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The Six Wives' Lives in Pie Chart Form

March 6, 2015

A few days ago, an article came out in the New Statesman, showing the "Six Wives of Henry VIII, in Pie Chart Form", with the subtitle, "Not all wives are created equal". Now, obviously this was intended as a fun article, with a useful learning tool, showing how late in the reign Henry's split with Rome came (as pointed out to me by the wonderful Dr Catherine Fletcher), and how important his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was. But it got me thinking. These women had it hard enough, they don't need their entire lives reduced to their (usually very brief!) marriages to Henry VIII. So here we have a few more pie charts, that provide some useful background.

 

Catherine of Aragon

Catherine was the clear 'winner' (?) of Jonn Elledge's pie chart, with a whopping 24 years married to Henry VIII. But as we can see, that was not even half of her own life. She spent 16 years as a princess of Spain, one of Europe's most cultured and powerful nations. She also spent 7 years in England at the mercy of Henry VII, who couldn't decide what to do with her. Her's was a much richer life than a focus on even those crucial 24 years yeilds. 

 

Anne Boleyn

Laying out the data this way, we are encouraged to pay more attention to Anne's time in France (9 years) as well as note the long period (11 years) that she was a part of the English court, before her marriage. 

 

Jane Seymour 

Clearly, more is needed on what Jane was up to the first 19 years of her life, but it makes clear that the final year of her life was relatively insignificant in the scheme of things. 

 

Anne of Cleves 

Almost all of Anne's life was spent either home in Cleves, or as the "King's Sister" after her marriage to Henry VIII. In the latter role she held one of the most powerful female roles at court, and served as a mentor and perhaps even mother to Henry's children. 

 

Katherine Howard 

Most of Katherine's short life was spent in the house of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, where she was sexually abused (she was well under the age of consent and both were older authority figures). 

 

Catherine Parr

Not enough is made of Catherine Parr's first marriage, to John Neville, which was her longest. He was 22, she 17, when they married, and although he was always ill of health, she wasn't the 'nursemaid' to an older husband as she was in her other two marriages. Ending on this chart I think is apt. Henry VIII appears as a tiny sliver on Catherine's chart of 4 husbands. She also in this time managed to be a great patron of learning and writer in her own right. Henry VIII may be her claim to fame, but there was clearly a lot more to her life. 

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