You might think Henry was, near the end of his life, a fervent anti-Catholic after all the “Great Matter” hoopla and needing to stick it to the Pope in order to divorce Cat of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. Which, by this time, was four to five wives ago. On the contrary, Henry was still strongly Catholic in his beliefs and very happy to persecute Protestant heretics.
Enter one Anne Askew. Anne, age 23, had been kicked out of her house in Lincolnshire by her husband for preaching Protestant ideas. She moved her preaching to London where she was arrested.
Poor Anne has the fine distriction of being the only woman to be tortured at the Tower and then burnt to a crisp. She was stretched and broken on the rack but wouldn’t deny her faith. They laid her, bones all askew (sorry), on the floor for two hours of further questioning. No dice. She was burned at the stake the following month.
Catherine Parr had been Wife #6 for three years at this point. She didn’t know Anne but held a certain sympathy toward her and other Protestants who were viewed as heretics (probably because Catherine herself still believed in the new faith but kept it hush-hush from the king). She was especially upset that Anne had to be carried to the stake, as she couldn’t walk on her broken legs.
Catherine’s sympathy + her spirited religious debates with her husband + Henry’s state of mind (paranoid, angry, and in pain from his oozing leg sore) = his idea to have a warrant drawn up for Catherine’s arrest when the rumor got out that she was trying to bring down the king’s faith. Though he signed it, his servant dropped it and it was found by Catherine’s servant. Whew!
The queen was hysterical at the news and was sure she’d be the next Headless Wife of Henry VIII. When he finally had a chat with her about it, she calmly and diplomatically told him that she’d only debated religion with him to distract him from his leg pain, and also to learn more about religion for herself.
Success! He bought it and spared her. She kept her mouth shut for the next six months and became the “survived” in the famous mnemonic. But it certainly was close!