SIX: The Musical tells the story of King Henry VIII’s six ex-wives. Since its opening date, October 3, 2021, it has had over 250 performances. It is written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. The idea of a pop musical retelling came to Marlow in a poetry class, and after Moss got involved, they were inspired by Beyoncé’s Live at Roseland: Elements of 4 concert. SIX premiered at Edinburgh Frings in 2017 and got immediate interest from producers. The musical has won nine awards, including two Tony Awards. The Tony Awards were for Best Costume Design of a Musical (Gabriella Slade) and Best Original Score (Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss).
Each of the Queens gets one song to tell their story. The songs are inspired by many different modern pop stars, each having its own distinct sound. The studio recording came out on August 31, 2018; a live recording of the Broadway opening performance came out on May 6, 2022.
This musical brings up a good point, that the wives are lost to history, only being remembered through Henry. Each of them had seemingly fulfilling lives with interests and hobbies separated from the marriage. In the same order as the musical, below is a small history of each of these women.
"No Way": Katherine of Aragon
“If not for her sex, she could have defied all the heroes of History.” -Thomas Cromwell
Born on December 16, 1485, Katherine was born into a life of education and religion. She was educated by a tutor, studying a variety of subjects, including classical literature, language, history, civil law, and religion. She was also taught domestic skills such as cooking, needlepoint, household management, and others. Also, Katherine was a devout Catholic until she died in 1536.
When Katherine was only three years old, she was betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales. The two were married by proxy in 1499, and although they spoke through letters, they did not meet and get properly married until 1501. Five months later in 1502, both were sick with the sweating sickness; Katherine recovered and became a widow.
In 1507, she served as the Spanish ambassador to England, making her the first female ambassador in European history.
In 1509, Katherine was married to Henry VIII, but it wasn’t that simple. To marry, they needed permission from the Pope, because the marriage would be going against canon law. Leviticus 18:16 stated that you cannot “uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife”. Once Katherine assured the Pope that her marriage to Arthur was not consummated, he gave his permission.
During her marriage to the King, she had six pregnancies, with only one surviving infancy. Mary was her second and only living child, who because Queen Mary I of England later in her life. At the time of the marriage, Mary was not eligible for the throne, and Henry was upset about not having an heir. This problem was one of the main reasons why Henry would seek an annulment from the Pope in 1525.
Katherine was kicked out of her home and went to live at The More castle in late 1531. Until her death at age 50 in 1536, she said she was the true Queen of England and Henry’s only legal wife.
During her life, Katherine was also an advocate for women’s education, commissioning the book The Education of a Christian Woman by Juan Luis Vives.
"Don’t Lose Ur Head": Anne Boleyn
Born between 1501-1507, Anne is believed to be the middle child of her siblings. Her sister Mary was the oldest, and George was the youngest. Due to lack of documentation, there are no definite birthdates for any of the Boleyn siblings. Growing up, Anne had the normal education for a woman in her class. She studied some of the same subjects as Katherine of Aragon; reading, writing, math, needlepoint, and more.
When Anne was older she went to France to be Queen Mary’s (and later, Queen Claude’s) maid of honor for several years. During this time she furthered her education by learning about dance, literature, music, and poetry. It is also noteworthy to mention that during this time in her life it has been stated that she became flirtatious with the men at court.
In 1522, she became the maid of honor to Catherine of Aragon, and four years later Henry was beginning to chase after Anne. After seeing what her sister, Mary, had gone through being his mistress, Anne denied the offer. Instead, she said the only way they would consummate any relationship was if they were married. Within one year of her refusal, they were engaged, believing that they would get an annulment soon.
Even before marriage, during their seven-year courtship, Anne was able to influence political matters. She helped England solidify an alliance with France, befriending the French ambassador. Although she was highly intelligent and was working in politics, those things were desirable in a mistress, not a wife.
During her marriage to Henry, Anne had four pregnancies and only her daughter, Elizabeth, survived childbirth. When she did not have a son, Henry gave up on her and their marriage and began to court his third wife. Elizabeth grew up to become the Queen of England and Ireland.
In the last few years of her life, roughly seven men were accused of having an affair with her, including her brother. Four of the men were tried, and only one pleaded guilty; they were all found guilty. Anne was tried and convicted for adultery, incest, and treason. She was beheaded on May 19th, 1536.
Anne was said to be confident, assertive, and outspoken. She would ride horses and go hunting with Henry. While waiting for her execution, she wrote the poem O Death Rock Me To Sleep, coming to terms with her death.
"Heart of Stone": Jane Seymour
Jane was born between the years 1504-1509, with the most commonly used date being 1508. She came from a big family where she was raised as a Catholic. Jane was not as formally educated as the other wives, but she was able to read and write a bit. She excelled at needlepoint and household management. She has been described as gentle and charming.
Jane had served both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boylen, and it was three months before Anne’s execution that Henry reportedly started pursuing her. The two got engaged three days after the execution, getting married shortly after in 1536.
While Jane was queen, she was the most conservative of all of them. She did not interfere with politics, but that doesn’t mean that she didn’t have great influence. During their marriage, Jane helped repair the broken relationship between Henry and his daughter, Mary. Jane was the first wife to push for Mary to return to court and into the line of succession.
Shortly after giving birth to her son, Edward, Jane died from complications during childbirth. She was the only one of Henry’s wives to get a proper Queen’s funeral. Henry requested that when he died, he gets laid next to her.
"Get Down": Anne of Cleves
Anne of Cleves was born in 1515 in Germany. Her exact birthdate is argued to be in either June or September. Her early education was centered around skills that were deemed more practical, sewing, household management, and embroidery. Anne was able to read and write, but only in German. Anne was very close to her family, having three siblings. Her family loved to entertain the court with theatrics and musical performances as well as hunting. Anne was noted to be a fine equestrian and a hunter.
Two years after Jane’s death, Henry was looking to marry again. To choose between women to marry, he was shown their portraits.
Hans Holbein, a painter who is considered to be one of the best portraitists of the 16th century, painted Anne and her two sisters. The picture above is the portrait that Henry was given. Two months after receiving it, the marriage treaty was signed and sent to England.
When Anne arrived in England in 1540, Henry was immediately displeased with her. Even though she was gentle and virtuous, it wasn’t enough. She didn’t have the level of education he valued, and she reportedly did not look how she did in the portrait.
The marriage only lasted six months before getting an annulment, due to Henry’s displeasure and not consummating it. Anne did not contest the annulment.
After the annulment, Anne got a settlement that included Richmond Castle and Hever Palace. Anne was an honorary member of the King’s family, being referred to as his sister. Besides being invited to court often, she had precedence over every woman in England (besides the Queen and Henry’s daughters).
Anne lived in England for the rest of her life, outliving Henry and the other wives, dying in 1557.
"All You Wanna Do": Catherine Howard
Catherine was born in 1522; her exact date of birth is unknown. She holds the greatest age difference among all of the marriages, being either 18 or 19 years old, while Henry was 49.
During Catherine’s early life she took music lessons with Henry Mannox, and the two began to have a relationship. Henry’s age at the time is unclear, but it has been said he would be anywhere from his early 20’s to 36. Besides his age, the nature of the relationship has also been debated. Historians are unsure if Henry was grooming her from a young age, or if it was a consensual relationship. She cut contact with him in the spring of 1538.
Shortly after, she was pursued by Frances Dereham, secretary of the Dowager Duchess. The pair would call each other “husband” and “wife”, and Frances trusted her with various wifely duties, such as keeping his money when he is away. It is said that the two agreed to marry each other, and in canon law, if you recite vows before intercourse, you are considered to be married. This situation is referred to as a precontract, and this information becomes important later before her execution.
Catherine became a lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves in 1540. Kong Henry gained interest in her quickly, beginning to send her luxury gifts only a few months later. Their courtship was quick, being married on July 28th of the same year.
It is said that Catherine had an affair with Thomas Culpepper, who she had considered marrying when she was a lady-in-waiting. During the investigation, Lady Rochford said that she saw Thomas leave the Queen’s room in the night. Also, a love letter from Catherine was found in his room.
The existence of a precontract between Catherine and Frances Dereham becomes important because if they were married by canon law, it would void her marriage to King Henry, leading to getting an annulment. Catherine claimed that there was no contract.
On November 23, 1541 Catherine was stripped of her title as Queen. It took until February 1542 for there to be a formal charge, which was granted with the help of a new law. The Royal Assent by Commission Act said that it was high treason to not reveal all sexual history to the monarch until 20 days into marriage and to incite somebody into committing adultery. No formal trial was held.
Catherine was executed on February 13, 1542. She was buried in an unmarked grave.
"I Don’t Need Your Love": Catherine Parr
Catherine was born in August of 1512. She had the same education as the other girls in her class, coming to have a lifelong passion for learning. She was fluent in Italian, French, and Latin, and was learning Spanish. She was married four times in total, her third marriage being to Henry.
During her marriage to Henry, Catherine published two books. Her first, Psalms and Prayers, was published anonymously. The next year, she published Prayers or Meditations, under her name. When she did this, she became the first woman in England to publish under her name and in English. After Henry died in 1547, she published her third book, the Lamentation of a Sinner. She also switched her religion from Catholic to Protestant, which was a new religion at the time.
Also, she had good relationships with all of her step-children, and it is noted that she had close relationships with Henry’s three kids, Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward. Her influence helped pass the Third Succession Act in 1543, which restored Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession.
On August 30, 1548, she gave birth to her only child, Mary. She was named after Catherine’s step-daughter, Mary. Due to complications of childbirth, she died on September 5. Her funeral was the first Protestant funeral held in English.