The Six Wives of Henry VIII (album)

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The Six Wives of Henry VIII
SixWives Wakeman Album.jpg
Studio album by
Released23 January 1973
RecordedFebruary–October 1972
StudioMorgan and Trident, London
ProducerRick Wakeman
Rick Wakeman chronology
Piano Vibrations
The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Singles from The Six Wives of Henry VIII
  1. "Catherine Parr"/"Anne Boleyn"
    Released: 23 March 1973

The Six Wives of Henry VIII is the second studio album by English keyboardist Rick Wakeman, released in January 1973 on A&M Records. It is an instrumental progressive rock album with its concept based on his interpretations of the musical characteristics of the wives of Henry VIII. After signing with A&M as a solo artist, Wakeman decided on the album's concept during a tour of the United States with the progressive rock band Yes. As he read a book about the subject on his travels, melodies he had written the previous year came to him and were noted down. The album was recorded throughout 1972 with musicians from Yes and Strawbs, the group Wakeman was in prior to Yes, playing on the album.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII received mostly positive reviews from critics. It reached number 7 on the UK Albums Chart and number 30 on the Billboard 200 in the United States. It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in 1975 for over 500,000 copies sold in the United States. In 2009, Wakeman performed the album in its entirety for the first time at Hampton Court Palace as part of the 500th anniversary celebration of Henry's accession to the throne, released as The Six Wives of Henry VIII Live at Hampton Court Palace. The tracks were rearranged with sections, including a track dedicated to Henry himself, that were left off the original album due to the limited time available on a single record. The Six Wives of Henry VIII was reissued in 2015 with a quadraphonic sound mix and bonus tracks.

Background and writing[edit]

In August 1971, Rick Wakeman joined the progressive rock band Yes as a replacement for their original keyboardist Tony Kaye. His previous group, The Strawbs, were signed to A&M Records and their deal granted each member the option to release an album as a solo artist. While touring the US with Yes to promote Fragile (1971), manager Brian Lane informed Wakeman that A&M co-founder and executive Jerry Moss wished to meet him.[1] During their meeting at A&M Studios in Los Angeles, Wakeman accepted Moss's offer to make a solo album and received an advance of $12,500, around £4,000, to make it.[2] When A&M asked Wakeman what he wanted as a present for signing on with the label, he remembered a 1957 Cadillac limousine parked in the building's parking lot and had A&M ship one to England that was previously owned by Clark Gable.[3] Wakeman lost the car when he divorced in the late 1970s.[4]

When Wakeman started work on the album in November 1971, he had difficulties as he was not a competent singer or lyricist, had no band of his own, or any musical ideas.[4] He was disappointed with his playing early into the Fragile Tour, so he used the opportunity as a way of cheering himself up musically. He saw little point in writing songs that had meaningless words, but was interested to explore musical experimentation and strong melody.[5] He assembled some rough ideas onto tape, forming several tracks of 2 to 4 minutes in length, but he recalled that upon playback, "there was really nothing there."[5][6] When the Yes tour resumed, Wakeman bought four books at an airport bookstall in Richmond, Virginia, including one about Henry VIII and his six wives titled The Private Life of Henry VIII (1964) by Nancy Brysson Morrison.[7][8] As he read about Anne Boleyn on the subsequent flight to Chicago, a theme he recorded in the previous November ran through his mind, which he wrote down on some hand drawn ledger lines and played at a following soundcheck.[9][10] Said Wakeman: "Suddenly I found it in writing music about these six ladies ... I would concentrate on one of the wives and then music just came into my head and I would write it down. Sometimes I was flying, other times I was on stage, or just in front of the piano at home ... The six wives theme gave me the thread, the link, I needed to give me a reason for putting these pieces of music together."[11]

Wakeman wanted the album not be purely orchestral but have an "orchestral flavour", and feature contemporary electronic instruments to demonstrate how much they had improved over time.[5] He explains the album's concept further in its liner notes: "The album is based around my interpretations of the musical characteristics of the wives of Henry VIII. Although the style may not always be in keeping with their individual history, it is my personal conception of their characters in relation to keyboard instruments."[2] Wakeman wrote the music as if he was doing a surrealist painting, "sketches of how I felt about them at the time".[12]

Recording and production[edit]

Recording took place between February and October 1972 at Morgan and Trident Studios in London during gaps in recording and touring with Yes. Wakeman found himself losing interest in the music he had put down at previous recording sessions, and often re-recorded parts.[2][5] The album was recorded onto 16-track,[4] and features Ken Scott as recording engineer on "Catherine of Aragon" and "Catherine Parr" and Paul Tregurtha for the other tracks.[13] Wakeman was partially influenced musically by Paintings (1972), the first studio by American keyboardist Michael Quatro. Wakeman informed Quatro that he was his favourite keyboardist during this time, and used some of his Moog synthesiser lines on the album.[14] The album features several guest musicians on drums, percussion, guitar, and bass, including members of Strawbs and Yes and people Wakeman knew during his time as a session musician. Wakeman wanted to avoid using the same musicians for the whole album, and used his demos and a guide in selecting which musician he thought would best suit each track to vary the sound.[5][6] The tracks were not arranged chronologically, but one to make the album sound "musically interesting" and to have the personalities of the wives in "some kind of meaningful order."[5]

When the album was finished, its production costs had increased to around £25,000. Wakeman described working on it as "difficult and cumbersome", but felt the project was eventually a rewarding one.[15] He was excited when he presented the album to A&M management at their London office. After the album was played to the group, Wakeman "sensed that something was not right in the room. There was pretty much silence as it finished".[3] He recalled an American lawyer who represented the label's US division commenting that it was a good work in progress and that he looked forward to hearing vocals added to the music, but Wakeman explained that it was to be kept instrumental and the lawyer left the room.[4] However, Wakeman was informed that the head of the label's UK division felt the album would be too difficult to sell, and another A&M staffer estimated that around 50,000 copies had to be sold in order to make a profit. After a subsequent meeting with two A&R men, who expressed their fondness for its "off the wall" quality, they went ahead with its release.[4] A&M agreed to produce an initial batch of 12,500 copies.[16][17] Wakeman looked back on this time, saying he "was absolutely deflated".[3]

The album's cover photograph was taken at the Madame Tussauds wax museum in London, where a figure of Richard Nixon can be seen in the background as the curtain was not fully closed.[18] The cover was initially produced in black and white as A&M refused to pay for a colour version, but Wakeman managed to get the final design printed in a sepia tone.[4]


"Catherine of Aragon" is a track that Wakeman had wanted to put on Fragile, but contractual issues at the time prevented him from recording one of his own compositions. Its working title was "Handle With Care", which came about as staff at Trident Studios recommended the tape's storage box be labelled something misleading to lower the risk of theft and the tapes being sold as bootlegs. The box was labelled "Handle with care for the Joe Loss Orchestra", which Wakeman used for the title.[11][1] The track features Yes guitarist Steve Howe and bassist Chris Squire with percussionist Ray Cooper.[19] Wakeman described "Anne of Cleves" as a free-form track, "almost having no form at all, there was a contradiction in what everyone was playing. The guys in the band thought I was completely barking, but it had to be like that."[20] "Catherine Howard" features Strawbs bassist Chas Cronk, who recalled the "total confusion" when he recorded his parts as he "couldn't make head or tail of what [we] were doing. We were going through it part by part and I couldn't see how all the parts were going to match up." He later saw that Wakeman "knew exactly what he was going to do although he had nothing written down. It was all stored in his head."[21] Wakeman wanted the drums to be "subtle and delicate", and chose Barry de Souza.[5]

"Jane Seymour" features the pipe organ at St Giles-without-Cripplegate

Wakeman had difficulty in achieving an organ sound he considered adequate with his electronic instruments for "Jane Seymour", so he sought permission to play a pipe organ at a church. He was granted to use the one at St Giles-without-Cripplegate in Barbican, London.[21] Wakeman later thought that the church organ was the wrong instrument to portray Seymour's feeling towards Henry, and it changed the mood of the music to what he originally intended.[5] Wakeman did not want the track to have overly religious connotations with the organ alone, so he added overdubs of drums, harpsichord, and Moog synthesiser.[6] While recording "Anne Boleyn", Wakeman had a recurring dream where he was in attendance at her execution which inspired him to close the track with a version of "St. Clement", the tune to the hymn "The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended" by John Ellerton.[22] Though E. J. Hopkins is credited on the album, the piece is generally attributed to Reverend Clement Scholefield.[23] Wakeman plays a portative organ made in the 1700s with reeds and wooden pipes, giving it a sound that he compared to someone's breath.[24] Wakeman wanted "Catherine Parr" to have "a really strong feel on drums, nothing subtle at all", and thought Yes drummer Alan White was best for the track.[5]

The album was to be named Henry VIII and His Six Wives and feature a track dedicated for Henry himself, but Wakeman recorded the tracks on the wives first and there was no space left on the LP. He scrapped the track, and renamed the album accordingly.[25] A short passage that Wakeman wrote for Henry was put in "Catherine of Aragon", "Catherine Howard", and the beginning of "Anne Boleyn", as an attempt to "inject the feeling that the wives had for him" in the way that he played the theme.[5]

Release and commercial performance[edit]

To promote the album, Wakeman played excerpts from it on the BBC 2 television music show The Old Grey Whistle Test on 16 January 1973.[26] Show producer Colin Strong and director Mike Appleton contacted A&M who got staffer Tony Burdfield to send them a copy, and liked the album which led to Wakeman being invited on the show. Wakeman brought along Cronk and Cousins to play the additional parts. Prior to recording they got drunk in the studio bar.[3] An audience of around 10 million planned to watch a controversial film about American pop figure Andy Warhol on ITV, but was temporarily banned for screening. Wakeman recalled: "It seems most of them, rather than watch repeats, switched over to Whistle Test and saw my preview of 'Henry'...and suddenly it seemed as if the whole country had discovered my was a tremendous break".[7]

Following the album's release on 23 January 1973,[26] it topped the album charts in four countries.[15] It entered the UK Albums Chart at number 12 before it climbed to its peak position of number 7 the following week on 3 March 1973, and stayed on the chart for 13 weeks during its initial run.[27] The album reappeared on the chart for seven non-consecutive weeks in 1973 alone, and twice more in 1975.[27] In February 2015, the album re-entered the UK chart for one week at number 86.[28] In the United States, the album reached a peak of number 30 on the Billboard 200 chart for the week of 30 March 1973, during a 45-week stay on the chart.[29]

By July 1973, the album had sold 300,000 copies.[8] In the following year, Wakeman was presented a platinum disc at the annual Midem Festival in Cannes for sales exceeding two million.[16] On 20 October 1975, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for 500,000 copies sold in the United States.[30] Wakeman claimed the sales figure grew to six million five years after its release.[17] Modern reports indicate the album has sold an estimated 15 million copies worldwide.[20]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Rolling Stone(favourable)[32]

The album received a mixed reaction from music critics upon release. Though the album was seen by some as one of the worst examples of the progressive rock genre,[20] the record was well received by others. Time magazine named it one of the best pop albums of 1973,[33] describing the album as "an astonishing classic-rock hybrid".[34] The San Mateo County Times printed a very positive review from Peter J. Barsocchini, who thought the album is "something just short of amazing" and "a supremely textured work which transcends most of the finest keyboard work being done in pop music today". He loosely compared the music to that of progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and mentioned Wakeman's "lyrical" and "deep, vast sound".[35] In a retrospective review, Mike DeGange of AllMusic described Wakeman's use of his synthesizers as "masterful" and "instrumentally stunning", and rated the album 4.5 out of 5.[36]

Steve Apple wrote a review for Rolling Stone in 1973, noting Wakeman had "made his bid for Keith Emerson's place as the master of keyboard electronics" but thought his playing suffered a little in technique. Apple noticed "a brilliant feel for tasteful impressionistic composition", having made "an exceptionally interesting instrumental album with superb production". He also praised the production and mixing, and picked "Catherine Howard" as the album's best track.[32][37] Henry Mendoza reviewed the album for The San Bernardino County Sun and noted that despite the album's "interesting format" and its "excellent showcase" for Wakeman's keyboard skills, Mendoza thought the music sounded too much the same and was "monotonous and boring".[38]

Live performance[edit]

Excerpts from the album were performed during Wakeman's solo spots on Yes's Fragile Tour and subsequent Close to the Edge Tour, from 1971 to 1973. A recording of his solo was included on the band's first live album Yessongs (1973), titled "Excerpts from 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII'", as well as their same-titled concert film (1975). The box set Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two (2015) features additional recordings of Wakeman's solos from 1972.

"When the opportunity came to re-score all these pieces for Hampton Court suddenly, there was no time limit. There were no rules and regulations about how the music had to be. And I could go back, revisit them, keep all of the elements that there were originally, and add the other little elements that could never be there."

Rick Wakeman[25]

In 1973, Wakeman sought permission to perform the album live at Hampton Court Palace. His request was denied, and "got the impression that what [he] had asked was tantamount to treason".[20] A full performance of the album was never held until 36 years later, when he was asked to perform it as part of the celebrations to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Henry's accession to the throne. A stage was constructed outside the main palace entrance to seat 5,000 people.[39] Wakeman performed with a six-piece arrangement of his band The English Rock Ensemble, the English Chamber Choir, and the Orchestra Europa, on 1 and 2 May 2009.[20] The setlist included "Defender of the Faith", the track Wakeman wrote about Henry that was omitted from the album due to unavailable space on the vinyl, plus additional material written specifically for the concerts.[25] The arrangement of the former was not exactly what Wakeman originally wrote, but its two main themes are the same.[4] A live album, DVD, and Blu-ray titled The Six Wives of Henry VIII Live at Hampton Court Palace was released in 2009.

In February 2023, Wakeman will perform two shows at the London Palladium which will include a performance of The Six Wives of Henry VIII.[40]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Rick Wakeman. "Anne Boleyn" incorporates "The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended" written by Rev. Clement Cotteril Scholefield and arranged by Wakeman.

Side one
1."Catherine of Aragon"3:44
2."Anne of Cleves"7:53
3."Catherine Howard"6:35
Side two
1."Jane Seymour"4:46
2."Anne Boleyn 'The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended'"6:32
3."Catherine Parr"7:06


Credits are adapted from the album's sleeve notes.[2]

Lead musician[edit]

Additional musicians[edit]

  • Bill Bruford – drums on "Catherine of Aragon" and "Anne Boleyn"
  • Ray Cooper – percussion on "Catherine of Aragon" and "Anne Boleyn"
  • Dave Cousins – electric banjo on "Catherine Howard"
  • Chas Cronk – bass guitar on "Catherine Howard"
  • Barry de Souza – drums on "Catherine Howard"
  • Mike Egan – guitar on "Catherine of Aragon", "Anne of Cleves", "Anne Boleyn", and "Catherine Parr"
  • Steve Howe – guitar on "Catherine of Aragon"
  • Les Hurdle – bass guitar on "Catherine of Aragon" and "Anne Boleyn"
  • Dave Lambert – guitar on "Catherine Howard"
  • Laura Lee – vocals on "Anne Boleyn"
  • Sylvia McNeill – vocals on "Anne Boleyn"
  • Judy Powell – vocals on "Catherine of Aragon"
  • Frank Ricotti – percussion on "Anne of Cleves", "Catherine Howard", and "Catherine Parr"
  • Chris Squire – bass guitar on "Catherine of Aragon"
  • Barry St. John – vocals on "Catherine of Aragon"
  • Liza Strike – vocals on "Catherine of Aragon" and "Anne Boleyn"
  • Alan White – drums on "Anne of Cleves", "Jane Seymour", and "Catherine Parr"
  • Dave Wintour – bass guitar on "Anne of Cleves" and "Catherine Parr"

Production and design[edit]

  • Ken Scott – engineer on "Catherine of Aragon" and "Catherine Parr"
  • Paul Tregurtha – engineer, mixer on "Anne of Cleves", "Catherine Howard", "Jane Seymour", and "Anne Boleyn"
  • Pete Flanagan – assistant engineer
  • David Hentschel (credited as "Dave Henshall") – mixer on "Catherine Parr"
  • Michael Doud – art director
  • Ken Carroll – design
  • Bruce Rae – cover photograph
  • Ruan O'Lochlainn – inside photograph
  • Rondor Music – publisher


Chart (1973) Peak
Australian Albums (Kent Music Report)[41] 9
Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)[42] 27
Finnish Albums (The Official Finnish Charts)[43] 23
Italian Albums (Musica e Dischi)[44] 17
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[45] 21
UK Albums (OCC)[46] 7
US Billboard 200[47] 30


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[48] Gold 20,000^
United States (RIAA)[49] Gold 500,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ a b Kirkman 2016, p. 198.
  2. ^ a b c d The Six Wives of Henry VIII (Media notes). Wakeman, Rick. A&M Records. 1973. AMLH 64361.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  3. ^ a b c d Kirkman 2016, p. 199.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Wakeman, Rick (18 May 2021). "Rick Wakeman, The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Hampton Court". Loudersound. Retrieved 3 January 2022.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Black, Alan (24 February 1973). "Rick Wakeman and the Making of The Six Wives of Henry VIII". Melody Maker. p. 11.
  6. ^ a b c Valentine, Penny (27 January 1973). "The six wives of a Yes man". Sounds. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  7. ^ a b Wooding, p. 99.
  8. ^ a b "Music: Popping the Classics". Time. Time. 9 July 1973. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
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  11. ^ a b Wooding, p. 100.
  12. ^ Kirkman 2016, p. 201.
  13. ^ Wooding, p. 102.
  14. ^ Mayer, Ira (1 February 1975). "New York Central" (PDF). Record World. p. 12. Retrieved 25 May 2022 – via World Radio History.
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  18. ^ Wooding, p. 104.
  19. ^ Wooding, pp. 101.
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  21. ^ a b Wooding, p. 103.
  22. ^ Wooding, pp. 100-101.
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  25. ^ a b c Behind the Scenes with Rick from The Six Wives of Henry VIII Live at Hampton Court Palace DVD. 5 October 2009. Eagle Vision.
  26. ^ a b Wooding, p. 98.
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  34. ^ Wooding, p. 106.
  35. ^ Barsocchini, Peter J. (28 April 1973). "Pop Corner – The Six Wives of Henry VIII". San Mateo County Times. p. 47. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
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  38. ^ Mendoza, Henry (8 April 1973). "Soundings – Byrds Legend Back on Wax". The San Bernardino County Sun. p. 52. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  39. ^ Evans, Jim (14 May 2009). "Arena Seating at Henry VIII anniversary". L&Si Online. Retrieved 10 April 2011.
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  43. ^ Pennanen, Timo (2006). Sisältää hitin – levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1972 (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava. ISBN 978-951-1-21053-5.
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  45. ^ " – Rick Wakeman – The Six Wives of Henry VIII". Hung Medien. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
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  48. ^ "Wakeman Liztomania Score Complete;Time Out For Gold" (PDF). Cash Box. 13 September 1975. p. 39. Retrieved 20 December 2020.
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