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.
Besides his six marriages, Henry VIII is known for his role in the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. Henry's struggles with Rome 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. He changed religious ceremonies and rituals and suppressed the monasteries, while remaining a believer in core Catholic theological teachings, even after his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. Henry also oversaw the legal union of England and Wales with the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542.
Henry was an attractive and charismatic man in his prime, educated and accomplished. He ruled with absolute power. His desire to provide England with a male heir—which stemmed partly from personal vanity and partly because he believed a daughter would be unable to consolidate the Tudor Dynasty and the fragile peace that existed following the Wars of the Roses—led to the two things that Henry is remembered for today: his wives, and the English Reformation that made England a Protestant nation. In later life he became morbidly obese and his health suffered; his public image is frequently depicted as one of a lustful, egotistical, harsh and insecure king.
Henry is famously remembered for having six wives—two of whom he had beheaded—which helped to make him a cultural icon, with many books, films, plays, and television series based around him and his wives.
Early years: 1491–1509
Born at Greenwich Palace, Henry VIII was the third child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. 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. 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.
Death of Arthur
Arthur around the time of his marriage c.1501
In 1502, Arthur died at the age of 15. 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 his second son 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.
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 because, as told in the book of Leviticus, "If a brother is to marry the wife of a brother they will remain childless." 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 was 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 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.
Eighteen year-old Henry after his coronation in 1509.
Henry cultivated the image of a Renaissance Man and his court was a centre of scholarly and artistic innovation and glamorous excess, epitomised by The Field of 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 defence of conventional Christian piety. Meeting Francis I on 7 June 1520 near Calais, he entertained the French king with a fortnight of lavish entertainment to establish a closer diplomatic relationship after the military conflicts of the previous decade.
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 England as well. Henry decided to use the occasion 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, but failed to draw Henry's attention away from France. The Scots were defeated at the Battle of Flodden Field on 9 September 1513. Among the dead was the Scottish King, which ended Scotland's brief involvement in the war.
On 18 February 1516, Queen Catherine bore Henry his first child to survive infancy, Princess Mary. (A son, Henry, Duke of Cornwall, had been born in 1511 but lived only a few weeks.)
Government and finances under Henry
Financially, the reign of Henry was a near-disaster. Although he inherited a prosperous economy (augmented by seizures of church lands), Henry's heavy spending and high taxes damaged the economy. For example, Henry expanded the Royal Navy from 5 to 53 ships. He loved palaces; he began with a dozen and died with fifty-five, in which he hung 2,000 tapestries. By comparison, his neighbour and nephew James V of Scotland had five palaces and 200 tapestries. He took pride in showing off his collection of weapons, which included exotic archery equipment, 2,250 pieces of land ordinance and 6,500 handguns.
Henry began his reign with heavy reliance on advisors and ended with complete control. From 1514 to 1529, Thomas Wolsey (1473–1530), a Catholic cardinal, served as lord chancellor and practically controlled domestic and foreign policy for the young king. He negotiated the truce with France that was signaled by the dramatic display of amity on the Field of Cloth of Gold (1520). He switched England back and forth as an ally of France and the Holy Roman Empire. Wolsey centralised the national government and extended the jurisdiction of the conciliar courts, particularly the Star Chamber. His use of forced loans to pay for foreign wars angered the rich, who were annoyed as well by his enormous wealth and ostentatious living. Wolsey disappointed the king when he failed to secure a quick divorce from Queen Catherine. The treasury was empty after years of extravagance; the peers and people were dissatisfied and Henry needed an entirely new approach; Wolsey had to be replaced. After 16 years at the top he lost power in 1529 and in 1530 was arrested on false charges of treason and died in custody. Wolsey's fall was a warning to the Pope and to the clergy of England of what might be expected for failure to comply with the king's wishes. Henry then took full control of his government, although at court numerous complex factions continued to try to ruin and destroy each other.
Elton (1962) argues there was a major Tudor revolution in government. While crediting Henry with intelligence and shrewdness, Elton finds that much of the positive action, especially the break with Rome, was the work of Thomas Cromwell and not the king. Elton sees Henry as competent, but too lazy to take direct control of affairs for any extended period; that is, the king was an opportunist who relied on others for most of his ideas and to do most of the work. Henry's marital adventures are part of Elton's chain of evidence; a man who marries six wives, Elton notes, is not someone who fully controls his own fate. Elton shows that Thomas Cromwell had conceived of a commonwealth of England that included popular participation through Parliament and that this was generally expressed in the preambles to legislation. Parliamentary consent did not mean that the king had yielded any of his authority; Henry VIII was a paternalistic ruler who did not hesitate to use his power. Popular "consent" was a means to augment rather than limit royal power.
Henry never formally repudiated the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, but he declared himself supreme head of the church in England in 1534. This, combined with subsequent actions, eventually resulted in a separated church, the Church of England. The pope behaved more as an Italian prince involved in secular affairs, which often obscured his religious role. The Church treated England as a minor stepchild, allowing it one cardinal out of fifty, and no possibility of becoming pope. For reasons of state it was increasingly intolerable that major decisions in England were settled by Italians. The divorce issue exemplified the problem but was not itself the cause of the problem. As long as Cardinal Wolsey dominated the government the widespread sentiment for reform could go nowhere.
Henry's reformation of the English church involved more complex motives and methods than his desire for a new wife and an heir. Henry asserted that his first marriage had never been valid, but the divorce issue was only one factor in Henry's desire to reform the church. In 1532–37, he instituted a number of statutes — the act of appeal (Statute in Restraint of Appeals, 1533), the various Acts of Succession (1533, 1534, and 1536), the first Act of Supremacy (1536), and others — that dealt with the relationship between the king and the pope and the structure of the Church of England. During these years, Henry also suppressed monasteries and pilgrimage shrines in his attempt to reform the church. The king was always the dominant force in the making of religious policy; his policy, which he pursued skilfully and consistently, is best characterised as a search for the middle way.
Questions over what was the true faith were resolved with the adoption of the orthodox "Act of Six Articles" (1539) and a careful holding of the balance between extreme factions after 1540. Even so, the era saw movement away from religious orthodoxy, the more so as the pillars of the old beliefs, especially Thomas More and John Fisher, had been unable to accept the change and had been executed in 1535 for refusing to renounce papal authority. Critical for the Henrician reformation was the new political theology of obedience to the prince that was enthusiastically adopted by the Church of England in the 1530s. It reflected Martin Luther's new interpretation of the fourth commandment ("Honor thy father and mother") and was mediated to an English audience by William Tyndale. The founding of royal authority on the Ten Commandments, and thus on the word of God, was a particularly attractive feature of this doctrine, which became a defining feature of Henrician religion. Rival tendencies within the Church of England sought to exploit it in the pursuit of their particular agendas. Reformers strove to preserve its connections with the broader framework of Lutheran theology, with the emphasis on faith alone and the word of God, while conservatives emphasised good works, ceremonies, and charity. The Reformers linked royal supremacy and the word of God to persuade Henry to publish the Great Bible in 1539, an English translation that was a formidable prop for his new-found dignity.
Response to the reforms was mixed. The reforms, which closed down monasteries that were the only support of the impoverished, alienated most of the population outside of London and helped provoke the great northern rising of 1536–1537, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. It was the only real threat to Henry's security on the throne in all his reign. Some 30,000 rebels in nine groups were led by the charismatic Robert Aske, together with most of the northern nobility. Aske went to London to negotiate terms; once there he was arrested, charged with treason and executed. About 200 rebels were executed and the disturbances ended. Elsewhere the changes were accepted and welcomed, and those who clung to Catholic rites kept quiet or moved in secrecy. They would reemerge in the reign of Henry's daughter Mary (1553–1558).
Dissolving the monasteries
England possessed numerous religious houses that owned large tracts of land worked by tenants. Henry dissolved them (1536–1541) and transferred a fifth of England's landed wealth to new hands. The program was designed primarily to create a landed gentry beholden to the crown, which would use the lands much more efficiently.
Henry made radical changes in traditional religious practices. He ordered the clergy to preach against superstitious images, relics, miracles, and pilgrimages, and to remove most candles. The catechism of 1545, called the King's Primer, left out the saints. Latin rituals gave way to English. Shrines to saints were destroyed — including the popular one of St. Thomas of Canterbury — and relics were ridiculed as worthless old bones.
In spite of his popular image, Henry may not have had very many affairs outside marriage. Apart from women he later married, the identities of only two mistresses are completely undisputed: Elizabeth Blount and Mary Boleyn. However, it is unlikely that they were the only two; Alison Weir has argued that, aside from the five affairs listed below, there were also numerous other short-term and secret liaisons, most of them conducted in the king's river-side mansion of Jordan House.
Elizabeth "Bessie" 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 children. At the time of FitzRoy's death in 1536, Parliament was enacting the Second Succession Act, which could have allowed Henry's illegitimate son to become king.
Mary Boleyn was Henry's mistress before her sister, Anne, became his second wife. She is thought to have been Catherine's lady-in-waiting 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 proved 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. Her brother, the Duke of Buckingham, became enraged and Lord George Hastings, her husband, sent her to a convent. Eustace Chapuys wrote, "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."
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 ("Madge") 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.
The King's Great Matter: 1525–1533
Henry became impatient with Catherine's inability to produce the heir he desired. All of Catherine's children died in infancy except their daughter Mary. Henry wanted a male heir to consolidate the power of the Tudor dynasty.
In 1525, as Henry grew more impatient, he became enamoured of a charismatic young woman in the Queen's entourage, Anne Boleyn. 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." This refusal made Henry even more attracted, and he pursued her relentlessly.
Eventually, Anne saw her opportunity in Henry's infatuation and determined she would only yield to his embraces as his acknowledged queen. It soon became the King's absorbing desire to annul his marriage to Catherine.
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.
However, as the pope was at that time imprisoned by Catherine's nephew, 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.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. 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 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 illness in 1530, he might have been executed for treason. 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 had considerable power over political matters. She was an unusually educated and intellectual woman for her time, and was keenly absorbed and engaged with the ideas of the Protestant Reformers. 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.
Breaking 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.
In the winter of 1532 Henry attended a meeting with Francis I of France at Calais in which he enlisted the support of the French king for his new marriage. Immediately upon returning to Dover in England, Henry and Anne went through a secret wedding service. She soon became pregnant and there was a second wedding service in London on 25 January 1533. 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 valid.
Catherine was formally stripped of her title as queen, and Anne was crowned queen consort on 1 June 1533. The queen gave birth to a daughter slightly prematurely on 7 September 1533. The child was christened Elizabeth, in honour of Henry's mother, Elizabeth of York. Rejecting the decisions of the Pope, Parliament validated the marriage of Henry and Anne with the Act of Succession 1533. Catherine's daughter, 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; 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
Portrait of Anne Boleyn
, Henry's second queen, likely derived from an original (1533-1536) since lost
Meanwhile, Parliament had forbidden all appeals to Rome and exacted the penalties of praemunire against all who introduced papal bulls into England. Parliament also prohibited the Church from making any regulations (canons) 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, 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. 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.
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 annulment. 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).
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. The vivacity and opinionated intellect that had made her so attractive as an illicit lover made her too independent for the largely ceremonial role of a royal wife, given that Henry expected absolute obedience from those who interacted with him in an official capacity at court. It also made her many enemies. 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.
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.
These suppressions, including the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act of 1536, 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 was later 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, on the day of Catherine’s funeral, 29 January 1536. For most observers, this personal loss was the beginning of the end of the royal marriage.
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. 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. As Anne recovered from 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.
Five men, including Anne's own brother, were arrested on charges of incest and treason, accused of having sexual relationships with the queen. On 2 May 1536 Anne was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. She was accused of adultery, incest and high treason. 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.
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 Hampton Court 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 later to be buried next to her at his death.
Final years: 1540–1547
Henry around 1539 or 1540
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, created 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 so he could 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 Vicegerent in Spirituals, which had been specifically created for him, was not filled.
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, Anne Boleyn's first cousin and a lady-in-waiting of Anne's. 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.
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 Lady 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.
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 that commenced with Edmund de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk in 1513 ended with Henry Earl of Surrey in January, 1547. Although some sources claim that, according to Holinshed, the number of executions in this reign amounted to 72,000, the figure referred to "great thieves, petty thieves, and rogues," and the source is not Holinshed but the English clergyman William Harrison. This inflated figure came from Gerolamo Cardano who in turn got it from the Roman Catholic Bishop of Lisieux.
Death and succession
Late in life, Henry became obese (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 and other medical problems can be traced from a jousting accident in 1536 in which he suffered a leg wound. The accident actually re-opened and aggravated a previous leg wound he had sustained years earlier, to the extent that his doctors found it difficult (if not impossible) to treat it. The wound festered for the remainder of his life and became ulcerated, thus preventing him from maintaining the same level of physical activity and daily exercise that he had previously enjoyed. The jousting accident is also believed to have caused in Henry mood swings, which may have had a dramatic effect on his personality and temperament. Concurrently, Henry also developed a binge-eating habit, consisting of a diet of mainly fatty red meats and few vegetables. It is believed that this habit was used as a coping mechanism for stress. Henry's obesity 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!"
The theory that Henry suffered from syphilis was first promoted approximately 100 years after his death, 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.
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. The descendants of Henry's sister Margaret Tudor—the royal family of Scotland—were therefore excluded from succession according to this act. This final provision failed when James VI of Scotland subsequently became James I of England upon Elizabeth's death.
Public image and memory
Henry worked hard to present an image of unchallengeable authority and irresistible power. He executed at will, beheading more English notables than any monarch before or since. The roll of heads included two wives, one cardinal, twenty peers, four leading public servants, and six of the king's close attendants and friends, not to mention various heads of monasteries. In addition Cardinal Wolsey died in prison.
A big, strong man (over six feet tall and broad in proportion), he excelled at jousting and hunting. More than pastimes, they were political devices that served multiple goals, from enhancing his athletic royal image to impressing foreign emissaries and rulers, to conveying Henry's ability to suppress any rebellion. Thus he arranged a jousting tournament at Greenwich in 1517, where he wore gilded armour, gilded horse trappings, and outfits of velvet, satin and cloth of gold dripping with pearls and jewels. It suitably impressed foreign ambassadors, one of whom wrote home that, "The wealth and civilisation of the world are here, and those who call the English barbarians appear to me to render themselves such." Henry finally retired from the lists in 1536 after a heavy fall from his horse left him unconscious for two hours, but he continued to sponsor two lavish tournaments a year. He then started adding weight and lost that trim athletic look that had made him so handsome; Henry's courtiers began dressing in heavily padded clothes to emulate—and flatter—their increasingly stout monarch.
Henry was an intellectual. The first well-educated English king, he was thoroughly at home in his well-stocked library; he personally annotated many books and wrote and published his own book. He founded Christ Church Cathedral School, Oxford, in 1546. To promote the public support for the reformation of the church, Henry had numerous pamphlets and lectures prepared. For example, Richard Sampson's Oratio (1534) was a legalistic argument for absolute obedience to the temporal power as vested in divine law and Christian love ("obey my commandments"). Sampson cited historical precedents (now known to be spurious) to support his claim that the English church had always been independent from Rome. At the popular level theater and minstrel troupes funded by the crown traveled around the land to promote the new religious practices and ridicule the old. In the polemical plays they presented, the pope and Catholic priests and monks were mocked as foreign devils, while the glorious king was hailed as a brave and heroic defender of the true faith.
Henry VIII was an avid gambler and dice player. 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.
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.
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). 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), 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. But Henry had to debase the coinage in 1526 and 1539 in order to solve his financial problems, and despite his ministers efforts to reduce costs and waste 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 (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.
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. During the reign of Henry VIII, as many as 72,000 people are estimated to have been executed. 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.
Scarisbrick (1968) concludes that Henry was a formidable, captivating man who "wore regality with a splendid conviction." But unpredictably his overpowering charm could turn into anger and shouting, for he was high-strung and unstable; hypochondriac and possessed of a strong streak of cruelty. Smith (1971) considered him an egotistical border-line neurotic given to great fits of temper and deep and dangerous suspicions, with a mechanical and conventional, but deeply held piety, having at best "a mediocre intellect" to hold these contradictory forces in harness.
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 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 the monasteries. These were also known as Henry VIII's Device Forts.
Style and arms
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).
Coat of Arms as Prince of Wales
Coat of arms of King Henry VIII (early reign)
Coat of arms of King Henry VIII (later reign)
An exhibition called Henry VIII: Man and Monarch, curated by David Starkey, was held at the British Library in 2009. In 2009, Henry's 500th year anniversary of his coronation was celebrated in his few favorite palaces along the Thames River.
|Ancestors of Henry VIII of England|