Friday, March 15, 2013

Was Anne Boleyn Henry VIII's favorite wife?

Fairytales always have their happy endings, but not all love stories do, and this is very much the case for the tragic but passionate romance of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn...

Few kings would die with more than two or three wives, and remarried only when their wife was dead of natural causes. But then there were few if any kings like Henry VIII, famous for marrying six different women and in some ways destroying all of them. The million dollar question even to this day is -- who was his favorite wife? Who was the wife who he gave his amorous youth to? Catherine of Aragon, wife number 1. Who was the wife who gave him his son, the wife in his Tudor dynasty portrait who he is presently resting beside? Jane Seymour, wife number 3. Who was the wife he kept a friendship with at their marriage's end? Anne of Cleves, wife number 4. Who was the wife who made him feel young again at fifty-years-old? Katherine Howard, wife number 5. Who was the wife at his side in sickness and in health? Catherine Parr, the last wife.

And who was the wife he obsessed nearly ten years over and then sent to die a shameful death on the Tower Green? Anne Boleyn, Wife number 3.

Anne is always dismissed from the running, the woman who 'betrayed' him and who he hated enough to destroy and try to erase from history. But just as Henry's person changed dramatically by 1536, his heart had, too -- because once he had loved Anne enough to spar with all of the continent for. So when it comes to Anne Boleyn, we almost have a balance scale -- did the tremendous love he bore her before and during their marriage outweigh the 'hate' he felt toward her by 1536? Did he ever hate her?

Who of his wives did Henry VIII love better than Anne Boleyn?

Catherine of Aragon, wife number 1, is remembered as the matronly, overweight Spanish woman who was obsessed with her religion and practically martyred by her fickle and unfaithful husband. But once, she was commonly known as one of if not the most beautiful woman in the world. Thomas More said that there were few women who could compete with her in her prime, and as we can see in the painting depicting her in her youth, to the right, Catherine was very pretty indeed, and once, Henry VIII was very much in love with her. In the joust, he rode out as Sir Loyal Heart wearing her favor. Had she bore him a son there would have been no five other wives, nor any split from Rome -- but ultimately, she would never be able to satisfy a man like Henry VIII who needed one thing that in her piety and submissiveness she could not give him -- excitement. He might have loved her, and very well too, but Henry VIII did not have a passion for her where he did, Anne Boleyn.

Anne of Cleves, wife number 4, was married to her husband for less than seven months, and the fall and execution of his favorite minister, Cromwell, is accredited to her extreme failure to please him. Even though her contemporaries called the German Duchess a beauty, she was so far from Henry's tastes that even today we consider her the 'ugly sister'. But she was one of Henry's two 'survivors' and against common belief, she was also loved by him dearly -- as his sister. The title might have been given to her only so that he would not disrespect her powerful Cleves family with the untimely divorce, but they corresponded regularly and she was beloved by his children.

Catherine Howard, wife number 5, shared more than blood with Wife 2, Anne Boleyn -- they also shared a fate. However, where Anne earns some limited sympathy with the charges against her infamously trumped, we remember Catherine as the whore who betrayed and deceived her husband with three other men and who he never loved, but merely lusted after. Given that, with her limited education, Henry and Catherine did not connect intellectually, this is probably true. However, his affection for Catherine was very unique in that her youth not only endeared him, but restored some vitality and youth to his heart where he felt like a paranoid old man.

Katherine Parr is famous as the sixth wife, the nurse, the matron, the stepmother; everything but the lover. While given his age and sexual exhaustion Henry VIII was probably not a passionate and fiery suitor to her, their marriage had most semblance of a modern union in that it was for the most part rich in peace and lacking in obsessiveness. The way he did with Anne Boleyn, Henry was similarly able to connect on an intellectual level with Parr, and his need for a son was far from urgent because he accepted how unlikely it was, perhaps given his age, that they would have children.

In the end, these four wives all possessed different pieces of their husband's heart. We will never know how he truly felt for any of them, but it is dubious that one of these women was his true love -- two wives he had not even chosen for himself and wanted nothing but sons from, one wife he did not connect with in any way save physically, and one wife he was too old to ever feel desire or romantic affection for.

Anne Boleyn walks in on Henry VIII and Jane Seymour in an embrace.

That leaves Jane Seymour, the darling of the 'harem', and Anne Boleyn, who Henry died believed was an evil whore and a witch, and it is true what people say -- they are different in pretty much every way imaginable. Even the structures of their relationships with Henry were different.

Where Henry might not have been madly passionate about Jane as he had been for Anne, he was in love with her legacy before her death: she had given him a son. For the better part of their ten years together  he was absolutely mad for Anne, and while he chased annulment and Church Supremacy most likely for himself, he defied all of Europe for her. But her legacy as a traitor to his kingdom and has his self disgusted him enough to erase nearly every trace of her that he could.

It comes down to this:

  • Jane Seymour had a son before dying. If she had died having give birth to a daughter or a stillborn child, then it is likely that Henry would have declared their less-than-two-year marriage null, remarried, had a son elsewhere and forgotten about her. 
  • Henry VIII chose to be buried next to Jane. Again, if she had not died giving birth to a son, this would not be the case and he would be buried next to whoever gave him his heir.
  • Jane is in the Tudor dynasty painting. Jane is the only consort of Henry's who has a place in the Tudor dynasty painting, but the place belonged to the mother of the heir, and had she not given birth to future Edward VI, she would not be in it. It was nothing personal.
Was Jane's personality everything Henry VIII wanted? At the time, indeed it was. Anne had exhausted a part of him that Henry would never be able to redeem, even after she was long gone. His tastes were clearly for proud and intelligent women, initially, as both Catherine of Aragon and Anne were, but both of their marriages ended disastrously. What Henry wanted was a quiet and simple woman who lacked the intelligence and the spirit to argue with him, and he loved Jane because she could be just that. But there was a time when he wanted a flavorful, witty, and spirited woman who he could feel passion for, and Anne Boleyn filled that. When he wanted a woman who fit that criteria, he wanted a woman who he could connect with, and while Jane conformed perfectly to his later desires, they never connected mind-for-mind and soul-for-soul the way he and Anne did.

That is why I don't doubt that Anne Boleyn was his favorite wife -- fairytales always have their happy endings, but not all love stories do, and this is very much the case for the tragic but passionate romance of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

Showtime's The Tudors captured the relationship between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn very well in the sense that they fought all the time from beginning to end, but only in the end was this fatal. At the beginning when she was his mistress, their relationship was built entirely on free passion, and heated arguments made their passion, and indirectly their relationship as well, stronger. But by the time Henry was forty-five, he had lost the energy and patience to enjoy their fights whereas Anne was still as fierce, hot and passionate in what she believed in and wanted for England, as ever.

After her final miscarriage in late January 1536, Anne's fate was not yet sealed. At twenty-eight or thirty-four (whether she was born in 1507 as I suspect or 1501), she could still have another son. In that case, if not because he doubted she could give him an heir, historians debate why Henry VIII destroyed her, and most label his actions as the product of hate, exhaustion, and 'boredom' with her. 

Others, whom I agree with, label Anne's destruction as not necessarily the king's hate, but that of the many factions and court powers who had piled against her, led by Cromwell. The clash of Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell reached its height in April 1536 when she demanded that the money from the destroyed monasteries be focused on education and charity, where he wanted every cent added to the king's treasury. Queen Anne and her heavy influence on the king's every decision would only grow stronger when she eventually gave him a son, and Cromwell could not risk her destroying him, using the king's favor, like she had with his precedent Cardinal Wolsey. 

It is very difficult to hate someone who you once loved with such extraordinary passion, but it is possible to be so wearied by quarrels with them and overwhelming diplomatic conflict that you will do whatever it takes to free yourself -- even if it is at the expense of the one you once defied everything for. In that sense and in his comparing Anne to Anne of Cleves in the future (1540 letter to Elizabeth), I do truly believe that Henry never hated his second wife and lover of more than ten years, and that his passion for her was life-long, even when she was gone. 

In my opinion, Anne Boleyn was without doubt his favorite wife.

Quotes of a Courtship
From the surviving love letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn

The longer the days are, the more distant is the sun and nevertheless hotter, so is it with my love, for by absence we are kept a distance from one another and yet it retains its fervor. (Love Letter 4)
My heart and I surrender our- selves into your hands, beseeching you to hold us commended to your favour, and that by absence your af- feftion to us may not be lessened. (Love Letter 4)
The demonstrations of your affection... forever to honor our love... assuring you that, on my part, I will surpass [your affection] rather than make it reciprocal, if loyalty of heart and a desire to please you can accomplish this. (Love Letter 5)
For what joy can be greater upon earth than to have the company of her who is dearest to me? (Love Letter 12)


  1. I agree with you about Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour as final choices but I still think Jane was his favorite wife, not only because she give birth to his son and heir but also her personality.
    Forget about THE TUDORS - it's trashy TV show. If you love REAL Tudors you must watch old BBC classic series THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII (1970). In my opinion this is the best description of six women's lives on film/TV. I recommend you also sequel ELIZABETH R (1971, about Queen Elizabeth I) and prequel THE SHADOW OF THE TOWER (1972, about Henry VII and beginnings of the Tudor dynasty.

  2. I think that Jane Seymour was his favourite wife, and I don't think that Anne Boleyn did betray him and slept with her brother because there was no proof.

  3. I think jane seymour was the second favourite wife henry was mad about anne but he betrayed her and u know (chopped her head of) then jane became his favourite and he loved her even more when he gave her the thing he always wanted....A SON
    But he still loved anne dearley ann was beautiful young and witty thays y he loved her

  4. Anne Boleyn was wife number TWO not wife number three!!

    1. If you read the first paragraph it is clear the author knows Anne was wife number two. The short paragraph contains an error which can be contributed to an oversight or possible typo. I plead grace for the author of this excellent article.

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  6. I'm sorry but I find the Catherine Howard paragraph inadequate. Writing off their story as a lustful man who didn't love her and a whore who didn't have many other characteristics is just poor effort made. He did love her, it's clear in all accounts of their marriage and even though unlike Anne, Catherine's crimes were true Henry both tried to find a way to annul the marriage instead of executed her and he mourned her deeply unlike Anne. She not only revived him and attracted him but was the in between of Cunning Anne and gentle Jane, she was fun and exciting but lacked the ulterior political agendas. He would have stayed married to her till his death if she hadn't been u faithful, a thing given the situation, you cannot blame her for.