Skip to main content

Friday Follies: the much-married Henry VIII

King Henry VIII, painted by
Hans Holbein the Younger, 1536

Earlier this week I wrote a post about the 70th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Theirs is the longest royal marriage in British history.

The closest second to the Queen’s union with Prince Philip is the royal marriage of George III and his Queen Consort, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Their marriage, which started out as a dynastic necessity for the 22-year-old newly crowned George in 1761, was to all appearances a happy one, lasting over 57 years and producing 15 children. 

And one of those children, George, the eldest, became Prince Regent and had a whole era named after him. In fact, good old Prinny and his Regency are the main focus of this blog, so I guess I should be grateful to George III and Queen Charlotte!

A portrait, circa 1771, of Queen Charlotte with her brothers and a few of her
children by Johann Zoffany. I'm pretty sure the little boy in red is George,
the future Prince Regent.

However, you really can’t discuss British royal marriages without mentioning the most-married English monarch of them all, King Henry VIII. He wed so many women that British schoolchildren often use this mnemonic device to keep the wives (and their fates) straight: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” (Although technically the rhyme would be more historically accurate if you substitute the word "annulled" for "divorced.")

The lyrics of this song, set to the music of ABBA’s  “Money, Money, Money”  explains what happened to all of Henry's women:

But for me, and no doubt millions of other Baby Boomers, the subject of Henry the VIII and his wives invariably resurrects another song, performed by Herman’s Hermits, titled “I'm Henry the 8th I Am.” (It’s important for the purposes of this song to pronounce “Henry” with three syllables, as in "Hen-er-y"- and of course, pronouncing the "H" is optional, especially if you're Cockney.)

As a child growing up in California, I thought the song was about King Henry. But when I paid closer attention to the lyrics it became clear that the song is about a Cockney gent named Henry who married a woman (the widow next door) who had seven previous husbands, all named Henry – making him Henry the Eighth, naturally.  

When Herman’s Hermits released their hit in the mid-1960s, it quickly became the fastest-selling song in history, up to that point in time, at least. The pop song was actually a revival of an earlier tune, written in 1910 by Harry Champion, a British music hall performer. You can hear a rare recording of the original song here

But once you hear Peter Noone of the Hermits sing it, you won’t be able to get the tune out of your head. I should know; it’s been lurking in mine for decades.  If you don’t believe me, have a listen:

Now it'll be forever with you, too! 


  1. Maureen,

    For some reason I have always hated that song. Don't ask me why. But I declined listening to it, so I wouldn't have it in my head all day! I watched the series Wolf Hall on PBS, which was all about Henry the VIII. I have to admit, I didn't like him very much!

    1. I admit, I haven’t watched Wolf Hall yet but I intend to get around to it. Henry VIII isn’t my favorite monarch, either. When I was a kid I saw the old (1933) movie The Private Life of Henry VIII on TV, and the way Charles Laughton portrayed Henry (very unappetizing!) has always stuck with me.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The end of the Holy Roman Empire, or what happens when the Empire doesn't strike back

This is the way the world ends Not with a bang  but a whimper T.S. Eliot wasn't actually describing the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire when he wrote those words in his poem, “The Hollow Men.” Nonetheless, his words are an extremely apt way to describe the end of the Holy Roman Empire, which ended quietly with a stroke of a pen exactly 212 years ago in August of 1806. That’s when the last emperor decided it was his duty to abdicate, letting the ancient dominion under his protection dissolve rather than allow Napoleon to usurp the role of Holy Roman Emperor and everything that came with it. Francis II, the last Holy Roman Emperor By that August the end of the empire had become inevitable. Napoleon’s victory over Russia and Austria at the Battle of Austerlitz in December of 1805 and his formation of the Confederation of the Rhine the following July (after he convinced 16 German princes to renounce their allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire and join him)

Macaroni Men and Yankee Doodles

The Spirit of '76  (original title Yankee Doodle ) by Archibald Willard, painted in the late 1800s November is a month that here in the United States is defined by food, culminating in a huge Thanksgiving Day feast. It's also the month we honor our military veterans. So I'm going to focus on both food and patriotism - especially an Italian pasta product that became synonymous with a controversial English fashion and developed uniquely American associations. "The Macaroni"- 1773 During the 18th century, it was all the rage for young men of the English nobility to take a trip through Europe to soak up its art and culture. It was called the Grand Tour. In Italy, these privileged lads discovered a pasta dish far removed from their usual British fare. It was called maccaroni , and they raved about it when they got back home. The travelers became known as the Macaroni Club, though there is no evidence an actual club ever existed. But it

The Cato Street Conspiracy

The Cato Street conspirators getting arrested Conspiracy and treason go hand in hand. Throughout history, conspirators have huddled in back rooms and dark corners in secret, concocting schemes that are both dangerous and illegal. So it’s no surprise that their plans often spiral out of control and end in disaster.  A good example of a conspiracy plot gone wrong happened during the Regency. It’s been dubbed the Cato Street Conspiracy because of where the conspirators were caught. This is a tale that, according to historian J.B. Priestley (author of The Prince of Pleasure and his Regency) “begins in absurdity and ends in horror.” The year was 1820. Though the Napoleonic Wars were over, Britain had paid a heavy price for its victory against the French. The costs of the war had strained the country’s economy. The working classes were hit hard by periods of famine, rising food prices due to the Corn Laws, and high unemployment, the latter driven by soldiers returning from th