Six, the Musical
July 12-23, 2023
Get tickets and more information here.
The musical Six tells the story of Henry VIII’s six wives. The story has been told so much, that there is a nursery rhyme about it: “Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived” recalling the fates of these royal women. Who were these women, and why were they so pivotal in the changing history of England – if not the world? While the musical gives an adequate amount of exposition for these women, there is much more to know about them than what is sung on stage.
Catherine of Aragon: (B: 12/16/1485 – D 01/07/1536 – Queen of England: 06/111509 until annulment on 05/23/1533). Second daughter to Spanish rulers Isabella and Ferdinand, Catherine was born into one of the wealthiest monarchies in the world – due to Columbus’ return from “the New World”. Devoutly Catholic, she was originally betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of King Henry VII, and heir apparent to the throne of England. They both were severely ill on their wedding day, with Arthur succumbing and Catherine surviving as widow. Since the king, Henry VII couldn’t afford to return the dowry that accompanied the princess, she was betrothed to the second son, Henry. A special petition was presented to Pope Clement VII, after Catherine claimed the marriage to Arthur was not consummated, and because of the Bible passage: Leviticus 18, which prohibited marriage to a brother’s wife. The wedding was approved and they were married. Henry and Catherine had one daughter, Mary Tudor, and eventually Henry’s desire for a male heir (women were not allowed to inherit the throne at that time) would seek him to declare an ‘annulment’ of their marriage stating that their marriage was cursed by God for going against the biblical passage. (Henry did have a son with a ‘commoner’ and since born out of wedlock, the child could not be considered legitimate.) The Pope refused the annulment, and Henry began to find a way to discredit Catherine, who was the impeccable definition of loyalty and religious devotion. Eventually, Henry defied authority by divorcing Catherine and marrying Anne Boleyn, one of Catherine’s Ladies-in-Waiting. Catherine retired to a convent, and was well loved by the people of England. Many loyalists considered her to be the only Queen of England until the day she died.
Anne Boleyn: (B: 1501 (?) – 05/19/1536. Queen of England 1533-1536). At first Anne avoided Henry’s attention after watching the King seduce her older sister Mary, and saw her discounted as a mistress of the king. Despite Henry’s attention, Anne refused to succumb to the King’s advances. She was placed as a Lady-In-Waiting to Queen Catherine so Henry could continue his flirtation. Only after he sought a divorce from Catherine, did Anne give in to his advances. A stern Protestant, she presented to Henry alternative choices when the Pope refused to grant him an annulment. Henry broke from the power of the Catholic Church, only to be ex-communicated by the Pope, and declared himself in charge of England’s spiritual and religious needs, as The Supreme Head of the Church of England. The country (and Henry’s Court) was divided on their religious loyalties and their two ruling queens. Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, and after several miscarriages did not produce the male heir Henry desired. Rumors were quickly circulated about Anne having six fingers or three nipples (both considered marks of the Devil) as well as alleged infidelities with court members and her own brother. Anne was arrested and beheaded for High Treason inside the Tower of London.
Jane Seymour: (B: 1508 – D. 10/24/1537. Queen of England: 1536 – 1537) Jane would be the only queen to give Henry a male heir, the future Edward VI. Jane would die due to postnatal conditions within a week of giving birth. Jane is the only one to be given the honors of a Queenly Burial, and is the only one to be buried next to Henry at Windsor. Their son Edward VI would reinstate his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, into the line of succession. Edward VI would die early in his reign of illness.
Anne of Cleaves: (B:1515 – D:07/16/1557. Queen of England: 01/06 – 07/12 1540). After seeing a portrait painted by the acclaimed portraitist Hans Holbein, King Henry became engaged to Germanic Anne. More of a political marriage than a love match, Henry wanted an alliance with her brother William, a prominent Protestant leader. Legends say that Henry found her to be very unattractive, but surviving portraits show a plain if not pleasant countenance. Learning from previous examples, and wishing to keep her head, Anne agreed to an annulment six months after marriage, saying that it was never consummated. Anne remained in England frequently appearing at Court. She was granted a large estate, a healthy salary and the title of “The King’s Sister”. She outlived all the other wives, and lived to see the coronations of Edward VI and Mary I. Her portraits (there were several painted by Holbein) are in The Louvre.
Katheryn Howard: (B: 1524 – D: 02/13/1542. Queen of England: 1540 – 1541) Katheryn was a cousin to both Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. Her uncle secured her place in Court as a Lady-In-Waiting to Anne of Cleves. It was here that the 49-year-old Henry saw Katheryn, who was between 13 and 15 years old. They married 19 days after his annulment to Anne. Katheryn’s mother died early, and she was sent to live with Agnes Howard, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Around age 11, Katheryn started music lessons with Henry Mannox (estimated age 23-36) which many scholars believe to have been sexually abusive. In 1538 Katheryn met Francis Dereham, a secretary to the Dowager Duchess. He pursued her with promises of marriage, to which they often referred to each other secretly as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’. Their relationship ended a year or so later. Once at Court, Katheryn became involved with Henry’s favorite courtier, Thomas Culpeper, during her service to Anne of Cleaves. The affair allegedly continued during her marriage to the King. When rumors of Katheryn’s infidelity reached Henry, he looked into her romantic history and had Mannox, Culpeper and Dereham, before the Queen herself, arrested for High Treason. All were sentenced to execution. The night before her death, Katheryn had a block brought to her cell so she could ‘practice’ laying her head on it to appear regal. Her final words, knowing they would reach King Henry, were: “I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper”. Although allegedly buried inside The Tower of London, her bones were not among those found to be interned in the private vault.
Catherine Parr: (B: 1512 – D: 09/05/1548. Queen of England: 07/12/1543 – 01/28/1547 – Henry’s Death) Catherine was the final queen and would outlive Henry by 20 months. She had been married two times previously, and was chosen for her company more so than hopes of providing another male heir. She planned on marrying Thomas Seymour (brother of the late Queen Jane) when Henry proposed and she felt obligated to respond. Catherine would become close to Henry’s three children being instrumental in reinstalling the line of succession. She became the first woman to publish a book in English – in England, under her real name, and remained an advocate for women’s education. After Henry’s death she was given the title of Queen Dowager, and assumed guardianship over the Princess Elizabeth. She eventually married a fourth time (the most wed queen in English history) to Thomas Seymour. She died three days later. Sir Thomas Seymour would be arrested in 1549 for alleged attempts of seducing Princess Elizabeth while she was under his roof. He was executed for High Treason.
The history of these six queens is the very backbone of the musical itself. The song that each queen sings is influenced by a modern pop diva, according to the musical’s creators – Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. Catherine of Aragon’s song, “No Way” was influenced by Beyoncé. Anne Boleyn’s number, “Don’t Lose Your Head” was influenced by Avril Lavigne and Lily Allen. Jane Seymour’s ballad “Heart of Stone” shows hints of Adele and Celine Dion, while Anne of Cleves’ (“Get Down”) includes influences of Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. Katherine Howard definitely represents the younger stars of Arianna Grande and Brittney Spears with “All You Wanna Do”, and Katherine Parr’s “I Don’t Need Your Love” is reminiscent of Alicia Keyes or Emeli Sande.