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History professor provides commentary for Showtime series

March 14, 2011

In June 2010, Retha M. Warnicke, history professor at ASU, was interviewed by Showtime for their hit television series "The Tudors." Her expertise in Tudor England offered the show's creators historical depth to their fictionalized series.  

According to Warnicke, Katherine of Aragon was the most influential wife because she refused to retire to a nunnery and attempted to protect her daughter Mary’s heritage. If she had followed Henry’s wishes, he could have married Anne Boleyn without removing England from the Roman Catholic Communion. 

He had this second wife executed for committing adultery. Modern analyses concerning her include: She was merely too flirtatious for her own good, she was guilty as charged, or as Warnicke believes, something was horribly wrong with a  fetus she miscarried leading Henry to believe God was punishing her for sexual crimes.

The third wife, Jane Seymour, died after giving birth to a son Edward. Henry later made arrangements to be buried with her at Windsor, believing their son would continue the Tudor dynasty.

When he met Anne of Cleves, his next wife, he doubted she was a virgin since, among other features, she was not small breasted, as virgins were expected to be. After annulling his union with her, he married Katherine Howard, who definitely was not a virgin. Upon discovering her sexual past, he had her executed believing she also had relations with one of his councillors after their marriage.

The last wife, Katherine Parr, wrote religious works that were published, and she is best known as the wife who survived.
Henry desperately wanted to sire sons to carry on his lineage. He feared and was right, as it turned out, that his dynasty would not survive unless he had more than one son. While his wives were victims of his dynastic goals, Henry, as well as they, were victims of their world’s ignorance about human reproduction, of the pervasive  infant mortality rate, and of the shame culture that prized maidens’ virginity, but sometimes relied on folklore to define their sexual status.

Interviews with Warnicke appear in the special video segment "The Tudors – Henry’s Wives Club."

Roxanne Barwick
School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies