Henry VIII 1509-1547

Born: Greenwich Palace, Kent, 28 June 1491.

Titles: King of England and (from 1542) of Ireland; Duke of York (from 1494), Duke of Cornwall (from 1502), Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester (from 1504).

Crowned: Westminster Abbey, 24 June 1509.

Ruled: 22 April 1509-28 January 1547.

Died: Whitehall Palace, London, 28 January 1547, aged 55

Buried: Windsor Castle.

Married: (1) 11 June 1509, at Greenwich Palace, Katherine (1485-1536), dau. Ferdinand II, King of Aragon; marriage annulled 23 May 1533: 6 children;

Married:(2) 25 January 1533, at York Place (renamed Whitehall Palace), London, Anne (cl5OO-1536), dau. Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, marriage declared invalid 17 May 1536.- 3 children;

Married:(3) 30 May 1536, at Whitehall Palace, London, Jane (c1508-1537), dau. Sir John Seymour; died in childbirth: I son;

Married:(4) 6 January 1540, at Greenwich Palace, Anne (1515-1557), dau. Johann, Duke of Cleves; marriage annulled 9 July 1540. No children;

Married:(5) 28 July 1540, at Oatlands Palace, Surrey, Katherine (c1520-42) dau. Lord Edmund Howard; executed 13 February 1542: no children:

Married:(6) 12 July 1543, at Hampton Court Palace, Katherine (c1512-48), dau. Sir Thomas Parr. No children. Henry also had at least two illegitimate children, and probably more.

Henry VIII is probably the best-known king of England and may even be the most notorious (though there are plenty to compete for that title). Some may argue he was also the most important king of England because of the status, which he brought to his kingdom along with the establishment of the Church of England. Certainly his reign saw some of the most significant developments in England since the time of Edward I.

Henry was not born to be king. He was the third child and second son of Henry VII and was groomed for the church, receiving a substantial classical education. However, in April 1502 Henry's elder brother Arthur died of consumption and Henry, still only ten, became heir apparent. Unlike his father, who was reserved and surly, Henry was a happy child who delighted in all manner of sports and entertainment. Not only did he master French and Latin, and become an excellent rider and athlete, but he was a fine dancer and musician - the music of Greensleeves has long been attributed to him. He also had a natural authority and self-command, and enjoyed touring England and presenting himself to his subjects, which made him a very popular prince and king. Although the nickname "Bluff King Hal" was only accorded to him posthumously, it fitted his character well. Moreover unlike his predecessors for the last one hundred years (and arguably longer), Henry was the first to inherit a comparatively united kingdom, as an assured successor with every right of inheritance to the throne. His father had established good relationships with the leading countries of Europe, and with no foreign wars for some years, the country's finances were strong. England was in the best shape financially, spiritually and administratively that it had been for a long time.

Henry was two months off his eighteenth birthday when his father died. He was a handsome, well-proportioned youth, in love with life and the world. He happily obeyed his father's dying wish that he marry his elder brother's widow, Katherine of Aragon, in order to continue the alliance with Spain. They were married six weeks later and two weeks after that there was a double coronation in Westminster Abbey at the height of Midsummer, with much feasting and merrymaking.

Henry was more interested in enjoying himself than bothering with the day-to-day affairs of government. He satisfied himself that his ministers could be trusted, and left the overall direction of affairs to William Warham, archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey (later 2nd duke of Norfolk), who was the Lord Treasurer, Bishop Richard Foxe and, after 1514, to Thomas Wolsey. Henry rid the courts of Edmund Dudley and Sir Richard Empson, two key ministers in Henry VII's reign who were the architects of a strict tax regime and had become hated by the populace. Henry had them executed on the grounds of "constructive treason as they had sought to arm their men as Henry VII lay dying.

Henry preferred to involve himself in European affairs, playing the role of an international magnate not confined to an English backwater. He supported his father-in-law, Ferdinand of Aragon, against the Moors in 151 1, and joined Pope Julius II, along with Venice and Spain, in the Holy League against France, which was formed that October. This increased the friction between England and Scotland (France's old ally), which was exacerbated by border skirmishes and sea raids. James IV of Scotland, who was Henry's brother-in-law, insisted that, if Henry remained part of the Holy League, the only outcome could be war between Scotland and England. Henry seemed undisturbed. In June 1513 Henry led an invasion force to Calais. James IV took advantage to invade England, something Henry had anticipated and so despatched Thomas Howard to counter. The result was the battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513, where James IV and the flower of Scottish nobility fell. Since the heir, James V, was only a year old, Henry's sister, Margaret, became the Scottish regent. She did not receive the support of the Scottish aristocracy, but for a period, although skirmishes continued, the battle with Scotland was won, and Henry was victorious. He was also victorious in France, leading the successful sieges of Th6rouanne and Tournai, whilst his forces defeated the French at the battle of the Spurs, at Guinegate, on 16 August 1513. The name of the battle signified the speed of the French retreat. Thomas Wolsey negotiated peace terms with France, one of the terms being the marriage of Henry's sister Mary to Louis XII of France in August 1514. The marriage was short-lived as Louis died only a few months later. Mary then angered Henry by running away with his close friend Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, and marrying in secret in February 1515. They were eventually pardoned, upon payment of an exacting fine, and they would subsequently become the grandparents of the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey.

Henry wanted to be the centre of the European stage. When the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, died in January 1519, Henry stood as a candidate to succeed him, having earlier been encouraged by Maximilian himself who regarded him as a good prospect. However, the electors selected from the controlling Hapsburg family. When Pope Leo X died in December 1521, Henry strove to have an English pope, nominating Thomas Wolsey but without success. Europe seemed a world closed to Henry and it frustrated him that a man of his abilities was denied greater influence in European affairs. It was probably this attitude that shaped his dealings with the new French king, François. In June 1520 Wolsey was able to engineer a summit meeting at Guisnes, near Calais, which became known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold because of the extravagance of the display, each party trying to outshine the other. Another peace treaty was negotiated, though it too was short-lived.

This period was one of change in Europe. Most significant, as far as England was concerned, was the reforming zeal of the German scholar and preacher, Martin Luther, who began a prolonged series of attacks upon the Papacy and the Catholic Church, including his book On the Babylonish Captivity of the Church in 1520. Henry had remained a staunch supporter of the Pope and felt compelled to respond to Luther's attacks. Together with Thomas More and John Fisher, Henry wrote Defence of the Seven Sacraments, which became a best seller throughout Europe. In recognition of his support the Pope conferred on Henry in 1521 the title of Fidei Defensor, or Defender of the Faith, a title which has been used by all subsequent English monarchs, regardless of their faith. Within a few years it would seem a singularly inappropriate title for Henry.

He was becoming increasingly concerned about the birth of an heir, His wife, Katherine, had borne him six children, but only one of these, Mary, had survived infancy. His eldest son, Henry, born in 1511, had died after only seven weeks. Their last born child died within hours of its birth in November 1518. By 1526, when Katherine had turned forty, it was evident that Henry would not have a son. It was unthinkable that a girl would succeed him. He began to believe that the fault lay with him, and that he had committed a sin against the church in marrying his brother's widow, even though the marriage had received papal blessing. It was especially galling as in June 1519 Henry's mistress, Elizabeth Blount, who was only seventeen, had borne him a baby boy, who became Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond. Although illegitimate, Henry began to regard this boy as his likely heir if he was unable to produce a legitimate child. Also by 1527 Henry had become infatuated with the twenty-five-year-old Anne Boleyn, whose elder sister, Mary, had been Henry's mistress for some years. Anne refused to be simply his mistress and played for higher stakes. Wolsey entered into negotiations with the pope formally to annul Henry's marriage with Katherine. The new pope, Clement VII, was traditional in his outlook and a vehement opposer of Lutheranism. At first it looked as if he might accommodate Henry, but the pope then succumbed to the power of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, who was the nephew of Henry's wife. Clement refused to accept that his predecessor's dispensation for Henry's marriage could have been in error, yet whilst he did not reject Henry’s request outright, he procrastinated in every way possible, setting up a commission to review the issue. The affair dragged on for six years, during which time Clement was seen by more and more countries as a weak pope. The whole of Scandinavia broke with Rome and introduced Lutheranism, beginning in 1527. Henry's adviser, Thomas Cromwell, advised the same. His inability to resolve the matter had seen Wolsey fall from power. He was arrested for treason in November 1530, but died soon after. Cromwell now moved matters ahead and it was under his guidance that Henry became the Head of a separate Church of England with the authority to appoint his own archbishops and bishops. Thomas Cranmer, his newly appointed archbishop of Canterbury, pronounced on 23 May 1533 that Henry's marriage with Katherine was void. Henry had already taken this as read, as he had secretly wedded Anne Boleyn in January 1533, when she was already a month pregnant. The pope refused to accept the pronouncement, and in July 1533 he declared the divorce and remarriage void, and prepared to excommunicate Henry. The excommunication was suspended, but it was reaffirmed by Clement's successor, Paul III, who was however unable to gain the international support he desired to formalize the sentence. This merely served to force Henry further down his chosen road rather than allow for reconciliation. In fact Henry was at great pains to demonstrate that his argument was only against the pope, not the church. The significant change was that Henry was "Head of the Church" in his dominions, or (like the pope) God's representative. Otherwise, changes were limited, and Henry emphasised this with the publication of the Act of the Six Articles in 1539 which reaffirmed doctrines inherited from the Church of Rome. Nevertheless there were those who could not support Henry in his role as Head of the Church, such as Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher, who refused to acknowledge this and were executed in 1535.

Henry's next move was to appoint a commission to report on the state of the monasteries. Cromwell had long believed that the monasteries were too powerful and were likely to lead any pro-Roman resistance to change. Following the report Parliament legislated in 1536 for the suppression of all small monasteries on grounds that they were uneconomic and, on the strength of this, dissolved all remaining monasteries in 1539. This caused considerable anguish throughout England, but especially in the north, where there was a rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. This rebellion was not just about the monasteries. Dissatisfaction had been fermenting for some time and the Acts of Dissolution were the final spark. Peasants were rebelling against the enclosure of common lands, which limited their ability to farm because of high rents. The rebellion began in Lincolnshire in October 1536 and spread through Yorkshire under the command of Robert Aske. Henry appeared conciliatory and defused the rebellion by promises, none of which he fulfilled, and some months later he had Aske and over two hundred of the rebels executed. This punishment was a salutory lesson to all and Cromwell's commissioners met little resistance as they moved from county to county closing the monasteries. The last to fall was Waltham Abbey in Essex in March 1540. Although the Crown benefited considerably from the closure of the monasteries, since most of the profits arising passed to Henry who was always desperate for money for his foreign exploits, the ultimate beneficiaries were the local landed gentry who, once the monastery was closed and ransacked, acquired most of the land and remaining properties. It was the greatest shift in land ownership since the Norman Conquest.

Henry's early delight over Anne Boleyn's pregnancy soon faded when she gave birth to a girl, the future Elizabeth I. This was followed by two stillborn children. A fourth child was miscarried following a fall Henry had from a horse in January 1536 which left him unconscious and the shock brought on Anne's labour. Henry recovered, though the injury led to complications in his later years with a severely ulcerated leg. By now Henry had lost all interest in Anne - he even maintained he had been seduced by witchcraft. As a sign of this, Catholics later ascribed to Anne a shriveled sixth finger. He readily believed charges of her infidelity and adultery and she was arrested, tried and found guilty of treason and executed on 19 May 1536. Just two days before Archbishop Cranmer declared Anne's marriage to Henry null and void, probably on the rather tenuous grounds that Henry had formerly had a relationship with her sister Mary.

During the previous two years Henry had become besotted with one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, a not especially attractive lady but one who beguiled Henry with her coquettish ways. They were married eleven days after Anne's execution and the marriage was a happy one, albeit brief. Jane was never crowned queen because an outbreak of plague in London delayed the coronation and then Jane became pregnant. Henry was overjoyed when Jane gave birth to a boy, the future Edward VI, but Jane was seriously weakened by the birth and died twelve days later in the midst of Henry's celebrations. Because she had given him a son and heir, Jane remained the favourite of Henry's wives and after his death he was laid beside her in St George's Chapel, Windsor.

For his next wife Henry looked to Europe. Because of the papal bull isolating him, Henry was fearful that the French, the Habsburgs or both would invade England and depose him. As a consequence Henry sought a political marriage with Germany and, through the advice of Thomas Cromwell, settled on Anne, the sister of the duke of Cleves in Germany. Although Henry admired her portrait, he was horrified when he first met Anne in January 1540 but by then marriage arrangements had proceeded too far. Henry feared the backlash if he withdrew. Although they were wed on 6 January, the marriage was never consummated and both parties readily agreed to a divorce which went through seven months later. Henry was generous to Anne, because of her compliance, and the two remained good friends.

Unfortunately for Henry his next marriage, which was almost on the rebound, was to the beautiful teenage Katherine Howard, a cousin of Anne Boleyn's. He and Katherine were married within three weeks of the divorce and Henry delighted in his young bride, who seemed to put the spring back in his step, even though by now he was becoming grossly fat and ageing fast. Evidently Katherine soon tired of her husband, thirty years her senior, and turned to her former lovers. She was soon betrayed, charged with treason and executed on 13 February 1542. Henry had at first refused to believe the charges and never quite recovered from her loss. When he entered into his final marriage in the following year it was to an older lady, already twice widowed, Katherine Parr. By all accounts Henry was now after a companion rather than a lover, and in Parr he found a woman with whom he could converse on a wide range of subjects and who served as an excellent stepmother to his three surviving children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward, who were reconciled for the first time in 1543.

During these tempestuous marriages Henry had not ignored the international scene, or indeed the state of Britain. He regarded the British Isles as his own empire, and had made a move towards consolidating it in 1536 with what has since been called the Act of Union, which officially incorporated Wales as part of England, rather than as a separate province. He was unable to enact the same legislation for Ireland, although his father had made the Irish parliament subject to the English. A rebellion led by the Fitzgeralds in Ireland in 1534 had been summarily dealt with and in 1542 Henry declared himself king rather than lord of Ireland.

Henry also kept a constant eye on the intrigues between France and Scotland and had even visited France to meet with the king, though the two could never reconcile their views. Relationships with Scotland soured. Henry regarded it as an affront when James V failed to keep a meeting at York in September 1541 and future meetings were postponed because of the interference of the French king. Henry grew tired of the Scots, and the last connections between them ended when his sister, Margaret, died in November 1541. The following year saw Henry prepared to go to war with Scotland and, although no formal declaration was made, hostilities broke out in a series of scraps and skirmishes with the upper hand going to the Scots. However a Scottish force of some ten thousand was soundly defeated by three thousand English at Solway Moss in November 1542. The Scots had appeared as such a disorganized rabble that the defeat was a double disgrace, and soon after James V pined away in despair. Henry now pursued a marriage alliance between his son Edward and James’s infant daughter Mary and, under the terms of a peace treaty concluded in July 1543, Mary was to marry Edward in her tenth year. This treaty was never ratified by the Scots while the pro-French nobles did everything to undermine it. Hostilities continued between England and Scotland throughout the 1540s, with Scotland using this as an excuse the argue that the treaty was invalid. Henry had marginally better success with France, concluding a treaty with Francois in 1546.

Henry died on 28 January 1547, aged only 55, but a victim of his gross conduct. Despite the major reforms that he had made he was not a great initiator, relying instead on such great men as Wolsey and Cromwell whom he cast aside when no longer needed. At times he ruled like a despot, engineering everything to his own ends. Yet he could wield that power without it destroying him and it is true to say that no other English king could have undertaken such reforms and succeeded. It was through Henry, the first king to be referred to as His Majesty, that the modern English state was created.


By kind permission of "The Kings and Queens of England Website" (http://www.frhes.freeserve.co.uk/)