Which wife did Henry VIII love the most?

In a recent Facebook poll, run by History in an Hour, Jane Seymour was voted as the wife Henry VIII loved the most.

The poll attracted lots of interest with over 10,000 votes and the results are:

Catherine of Aragon 1,341 13%
Anne Boleyn 3,063 29.5%
Jane Seymour 5,449 52.5%
Anne of Cleves 88 0.8%
Catherine Howard 136 1.4%
Catherine Parr 292 2.8%

What is Love?

Henry VIIIThe problem with data from a choice like this is that we all perceive love in a similar but completely personal way.  In some respects it seems Henry was looking for an ideal in love that we still seek some 500 years later.  He tried again and again to marry for love not politics. With so many people all looking for something so unique and so personal, love is certainly far from one-size-fits-all and Henry was a complex, ever evolving character. As Prince Charles was to say over four and a half centuries later, ‘What is love?’

Many respondents pointed out that Henry had asked for Jane whilst on his deathbed and also insisted he must be buried beside her – which he was.  This, many argued, confirmed his love for her above the others. One comment read, ‘I think he loved her the most, not only because she gave him a son, but also because she was subservient and a good wife in his eyes.’  So, is the fact that someone will do precisely as we ask, how we define love? Or merely how Henry defined love?

Love of his life

When we consider runner-up Anne Boleyn, one comment read, ‘Anne Boleyn could be considered “the love of his life” their courtship was long and elaborate, and he risked and accepted Papal Excommunication in order to win her.’ Certainly Henry was prepared to, publicly, move heaven and earth to be with Anne.  He played a much more subservient role in this relationship.  Anne refused to become his mistress; it was wife and queen or nothing at all. When one considers him as a narcissistic and tyrannical king, it is surprising that he allowed such obvious dominance and defiance from Anne before the members of his court.  However we describe the emotion he felt for her, it was hugely powerful and all-consuming.

First and last loves

Responses for other queens included Catherine of Aragon, because ‘she was his first love’ and Catherine Parr because ‘she cared for him to the end.’

This of course returns us to the variance of perceptions of love.  As an onlooker to a relationship, is love measured by how much a person gives, as in the case of Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr?  Or is it the lengths someone will go in order to win their heart’s desire or a public declaration as in the case of Anne Boleyn? Or quite simply, do we feel that the first love is always ‘the real one’?

We know he had no affection for his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. He married her on the strength of a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger but when he met her for the first time the reality fell well short of the expectation. The marriage went ahead but was never consummated and was annulled within six months. Anne of Cleves, however, unlike Anne Boleyn, kept her head.

Many thanks to the 10,369 who voted, the most succinct comment being – ‘None of them he was narcissistic and only loved himself…I guess! ;)’

Julie Wheeler

Read more about the life of Henry VIII and his six wives in Henry VIII’s Wives: History In An Hour published by Harper Press and available in various digital formats.


One thought on “Which wife did Henry VIII love the most?

  1. I think Jane Seymour was never his true love, Henry dropped everything by Anne Boleyn, he would drop everything for her. As the court and his advisers did not like her, he began to think that at one point was getting blinded by it and he chose to believe in them, and later regretted it.
    As for Jane … I was always asking if she was pregnant, never questioned if Jane had survived and had given birth to a girl instead of a boy? He would get tired of her!

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