Jane Seymour, third wife of King Henry VIII

The six wives of King Henry VIII were a disparate group of women united only by their marriages to Bluff King Hal. There is a famous rhyme describing their various ends - 'Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived'.

Henry's first wife, Katharine of Aragon, was the youngest child of the 'Catholic Kings' of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella; she and Henry were married for over twenty years. His second wife, Anne Boleyn, was the daughter of an ambitious knight; she was executed after three years of marriage. His third wife, Jane Seymour, died after less than two years of marriage, having finally produced a son and heir for Henry. His fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, was divorced mere months after the wedding, for Henry found her unattractive and was already courting his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Catherine was executed after less than two years of marriage and the king settled upon the twice-widowed Katharine Parr as his sixth wife. She outlived the mercurial king.

If I know the current location of a portrait, it is listed within the commentary. The National Portrait Gallery in London has the most comprehensive selection of Tudor portraits. You may visit their website to learn of special exhibitions, or purchase prints. I certainly recommend viewing the original portraits if you can. If you have any questions or comments, please visit the Email page. -Marilee

In chronological order

Katharine of Aragon, c1500, by Juan de Flandes. This portrait was formerly titled 'Portrait of an Infanta'; most historians believed it portrayed Katharine's older sister, Juana (Joanna). However, it has recently been identified as Katharine. I'm rather skeptical about the new identification, but it is a lovely portrait - and it may be Katharine. If not, Juana is certainly worthy of inclusion as well. King Henry VII briefly considered marrying her after the death of Elizabeth of York in 1503.

Katharine of Aragon, c1502, by Michael Sittow. This beautiful portrait was made by King Henry VII's court painter, Michael Sittow. Katharine had arrived in England in 1501 to marry Prince Arthur Tudor, the son and heir of Henry VII. They were married in November 1501 and within six months Arthur was dead. This portrait was painted after their brief marriage. Katharine appears solemn and pensive; she was homesick and lonely, and Henry VII was hardly a generous father-in-law now that she was a mere princess dowager.
Read Katharine's letters to her parents to learn more about her early years in England.

Katharine of Aragon with a monkey, c1525, by Lucas Horenbout / Horenbolte. This is the largest miniature of Henry VIII's first wife. Three other miniatures exist, but two are circular copies of this original; the third is believed to be a companion piece to a miniature of the king. A unique feature of this work is that it includes Katharine's hands. All of Horenbout's other miniatures focused on the head and shoulders. All of his portraits have plain blue backgrounds and are traced with a gold line. Later artists such as Nicholas Hilliard inherited this style and continued it into the 17th century.

Katharine of Aragon, c1525, by Lucas Horenbout. This miniature portrait captures the queen around the time Anne Boleyn first appeared at the English court.

Katharine of Aragon, c1530, unknown artist. This is the most recognizable portrait of Katharine, painted during the last years of her marriage to Henry VIII. It can be viewed at the NPG, London.

Portrait of Anne Boleyn, c.1520s, by Lucas Horenbout / Horenbolte. This is a rare miniature portrait of Anne Boleyn in her mid-twenties, before she became queen of England. Horenbout also painted miniatures of Henry VIII's other wives. Several people have emailed over the years (some nicely, most not) to tell me that this cannot possibly be Anne Boleyn. They know it for a fact (apparently, they have a TARDIS and have traveled back in time to, oh, 1525 and have seen Anne in person) and I'm an idiot for stating otherwise. However, Sir Roy Strong, the preeminent authority on 16th century portraiture, has identified the sitter as Anne; note, for instance, that she wears Anne's falcon badge. Several of the emails argued that Anne looks nothing like she does in her most famous portrait. True. But that portrait was not painted from life. It was made c1600, during the last years of her daughter's reign. Also, the hair peeking out from the hood does appear to be quite fair, but it was traditional for artists to endow subjects with popular appeal and fair hair was preferred to dark.

The truth is that identification of many 16th century portraits is a tricky thing. Experts within the field often disagree; modern-day x-ray studies have also contributed to a reassessment of traditional attribution. I understand that many visitors have a definite 'idea', a fixed idea, of Anne Boleyn's appearance. But the truth is that no one knows what she looked like. Even the famous Holbein sketches cannot be definitively identified as Anne. All we can do is read contemporary descriptions, such as one by the Venetian ambassador in 1532: Anne was 'not one of the handsomest women in the world. She is of middling stature, with a swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised, and in fact has nothing but the King's great appetite, and her eyes, which are black and beautiful - '

I wrote all of the above in the hope that it settles the issue, primarily by stating it can never be definitively settled. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with uncertainty. It makes the subject even more entertaining.

Anne Boleyn, c1533, unknown artist. This miniature portrait of Henry VIII's second wife is my personal favorite. She wears a golden necklace with the interlaced initials H and A.

Anne Boleyn, c1600, unknown artist. This is the most famous portrait of Anne, but it is not a contemporary portrait. It is supposedly a copy of a lost original, though I've never found attribution for this oft-repeated claim. It has become the definitive image of Anne and inspired later portraits.

Anne Boleyn, 17th century, by Frans Pourbus. This portrait is a lovely interpretation of Elizabeth I's mother, painted a century after her death. It places great emphasis upon Anne's most celebrated feature, her beautiful eyes. It seems that, with the exception of the disputed Holbein sketches, she looks quite different in every portrayal. The increasing romanticization of her image was largely the result of her daughter's phenomenal popularity. The attendant decline of Catholicism also gave Anne newfound status as Henry VIII's legitimate wife. By contrast, I've come across very few romanticized portraits of Katharine of Aragon during or after her daughter's reign; the ones I have found are black-and-white etchings.

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