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Henry VII and Henry VIII (1485 - 1547)

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THIS small handaxe is one of the most beautiful in the British Museum. It is made from quartz with attractive amethyst banding, a difficult material from which to make tools because it is extremely hard. The toolmaker would have had to hit with considerable force and accuracy to remove flakes. Such a high degree of difficulty makes the thin, symmetrical shape of this piece a masterpiece of the toolmakers art.
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Henry VIII and his six wives
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Henry VIII and his six wivesThe youngest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Catherine of Aragon was wellaware that her role as Henrys queen was to bear children. A son arrived in 1511, but sadly lived only a few weeks. Five other pregnancies produced only one surviving child, Mary, in 1516.

Desperate for a son, Henrys affections began to wander and in 1519 his mistress Elizabeth Blount gave birth to a boy, named Henry Fitzroy. Henry possibly had a view to making the boy his heir, since by the 1520s Catherines hopes of bearing a son were slight. The king became convinced that God was punishing him for marrying his brother Arthurs widow (even though the Pope had given permission) and he had also fallen in love with Anne Boleyn.

No great beauty, Anne was witty, vivacious and bewitching. She at first resisted Henrys advances but by the end of 1532 was pregnant. Henry demanded a divorce from Catherine, rejecting papal authority and getting Archbishop Cranmer to give him a decree of nullity. His great matter destroyed loyal servants such as Wolsey and Thomas More, while the Act of Supremacy (1534) made him Head of the Church in England.

Henry and Anne married secretly in January 1533 and in September Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. Bitterly disappointed, Henrys anguish increased when Anne miscarried twice more, the second time with a son. Anne had failed him. He readily listened to whispers of her adultery with five men (one her brother); Anne was beheaded in May 1536.

Eleven days later, Henry married Jane Seymour, a sweet-natured woman of 27. But the kings joy at their sons birth in October 1537 was short-lived, for his entirely beloved Jane died of childbed fever less than a week later, leaving him grief-stricken.

Henrys fourth marriage, in 1540, was a diplomatic match. He had seen only a portrait of the Protestant princess Anne of Cleves, and was downcast when they met. I like her not, he told Thomas Cromwell. The marriage was not consummated, and a speedy divorce amicably arranged.

Henrys eye next fell on one of Annes ladies-in-waiting. Catherine Howard, only 19 but already sexually adventurous, was an easy tool of her ambitious family. Nineteen days after his divorce, the ageing king married her. But Catherines indiscreet amours continued, and when her enemies told the cuckolded Henry, he wept with rage and self-pity. In February 1542, Catherine followed her lovers to the block.

Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived.
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The king married for the last time in July 1543. Catherine Parr was a widow whose motto was: To be useful in all I do. She proved a kind companion-nurse to the ailing monarch, and a caring stepmother to his youngest children, Edward (6) and Elizabeth (10). After Henrys death on 29 January 1547, Catherine married Thomas Seymour, her fourth husband. She bore a daughter, but, like Jane Seymour before her, sickened with childbed fever and died shortly afterwards.

Golden dawn
Henrys reign began in a blaze of glory and flattery he was the handsomest potentate I have ever set eyes on, according to one ambassador; the whole world will talk of him, cooed another. The first royal wedding was the excuse for a celebration of epic lavishness, with magnificent banquets, music, dancing and jousting. Our time is spent in continual festival, Queen Catherine wrote.

Catherine of Aragon
This stained-glass window shows the queen at prayer. Spanish-born Catherine was intelligent, accomplished and politically astute.

Henry VIII and his six wives


Queens jewel case
A 16th-century jewel case, thought to have been Anne Boleyns. Tall and dark-eyed, Anne played a bold game of coquetry to win her place as Henrys queen.

Henry VIII and his six wives


Gate of no return
In February 1542, Catherine Howard was taken by barge from Hampton Court to the Tower, entering through Traitors Gate. Her careless flirtations had proved fatal.

Henry VIII and his six wives


Bound to obey and serve
Modest, virtuous Jane Seymour lived up her family motto. Adept at managing Henrys moods, she gave him the son he had yearned for.

Henry VIII and his six wives




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