Tudor Queens Come to Life with Portraits, Wax Figures and Descriptions of Appearance

All six of Henry VIII’s queens were beautiful in their own way. Whether it was their physical beauty or their nature, there was something about each of them that the King was attracted to. Here we take a look at some wax figures of his wives and descriptions of their appearance – we are attempting to bring the Tudor queens to life.

Katherine of Aragon

Just after her marriage to Henry in 1509, Katharine was described, perhaps somewhat partially, by her Confessor, Fray Diego:

‘Her highness is very healthy and the most beautiful creature in the world, with the greatest gaiety and contentment that ever was.’

In 1512, Henry is recorded as kissing and caressing her in public, and, according to a Spanish source, he would invite guests to admire his beautiful wife.

Perhaps a rather less partial view was taken by a Venetian visitor to the court in 1515. She was by then 30 years old and is described, rather unchivalrously, and not, presumably, by anyone expecting to have his correspondence read, other than by the recipient, as ‘ugly and deformed.’

Quoted from – for further reading: http://tudortimes.co.uk/people/katharine-of-aragon-appearance-character

Anne Boleyn

In 1532, a new Venetian ambassador described Anne thusly:

‘not one of the handsomest women in the world. She is of middling stature, with a swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised, and in fact has nothing but the King’s great appetite, and her eyes, which are black and beautiful and take great effect on those who served the Queen when she was on the throne.

Quoted from – for further reading: https://englishhistory.net/tudor/anne-boleyn-physical-description/

Jane Seymour

Chapuys described Jane as ‘of middle stature and no great beauty, so fair that one would call her rather pale than otherwise’, and Alison Weir points out that it was not Jane’s face that had attracted the King so much as the fact that she was Anne Boleyn’s opposite in every way. Jane showed herself entirely subservient to Henry’s will; where Anne had, in the King’s view, been a wanton, Jane had shown herself to be inviolably chaste. And where Anne had been ruthless, he believed Jane to be naturally compassionate. He would in years to come remember her as the fairest, the most discreet, and the most meritorious of all his wives. Perhaps she reminded him of his mother, Elizabeth of York?

Quoted from: https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/jane-seymour-the-meek-and-mild-one/

Anne of Cleves

To be fair to Anne, however, until Henry expressed such a strong aversion towards her, there had been no other disparaging accounts of her appearance. The famous nickname of ‘Flanders Mare’ was only coined by Bishop Gilbert Burnet in the late 17th-century. Most of the contemporary accounts before her marriage had been complimentary. Even Henry was forced to admit that she was ‘well and semelye [seemly]’. But the fact that she nevertheless repelled him ensured that Anne would henceforth be known as the ‘ugly wife’.

Quoted from – for further reading: http://www.historyextra.com/article/premium/anne-cleves-henry-VIII-most-successful-queen

Anna, Duchess of Cleves by Heather R. Darsie opens our eyes to the real Anne and that it was not her appearance at all that caused the end of the marriage, but politics. Anne very well may have been the most attractive of all his wives.

Katheryn Howard

David Starkey, in his 2004 biography of the queens of Henry VIII, stated that Katheryn had ‘auburn hair, pale skin, dark eyes and brows, the rather fetching beginnings of a double skin’.

Other scholars cite the French ambassador Marillac’s comments that she was not of spectacular, but rather moderate, beauty, while being of a graceful disposition.

Katheryn, during her rise to power, was referred to by the Spanish author of ‘The Chronicle of Henry VIII’, written some years after the events, as being the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, while the French ambassador initially described her as being a young woman of ‘extraordinary’, or ‘great’, beauty. Another courtier suggested that she was very ‘beautiful’. According to contemporary ideals, therefore, it seems likely that Katheryn was at least fair in order to merit such descriptions, for women who were dark-haired were often perceived as being inferior in their physical appearances.

Quoted from – for further reading: ‘https://conorbyrnex.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/katherine-howard-beauty-and-appearance/

Kateryn Parr

It seems reasonable to suppose that Kateryn was attractive – Henry VIII was very susceptible to physical appearance, as his rejection of Anne of Cleves because he did not fancy her, shows. However, she is not referred to as beautiful by any of the ambassadors sending reports, and, in fact, Anne of Cleves is reputed to have complained that Kateryn was less good-looking that herself.

Her height has been variously described by her biographers as 5 foot 4 inches, or 5 foot 10 inches, based on the length of her coffin. The shorter height seems more likely, as 5 foot 10 inches would be exceptional for a woman at that time. Tall women, such as Marie de Guise and her daughter, Mary Queen of Scots were remarked on. Kateryn’s hair, a lock of which is preserved at Sudeley Castle appears to be of a dark blonde hue, and so far as can be told from the paintings, her eyes were hazel or brown.

Quoted from – for further reading: http://tudortimes.co.uk/people/katherine-parr-appearance

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Anne Boleyn Anne of Cleves Catherine Parr History Jane Seymour Katherine Howard Katherine of Aragon

11 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I believe all of the scuptures were done to appease our modern-day sensibilities; they veer away from historical portraits, probably because they aren’t “pretty enough.” Also, Anne Boleyn is described by several sources as being dark-skinned. Where is her tan/olive complexion? Would that be too offensive?

    • I always thought she was so. Jane seymours brother was considered one of the best looking men around at the time and he wanted to marry parr before Henry decided he was going to..so that tells me she was good looking if both the king (who could force anyone he wanted to marry him) and one of most chased after bachelor’s both married her.
      She kind of reminds me of Susan sarandon in her pictures. People tend to think of her as older since she was already married before henry to an old man but she was younger then Anne Boleyn had been when henry married her. I thought the actress who played her in the Tudors did a really good job, I think it was Joey Richardson or joely Richardson ??

  2. What does a double skin mean? “David Starkey, in his 2004 biography of the queens of Henry VIII, stated that Katherine had auburn hair, pale skin, dark eyes and brows, the rather fetching beginnings of a double skin”

  3. Is there a place where the wax figures are on display? They do look like their paintings and I would love to see an exhibit of them along with anything that was of that time or replicas of some of their clothing.

    • Is there a place where the wax figures are on exhibit? I would like to see anything remaining of any of the wives or things of that time. I would like to see duplicates of any of their clothes

      • If you Google Madam Tussaud’s wax figures (Henry VIII) you will find where they are. Also, in the next few days there will be a post here regarding replica gowns.

        • I was at Madam Tussaud’s in the 80s, It is very interesting to see them and be able to look right into their faces when you know so much about their lives and deaths.
          If I recall correctly, I was struck by how small they all were. I had always thought of Henry as being a 6’3′ guy. I seem to recall thinking he might have been 5’8″ and his wives were all under 5’4″.

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