Henry’s six marriages were influenced as much by political expediency and international diplomacy as by his personal preferences. Henry’s marriages to his first, second and fourth wives (Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves), were all coloured by the desire to forge important political alliances, while the other marriages raised more domestic and less wide political issues.

Each wife was associated with a court faction and it was important that Henry secured the support of these groups. Henry also needed his advisers’ agreement regarding his marriages and divorce, but some were unable to support his decision to divorce and break with the Catholic Church.

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This certificate (E 30/1472/2) was produced by the legatine court composed of Cardinal Campeggio, William Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops in a trial deliberating over Henry’s decision to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

While both Henry and Catherine had been invited to attend, it was initially only Catherine who attended, in a highly distraught state. When she had absented herself, Henry appeared. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester could not agree to the divorce and claimed that his signature and seal had been forged. His seal and signature appears third from the left. The meeting of the Court appears to have ended in a political stalemate.

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In spite of the political risks involved in his divorce and ruthless rejection of Catherine, Henry’s second marriage, to Anne Boleyn, was even more short-lived than his first, as Henry was frustrated by a lack of male heir. Also, political supporters keen to discredit Anne Boleyn were growing in number around Princess Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon.

Rumours, possibly false, started circulating about Anne’s alleged adultery and, even more damagingly, she was accused of incest with her brother. A disenchanted Henry believed these allegations and she was tried for high treason, ending in her execution. This roll (KB 8/9) reports the opening of the trial.

Henry’s fourth marriage, to Anne of Cleves, took place in 1540 and was an idea hatched by Thomas Cromwell. There were political advantages to the match; her family owned important German territory in the Rhineland and it was thought that forming an alliance between Germany and England would ward off a Franco-Spanish invasion.

However, Henry felt that he had been deceived as, in addition to her not being able to speak a word of English, Anne’s upbringing had been so sheltered that she was ignorant of the facts of life and their wedding night was a disaster. Humiliated, Henry filed for an annulment on ground of non-consummation. This letter from Henry to Anne (E 30/1472/3) preceded the application for divorce.

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