Reclaiming HERstory: The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Six is another show which takes historical figures and presents them in a contemporary way.
This musical by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss takes the six wives of the notorious Henry XIII and puts them into a girl group, allowing each of these women to take the mic and tell their own stories.
With catchy tunes, eye-popping costumes, and powerhouse performers, Six quickly became a global sensation.
Six aims to present these six women as more than the stereotypes mainly associated with their names. As there’s only so much an 80 minute musical can cover, I decided to dig a little deeper and learn some more about these queens.
A quick disclaimer: I am not a historian or an expert, I was just curious and wanted to share what I found with you!
DIVORCED -- CATHERINE OF ARAGON
Catherine grew up in Spain and was sent to England in 1501 to marry Prince Arthur (Henry VIII's older brother and heir to the throne), who she had been engaged to since birth. When Arthur died suddenly in 1502, Catherine’s future became uncertain. Eventually, the Catholic church gave permission for Catherine to marry Henry, which she did in 1509 once he had been crowned King of England.
Catherine of Aragon was married to Henry VIII for twenty-four years and was very popular during her time as Queen. During their marriage, Catherine was pregnant six times, and only one of her children, a daughter, Mary Tudor, survived. Having been well-educated in Spain, Catherine was a key figure in popularizing education for women. She made sure her daughter was as educated as she was, and made large donations to several colleges.
In 1513, Henry went to France and Catherine served as Regent. When Scotland took the opportunity to invade England during this time, a heavily-pregnant Catherine rode in full body armour with her soldiers and inspired them into battle with a rousing speech.
Despite being beloved by the people of England, Catherine was unable to produce a male heir to the throne. At first, Henry began to take mistresses, but eventually asked the church for an annulment in 1527. Catherine was well aware of her husband’s notorious infidelity, but turned the other cheek considering it part of her duty.
Catherine of Aragon is known for being incredibly devout, and was well connected within the Catholic church; because of this, the Pope refused to allow their marriage to end.
In 1533, the royal marriage was annulled by an Archbishop, and Henry had already married Anne Boleyn in secret. It was then decided that the King was to be the head of the Church of England, not the Pope, and reformation began to take shape.
Catherine refused to accept Henry’s actions, and despite their divorce, believed that she was still the true Queen. She even refused to send the crown jewels to Anne Boleyn when the second wife wrote to request them.
Catherine of Aragon resided in Kimbleton Castle until she passed away in 1536.
BEHEADED -- ANNE BOLEYN
Anne came to England from France in 1522 and quickly became a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon. While at court, her sister Mary (who was one of the King’s mistresses) introduced her to Henry. The King was smitten with Anne, and would send her love letters. Originally, Anne denied his advances, claiming she would rather be married than someone’s mistress, but their flirtation continued.
Henry VIII then began his conflict with the Catholic church, hoping to annul his marriage to Catherine and marry Anne.
In 1533, the two were married in secret as Anne was pregnant. She later gave birth to her daughter, Elizabeth Tudor (Elizabeth I). Henry then annulled his marriage with Catherine and established the Church of England.
As Catherine of Aragon was beloved by her people, Anne was received poorly, and was seen as a social climber and home wrecker. As a Queen, however, she worked to make improvements for those living in poverty as well as in foreign policy, and helped handle the King’s finances.
Henry eventually found new mistresses (one of them being Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour), and this made Anne extremely jealous and furious. Her reaction to Henry’s infidelity as well as her inability to produce an heir lead to the end of their marriage.
In 1536, Henry chose Jane Seymour for his next wife, and sought to end his marriage to Anne, who he had held at the Tower of London on charges of incest, witchcraft, adultery, and conspiracy. Though many would find this situation traumatizing, it is recorded that Anne Boleyn remained calm and collected in court up to the date of her execution.
Anne Boleyn was stripped of her titles and beheaded on May 19th, 1563 by a French swordsman.
DIED -- JANE SEYMOUR
Despite being born into a prestigious family, Jane Seymour was not as highly educated as the previous Queens. It is noted that this, and her reserved nature, is what drew Henry VIII to her, as she was very different from his first two wives.
Jane served as lady-in-waiting to both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, and married Henry only eleven days after Anne Boleyn was executed.
She passed away due to complications in childbirth in 1537, after giving Henry a male heir (Edward XVI).
Jane Seymour never received a formal coronation, however she is the only one of Henry’s wives to be buried with him, and he would always refer to her as his ‘one true queen’.
It is recorded that he mourned her death greatly, and did not take another wife until 1540.
DIVORCED -- ANNE OF CLEVES
In 1539, Henry and Anne’s brother, the reigning Duke of Cleves, arranged a marriage to create a much-needed alliance between the two countries.
Hans Holbein the Younger was sent to Germany to paint both Anne and her sister Amalia, so Henry could choose which one he would marry.
Henry was disappointed in Anne’s looks, claiming that her portrait as well as those involved in planning the marriage had exaggerated her beauty. To avoid conflict with Germany, he decided to marry her anyway. The two were wed in 1540, and Henry was unable to consummate the marriage, blaming it on Anne’s looks.
Six months later, Henry annulled the marriage, which Anne consented to. Anne was then awarded a generous settlement of funds, property, as well as a place in court and a friendship with her ex-husband.
Anne of Cleves passed away in 1557, outliving Henry and his ex-wives.
BEHEADED -- CATHERINE HOWARD
Cousin to Anne Boleyn, Catherine was raised and educated by her stepmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. During her time with the Duchess, Catherine had two relationships: one with her music teacher Henry Mannox, and one with Francis Dereham.
Catherine came to the court as a lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves. Henry was drawn to her youth and beauty, and married her in 1540. He was thirty years her senior, but she lifted his spirits and he showered her in gifts.
In 1541, Catherine had started an affair with Thomas Culpeper, one of the King’s courtiers. By fall, rumours of Catherine’s affair and her past relationships began to sully her reputation. Investigations into these rumours led to the executions of both Culpeper and Dereham (who Catherine claimed had raped her) were executed. In mid-November, Catherine was stripped of her title as Queen and was imprisoned for her indiscretions.
In January 1542, a bill was passed making it treason, and punishable by death, for a queen consort to commit adultery, or fail to disclose her sexual history to the King. Catherine was then beheaded on February 13th, 1542.
SURVIVED -- CATHERINE PARR
Catherine Parr was the final wife of Henry VIII and the last queen consort of the House of Tudor.
Being born to a high-status family, Catherine received a thorough education and developed a passion for learning, which she continued to do for the rest of her life.
Before marrying King Henry, Catherine was married twice. Her first husband, Sir Edward Burgh passed away in 1533, and her second husband, Lord Latimer, passed in 1543.
Widowed once more, Catherine became a lady-in-waiting to Lady Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon. During this time, she met Sir Thomas Seymour, and the two became romantically involved. As a member of the court, Catherine caught Henry VIII’s attention. When he proposed to her, she accepted, despite her relationship with Seymour, as she considered this her duty.
Catherine Parr married Henry in July 1543, and she became Queen of England and Ireland. In 1544, Henry left for France and Catherine ruled as the Queen Regent. She handled finances, proclamations, provisions, and was very invested in the conflict with Scotland.
In 1546, Catherine came under suspicion as a Protestant, and there was a warrant out for her arrest until she spoke with the King, claiming that she had taken an opposing view to him to distract him from the pain in his leg.
After Henry’s death, Catherine remained in court until Edward VI was crowned in 1547. Thomas Seymour then returned to court, and the two were secretly married for months before announcing it to the public. This resulted in a falling out with Henry’s children; King Edward, Lady Mary, and Lady Elizabeth.
In 1547, Catherine’s second book Lamentations of a Sinner was published - her first, Psalms or Prayers had been published anonymously in 1543.
In 1548, Catherine became pregnant and gave birth to her daughter Mary, after which she passed away from complications.
Her funeral was the first Protestant funeral held in English.
While Six does a brilliant job in passing the mic to the women whose stories are mainly connected to the man who treated them and showing that they are “so much more than” their fates; there is truly no way to summarize six amazing lives in a musical.
What it does incredibly well however, is putting these women in the spotlight, leading audience members and fans to dive deeper into the legacies of these wonderful Queens.
I hope you enjoyed a look into the Queens who inspired this hit musical!
Do you have a favourite fun fact about these Queens?
Let us know what you love about Six in the comments below!