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Henry VIII
King of England (more...)
Reign 21 April 1509 – 28 January 1547
Coronation 24 June 1509
Predecessor Henry VII
Successor Edward VI
Spouse Catherine of Aragon
Anne Boleyn
Jane Seymour
Anne of Cleves
Catherine Howard
Catherine Parr
Mary I of England
Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset
Elizabeth I of England
Edward VI of England
House House of Tudor
Father Henry VII of England
Mother Elizabeth of York
Born 28 June 1491(1491-06-28)
Greenwich Palace, Greenwich
Died 28 January 1547 (aged 55)
Palace of Whitehall, London
Burial St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle
Signature File:Henry VIII
Religion Christian (Anglican,
previously Roman Catholic)

Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was also Lord of Ireland (later King of Ireland) and claimant to the Kingdom of France. Henry was the second monarch of the House of Tudor, succeeding his father, Henry VII.

Henry VIII was a significant figure in the history of the English monarchy. Although in the great part of his reign he brutally suppressed the influence of the Protestant Reformation in England,[1] a movement having some roots with John Wycliffe in the 14th century, he is more popularly known for his political struggles with Rome. These struggles ultimately led to the separation of the Church of England from papal authority, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and establishing himself as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Although some[who?] claim that Henry became a Protestant on his death-bed, he advocated Catholic ceremony and doctrine throughout his life. Royal support for the English Reformation began with his heirs, the devout Edward VI and the renowned Elizabeth I, whilst daughter Mary I temporarily reinstated papal authority over England. Henry also oversaw the legal union of England and Wales with the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542. He is also noted for his six wives, two of whom were beheaded.


Early years: 1491-1509

Born in Greenwich Palace, Henry VIII was the third child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.[2] Of the young Henry's six siblings, only three — Arthur, Prince of Wales, Margaret, and Mary — survived infancy. In 1493, at the age of two, Henry was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. In 1494, he was created Duke of York. He was subsequently appointed Earl Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Henry was given a first-rate education from leading tutors, becoming fluent in Latin, French, and Spanish.[3] As it was expected that the throne would pass to Prince Arthur, Henry's older brother, Henry was prepared for a life in the church.[4]

Death of Arthur

In 1502, Arthur, just 15 years old, died suddenly. His death thrust all his duties upon his younger brother Henry, who then became Prince of Wales. Henry VII renewed his efforts to seal a marital alliance between England and Spain, by offering Henry, Prince of Wales, in marriage to Prince Arthur's widow, Catherine of Aragon, the youngest surviving child of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile.[5]

File:Michel Sittow
Catherine as a young widow, by Henry VII's court painter, Michael Sittow in c.1502.

In order for the new Prince of Wales to marry his brother's widow, a dispensation from the Pope was normally required to overrule the impediment of affinity. Catherine swore that her marriage to Prince Arthur had not been consummated. Still, both the English and Spanish parties agreed that an additional papal dispensation of affinity would be prudent to remove all doubt regarding the legitimacy of the marriage.

The impatience of Catherine's mother, Queen Isabella I, induced Pope Julius II to grant dispensation in the form of a Papal bull. So, 14 months after her young husband's death, Catherine found herself betrothed to his even younger brother, Henry. Yet by 1505, Henry VII lost interest in a Spanish alliance and the younger Henry declared that his betrothal had been arranged without his consent.

Continued diplomatic manoeuvring over the fate of the proposed marriage lingered until the death of Henry VII in 1509. Only 17 years old, Henry married Catherine on 11 June 1509 and, on 24 June 1509, the two were crowned at Westminster Abbey.

Early Reign: 1509-1525

Two days after his coronation he arrested his father's two most unpopular ministers, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley. They were groundlessly charged with high treason and were executed in 1510. This was to become Henry's primary tactic for dealing with those who stood in his way.[2]

Eighteen year-old Henry after his coronation in 1509.

Henry was a Renaissance Man and his court was a centre of scholarly and artistic innovation and glamorous excess, epitomised by The Field of the Cloth of Gold. He was an accomplished musician, author, and poet. His best known musical composition is Pastime with Good Company or The Kynges Ballade. He was also an avid gambler and dice player, and excelled at sports, especially jousting, hunting, and real tennis. He was also known for his strong dedication to Christianity.[3]

France and the Habsburgs

In 1511, Pope Julius II proclaimed a Holy League against France. This new alliance rapidly grew to include not only Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, but also England. Henry decided to use the occasion as an excuse to expand his holdings in northern France. He concluded the Treaty of Westminster, a pledge of mutual aid with Spain against France, in November 1511 and prepared for involvement in the War of the League of Cambrai. In 1513, Henry invaded France and his troops defeated a French army at the Battle of the Spurs. His brother-in-law James IV of Scotland invaded England at the behest of Louis XII of France,[6] but failed to draw Henry's attention from France. The Scots were disastrously defeated at the Battle of Flodden Field on 9 September 1513. Among the dead were the Scottish King and the battle ended Scotland's brief involvement in the war.

On 18 February 1516, Queen Catherine bore Henry his first child to survive infancy, Princess Mary of England, who later reigned as Mary I of England. (A son, Henry, Duke of Cornwall, was born in 1511 but lived only a few weeks).


Contrary to his popular image, Henry may not have had many affairs outside marriage and, apart from women he later married, the identities of only two mistresses are completely undisputed: Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn.[7]

Blount gave birth to Henry's illegitimate son, Henry FitzRoy. The young boy was made Duke of Richmond in June 1525 in what some thought was one step on the path to legitimatising him. In 1533, FitzRoy married Mary Howard, Anne Boleyn's first cousin, but died three years later without any successors. At the time of FitzRoy's death the king was trying to pass a law that would allow his otherwise illegitimate son to become king.

Mary Boleyn was the sister of Anne Boleyn who later married Henry. She is thought to have been his mistress at some point between 1519 and 1526. There has been speculation that Mary's two children, Catherine and Henry were fathered by Henry, but this has never been proven and the King never acknowledged them as he did Henry FitzRoy.

In 1510 it was reported that Henry was conducting an affair with one of the sisters of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, either Elizabeth or Anne Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon. Chapuys wrote that: the husband of that lady went away, carried her off and placed her in a convent sixty miles from here, that no one may see her..[8]

Henry also seems to have had an affair with one of the Shelton sisters in 1535. Traditionally it has been believed that this was Margaret, but recent research has led to the claim that this was actually Mary.

There are also grounds for suspecting that he had an affair with an unknown woman in 1534. Alison Weir has argued that, aside from these five affairs, there were also numerous other short-term and secret liaisons, most of them conducted in the king's river-side mansion of Jordan House.[9]

The King's great matter: 1525-1533

The Six Wives of
Henry VIII
File:Catherine aragon.jpg Catherine of Aragon
File:Anne boleyn.jpg Anne Boleyn
File:Hans Holbein d. J. 032b.jpg Jane Seymour
File:AnneCleves.jpg Anne of Cleves
File:HowardCatherine02.jpeg Catherine Howard
File:Catherine Parr from NPG cropped.jpg Catherine Parr

Henry became impatient with what he perceived as Catherine's inability to produce the heir he desired. All of Catherine's children died in infancy except his daughter Mary.[10] Henry wanted a male heir, to avoid rival claims to the crown like those which had caused the Wars of the Roses before Henry's father, Henry VII, became king. The disastrous reign of Matilda, England's only ruling Queen to that point, may also have weighed on Henry's mind.

In 1525, as Henry grew more impatient, he became enamoured of a charismatic young woman in the Queen's entourage, Anne Boleyn.[11] Anne at first resisted his attempts to seduce her, and refused to become his mistress as her sister Mary Boleyn had. She said "I beseech your highness most earnestly to desist, and to this my answer in good part. I would rather lose my life than my honesty."[12] This refusal made Henry even more attracted, and he pursued her relentlessly.

Eventually, Anne saw her opportunity in Henry's infatuation and determined that she would only yield to his embraces as his acknowledged queen.[13] It soon became the King's absorbing desire to annul his marriage to Catherine.[14] It is possible that the idea of annulment had suggested itself to the King much before he noticed Anne, and it was most probably motivated by his desire for a male heir.

Henry appealed directly to the Holy See, independently from Cardinal Thomas Wolsey from whom he kept his plans for Anne secret. Instead, Henry's secretary, William Knight, was sent to Pope Clement VII to sue for the annulment. The grounds were that the bull of Pope Julius II was obtained by false pretences, because Catherine's brief marriage to the sickly Arthur had been consummated. Henry also petitioned, in the event of annulment, a dispensation to marry again to any woman even in the first degree of affinity, whether the affinity was contracted by lawful or unlawful connection. This clearly had reference to Anne.[13]

Catherine of Aragon, first queen of Henry VIII.

However, as the pope was at that time imprisoned by Emperor Charles V, Knight had difficulty in getting access to him, and so only managed to obtain the conditional dispensation for a new marriage. Henry now had no choice but to put the matter into the hands of Wolsey. Wolsey did all he could to secure a decision in the King's favour, going so far as to arrange an ecclesiastical court to meet in England, with a representative from the Pope.[13] Shakespeare's play, Henry VIII, accurately records Catherine of Aragon's astounding coup in that remarkable courtroom in Act II, scene iv. She bows low to Henry, put herself at his mercy, states her case with irrefutable eloquence and then sweeps out of the courtroom, a woman both formidable and clearly wronged. However much this moment swayed those present and the rest of the world to her side, the Pope had never had any intention of empowering his legate. Charles V resisted the annulment of his aunt's marriage, but it is not clear how far this influenced the pope. But it is clear that Henry saw that the Pope was unlikely to give him an annulment from the Emperor's aunt.[15] The pope forbade Henry to proceed to a new marriage before a decision was given in Rome, not in England. Wolsey bore the blame. Convinced that he was treacherous, Anne Boleyn maintained pressure until Wolsey was dismissed from public office in 1529. After being dismissed, the cardinal begged her to help him return to power, but she refused. He then began a secret plot to have Anne forced into exile and began communication with Queen Catherine and the Pope to that end. When this was discovered, Henry ordered Wolsey's arrest and had it not been for his death from a terminal illness in 1530, he might have been executed for treason.[16] His replacement, Sir Thomas More, initially cooperated with the king's new policy, denouncing Wolsey in Parliament and proclaiming the opinion of the theologians at Oxford and Cambridge that the marriage of Henry to Catherine had been unlawful. As Henry began to deny the authority of the Pope, More's qualms grew.

A year later, Queen Catherine was banished from court and her old rooms were given to Anne. With Wolsey gone, Anne now had considerable power over government appointments and political matters. When Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham died, Anne had the Boleyn family's chaplain, Thomas Cranmer, appointed to the vacant position. Through the intervention of the King of France, this was conceded by Rome, the pallium being granted to him by Clement.[17]

The breaking of the power of Rome in England proceeded slowly. In 1532, a lawyer who was a supporter of Anne, Thomas Cromwell, brought before Parliament a number of acts including the Supplication against the Ordinaries and the Submission of the Clergy, which recognised Royal Supremacy over the church. Following these acts, Thomas More resigned as Chancellor, leaving Cromwell as Henry's chief minister.[18]

Second marriage

Henry attended a meeting with the French king at Calais in the winter of 1532, in which he enlisted the support of Francis I of France for his new marriage.[19] Immediately upon returning to Dover in England, Henry and Anne went through a secret wedding service.[20] She soon became pregnant and there was a second wedding service, which took place in London on 25 January 1533. Events now began to move quickly. On 23 May 1533, Cranmer, sitting in judgment at a special court convened at Dunstable Priory to rule on the validity of the king's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, declared the marriage of Henry and Catherine null and void. Five days later, on 28 May 1533, Cranmer declared the marriage of Henry and Anne to be good and valid.[21]

Catherine was formally stripped of her title as queen, and Anne was consequently crowned queen consort on 1 June 1533. The queen gave birth slightly prematurely on 7 September 1533. Anne had given birth to a girl who was christened Elizabeth, in honour of Henry's mother, Elizabeth of York.[22] Rejecting the decisions of the Pope, Parliament validated the marriage of Henry and Anne with the Act of Succession 1533. Catherine's daughter, Lady Mary, was declared illegitimate, and Anne's issue were declared next in the line of succession. Most notable in this declaration was a clause repudiating "any foreign authority, prince or potentate". All adults in the Kingdom were required to acknowledge the Act's provisions by oath and those who refused were subject to imprisonment for life. Any publisher or printer of any literature alleging that the marriage was invalid was automatically guilty of high treason and could be punished by death.

Separation from Rome: 1533-1540

[[File:|thumb|Anne Boleyn, Henry's second queen, a contemporary image painted when she was 25 years old.]] Meanwhile, the House of Commons had forbidden all appeals to Rome and exacted the penalties of præmunire against all who introduced papal bulls into England. The House of Commons also prevented the Church from making any regulations without the king's consent. It was only then that Pope Clement at last took the step of launching sentences of excommunication against Henry and Thomas Cranmer,[23] declaring at the same time the archbishop's decree of annulment to be invalid and the marriage with Anne null and papal nuncio was withdrawn from England and diplomatic relations with Rome were broken off.[17] Several more laws were passed in England. The Ecclesiastical Appointments Act 1534 required the clergy to elect bishops nominated by the Sovereign. The Act of Supremacy in 1534 declared that the King was "the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England" and the Treasons Act 1534 made it high treason, punishable by death, to refuse to acknowledge the King as such. In response to the excommunications, the Peter's Pence Act was passed in and it reiterated that England had "no superior under God, but only your Grace" and that Henry's "imperial crown" had been diminished by "the unreasonable and uncharitable usurpations and exactions" of the Pope.[24]

In defiance of the Pope the Church of England was now under Henry’s control, not Rome's. Protestant Reformers still faced persecution, particularly over objections to Henry's divorce.[citation needed] Many fled abroad where they met further difficulties, including the influential William Tyndale, who was eventually burned at King Henry's behest. Theological and practical reforms would follow only under Henry's successors (see end of section).

Personal troubles

The king and queen were not pleased with married life. The royal couple enjoyed periods of calm and affection, but Anne refused to play the submissive role expected of her. For his part, Henry disliked Anne’s constant irritability and violent temper. After a false pregnancy or miscarriage in 1534, he saw her failure to give him a son as a betrayal. As early as Christmas 1534, Henry was discussing with Cranmer and Cromwell the chances of leaving Anne without having to return to Catherine.[25]

File:Tower of London, Traitors
The Tower of London, the site of many royal executions.

Opposition to Henry's religious policies was quickly suppressed in England. A number of dissenting monks were tortured and executed. The most prominent resisters included John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More, Henry's former Lord Chancellor, both of whom refused to take the oath to the King and were subsequently convicted of high treason and beheaded at Tower Hill, just outside the Tower of London, while the usual punishment for such traitors would have been to be hanged, drawn, and quartered.

These suppressions in turn contributed to further resistance among the English people, most notably in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a large uprising in northern England in October, 1536. Henry VIII promised the rebels he would pardon them and thanked them for raising the issues to his attention, then invited the rebel leader, Robert Aske to a royal banquet. At the banquet, Henry asked Aske to write down what had happened so he could have a better idea of the problems he would 'change'. Aske did what the King asked, although what he had written would later be used against him as a confession. The King's word could not be questioned (as he was held as God's chosen, and second only to God himself) so Aske told the rebels they had been successful and they could disperse and go home. However, because Henry saw the rebels as traitors, he did not feel obliged to keep his promises. The rebels realised that the King was not keeping his promises and rebelled again later that year, but their strength was less in the second attempt and the King ordered the rebellion crushed. The leaders, including Aske, were arrested and executed for treason.

Execution of Anne Boleyn

On 8 January 1536 news reached the king and the queen that Catherine of Aragon had died. Upon hearing the news of her death, Henry and Anne reportedly decked themselves in bright yellow clothing, yellow being the colour of mourning in Spain at the time. Henry called for public displays of joy regarding Catherine's death. The queen was pregnant again, and she was aware of the consequences if she failed to give birth to a son. Her life could be in danger, as with both wives dead, Henry would be free to remarry and no one could claim that the union was illegal. Later that month, the King was unhorsed in a tournament and was badly injured. It seemed for a time that the King's life was in danger. When news of this accident reached the queen she was sent into shock and miscarried a male child that was about 15 weeks old. This happened on the very day of Catherine’s funeral, 29 January 1536. For most observers, this personal loss was the beginning of the end of the royal marriage.[26]

Given the King's desperate desire for a son, the sequence of Anne's pregnancies has attracted much interest. Author, Mike Ashley, speculated that Anne had two stillborn children after Elizabeth's birth and before the birth of the male child she miscarried in 1536.[27] Most sources attest only to the birth of Elizabeth in September 1533, a possible miscarriage in the summer of 1534, and the miscarriage of a male child, of almost four months gestation, in January 1536.[28] As Anne recovered from what would be her final miscarriage, Henry declared that his marriage had been the product of witchcraft. The King's new mistress, Jane Seymour, was quickly moved into new quarters. This was followed by Anne's brother, George Boleyn, being refused a prestigious court honour, the Order of the Garter, which was instead given to Jane Seymour's brother.[29]

Five men, including Anne's own brother, were arrested on charges of incest and treason, accused of having sexual relationships with the queen.[30] On 2 May 1536 Anne was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. She was accused of adultery, incest and high treason.[31] Although the evidence against them was unconvincing, the accused were found guilty and condemned to death by the peers. George Boleyn and the other accused men were executed on 17 May 1536. At 8 a.m. on 19 May 1536, the queen was executed on Tower Green. She knelt upright, in the French style of executions. The execution was swift and consisted of a single stroke.[32]

File:Hans Holbein d. J.
Jane Seymour would become Henry's third wife.

Birth of a prince

One day after Anne's execution in 1536 Henry became engaged to Jane Seymour, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting to whom the king had been showing favour for some time. They were married 10 days later. At about the same time as this, his third marriage, Henry granted his assent to the Laws in Wales Act 1535, which legally annexed Wales, uniting England and Wales into one unified nation. This was followed by the Act of Succession 1536, which declared Henry's children by Queen Jane to be next in the line of succession and declared both the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth illegitimate, thus excluding them from the throne. The king was granted the power to further determine the line of succession in his will. In 1537, Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, the future Edward VI. The birth was difficult and the queen died at Greenwich Palace on 24 October 1537 from an infection. After Jane's death, the entire court mourned with Henry for an extended period. Henry considered Jane to be his "true" wife, being the only one who had given him the male heir he so desperately sought. He was buried next to her at his death.

Martyrdom of William Tyndale

[[File:|thumb|Doctor Tyndale at the stake.]] Henry's reach stretched beyond England's shores. In 1530, the great Protestant Bible-translator, Doctor William Tyndale, had written The Practyse of Prelates, opposing Henry VIII's divorce with his first wife Catherine on the grounds that it wasn't scriptural. Thereafter, Tyndale fled to Antwerp, which was known for its gracious tolerance and where he carried on the work of the Reformation, prolifically writing essays and books that were smuggled back over the Channel. However, around 6 October 1536, Tyndale was tried on a charge of heresy and summarily condemned to death, despite Thomas Cromwell's intercession with Henry on his behalf. He "was strangled to death while tied at the stake, and then his dead body was burned".[33]

Tyndale's famous last words, spoken "at the stake with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice", are reported as "Lord! Open the King of England's eyes!"[34]

By the reign of Henry's successor, Edward VI, England would be a thoroughly Protestant and Reformed nation.

Final years: 1540-1547

In 1540, Henry sanctioned the destruction of shrines to saints. At this time, Henry desired to marry once again to ensure the succession. Thomas Cromwell, promoted to 1st Earl of Essex, suggested Anne, the sister of the Protestant Duke of Cleves, who was seen as an important ally in case of a Roman Catholic attack on England. Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to Cleves to paint a portrait of Anne for the king. Although it has been said that he painted her in a more flattering light, it is unlikely that the portrait was highly inaccurate, since Holbein remained in favour at court. After regarding Holbein's portrayal, and urged by the complimentary description of Anne given by his courtiers, Henry agreed to wed Anne. On Anne's arrival in England, Henry is said to have found her utterly unattractive, privately calling her a "Flanders Mare".

Henry wished to annul the marriage in order to marry another. The Duke of Cleves had become engaged in a dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor, with whom Henry had no desire to quarrel. Queen Anne was intelligent enough not to impede Henry's quest for an annulment. Upon the question of marital sex, she testified that her marriage had never been consummated. Henry was said to have come into the room each night and merely kissed his new bride on the forehead before retiring. All impediments to an annulment were thus removed.

The marriage was subsequently dissolved and Anne received the title of "The King's Sister", and was granted Hever Castle, the former residence of the Boleyn family. Cromwell, meanwhile, fell out of favour for his role in arranging the marriage and was subsequently attainted and beheaded. The office of Viceregent in Spirituals, which had been specifically created for him, was not filled.

[[File:|thumb|upright|Miniature Portrait of Catherine Howard by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1540.]] On 28 July 1540, (the same day Cromwell was executed) Henry married the young Catherine Howard (also Katherine), Anne Boleyn's first cousin and a lady-in-waiting of Anne's.[35] He was absolutely delighted with his new queen. Soon after her marriage, however, Queen Catherine had an affair with the courtier, Thomas Culpeper. She also employed Francis Dereham, who was previously informally engaged to her and had an affair with her prior to her marriage, as her secretary. Thomas Cranmer, who was opposed to the powerful Roman Catholic Howard family, brought evidence of Queen Catherine's activities to the king's notice. Though Henry originally refused to believe the allegations, he allowed Cranmer to conduct an investigation, which resulted in Queen Catherine's implication. When questioned, the queen could have admitted a prior contract to marry Dereham, which would have made her subsequent marriage to Henry invalid, but she instead claimed that Dereham had forced her to enter into an adulterous relationship. Dereham, meanwhile, exposed Queen Catherine's relationship with Thomas Culpeper. As was the case with Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard could not technically have been guilty of adultery, as the marriage was officially null and void from the beginning. Again, this point was ignored, and Catherine was executed on 13 February 1542. She was aged between 17 and 22 when she died (opinions differ as to her year of birth). That same year, England's remaining monasteries were all dissolved, and their property transferred to the Crown. Abbots and priors lost their seats in the House of Lords; only archbishops and bishops came to comprise the ecclesiastical element of the body. The Lords Spiritual, as members of the clergy with seats in the House of Lords were known, were for the first time outnumbered by the Lords Temporal.

File:Catherine Parr from
Catherine Parr, Henry's sixth and final wife.

Henry married his last wife, the wealthy widow Catherine Parr, in 1543. She argued with Henry over religion; she was a reformer, but Henry remained a conservative. This behaviour nearly proved her undoing, but she saved herself by a show of submissiveness. She helped reconcile Henry with his first two daughters, the Princess Mary and the Lady Elizabeth. In 1544, an Act of Parliament put the daughters back in the line of succession after Edward, Prince of Wales, though they were still deemed illegitimate. The same act allowed Henry to determine further succession to the throne in his will.

A mnemonic for the fates of Henry's wives is "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived". An alternative version is "King Henry the Eighth, to six wives he was wedded: One died, one survived, two divorced, two beheaded". (Or, more succinctly, "Two beheaded, one died, two divorced, one survived.") The phrase may be misleading. Firstly, Henry was never divorced from any of his wives; rather, his marriages to them were annulled by the Church of England. Secondly, four marriages — not two — ended in annulments. The marriages to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were annulled shortly before their executions and, although her marriage to Henry was annulled, Anne of Cleves survived him, as did Catherine Parr.

The cruelty and tyrannical egotism of Henry became more apparent as he advanced in years and his health began to fail. A wave of political executions which had commenced with that of Edmund de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk in 1513 ended with Henry Earl of Surrey in January, 1547. According to Holinshed the number of executions in this reign amounted to 72,000, although higher figures are given by some authorities.[citation needed]

Death and succession

File:The Old Palace of Whitehall by Hendrik
King Henry VIII died in the Palace of Whitehall in 1547.

Late in life, Henry became grossly overweight (with a waist measurement of 54 inches/137 cm) and had to be moved about with the help of mechanical inventions. He was covered with painful, suppurating boils and possibly suffered from gout. His obesity dates from a jousting accident in 1536 in which he suffered a leg wound. This prevented him from exercising and gradually became ulcerated. It undoubtedly hastened his death at the age of 55, which occurred on 28 January 1547 in the Palace of Whitehall, on what would have been his father's 90th birthday. He expired soon after allegedly uttering these last words: "Monks! Monks! Monks!"[36]

The theory that Henry suffered from syphilis was first promoted approximately 100 years after his death[citation needed], but has been disregarded by most serious historians. Syphilis was a well-known disease in Henry's time, and although his contemporary, Francis I of France was treated for it, the notes left from Henry's physicians do not indicate that the English king was. A more recent and credible theory suggests that Henry's medical symptoms, and those of his older sister Margaret Tudor, are also characteristic of untreated Type II diabetes.

File:Meeting of Henry VIII and
Meeting of Henry VIII and Maximilian.

Henry VIII was buried in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, next to his wife Jane Seymour. Over a hundred years later Charles I was buried in the same vault.

Within a little more than a decade after his death, all three of his royal heirs sat on the English throne, and all three left no descendants. Under the Act of Succession 1543, Henry's only surviving legitimate son, Edward, inherited the Crown, becoming Edward VI. Since Edward was only nine years old at the time, he could not exercise actual power. Henry's will designated 16 executors to serve on a council of regency until Edward reached the age of 18. The executors chose Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, Jane Seymour's elder brother, to be Lord Protector of the Realm. In default of heirs to Edward, the throne was to pass to Henry VIII's daughter by Catherine of Aragon, the Princess Mary and her heirs. If Mary's issue also failed, the crown was to go to Henry's daughter by Anne Boleyn, Princess Elizabeth, and her heirs. Finally, if Elizabeth's line also became extinct, the crown was to be inherited by the descendants of Henry VIII's deceased younger sister, Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk. The descendants of Henry's sister Margaret Tudor - the royal family of Scotland - were therefore excluded from succession according to this act.



Henry VIII is known to have been an avid gambler and dice player. In his youth, he excelled at sports, especially jousting, hunting, and real tennis. He was also an accomplished musician, author, and poet; his best known piece of music is Pastime with Good Company ('The Kynges Ballade'). He is often reputed to have written Greensleeves but probably did not. The King was also involved in the original construction and improvement of several significant buildings, including Nonsuch Palace, King's College Chapel, Cambridge and Westminster Abbey in London. Many of the existing buildings Henry improved were properties confiscated from Wolsey, such as Christ Church, Oxford, Hampton Court Palace, the Palace of Whitehall, and Trinity College, Cambridge. He founded Christ Church Cathedral School, Oxford in 1546. The only surviving piece of clothing worn by Henry VIII is a cap of maintenance awarded to the Mayor of Waterford, along with a bearing sword, in 1536. It currently resides in the Waterford Museum of Treasures. A suit of Henry's armour is on display in the Tower of London. In the centuries since his death, Henry has inspired or been mentioned in numerous artistic and cultural works.

Royal finances

Henry inherited a vast fortune from his father Henry VII who had, in contrast to his son, been frugal and careful with money. This fortune was estimated to £1,250,000 (£375 million by today's standards).[1] Much of this wealth was spent by Henry on maintaining his court and household, including many of the building works he undertook on royal palaces. Tudor monarchs had to fund all the expenses of government out of their own income. This income came from the Crown lands that Henry owned as well as from customs duties like tonnage and poundage, granted by parliament to the king for life. During Henry's reign the revenues of the Crown remained constant (around £100,000),[2] but were eroded by inflation and rising prices brought about by war. Indeed it was war and Henry's dynastic ambitions in Europe that meant that the surplus he had inherited from his father was exhausted by the mid-1520s. Whereas Henry VII had not involved Parliament in his affairs very much, Henry VIII had to turn to Parliament during his reign for money, in particular for grants of subsidies to fund his wars. The Dissolution of the Monasteries also provided a means to replenish the treasury and as a result the Crown took possession of monastic lands worth £120,000 (£36 million a year).[3] But Henry had to debase the coinage in 1526 and 1539 in order to solve his financial problems and despite efforts by his ministers to reduce the costs and wastage at court, Henry died in debt.


Though mainly motivated by dynastic and personal concerns, and despite never really abandoning the fundamentals of the Roman Catholic Church, Henry ensured that the greatest act of his reign would be one of the most radical and decisive of any English monarch. His break with Rome in 1533-34 was an act with enormous consequences for the subsequent course of English history beyond the Tudor dynasty. Not only in making possible the transformation of England into a powerful[citation needed] (albeit very distinctive) nation; but also in the seizing of economic and political power from the Church by the aristocracy, chiefly through the acquisition of monastic lands and assets - a short-term strategy with long-term social consequences. Henry's decision to entrust the regency of his son Edward's minor years to a decidedly reform-oriented regency council, dominated by Edward Seymour, most likely for the simple tactical reason that Seymour seemed likely to provide the strongest leadership for the kingdom, ensured that the English Reformation would be consolidated and even furthered during his son's reign. Such ironies marked other aspects of his legacy.

File:Henry VIII
Silver groat of Henry VIII, minted c. 1540. The reverse depicts the quartered arms of England and France.

He fostered humanist learning and yet was responsible for the deaths of several outstanding English humanists. Obsessed with securing the succession to the throne, he left as his only heirs a young son (who died before his 16th birthday) and two daughters adhering to different religions. The power of the state was magnified, yet so too (at least after Henry's death) were demands for increased political participation by the middle class. Henry worked with some success to make England once again a major player on the European scene but depleted his treasury in the course of doing so, a legacy that has remained an issue for English monarchs ever since.

English navy

Together with Alfred the Great and Charles II, Henry is traditionally cited as one of the founders of the Royal Navy. His reign featured some naval warfare and, more significantly, large royal investment in shipbuilding (including a few spectacular great ships such as Mary Rose), dockyards (such as HMNB Portsmouth) and naval innovations (such as the use of cannon on board ship - although archers were still deployed on medieval-style forecastles and bowcastles as the ship's primary armament on large ships, or co-armament where cannons were used). However, in some ways this is a misconception since Henry did not bequeath to his immediate successors a navy in the sense of a formalised organisation with structures, ranks, and formalised munitioning structures but only in the sense of a set of ships. Elizabeth I still had to cobble together a set of privately owned ships to fight off the Spanish Armada (which consisted of about 130 warships and converted merchant ships) and in the former, formal sense the modern British navy, the Royal Navy, is largely a product of the Anglo-Dutch naval rivalry of the seventeenth century. Still, Henry's reign marked the birth of English naval power and was a key factor in England's later victory over the Spanish Armada.

Henry's break with Rome incurred the threat of a large-scale French or Spanish invasion. To guard against this he strengthened existing coastal defence fortresses (such as Dover Castle and, also at Dover, Moat Bulwark and Archcliffe Fort which he personally visited for a few months to supervise, as is commemorated in the modern exhibition in the keep of Dover Castle). He also built a chain of new 'castles' (in fact, large bastioned and garrisoned gun batteries) along Britain's southern and eastern coasts from East Anglia to Cornwall, largely built of material gained from the demolition of monasteries. These were also known as Henry VIII's Device Forts.

Style and arms

English Royalty
House of Tudor

Royal Coat of Arms
Henry VIII
   Henry, Duke of Cornwall
   Mary I
   Elizabeth I
   Edward VI

Several changes were made to the royal style during his reign. Henry originally used the style "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England, France and Lord of Ireland". In 1521, pursuant to a grant from Pope Leo X rewarding a book by Henry, the Defence of the Seven Sacraments, attacking Martin Luther, the royal style became "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England and France, Defender of the Faith and Lord of Ireland". Following Henry's excommunication, Pope Paul III rescinded the grant of the title "Defender of the Faith", but an Act of Parliament declared that it remained valid; and it continues in royal usage to the present day.

In 1535, Henry added the "supremacy phrase" to the royal style, which became "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England and France, Defender of the Faith, Lord of Ireland and of the Church of England in Earth Supreme Head". In 1536, the phrase "of the Church of England" changed to "of the Church of England and also of Ireland".

In 1541, Henry had the Irish Parliament change the title 'Lord of Ireland' to 'King of Ireland' with the Crown of Ireland Act 1542, after being advised that many Irish people regarded the Pope as the true head of their country, with the Lord acting as a mere representative. The reason the Irish regarded the Pope as their overlord was that Ireland had originally been given to the King Henry II of England by Pope Adrian IV in the twelfth century as a feudal territory under papal overlordship. The meeting of Irish Parliament that proclaimed Henry VIII as King of Ireland was the first meeting attended by the Gaelic Irish chieftains as well as the Anglo-Irish aristocrats. The style "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith and of the Church of England and also of Ireland in Earth Supreme Head" remained in use until the end of Henry's reign.

Henry's motto was 'Coeur Loyal' (true heart) and he had this embroidered on his clothes in the form of a heart symbol and with the word "loyal". His emblem was the Tudor rose and the Beaufort portcullis.

As Duke of York, Henry used the arms of his father (i.e. those of the kingdom), differenced by a label of three points ermine. As king, Henry's arms were the same as those used by his predecessors since Henry IV: Quarterly, Azure three fleurs-de-lys Or (for France) and Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England).

Current celebrations

There is currently an exhibition called Henry VIII: Man and Monarch, curated by David Starkey[4] at the British Library. This has inspired a series of events around the country, which tie in with Henry VIII's accession to the throne, including an edited performance of Shakespeare's play inside York Minster[5].


Marriages and issue

By Catherine of Aragon (married 11 June 1509; annulled 23 May 1533)
Henry, Duke of Cornwall1 January 151122 February 1511
Henry, Duke of CornwallDecember 1514died within one month of birth
Queen Mary I18 February 151617 November 1558married 1554, Philip II of Spain; no issue
Unnamed DaughterNovember 1518died within one week of birth
By Anne Boleyn (married 25 January 1533; annulled 17 May 1536) beheaded on 19 May 1536
Queen Elizabeth I7 September 153324 March 1603 never married; no issue
By Jane Seymour (married 30 May 1536; Jane Seymour died 24 October 1537)
King Edward VI12 October 15376 July 1553 unmarried; no issue
By Anne of Cleves (married 6 January 1540; annulled 9 July 1540)
no issue
By Catherine Howard (married 28 July 1540; annulled 23 November 1541) beheaded on 13 February 1542
no issue
By Catherine Parr (married 12 July 1543; Henry VIII died 28 January 1547)
no issue
By Elizabeth Blount
Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset15 June 151923 July 1536illegitimate; married 1533, the Lady Mary Howard; no issue
By Mary Boleyn
(Some writers, such as Alison Weir, question whether Henry Carey was fathered by Henry VIII.[6] )
Catherine Carey, Lady Knollysc. 1524 15 January 1569married Sir Francis Knollys; had issue
Henry Carey, Baron Hunsdon4 March 1526 23 July 1596married 1545, Ann Morgan; had issue
By Mary Berkeley
(There is no evidence to prove he was Henry's son except through eye witness accounts, who claimed a resemblance to the King.)
John Perrottc. 1527 3 November 1592married 1. Anne Cheney; 2. Jane Pruet, both of whom produced issue. He also had issue with his mistress Sybil Jones.[dubious ]

Film and television

See also


  1. ^ Weir, p.13
  2. ^ Weir, p.64
  3. ^ Weir, p. 393
  4. ^ "Henry VIII: Man and Monarch". Retrieved on 2009-07-03. 
  5. ^ "Henry VIII at York Minster". Retrieved on 2009-07-03. 
  6. ^ Weir, p.216.


  • The New World by Winston Churchill (1966).
  • The Reformation Parliament, 1529-1536 by Stanford E. Lehmberg (1970).
  • Henry VIII and his Court by Neville Williams (1971).
  • The Life and Times of Henry VIII by Robert Lacey (1972).
  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir (1991) ISBN 0802136834.
  • English Reformations by Christopher Haigh (1993).
  • Europe: A history by Norman Davies (1998) ISBN 978-0060974688.
  • Europe and England in the Sixteenth Century by T. A. Morris (1998).
  • New Worlds, Lost Worlds by Susan Brigden (2000).
  • Henry VIII: The King and His Court by Alison Weir (2001).
  • British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley (2002) ISBN 0-7867-1104-3.
  • Henry VIII: The King and His Court by Alison Weir (2002) ISBN 034543708X.
  • Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey (2003) ISBN 0060005505.
  • The Kings and Queens of England by Ian Crofton (2006).

Further reading

External links

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Henry VIII of England
Born: 28 June 1491 Died: 28 January 1547
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Henry VII
Lord of Ireland
21 April 1509 – 28 January 1547
Declared king by an act
of the Irish Parliament
King of England
21 April 1509 – 28 January 1547
Succeeded by
Edward VI
Title last held by
Edward Bruce
King of Ireland
1541 – 1547
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir William Scott
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
1493 – 1509
Succeeded by
Sir Edward Poyning
English royalty
Preceded by
Arthur, Prince of Wales
Heir to the English Throne
as heir apparent
2 April 1502 – 21 April 1509
Succeeded by
Margaret Tudor
Prince of Wales
1502 – 1509
Title next held by
Edward VI
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Duke of Cornwall
1502 – 1509
Title next held by
Henry Tudor
New creation Duke of York
3rd creation
1494 – 1509
Merged in crown
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Henry VII
King of France
21 April 1509 – 28 January 1547
Succeeded by
Edward VI

1911 encyclopedia

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Simple English

Henry VIII
King of England and Ireland (more...)
Reign 21 April 1509 – 28 January 1547
Coronation 24 June 1509
Predecessor Henry VII
Regent Queen Catherine (1513 absence in France)
Successor Edward VI
Consort Catherine of Aragon
m. 1509, ann. 1533

Anne Boleyn
m. 1533, ann. 1536
Jane Seymour
m. 1536, died 1537
Anne of Cleves
m. 1540, ann. 1540
Catherine Howard
m. 1540, ann. 1542
Catherine Parr
m. 1543, widowed 1547

Mary I
Henry FitzRoy
Elizabeth I
Edward VI
Titles and styles
His Majesty The King
His Grace The King
The Prince of Wales
The Duke of York
Prince Henry
Royal house House of Tudor
Father Henry VII
Mother Elizabeth of York
Born 28 June 1491(1491-06-28)
Greenwich Palace, Greenwich, England
Died 28 January 1547 (aged 55)
Palace of Whitehall, London, England
Burial St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, England

Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) was the King of England from 1509 until his death. He is best remembered for splitting with the pope and Roman Catholic Church and for having married six times.

Henry was born in Greenwich Palace on 28 June 1491 and was the second son of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York. He had one brother, who was called Arthur, Prince of Wales, and two sisters, who were called Margaret and Mary. Arthur should have been king after their father died, but Arthur died before his father, making Henry next in line for the throne. Henry ended up marrying Arthur's widow, Catherine of Aragon.

Early Years

Henry VIII was born in 1491 on the 18 of June. He was born in Greenwich Henry VII and Elizabeth of York were loving parents, although they saw little of their children. Henry was their second son. He had his own servants and minstrels, and a fool named John Goose. He even had a whipping boy who was punished for Henry when he did something wrong. Prince Henry enjoyed music and was very good at it. At the age of 10 he could play many instruments, including the fife, harp, viola and drums. Henry VIII was also a scholar, linguist, musician and athlete at his early age. He could speak fluent Latin, French and Spanish. He got tutored by the best tutors and he also had to learn jousting, archery, hunting and other military arts. Young Henry was very religious. Henry's older brother was called Arthur. Arthur married a Spanish princess, Catalina De Aragon (Henrys 1st wife) when he was fifteen. Prince Arthur died within a few months of his wedding of tuberculosis at the age of 15, but some say he died of plague or sweating sickness. After his brother died, Henry VIII bonded closely to Catalina De Aragon (Catherine of Aragon). Later on they got married. The couple had a bit of trouble getting married because it states in the book of Leviticus, ‘If a brother is to marry the wife of a brother they will remain childless’. That meant that Catherine had to swear that her marriage with Arthur had not been perfect. Young Henry VIII was now the heir to the throne. While his father was alive he was watched so closely, because the King feared for the safety of his only remaining male heir. Henry could go out only through a private door, and then he was under the supervision of specially appointed people. No one could speak to Henry. He spent most of his time in his room, which could only be entered through his dad’s bedroom. Henry never spoke in public, unless it was to answer a question from his father. Henry VIII was a very tall, athletic, handsome teenager (not fat). He kept his enthusiastic personality under control on public occasions because he feared his father's temper. He received little training for his future role as King by his father, and relied heavily on his counselors in the early years of his reign. In 1509 Henry VII died of tuberculosis as well and his son became King Henry VIII. He was 18 when he was crowned king.


The most important event that happened in England when Henry was the king was the country's change in religion from Roman Catholic to Protestant. Because his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had only had one daughter, and they did not have any sons to be his heirs, Henry asked the Pope to give them a divorce. The Pope would not do this. Catherine's nephew was Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and he was very powerful. Also, Catherine's family ruled Spain, which was the largest Catholic country. Henry then chose a new Archbishop of Canterbury, a man called Thomas Cranmer. Henry knew that Cranmer would do what he wanted, and Cranmer agreed that Henry could have a divorce from Catherine. The Pope was so angry that he excommunicated Henry, meaning Henry was thrown out of the church. Henry fought back. In 1534, he passed the Act of Supremacy, which meant that the king, not the pope, was the head of the church in England. He then forced all priests and bishops to accept him as the new leader. Anyone who refused was punished.

Protestants thought that monasteries, in which Roman Catholic monks and nuns lived, had more money and land than the monks and nuns needed. Henry forced the monks and nuns to move out of the monasteries. Then Henry gave their money and land to men who supported him. Most of the men who received money and land from the closed monasteries were Protestants. This event was called the Dissolution of the monasteries.

After his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn, who was younger than Catherine and still able to have children. When Anne, just like Catherine, only had a daughter and no sons, Henry soon grew tired of her and started looking for another wife. Henry's most loyal official, Thomas Cromwell, helped him to find a way to get rid of Anne, by finding people who said that she had been the lover of several other men. Anne was put on trial and found guilty, and she was executed by having her head chopped off.

Henry's third wife was Jane Seymour. She soon gave birth to a son called Edward. This made Henry very happy, but, after a few days, Jane died. Henry had loved her very much and he never got over his sadness at her death. He lost interest in everything, and became very fat. He became angry with Thomas Cromwell when Cromwell suggested that he should get married again after Jane's death.

After a while, Henry changed his mind. Because he still only had one son, he realised that it might be a good idea to marry again, and he agreed to marry Anne of Cleves, a German princess. When Anne arrived, Henry did not think she was as pretty as she looked in the pictures he had seen, and he was not satisfied with her. Anne was also unhappy, and agreed to be divorced from Henry after only a few months. In the meantime, Henry had noticed a young lady at court, called Catherine Howard, and thought that she might make a good wife. Catherine Howard was a cousin of Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. Henry and Catherine got married in 1540, but Catherine was much younger than Henry and she soon got tired of him and started to flirt with other men. After they had been married for just over a year, Henry found out that Catherine had been having an affair with someone else. She was found guilty of treason and was executed, just like Anne Boleyn had been a few years before.

Henry's sixth and last wife was called Catherine Parr. She was a woman in her thirties who had already been married twice. Her first two husbands had been much older than her, and both had died. Henry thought that she would be more sensible and faithful than his other wives, and he turned out to be right. Catherine Parr stayed married to Henry for over three years, until he died, but they did not have any children.

After divorcing Catherine of Aragon, Henry began to suffer many different ailments, he never again regained health. He died on 28 January 1547 and was buried in Windsor Castle. Henry was the father of two queens and one king. They were Mary I of England, Elizabeth I of England and Edward VI of England. None of them had any children of their own.

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