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. I'm fairly sure the little boy in red is George, 
the future Prince Regent and King George IV.

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.


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