The Complex Genealogical Relationship of Henry VIII and His Wives

Henry VIII married six women, all of whom were related, some to him and some as closely as first or second cousins to each other.

Table of Contents

Arthur, Prince of Wales, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon

To discover this complex relationship, it is necessary to look at the marriages of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster (1340-1399). By his first marriage, Catherine is descended from Philippa of Lancaster (her maternal great-great-grandmother); by his second marriage, Catherine is descended from Catherine of Lancaster (her paternal great-grandmother).

Henry VIII and Arthur, Prince of Wales (his elder brother) descend from his third marriage through the Beaufort line, both paternally through John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (his great-great-grandfather) and maternally through Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland (his great-great grandmother). This relationship would make Catherine of Aragon and her two husbands third cousins, by 16th century reckoning.

Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard

The closest relationship between Henry VIII’s wives belongs to the two Howard girls, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. Each a granddaughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and Elizabeth Tilney, their mother and father, respectively, were siblings.

Not only were they first cousins, oddly enough they shared the same fate, and for the same accusation: treason by infidelity. Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, was beheaded for her alleged crimes on the 19th of May, 1536; Katherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife, was beheaded for her crimes on the 13th of February, 1542. They are buried together in the church of St. Peter ad Vincula, just steps from Tower Green.

Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, and Jane Seymour

Remarkably, Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife and possible catalyst of Anne Boleyn’s downfall, were nearly as closely related as the two Howard girls.

A generation further into the past, their mutual great-grandmother Elizabeth Cheney married first Sir Frederick Tilney and produced one child, Elizabeth Tilney (see above: Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard); after his death she remarried Sir John Say and produced eight children, including their firstborn daughter, Anne Say.

Anne Say married Henry Wentworth and produced Margery Wentworth, mother of Jane Seymour. By the reckoning of 16th century England, this would make the Howard girls and Jane Seymour second cousins.

Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, and Catherine Parr

Once again we must return to John of Gaunt’s third marriage which produced the Beaufort line: Henry VIII descended from the first son of this marriage (see above) through his father, whose own mother was a Beaufort, and the only daughter of the marriage (see above).

Likewise, Catherine Parr, descended from John of Gaunt through his daughter Joan Beaufort (her paternal great-great-great-grandmother). Catherine of Aragon, however, descended from John of Gaunt’s first two marriages (see above). This would make Henry and Catherine Parr third cousins, and Catherine Parr and Catherine of Aragon third cousins as well.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Edward I

While many of the wives of Henry VIII shared a common ancestry with each other (and even with their husband), all six wives were distantly related through mutual descent from Edward I, King of England.

Edward I reigned during the latter part of the 13th century and into the first decade of the 14th, producing eight children who lived into adulthood, seven of whom had issue. It is through these children that Henry VIII’s wives (and he himself!) trace their mutual ancestry.


  • Fraser, Antonia. The wives of Henry VIII . New York: Knopf, 1992.
  • Malvern, Gladys. The six wives of Henry VIII . New York: Vanguard Press, 1972.
  • Starkey, David. Six wives: the queens of Henry VIII. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.
  • Weir, Alison. The six wives of Henry VIII . New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991.


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