Author Topic: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attributes  (Read 52110 times)

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Offline Lady_Murasaki

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Henry VIII's wives and their physical attributes
« on: December 14, 2005, 10:22:00 AM »
I have always wondered if Anne of Cleves really was as physically  unattractive as Henry VIII claimed or if he was allowing his wounded pride to speak for him? Or did his dislike of her manners and disdain at her lack of (Tudor) accomplishments color his view? Was the famous portrait very unlike her, or did Henry just change his mind once he met the princess? I would like to think that Anne was as pretty as any of the other wives, because I think it must be dreadful to have one's looks maligned for half a millenium.

I have always found it odd that Catherine Howard was purported to be such a beauty when she looks so dour, plain, and aged in her portraits. Jane Seymour also seems very homely plain to modern eyes, but supposedly her fair complexion made her attactive to her contemporaries.

The young Catherine of Aragon does seem very pretty and demure. Anne Boleyn had her charms, though it seems that her olive complexion and dark hair were not considered fashionable.

I'm curious to hear your opinions.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by Lady_Murasaki »

Offline ilyala

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Re: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attribut
« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2005, 01:42:47 PM »
after seeing quite a few portraits i have concluded that anne bolleyn was the most beautiful of all. at that time, though, i believe her beauty was indeed not fashionable, although i find it odd because she does indeed look beautiful. catherine of aragon was beautiful when she was young but aged pretty badly... i also liked catherine parr's looks, although she was not necessarilly very beautiful... i think she was more elegant and gracious than beautiful... catherine howard, if she looks anything like in the portraits is kind of ugly and same goes for jane seymour. i liked anne of cleves' portrait but she did seem a bit too... dreamy?...

as far as portraits go, i vote for anne bolleyn and catherine parr as most beautiful henry 8th wives :)
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Offline Prince_Lieven

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Re: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attribut
« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2005, 02:01:30 PM »
It all depends on conceptions of beauty. In Tudor times, the ideal woman looked like Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk - pale skin, pale hair, demure look.

It's said that the English expected Katherine of Aragon to be a typical olive skinned Spaniard. Instead, she had a creamy complexion with rosy cheeks (supposedly a sign of good health) and hair a slightly darker shade to Henry VIII's. She was also very short.

Anne Boleyn, on the other hand, was the exact opposite - olive skinned, dark eyed and dark haired. Anne was never described as beautiful by contemporaries, I think, but she obviously had something.

I don't know much about Jane Seymour's looks. Portraits show her features to have been pretty regular, and an enduring thing said about her is that she was pale.

Anne of Cleves was described as of 'middling beauty' - the same term used to describe Catherine Parr. Anne, in fact, considered herself prettier than Catherine Parr. Apparently, Anne had a longer nose than the portrait shows.

As for Katherine Howard, I guess her main appeal was that she was young and probably nubile. Anyone know what contemporaries said about her looks?

Catherine Parr's features are more matronly than beautiful, though she was also apparetly of 'middling beauty'.
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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attribut
« Reply #3 on: December 14, 2005, 02:24:36 PM »
It's true that standards of beauty have changed radically over the centuries. Judging from a twenty-first century perspective, I agree with you, Ilyala, that Anne Boleyn was the stand-out beauty of the bunch. At least if the Hever portrait (which shows her holding a rose) is any true likeness. Here her features are shown as small and perfectly symmetrical. She bears a strong resemblance to her daughter, Elizabeth, except that she has a shorter, prettier nose and much darker coloring. I suspect it was the dark coloring and the absence of much of a bosom - not to mention her commoner blood and her status as Henry's great love, supplanting Catherine of Aragon - that made snobs like the Spanish ambassador Chapuys describe her in largely unflattering terms.

Prince Lieven is right that Anne must have possessed the "It" factor, that indefinable element of pure charisma that Henry himself had. And she must have had it in spades, because she wasn't royal by birth, and being royal is half-way to being thought of as "charismatic."

Jane Seymour, judging from the Holbein portrait (and Holbein's portraits were judged extremely realistic even in his own day), was just plain weird-looking. She looks like a mildly barmy Miss Priss schoolmistress about to discipline the class. Or a nun about to do the same. I can't imagine what Henry saw in her. Maybe he felt better knowing that she wouldn't cheat on him (as he no doubt suspected Anne of doing) because no one in their right mind would find her even remotely attractive. Just kidding... sort of.

The Holbein portrait of Anne of Cleves is indeed ravishing but if you actually look at the features of the dreamy model princess they're not all that exceptional, in fact they would be rather plain in another, less opulent setting. But I think it was Anne of Cleves' lack of knowledge of the courtly arts that really turned Henry off. She didn't recognize him at their first meeting, when he had gone to so much trouble to disguise himself as a dashing, handsome stranger, and she didn't know anything about music or dancing either. She was a provincial, in Henry's mind a country bumpkin and an insult to his intelligence (not to mention his vanity).

Catherine Howard's portraits are singularly unflattering. All I can say is, she must have had an exceptional complexion and a really voluptuous body, not to mention her own dose of the famed Howard charisma, for Henry to have fallen for her as hard as he did.

Katherine Parr seems to me completely average in looks, but I think Henry was attracted to her for other, less superficial reasons - her intellectual interest in religion, and her reputation as a nursemaid-wife of ailing old men.  
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Kimberly

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Re: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attribut
« Reply #4 on: December 14, 2005, 02:40:10 PM »
I whole heartedly agree with Elisabeth about the Hever portrait and Anne Boleyn had that indefinable sexual allure. Jane Seymour has always looked to me as if she is chewing a wasp ;) Are there actually any verified portraits of Catherine Howard?
The miniature of Anne of Cleves is sublime, while not a "stunner" there is a dreamy,limpid-eyed look about her which is very attractive. Holbein was very clever IMHO  in regards of the choice of the beautiful blue background.
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Offline Kimberly

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Re: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attribut
« Reply #5 on: December 14, 2005, 02:41:16 PM »
Sorry, Lady Murasaki, welcome to this wonderful thread ;)
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Offline Prince_Lieven

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Re: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attribut
« Reply #6 on: December 14, 2005, 02:42:48 PM »
Yep, I'd like to echo that - welcome.  ;)
"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"
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Offline Lady_Murasaki

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Re: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attribut
« Reply #7 on: December 14, 2005, 03:34:34 PM »
Thanks for the welcome and the replies.

I find it interesting how subjective beauty can be. I have always wondered what was so alluring about Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard. I also found it somewhat strange that Anne of Cleves could *really* have been so homely that Henry could not consummate the marriage.

The chewing on a wasp comment made me laugh, Kimberly. That is a very apt way to describe her expression.

Offline Kimberly

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Re: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attribut
« Reply #8 on: December 14, 2005, 03:51:34 PM »
Why thank you Lady M. I always speak as I find  ;)
(As for *homely* thats me)
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by Kimberly »
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Re: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attribut
« Reply #9 on: December 15, 2005, 02:28:26 AM »
beauty is in the eye of the beholder ;D however henry must have been completely blind to notice any beauty about his last wives, parr was only there to be his nursemaid was she not? ;D
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Offline umigon

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Re: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attribut
« Reply #10 on: December 15, 2005, 02:52:36 AM »
Well, Parr's marriage to Henry was consummated so... maybe a bit more than a nurse and a stepmother for his orphaned children...
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Offline ilyala

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Re: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attribut
« Reply #11 on: December 15, 2005, 02:54:01 AM »
katherine parr:



does she really look ugly to you? i find she looks much better than jane seymour and catherine howard, for example.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by ilyala »
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Offline ilyala

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Re: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attribut
« Reply #12 on: December 15, 2005, 02:57:52 AM »
for comparisson:

catherine howard:

« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by ilyala »
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Offline ilyala

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Re: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attribut
« Reply #13 on: December 15, 2005, 02:59:52 AM »
jane seymour:

« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 06:00:00 PM by ilyala »
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Offline ilyala

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Re: Henry VIII's wives and their physical attribut
« Reply #14 on: December 15, 2005, 03:01:10 AM »
anne of cleves:



i find her kind of dull looking. that look in her eyes looks like she's been sedated. pretty, but not much more
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