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Seven year itch: evidence suggests Henry VIII may have been close to taking a seventh wife before his death

The Tudor monarch King Henry VIII is perhaps best known for his penchant for marriage, famously taking six wives during his lifetime – and now a recently published book suggests that Henry was about to take a seventh before getting cold feet and calling the whole thing off.

Katherine Willoughby, drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger

David Baldwin’s new book, ‘Henry VIII’s Last Love: The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Willoughby, Lady-in-Waiting to the Tudors’, published by Amberley, outlines how Katherine Willoughby, the Duchess of Suffolk – a powerful woman ruling over houses at Grimsthorpe and Tattershall in Lincolnshire and a friend of Catherine Parr, Henry’s sixth wife – wielded subtle influence through her proximity to the king and became the focus of his affections.

Before her romance with Henry, Katherine was married to his close friend Charles Brandon. The pair tied the knot in 1533, when Katherine was 14 and Charles almost 50. But in 1534 she and Henry began to exchange New Year gifts, and four years later, after the death of the king’s third wife Jane Seymour, it was reported that they were enjoying one another’s company.

Katherine was appointed a lady-in-waiting to Henry’s last three queens, and in February 1546, six months after Charles Brandon’s death, it was rumoured that Henry intended to wed her himself if he could end his present marriage to Catherine Parr. But the king passed away in January 1547 and the proposal was never made.

David said: “There can be little doubt that King Henry VIII remained prepared to change his wife, perhaps in the hope of begetting a second son, well into old age.”

David based much of his research on more than 40 letters Katherine sent to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who she relied on for advice. Sometimes, she had to apologise for being rude and short-tempered, which may be why Henry ultimately decided against marrying her.

A staunch Protestant, Katherine fled to Poland when Bloody Mary came to the throne, returning to England after Elizabeth I succeeded in 1558. She went on to live a long and prosperous life with her second husband, Richard Bertie, and died in 1580.

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