After Henry took his dead brother Arthur's bride, he was propelled into the limelight and the foundations were laid for one of the most spectacular reigns in English history. He was the perfect Renaissance prince, but his first wife Katherine of Aragon's failure to produce a male heir brought out his darker side and led to his dismantling of the established church in England. He looted its possessions and set himself up as an absolute monarch. By the time of his death, he had married six times to try to maintain his own magnificent dynasty.
Charles Brandon was the third son of Sir William Brandon. He was brought up at the court of Henry VII and became a favorite of Henry VIII. He held several posts in the royal household and distinguished himself in the French campaign of 1513. In 1515 he privately married Mary Tudor, Louis XII's (king of France) widow and Henry VIII's sister. He died in 1545, a year after commanding an English army invading France. His granddaughter Lady Jane Grey reigned for nine days in 1553.
The only surviving daughter of Queen Katherine of Aragon and King Henry, Mary has grown up quickly in the court, sometimes acting (in between his wives) as her father's hostess at parties and royal social events. Catholic, well educated and increasingly confident, the future "Bloody Mary" will eventually become the Queen of England.
As brother to the King's third wife, Jane Seymour, Edward stood much to gain from Henry 8 and leveraged his ambition to rise to power as a member of the royal court. Upon the eventual death of King Henry, Edward's young nephew, Prince Edward Tudor, became King Edward VI of England, with Edward effectively ruling as Lord Protector.
By the time Henry 8 came to marry his fifth wife, he was 49 years old and she a mere 15. Katherine had been raised in a house for wayward young ladies and, unbeknownst to the King, had a dubious sexual past, which came back to haunt her when her former lover Francis Dereham arrived at court threatening to reveal their former sexual relationship. She didn't help matters by having an affair with Thomas Culpepper, one of the King's groomsmen. To Henry's considerable sadness, these liaisons led to her execution on charges of adultery.
Henry remained single for two years before he married his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. When young Princess Anne arrived in England, Henry was less than enamored with her appearance and found it difficult to like -- let alone love -- her. The King immediately decided that he would not marry her, but to avoid a major international incident, the wedding proceeded. The marriage remained unconsummated and the couple divorced six months later. Anne was one of Henry's two wives to outlive him, the other being Catherine Parr.
Henry 8's sixth and final marriage to Catherine was one of his longest, lasting five years. She was twice widowed when they married. She proved herself extremely capable as acting Regent when Henry was on the battlefield in Bolougne and was a loving stepmother to the King's three children. She came close to being tried for treason when her enemies, notably Bishop Gardiner, accused her of being a committed Protestant. After Henry's death she married Prince Edward's uncle Thomas Seymour, but died in childbirth soon after.
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