The Royal Weddings of Henry VIII |

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The Royal Weddings of Henry VIII

Alison Weir looks back at the six ‘happy days’ that preceded ‘divorced, beheaded, died...’
Henry’s marriages set the backdrop for his descent from a charming prince to a ruthless tyrant

Today, we associate royal weddings with great public celebrations, a grand procession, a magnificent ceremony in Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral or St George’s Chapel at Windsor, and a public appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. But this is not a tradition leading back down the centuries to England’s most married monarch, Henry VIII, and beyond. The modern royal wedding, as we know it, dates only from 1840, when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert. Prior to that, royal weddings were usually private a airs, solemnised in the royal chapels with little public fanfare.

Henry VIII and his first wife Katherine of Aragon, painted c1520. She was the widow of the King’s late elder brother, Arthur


Henry VIII’s six weddings were all private. When, not quite 18, he became king in 1509, it was a matter of political and dynastic necessity that he marry and beget an heir as soon as possible, to ensure the continuation of the Tudor dynasty. Surviving members of the rival House of York arguably had a better claim to the throne than Henry, and the spectre of the Wars of the Roses still loomed large.

The new King’s councillors urged him to marry Katherine of Aragon, the Spanish princess to whom he had been betrothed since 1503 and the widow of his late elder brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales. Katherine had a great dowry, and the prospect of war with France – England’s hereditary enemy – made an alliance with Spain all the more desirable. Her father, King Ferdinand of Aragon, was pressing Henry to marry her immediately, and promising him many political advantages if he did so.

But Henry hesitated. He was uneasy in his conscience, wondering if he would commit a sin by marrying the widow of his deceased brother, as such unions were forbidden in Scripture. King Ferdinand hastened to reassure him that the marriage would be perfectly lawful, as the Pope had given a dispensation for it. He felt certain that Henry would enjoy the greatest happiness with Katherine, and leave numerous children behind him.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

In this month’s issue… Henry VIII’s Six Weddings While every detail of Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle has been anticipated and analysed, the nuptials of his Tudor namesake Henry VIII are less familiar. Alison Weir peers behind the drapes of the six days that preceded ‘divorced, beheaded, died…’. Plus: the CIA heist of a sunken Soviet nuclear sub during the Cold War; Wounded Knee massacre; female Pharaohs; the 1820 plot to murder the Cabinet; and Lee Miller’s photos of WWII