King Henry VII has gone down in history for many things. His most famous legacy perhaps is his Six Wives in succession. There is a rhyme taught in British Schools to remember the order of Henry’s Six Wives. “Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.” These are the key factors of Henry’s wives in relation to him. It was his divorce with his first wife that led to the creation of the Church of England. The Church of England allowed him to break away from Roman Catholicism and divorce his first wife and marry the second. These women are confined in history as just a number, a notch in Henry’s belt.
What Six: The Musical does is take back the history of these Six Wives and give them a voice to tell their story on their own. The opening song, “Ex-wives” adds the prefix “ex-“ in front of “wives” where these women no longer wish to be seen in relation to Henry. They are no longer the wives of Henry VII, rather they are his ex-wives. This gives them power over their own stories when none of them is tied back to Henry. They become independent of him. “Ex-wives” acknowledges that they were only ever known through Henry’s narrative and how their marriages ended. However, the Six Wives are claiming their narratives to define themselves as individual women rather than simply one of Henry’s wives. The aim is to “switch the flow” by providing a different perspective on their marriage through their eyes; through HER-story. Over the course of the musical, each of the women has their own solos that explain their lives through pop songs and modern-day references. Even though this musical tackles the history of Henry VII’s Six Wives, it aims to prove that these women were more than the wives of the most infamous Tudor king. In fact, these 6 women are Queens in status.
The whole musical is structured in order to find the most relevant wife of Henry’s, hence each Queen tells their story to see who is the best. They each tell their own tale and it ends with the last Queen’s song “I Don’t Need Your Love”, sung by Catherine Parr. Instead of it being a song about Henry, it is actually structured as a letter to her lover, the person she wanted to marry before Henry interfered. She chose Henry over her lover because she was trying to survive, knowing that Henry would probably kill her for saying “no”. She mentions that she has “been a wife twice, just to survive”, in order to not be ostracized by society for not having a husband as in those days, it was crucial for a woman to be married off. Before this, all the Queens’ songs were in relation to Henry and how he shaped their lives. It is a retelling of Henry’s narratives and giving them a voice, but still, their story is told in relation to Henry, where they are defined by their relation with Henry. However, Parr had enough of being defined in relation to Henry. She questioned why her story has to be associated with Henry. She asks: “But why should that story / Be the one I have to sing about / Just to win? I’m Out”. She sings that there is so much more about her that history fails to mention as she is “fixed as one of the six.” This is the part of the musical where history becomes “his-story” and each of the Queens acknowledge that there is so much to their story and they do not need Henry’s “love”. Rather, this is the Queens taking back the narrative and changing it to give themselves the happy ending they deserve. The song ends with all the Queens becoming more independent than they actually were in reality. It gives the Queens the chance to rewrite their story and remove Henry from it. Which leads to the final song: “Six.”
“Six” reimagines the lives of the Queens without Henry, speculating what could have happened if they had all rejected Henry’s proposal. The chorus shows how these Queens break out of His-story to be their own, independent of Henry: “We’re one of a kind / No category / Too many years / Lost in history / We’re free to take / Our crowning glory / For five more minutes / We’re SIX!”. However, it is not lost on the Queens that they know they are written in history as just six wives. There is a stanza that acknowledges this:
“It’s the end of the show / Of the historemix / We switched up the flow / And we changed the prefix / Everybody knows / That we used to be six wives / But we want to say / Before we drop the curtain / Nothing is for sure / Nothing is for certain / All that we know is that / We used to be six wives”
The writers of the show are aware that what they created may not be entirely accurate. There is nothing certain or sure about the portrayal of these women from history. They are breaking the fourth wall to remind the audience that the writers are perhaps filling the gaps of history with their own rendition of the history of the Six Wives. All that is known is that these six women were the wives of Henry VII. By acknowledging that “for five more minutes, we’re six”, the Queens know that in reality, they are not bonded by sisterhood and were not as united as portrayed in the musical. This is, after all, a remix. As empowering as this musical is, one must bear in mind that these women’s stories are still a speculative piece of fiction.
This musical is uplifting in many ways and touches on the empowerment of women and how women are often confined to the history of men. These Queens are seen and defined in relation to Henry VII, this musical gives them the opportunity to break away from being just one word in rhyme. This allows them to be more than just a number and a notch in Henry’s belt. This musical gives these women a voice that never had in history. The show may not be entirely accurate, but it is the act of repossessing the narrative and changing it to include them that is powerful. It is a beautiful show and the cast album is worth a listen. It is interesting to note that each Queen has her own unique costume, and each understudy/swing have their own unique costume that differs from the Queens. This show celebrates the individuality of women and is honestly, one of the best things that ever happened to the musical community.