Easy Way to Remember the Wives of Henry VIII

If, when it comes to memorizing, your brain is more of the Teflon variety, you’ll doubtless have tried to utilise a mnemonic at some stage. After all, thanks to Richard of York, we can all remember the colours of the rainbow. Exponents of this cheeky little memory aid swear by its efficacy.

But what if you have problems remembering the mnemonic? Another mnemonic, perhaps? You see the potential problem.

The answer for me was to create one with a strong, visual image that was also a bit wacky. A puny, weak, abstract mnemonic just wasn’t going to cut it; we’re talking Teflon, remember? The information needed to be forcibly driven home with a virtual hammer and chisel.

It also needed to be linked solidly to the information I was trying to store and remember. This seems very obvious but am I the ONLY person in the world who has fragments of picture-based mnemonic floating about in my brain but no longer any clue as to what the piece of information is that they were supposed to help me to remember? For instance, I have a very vivid image of my bathroom wall plastered with dollar bills and John Lennon sitting on the edge of the bath smoking a cheroot… answers on a postcard, please.

There are five types of mnemonic. I’ve found the one that works best for me is known as an acrostic. An acrostic is very similar to an acronym but goes a step further, as in, you still focus on the first letter of each word you need to remember but then go on to build a sentence out of words beginning with those letters.

I’ve also found that in order to be effective the mnemonic must produce a colourful, vivid image in my head. And if that image is weird, wacky and wonderful in some way, all the better. There needs to certain amount of excitement and emotion and, often, humour.

I tried out a few but they were, frankly, not up to the job; far too weak and insipid, packing zero punch.

After further thought, word searches and imaginings, I finally came up with:

A Belching Sideboard Chomps Henry’s Pizza

Once I’d decided on this weird and wacky sentence, I set about creating a movie in my imagination. I embellished it, making it big and bold and ridiculous. The huge, round pizza is on the sideboard and as Henry approaches it, licking his lips in anticipation, a pair of hands, followed by very long, skinny arms, shoot out of the side of the sideboard and grab hold of it. Henry immediately lunges forward to retrieve it (because, as we know, he loves his food and, being an exceptionally good hunter, is in possession of very sharp reflexes).

But as fast as Henry is, he is no match for the pizza-grabbing sideboard. Quick as a flash, the top drawer flies open, and in one, impressively smooth movement, the pizza is deposited neatly into the drawer just before it slams shut! The king tugs wildly at the drawer handle for all he’s worth but to no avail. In no time at all the unmistakable sound of pizza-eating activity emanates from the drawer, reverberating loudly around the room.

After much lip-smacking and appreciative ‘mmm’ ing the noise finally stops. Total silence ensues for a few moments followed, at first, by a loud, disgusting, satisfied belch and then, by a different noise altogether; the soft, low, contented rumble of snoring.

Angrily, the king steps forward and snatches the handle of the offending drawer which, this time, obediently slides open. He peers in and sees that the drawer is now empty; well, empty, apart from a crumpled serviette and an abandoned little pile of anchovies stacked neatly in the top right hand corner…

I appreciate that this story, memory aid or no, may be like those anchovies… not to your taste. It definitely did the trick the for me but it’s just an example and obviously, you can make up your own; but do make it big, bold and… well… memorable.

It sounds quite time-consuming but to actually do this takes only a few minutes, five at the most; five minutes to remember something forever.

So, back to the original information:

A Catherine of Aragon (divorced)

B Anne Boleyn (beheaded)

S Jane Seymour (died)

C Anne of Cleves (divorced)

H Catherine Howard (beheaded)

P Catherine Parr (survived)

To recall which wives were beheaded, etc. there is the following, well-known rhyme-based mnemonic which lists the ‘outcome’ for each wife in their correct order of marriage, as above:

Divorced, beheaded and died

Divorced, beheaded, survived

Of course, as in most people’s lives, it’s not  clevescene   quite as clear-cut as the rhyme suggests, as in, none of the marriages ended divorce but rather in annulment.

Also, Anne of Cleves technically ‘survived’, being the one to live the longer than Henry and all the other wives.

But, hopefully, this article has succeeded in its aim to help to solidify, what may previously have been for you, a slightly nebulous piece of historical information; at least enough for you to be able to come up with the goods the next time this comes up in a quiz!


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