This is part of a series of posts on the historical figures that are the inspiration for Immortal Perfumes. For more historical figures, check out the rest of the series.
King Henry VIII,
To six wives he was wedded.
One died, one survived,
Two divorced, two beheaded.
King Henry VIII is probably the most famous king in English history. Before he became the rotund, belligerent king of his twilight years, young King Henry VIII was a stylish youth deeply interested in the arts, education, sport, and was a devout Catholic called a Defender of the Faith by Pope Leo X. As the second son of Henry VII, he was never expected to become king, but when he did, he did so with lavish excess and cultivated an image of a Renaissance man. Henry VIII's obsession with producing a male heir (partly his own vanity, and partly a desire to avoid another War of the Roses) is what led to the two things he is widely known for: the English Reformation and his six wives.
When his older brother Arthur died suddenly at the age of 15, Henry, then 10 was thrust into royal duties. Because it was not assumed he would become king, he had not received the same education as Arthur and was kept out of the public eye so he could undergo a crash course in learning to be king. Although he was initially resistant, once his father, Henry VII and the first Tudor monarch, died, he agreed to take Arthur's widow Katherine of Aragon as his wife.
He and Katherine were married for 24 years and had what was considered a fairly happy marriage. Katherine even took over for him while he was on his many military campaigns trying to restore ancestral lands from France. But she could not give him what he most desired: a son to succeed him. In their time together, the Queen gave birth to three stillborns and one son who died after only seven weeks. Their relationship, while affectionate, was full of sorrow but did improve slightly when Mary was born and subsequently survived infancy.
Stewing over his lack of a male heir, Henry turned his attentions to the charismatic Anne Boleyn, a lady-in-waiting to the queen. The king was bewitched by the charms of this intellectual woman and fell deeply in love with her. Anne, for her part, did not want to become a mistress as her sister Mary had and kept the king at arm's length in an alluring game of courtly love. When Henry's appeal to the Pope for an annulment to Katherine was rejected, the king started the English Reformation in his desire to make Anne his bride.
Even though he remained a devout Catholic for the remainder of his life, Henry broke ties with the church of Rome and established the Church of England making himself head of the church. He dissolved abbeys and monasteries and used their riches to fill his own coffers. Meanwhile, finally married after seven years of illicit rendezvous, Henry and Anne were not finding married life to be all that pleasant. An early feminist, Anne did not want to play the role of subservient royal wife. That refusal coupled with frequent mood swings had Henry already contemplating his next marriage. Things eased a little after the birth of Elizabeth, but after a series of stillborn sons, the king was ready to move on with Jane Seymour.
Condemning Anne to death on trumped up charges of adultery and treason, Henry became engaged to Jane Seymour, Anne's lady-in-waiting, the day after Anne was beheaded. Less than a year later, Jane gave birth to Prince Edward who later became Edward VI. Unlucky for Jane, she died of an infection after the difficult birth. Henry, while grieved, recovered quickly as he was euphoric over the son he had so long desired.
Ready to move on and hopefully form an alliance on the continent, Henry was talked into marrying Anne of Cleves. When he met her, just in time for their wedding, he was not happy with her appearance. He followed through on the marriage, not wanting to cause a scandal, but divorced her a short time later. Anne of Cleves had clearly learned from Katherine and did not put up a fight. For this she was richly rewarded and bestowed the title of "The King's Sister," and given houses and an allowance.
Becoming increasingly erratic, Henry then married the beautiful 17 year old Catherine Howard, first cousin and a lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn. Catherine's vivacious and carefree nature soothed the aging, ailing king. But her frivolity was unchecked and she was beheaded after it was discovered that she had carried on two affairs under the king's nose.
He consoled himself by invading France and "Rough Wooing" Scotland before entering his final marriage to Catherine Parr. Through her influence, he reconciled with his daughters Mary and Elizabeth and restored them to the line of succession. He remained with Catherine until his death at the age of 55.
This was a very abbreviated post on Henry's life and focused on his wives because, like most people, that is the story that has always intrigued me most about the temperamental king. It's easy to forget his major accomplishments however, which were the English Reformation and the removal of feudal power of the nobility thus strengthening the monarchy. This ultimately led to England's constitution.
I've mentioned in other posts that I was obsessed with the TV show The Tudors and Alison Weir's books. These piqued my interest in the king and he became one of the first subjects of my cologne line.
England's most famous king had a soft spot for the finer things in life and was said to wear a concoction of ambergris and civet, two of the finest scents of the time. VIII cologne oil, inspired by the illustrious Tudor, has notes of ambergris, belladonna, clove bud, tobacco, bay leaf, fire, and Peru balsam.