymour got a proper Queen’s burial, and upon his death he was buried next to Seymour. Henry’s fourth wife was Anne of Cleves who Henry reached a peaceful annulment from after six months of marriage. Henry and Cleves remained friends for the rest of their days, with Henry giving her a castle as part of the annulment deal and the unofficial title of “The King’s Sister.”
Henry’s penultimate wife was Catherine Howard. This marriage lasted a short 15 months and was marred by rumors that Howard was engaged in affairs with most of the English court. Unsurprisingly, she was soon beheaded for treason. Finally, that brings us to Catherine Parr, Henry’s sixth wife. For most of the three year marriage, Parr served as Henry’s nurse. However, she was instrumental in making sure that Mary and Elizabeth would be included in the line of succession. Interestingly, just as Henry was the most married English king, Howard was the most married English queen. She had had two husbands before Henry (both of whom had died) and after Henry’s death, she married Thomas Seymour, Jane Seymour’s brother.
So, on the anniversary of Henry VIII’s death, let’s raise a glass (or six) in his honor with an eponymous cocktail. Henry VIII is a slightly spicy champagne cocktail that was created by English bartender Henry Besant.
- 1 sugar cube
- 1/2 ounce Absinthe
- 1/2 ounce Lemon Vodka
- 1/2 ounce Pepper Infused Vodka
Soak the sugar cube in the absinthe and place it at the bottom of a chilled champagne glass. Then add the other ingredients and top with champagne. Garnish with an orange twist.