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Portrait of Henry VIII (C), Prince Edward (L) and Jane Seymour (R)

Was Henry VIII really a hopeless romantic?

Image: Portrait of Henry VIII (C), Prince Edward (L) and Jane Seymour (R) | Public Domain

Fearless leader, religious reformer... and hopeless romantic? We may consider Henry VIII to be a womanising wife-killer today, but the truth may not be all that it seems. From his multiple mistresses to the complex and intricate web of the six wives that he left in his wake - one thing is for sure: Henry’s dating life was complicated.

But behind the beheadings, the mistrust, and the misogyny, what was the reality of romance in the court of Henry Tudor? Was he a philanderer fuelled by nothing but lust? Or was there a romantic heart hidden beneath the fine robes? The truth might just surprise you.

Did Henry VIII believe in love?

It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when Henry was in love with his first wife. After all, their divorce was quite literally revolutionary. However, you might be surprised to learn that Henry was once very much in love with Catherine of Aragon.

First meeting when young Henry was just 10, the then 16-year-old Catherine’s beauty was the stuff of legend. Honey-blonde hair, alabaster skin, and the countenance that only a Spanish princess could bring to the English court, it was no wonder that Henry might have had a little crush. However, Catherine wasn’t destined to marry Henry just yet. She was already betrothed to his older brother, Arthur, who was first in line to inherit the English throne.

Raised on the legends of the court of King Arthur, Henry was enamoured with the idea of courtly love. Knights in shining armour rescuing damsels in distress and the idea that the hero can win the hand of the fair maiden were all romantic ideas that Henry believed in. So, when Arthur died prematurely, just six months after his marriage to Catherine, Henry saw his chance.

Did Henry VIII love Catherine of Aragon?

Within just six weeks of ascending to the throne, Henry had married his brother’s widow. Applying for special dispensation from the Pope, Henry believed that marrying Catherine was the gentlemanly thing to do, as she likely wouldn’t have remarried otherwise. As though rescuing a forgotten princess from a lonely tower, Henry truly was smitten with his new bride. A keen jouster, Henry would often show off his love and admiration for his wife by wearing her family colours on his lance - even if he was jousting in disguise.

While it’s easy to remember what came after their marriage, all signs show genuine love between the king and his first queen. After all, they remained married for close to 24 years, while his subsequent five marriages lasted less than 10 years combined. While their line of succession was tragically short-lived, Catherine had fallen pregnant at least six times, so it certainly wasn’t a passionless marriage.

Was Henry VIII romantic?

The general consensus today may be that Henry burned his way through his wives in search of that highly desired male heir, but while the line of succession was important to Henry, so too was finding a love match. While his marriages may have served some kind of political alliance, that didn’t stop Henry from playing the romantic pursuer for his future brides.

It was well known that Henry despised having to write his own letters. However, he wrote multiple letters of love and affection to Anne Boleyn while pursuing her as his future queen, as well as sending her lavish gifts and love tokens. A popular legend even states that Henry composed the folk song Greensleeves in an attempt to court Anne, however, this is more than likely a myth.

Henry actively wooed all his wives except for Anne of Cleves, the only one of his marriages that was agreed sight unseen.

Did Henry VIII believe in soulmates?

While it’s generally accepted that Henry’s marriage to his fifth wife, Anne of Cleves, fell through due to her appearance, an interaction that took place between Henry and his bride-to-be might shed a little more light onto the doomed nuptials.

As Anne arrived in England, she started the journey from Dover to her wedding. However, while on the journey up from the coast, Anne was cornered in her chambers by five strange men. One of these men strode across the room, grabbing the future queen and kissing her before presenting her with a love token from her future husband. Unsure who these strange men were and undoubtedly in fear for her safety, Anne thanked the man but chose to largely ignore his company and look out of the window of her room instead.

Unfortunately for Anne, this man and his companions were actually Henry and his best friends. Believing an old courtly love myth that true love can see through any disguise, Henry was disheartened when Anne - who had never met him before - didn’t instantly fall in love with him. Believing the match to be doomed before it had begun, Henry tried to withdraw from the marriage, but his hands were tied by the political implications of refusing the match. Their marriage was annulled six months later.