Monday, May 30, 2016
When I was a boy, a BBC–produced series called "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" was a big hit on public broadcasting. In six installments, it told the stories of the six wives of Henry VIII of England, whose theory of the divine right of kings was applied in almost every way imaginable during his reign — but perhaps most flagrantly in his treatment of marriage.
Henry's infamous clashes with the pope led to the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, permitting the king to annul two of his marriages and execute two of his wives.
His sixth wife survived him, and the wife he married 480 years ago today, Jane Seymour, died less than 18 months later after giving birth to Edward VI, Henry's only male heir to survive infancy. Henry's marriage to Seymour, a former lady–in–waiting, came 11 days after the execution of Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. Boleyn was beheaded for treason, incest and adultery; after nearly 500 years, the case against her remains suspect.
Henry's marriages typically ended for one of two reasons (sometimes both) — the perceived failure of the wife to produce a male heir or the allegation of infidelity. That would be infidelity on the part of the wife, of course. Henry carried on many extramarital affairs in his life, but none of his marriages ended because of his infidelity, which would have been far easier to prove.
I can't claim to have read much about Henry VIII and his six wives. I watched most of the PBS series with my parents, but that was many years ago. Nevertheless, my impression at the time was that Henry was a narcissist, even though I had no idea what that was, and Jane Seymour was probably the only one of his six wives he truly loved.