InFocus HERstory – Uncovering the real lives of the ‘SIX’ wives. Part 1.

Written by Catherine Whitehouse.

In 2017 Six the Musical had it’s first performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and told the story of the six wives of Henry VIII re-imagined as a pop girl band. For centuries these women were known merely as one word in a nursery rhyme ‘Divorced, Beheaded Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived’ but ‘Six’ was written to change this as they take the narrative back into their own hands all whilst battling it out to be the leading lady in the girl group aptly named ‘Six’. In a matter of years ‘Six’ has become one of the most talked about shows in the world playing on the West End and Broadway as well as in Australia and on tour. In the show the queens compare their lives to see who had it the hardest at the hands of the tyrannical Henry VIII in their own

individual number inspired by some of the great pop princesses of modern times such as Avril Lavigne and Beyoncé. It seems like everyone is talking about these six ill-fated queens but how realistic and true to life are these depictions to what Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr actually went through?

Its time to strip back the glitz and glamour to uncover the real lives of the ‘Six’ wives!

In this first part we will be looking at Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour.

Catherine of Aragon - 'Divorced'

Catherine of Aragon

Public domain

How is she portrayed in ‘SIX’?

Catherine of Aragon is the first Queen to perform and fight for the lead. She is portrayed as a strong-willed woman who despite living in a society dominated by patriarchal tradition, exudes feminist values demanding she as Queen deserved to be treated as equal to her husband regardless of her gender. She performs her song ‘No Way, in a style comparable to that of Beyoncé, and objects Henry VIII’s proposal of divorce in an act of powerful defiance as she has been loyal to him and he made her a wife, she’ll be queen 'til the end of her life. Many fans of the musical admire these traits in the character but how true to life is this representation of the first Tudor Queen?

Jarnéia "Jaye'J" Richard-Noel – Aragon on the West End

Devoted Wife haunted by tragedy!

From the moment she was born in Spain in December 1485, Catherine of Aragon was but a pawn for political, dynastic ambitions. She was the daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile who, through a strategic dynastic marriage, ruled over a unified nation of Spain. It is therefore no surprise that she would be an asset to her father and used to strengthen his power and position, far from the feminist icon presented to us in ‘Six’!

In 1489 the Treaty of Medina del Campo was signed between Ferdinand and Henry VII of England to ratify the proposed marriage between Catherine and Prince Arthur, sealing her fate from infancy, forming a strong alliance for the future of the two nations. In 1501, when she was around 16 years old, she was shipped off to England where she was greeted by the impatient and power-hungry King Henry VII who insisted on going to collect the young princess himself. After fighting in the War of the Roses Henry was keen to secure his throne and ensure a Tudor Dynasty, a marriage alliance with a powerful nation was the perfect solution as with any luck it would produce an heir, a living, breathing symbol of the power alliance. As a result, Catherine and Arthur’s wedding was a largely extravagant affair, a full-on piece of royal propaganda!

However, their façade of marital bliss was short lived with the pair quickly becoming sick and Arthur dying just five months later. The young, recently widowed Princess now faced an uncertain future. Plans were made for marriage alliances between Henry’s younger son (who would become Henry VIII) and even at one stage the aging, widowed King himself but ultimately the Spanish alliance was abandoned in 1505 due to the fickle nature of the King and Ferdinand’s reluctance to pay her full dowry, but where did this leave Catherine? She had been held prisoner in Durham House in London this whole time with no money, having been cut off by her parents, unable to speak much English and battling her own ill health. She was left alone and abandoned and couldn’t even afford to sustain her own household. She had to pawn many of her belongings and her future in England looked bleak which understandably gave her tremendous anxiety, that was until Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509.

To the young King Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon was rather attractive politically. His father had tried to keep them apart but this was in vain as the defiant new King was set on this union that would not only guarantee the succession immediately but also secure an alliance with the powerful nation of Spain and reinstate Catherine of Aragon’s allowance from her father – in Henry VIII’s eyes this could not go wrong and the pair were married on 11th June 1509. However, the couple’s supposed marital bliss was to be short-lived. That same year Catherine became pregnant for the first time but miscarried shortly after, this was to be a common occurrence for the new Queen as she went on to have a number of miscarriages and stillbirths, two of