england tudors history


All of Henry VIII’s six wives were related to each other–and to Henry–by a common ancestor, King Edward I (“Longshanks”). Henry was Edward’s seven- and nine-times great-grandson on his mother’s side and his six-times great-grandson on his father’s, while all of his wives–including the Spanish-born Katherine of Aragon and the German-born Anne of Cleves–were Edward’s seven-, eight-, or nine-times great-granddaughters.*

To the best of my ability, here are the wives’ ancestry dating back to Edward I.

Edward I → Edward II → Edward III → John of Gaunt → Philippa of Lancaster → Infante John of Portugal → Isabel of Portugal → Isabel of Castile → Katherine of Aragon

Edward I → Thomas of Brotherton → Margaret, Duchess of Norfolk → Elizabeth de Segrave → Thomas Mowbray → Margaret Mowbray → John Howard → Thomas Howard → Elizabeth Howard → Anne Boleyn

Edward I → Edward II → Edward III → Lionel, Duke of Clarence → Phillippa of Clarence →  Elizabeth Mortimer → Elizabeth Percy → Mary Clifford → Henry Wentworth → Margaret Wentwoth → Jane Seymour

Edward I → Margaret, Duchess of Brabant → John III of Brabant → Margaret of Brabant → Margaret III of Flanders → John I of Burgundy → Marie of Burgundy → John I, Duke of Cleves → John II, Duke of Cleves → John III, Duke of Cleves → Anne of Cleves

Edward I → Thomas of Brotherton → Margaret, Duchess of Norfolk → Elizabeth de Segrave → Thomas Mowbray → Margaret Mowbray → John Howard → Thomas Howard → Edmund Howard → Kathryn Howard

Edward I → Edward II → Edward III → John of Gaunt → Joan Beaufort → Richard Neville → Alice Neville → Elizabeth FitzHugh → Thomas Parr → Katherine Parr

While Anne Boleyn and Kathryn Howard were famously the most closely related of Henry’s wives as first cousins, (Anne’s mother was a sister of Kathryn’s father), Katherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour, and Katherine Parr all share a closer common ancestor in Edward III, and the first and last of Henry’s Katherines were both descended from John of Gaunt, who was Aragon’s three- and Parr’s four-times great-grandfather, respectively.

It’s also possible that some or all of these women were descended from other members of the English royal family in yet more ways, but these are the lines that I was able to follow. Until very recently I had no idea that all of Henry’s wives, even Anne of Cleves, were related to him; I thought it was kind of wild!

* This may not be the precisely correct terminology, as I’m no genealogist.

In a 1,318 line poem, written in French, two weeks after Anne’s death,Lancelot de Carle provides a moving account of her last words and their effect on the crowd:

She gracefully addressed the people from the scaffold with a voice somewhat overcome by weakness, but which gathered strength as she went on. She begged her hearers to forgive her if she had not used them all with becoming gentleness, and asked for their prayers. It was needless, she said, to relate why she was there, but she prayed the Judge of all the world to have compassion on those who had condemned her, and she begged them to pray for the King, in whom she had always found great kindness, fear of God, and love of his subjects. The spectators could not refrain from tears.

Women of the War of the Roses (Left to Right)

Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England (1430 - 1482) 

Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Countess Rivers (1415 - 1472)

Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe, Lady Welles (1410 - 1482)

Anne Beauchamp, 16th Countess of Warwick (1426 - 1492)

Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of England (1437 - 1492) 

Cecily Neville, Duchess of York (1415 - 1495) 

Isabel Neville, Duchess of Clarence (1451 - 1476)

Anne Neville, Queen of England (1456 - 1485) 

Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby (1443 - 1509) 

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (1473 - 1541) 

Elizabeth of York, Queen of England (1466 - 1503) 

Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy (1446 - 1503) 

ANNE BOLEYN (QUEEN OF ENGLAND) (28 May 1533 – 17 May 1536)

Anne’s early education was typical for women of her class. In 1513, Anne was invited to join the schoolroom of Margaret of Austria and her four wards. Her academic education was limited to arithmetic, her family genealogy,grammar, history, reading, spelling, and writing. She developed domestic skills such as dancing, embroidery, good manners, household management, music, needlework, and singing. Anne learned to play games, such as cards, chess, and dice. She was also taught archery, falconry, horseback riding, and hunting.

Ordinarily, a girl had to be twelve years old to have such an honour, but Anne may have been younger, as the Archduchess affectionately referred to her as “la petite Boulin”. Anne made a good impression in the Netherlands with her manners and studiousness, Margaret reported that she was well spoken and pleasant for her young age and told Sir Thomas Boleyn that his daughter was “so presentable and so pleasant, considering her youthful age, that I am more beholden to you for sending her to me, than you to me”

Anne had been of average height and she had a slender build with long straight and thick black or dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, a considerably strong nose, a definite wide mouth with slim lips, and an olive complexion. She was considered to be brilliant, charming, driven, elegant, forthright, and graceful with a keen wit and a lively, opinionated, and passionate personality. Anne was depicted to be “sweet and cheerful” in her youth and she enjoyed cards and dice games, drinking wine, eating French cuisine, flirting, gambling, gossiping, and hearing a good joke. She was fond of archery, falconry, hunting, and the occasional game of bowls. Yet Anne also had a sharp tongue and a terrible temper.

Anne made her début at the Château Vert (Green Castle) pageant in honour of the imperial ambassadors on 4 March 1522, playing “Perseverance.” There she took part in an elaborate dance accompanying Henry’s younger sister Mary, several other ladies of the court, and her sister. All wore gowns of white satin embroidered with gold thread. She quickly established herself as one of the most stylish and accomplished women at the court, and soon a number of young men were competing for her.


Armor Garniture of George Clifford (1558 – 1605), Third Earl of Cumberland. Appointed Queen’s Champion in 1590 and was made a Knight of the Garter two years later. A favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, he chose for the decoration of this armor the Tudor rose, the French fleur-de-lis, and the cipher of Elizabeth, two E’s back to back.

Made under the direction of Jacob Halder in 1586.

The 19th of May, 1536 - The Execution of Anne Boleyn, Queen of England

“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.”

 - Anne Boleyn’s final speech at the scaffold

Anne the mother

Whatever the truth about Anne’s wish to breastfeed her own child, and go against the usual royal protocol and tradition, Anne was quite clearly pleased with and proud of her little girl. Courtiers were often embarrassed by Anne’s displays of affection for her baby and by her preference for placing Elizabeth next to her on a cushion, rather than shutting her away in a nursery. Elizabeth’s removal from court to her own household at Hatfield on the 10th December 1533 must have been a huge wrench for Anne. Even though it was just a few miles away, Anne would not have been expected to visit her daughter very much and, instead, would have been expected to get on with her queenly duties and to leave Elizabeth’s upbringing to Lady Bryan and her staff. Anne had to concentrate on conceiving again and providing Henry VIII with a prince.

We don’t know exactly how much time Anne was able to spend with Elizabeth, but we know the following:

  • That Anne visited Elizabeth at Hatfield in Spring 1534
  • That Elizabeth was moved to Eltham, just 5 miles from Greenwich, at the end of March 1534 and that her parents visited her there a few weeks later
  • That she was at court with her parents for five weeks in the first quarter of 1535
  • That she was at court at Christmas 1535, and that she was still there at the end of January 1536 when news reached the court of Catherine of Aragon’s death. Henry paraded his daughter around in celebration.
  • That she was at court at the end of April 1536, shortly before Anne’s fall. Alexander Alesius described Anne holding Elizabeth in her arms while she appealed to her husband. David Starkey discounts this report, saying that Elizabeth was most probably at Hunsdon at the time.
  • That Anne kept in touch with Elizabeth’s nurse, Lady Bryan.

At the end of the day, Henry and his council had the last word regarding Elizabeth’s upbringing, but the stylish Anne Boleyn involved herself in buying items for her daughter’s chamber and for her clothing. The Account of materials furnished for the use of Anne Boleyn and Princess Elizabeth 1535-36 by Anne’s mercer, William Loke, included the following items for Elizabeth:

  • White sarsenet to line an orange velvet gown
  • Black velvet for a partlet
  • Black satin for a partlet
  • Russet velvet
  • Black buckram
  • Crimson, purple, white, yellow sarsenet
  • Yellow velvet to edge a yellow kirtle
  • White damask for a kirtle
  • White velvet for edging the kirtle
  • Russet damask for a bed cover
  • Black satin for a muffler and taffeta for its lining
  • Embroidered purple satin sleeves
  • Green velvet for edging a green satin kirtlet
  • Black velvet for mufflers

We learn more about the Queen’s expenses in The Queen’s reckoning, beginning in December 1535. This account includes the following items for Elizabeth:

  • “Boat-hire from Greenwich to London and back to take measure of caps for my lady Princess, and again to fetch the Princess’s purple satin cap to mend it.”
  • “A purple satin cap, laid with a rich caul of gold, the work being roundelles of damask gold, made for my lady Princess.”
  • “A pair of pyrwykes for my lady Princess, delivered to my lady mistress.” Eric Ives explains that pyrwykes were a device to straighten the fingers.
  • “2¼ yds. crimson satin, at 15s., an ell of “tuke” and crimson fringe for the Princess’s cradle head.”
  • “2 fine pieces of “nydle rybande” [ribbon] to roll her Grace’s hair withal.”
  • “ A white satin cap laid with a rich caul of gold for the Princess, 4l., and another of crimson satin.”
  • “A fringe of Venice gold and silver for the little bed.”
  • “A cap of taffeta covered with a caul of damask gold for the Princess.”

Anne obviously made sure that Elizabeth looked the part of a royal princess and Henry’s heir - also, being a trendsetter herself, she clearly had her own style and aestethics, and wanted this to show on Elizabeth as well.

Some facts about... Anne Boleyn
  • Anne was an animal lover.
    She cared greatly for all animals, but her favourites were dogs and birds. Her beloved and most favourite pet was a Greyhound, it is believed she named him Urian. In Greek, the meaning of Urian is ‘from heaven’.
    Anne did not like monkeys though: she “loveth no such beasts nor can scant abide the sight of them”.
  • She adored fashion and jewellery.
    Always wearing delightful and creative dresses, and sporting beautiful jewels. Anne’s favourite piece of jewellery was her famous ‘B’ necklace. The necklace was strung with pearls and a large gold 'B’, with 3 pearls hanging underneath it.
  • There is an old myth that Anne had 6 fingers on one hand.
    This coincides with her execution and accused witchcraft. Anne’s body was discovered in Victorian times, and her skeleton showed only 5. A normal hand bone structure.
  • It was rumored that Anne was Henry’s daughter.
    When King Henry VIII was pursuing Anne Boleyn, there was considerable talk that he had had an affair with both Anne’s sister Mary and her mother Elizabeth. Some even suggested that Anne was Henry VIII’s daughter. To this the king replied, ‘never with the mother’. Most historians believe that people started the rumor of Henry’s affair with Anne’s mother to prevent Anne Boleyn from becoming the Queen.
  • Her portrait is hung along the staircases at Hogwarts.
    Anne Boleyn is considered one of the most ambitious, intelligent and important queens in European history. Various historians have studied her life and she has been mentioned numerous times in popular culture. Anne’s portrait can be seen hanging along the staircases atHogwarts in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, presumably on the claim that she was a witch.

“I once told an ambassador that if I ever married it would be as a queen and not as Elizabeth. If I had ever been convinced marriage was a political necessity, then I would have proceeded despite my personal reluctance. But at my coronation I promised to take England itself as my spouse. Remaining a virgin, not giving myself to anyone but my people, was the visible sacrifice they would prize and honor, binding us together. And so it has proved.”

From Elizabeth I by Margaret George.

Today is the 458th anniversary of Elizabeth’s Coronation, which was the 15th January 1559. 

Red/Golden Haired Tudor Ladies - 4/10

Katherine of Aragon, Queen of England 

Henry VIII’s first queen has not always been portrayed accurately in film and television. Katherine of Aragon was hardly the boring, plain, ageing woman that we often see her as. In fact, Katherine was just as lively as her husband in the early days of their marriage. She was intelligent, kind, and a model consort for the twenty-four years she was married to Henry. Katherine even fought a war on Henry’s behalf. She was also very popular with the common people, namely her female subjects, and encouraged the education of women.

We may think of Katherine as looking like your typical Spaniard, with dark hair and dark eyes. In reality Katherine had reddish-blonde hair and blue eyes, as did her mother Queen Isabella of Castile. Upon her entry into London before her marriage to Prince Arthur in 1501, a herald recorded Katherine’s hair as “hanging down about her shoulders, which is fair auburn.” Katherine was indeed a looker in her youth. In later years Thomas More would recall there were few women who could compete with the Queen in her prime.“ As time wore on Katherine’s looks may have faded a little, and the added effects of six pregnancies caused her to lose her figure. She still remained every inch a queen until the end.