The following rhythmic refrain has helped me to finally commit the order of Henry’s unfortunate wives to memory:
Divorced, Beheaded, Died;
Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.
Here is each woman and her fate:
Katherine of Aragorn: Spanish, Catholic, mother of Mary I, fraudulently divorced after 23 years of marriage.
Anne of Boleyn: pro-Reform, mother of Elizabeth I. Anne was sent to the gallows for adultery she almost certainly didn’t commit.
(Henry couldn't get the pope to agree to an annulment of his marriage with Katherine so he could marry Anne, therefore he broke with the Roman Catholic Church and formed the Anglican Church.)
Jane Seymour: Mother of Edward VI. Supposedly the one queen Henry really loved (or at least the one he wasn’t given time to tire of!). Died shortly after childbirth.*
Anne of Cleves: A German princess, not to Henry’s taste. Henry claimed they didn't consummate the marriage, and Anne didn’t fight the annulment, so she was treated relatively well and set up at Hever Castle. She outlived him.*
Katherine Howard: Accused of adultery and beheaded.*
Katherine Parr: Married to Henry for 4 years. Widowed. In total she married 4 times.
You may also have noticed that there are 3 Katherines, 2 Annes, and 1 Jane. History can be confusing because they tended to play around with a very select number of names!
Here are two other sets of similarly named historical personages that always used to trip me up:
1. Bloody Mary and Mary Queen of Scots
Mary I of England. Called Bloody Mary because she burned Protestants at the sake, seeking to revert England to Catholicism after her father, Henry VIII, had broken from the Catholic Church. She was succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth I.
Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587)
A Catholic, Mary Stuart was queen of Scotland until forced to abdicate in favour of her son, James (who thus became James VI of Scotland, and later James I of England, which is when he commissioned the King James Bible). Many Catholics in England saw her as the rightful heir to the throne, so she was a threat to Elizabeth I, who had her imprisoned for many years, and eventually executed for supposed treason.
2. Thomas Cromwell and Oliver Cromwell
Served as vice regent and vicar general under Henry VIII. Rose to power alongside Anne of Boleyn, but later turned on her and was implicated in her downfall. A so-called reformer, he worked to have the monasteries dissolved. Eventually he too lost favour with the king and was executed for supposed treason and heresy.
Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)
Lord Protector of the Commonwealth (i.e. the interregnum years when England had no monarch, as Parliament had beheaded Charles I, and not yet brought Charles II back for the Restoration of the monarchy). A strong Puritan reformer, though more conservative than the separatists (e.g. Baptists, Quakers).
He famously told his portraitest not to flatter him, but to paint him as he was, warts and all. His son, Richard Cromwell, took over as Lord Protector when Oliver died.
Lastly, did you notice how similar in style many of the above portraits are?
All the portraits with an * were painted by the German artist Hans Holbein the Younger (left, self-portrait).
I read a very interesting novel called Portrait of an Uknown Woman (by Vanora Bennet) that has Holbein as a main character and shows his rise to fame, including his friendship with Sir Thomas More. I was fascinated by the planning and thought that went into each composition: Holbein put religion, astrology, politics, secrets and more into his portraits and scenes.