What do King Henry the VIII's 6 marriages tell us about the political importance of marriage in the 16th century?
Henry VIII's marriages indicate the importance at the time of a male heir and to a lesser extent, the importance of dynastic marriages.
Henry's first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, had been arranged by his father, Henry VII, to preserve a treaty with Spain. Treaties were commonly sealed by dynastic marriages, as indicated by the famous Austrian statement,
Others may make war, but thou happy Austria, marry.
The marriage fell apart when Catherine failed to produce a male heir. The following marriages were primarily attempts by Henry to produce a male heir, but only one, to Jane Seymour, produced a male, the future Edward VI. Because Edward was sickly and Jane died in childbirth, Henry married again in hopes of producing a second male heir. He himself had been the second son of his father; his elder brother Arthur had died as a teenager.
So Henry's marriages emphasize the importance of a male heir at that time to England as well as the lesser importance of dynastic marriages.
In The play written by Shakespeare, his last "history", first performed in 1613 in the Globe, Catherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife, is "repudiated" because of his wish to have a male heir succeed him on the throne, but also under the "false" (?) pretext that Catherine, having been married to his dead brother Arthur for six months, the king has lived a sinful life and that it preys on him, it weighs heavy on him. Political marriages, religion and politics are at the core of this play. The end is the prediction made by Thomas Cranmer of the extraordinary fate that awaits Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn's daughter. A most interesting play...