Henry VIII succeeded his father Henry VII to the throne of England in 1509 reigning until his death in 1547. Probably the most well known of the Tudor kings due to his six marriages, he was much admired, revered plus was responsible for the introduction of The Church of England. Henry broke away from The Roman Catholic Church to create his breakaway church, while he was also responsible for the dissolution of the monasteries. Although Henry named himself as the supreme head of the English church he did still adhere to many of the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Henry was a very scholarly person being very well educated and also very clever. He was fluent in Latin and French along with some knowledge of Spanish and Greek. Henry became heir to the throne of England following his elder brother Arthur’s unexpected death. Arthur had not long been married to Catherine of Aragon when he died. This alliance had been orchestrated by Henry VII to bring England and Spain close making them allies. Henry VII subsequently arranged for Henry VIII to marry his deceased brother’s wife to seal the deal once again between the two countries.
Catherine of Aragon
Henry VIII didn’t actually marry Catherine until after his father’s death, he was then subsequently crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey amongst rapturous celebrations. Henry began his reign as he meant to go on by making himself feared by all. He executed members of his father’s former entourage that he no longer wanted around bringing his own favourites to court.
Henry and Catherine had two children who died within weeks of their birth, much to their dismay, especially Henry who craved a son and heir. Following one more miscarriage Catherine successfully delivered a baby girl who was named Mary. Henry however did have several mistresses something his wife did not object to, but then again would she have dared? One mistress Elizabeth Blount gave birth to a son in June 1519 and in 1525 he was made Duke of Richmond. This was maybe a way to legitimise the Duke as the king’s son. Unfortunately Henry Fitzroy Duke of Richmond died in 1536 never achieving legitimate status.
Henry was still obsessed with wanting a son and heir but Catherine was getting too old to conceive. Henry was attracted to Anne Boleyn who was one of his wife’s ladies in waiting. Anne repelled Henry’s advances at first insisting that Henry should make her his queen if he wanted her. This began a series of events that would change the face of the church in England. Henry wanted to have his marriage to Catherine annulled on the grounds that it was not valid as he had married his dead brothers wife which was not really allowed.
Henry approached Pope Clement VII directly via his secretary William Knight requesting an annulment. The pope was imprisoned at the time so Knight was unable to carry out his quest so Henry had to approach Cardinal Wolsey to support him in his request. Wolsey could not persuade The Pope and seeing that he was out of favour with the king, due to his failure in the matter, joined forces with Queen Catherine. It is said that had Wolsey not died from natural causes at the time, he would have probably been executed at Henry’s behest. Sir Thomas More was Wolsey’s successor who eventually did not support Henry in his quest to divorce and marry Anne or change the face of the church. Thomas More was executed in 1535 for refusing to sign the oath of allegiance to Henry as supreme head of the church in England.
Queen Catherine was banished from court with her rooms being taken by Anne. Anne was a very intelligent plus well read lady for her time and was a protestant reform supporter. England broke away from the Catholic Church in 1532 with Henry being named as defender of the faith and supreme head of the church in England. All had to sign the oath of allegiance or suffer the consequences.
Henry and Anne married and Anne was crowned queen on June 1st 1533. She gave birth to a girl, Elizabeth who was to become Elizabeth I of England. Catherine’s daughter Mary was declared to be illegitimate and no longer heir to the throne. The Pope excommunicated Henry from the Catholic Church resulting in diplomatic ties being severed between the two. Henry carried on with his reforms regardless.
Henry’s marriage to Anne soon hit the rocks due to her independent nature plus the fact that he still did not have a son and heir. Henry busied himself suppressing rebellions and executing their leaders. Anne did get pregnant again but miscarried the male child when Henry was injured in a jousting accident. It was not long after this that Henry declared that his marriage was based on witchcraft so he began an affair with Jane Seymour who would become wife number three.
Anne was arrested and accused of adultery and treason so was taken to be imprisoned in the Tower of London. On the 19th May 1536 she was beheaded for treason on Tower Green. It was a sorry end to a short marriage that lasted just one thousand days. Henry wasted no time and was engaged to Jane Seymour the following day, marrying only ten days later.
Jane Seymour was always purported to be the woman that Henry truly loved. She bore him a son Edward but died soon after following an infection. The king was devastated never really getting over his loss. When Henry died he was buried next to Jane Seymour his “one true wife”. Henry’s fourth wife was Anne of Cleves. It was considered a good match in terms of bringing The Duke of Cleves into the fold as an ally.
Henry sent an artist to Cleves to paint a picture of Anne so that he could see what she looked like. The portrait was said to be rather flattering as she was a plain woman but none the less Henry married her even though by his own admission he found her unattractive. The marriage was however annulled due to none consummation while Anne was given a generous settlement. Anne obviously knew which side her bread was buttered and agreed to the king’s request.
Anne of Cleves
Catherine Howard was to be Henry’s fifth bride. They were married on the 28th July 1540 with high hopes. These were soon to be dashed as Queen Catherine embarked on an affair with Thomas Culpeper a courtier and was exposed in this by a previous lover Francis Dereham. Culpeper and Dereham were executed for treason followed quickly by the young foolish Queen Catherine in 1542.
Henry’s sixth and final wife, (she outlived him) was Catherine Parr a widow of means, in 1543. Catherine was successful in bringing Henry’s family back together by reuniting him with his daughters Mary and Elizabeth. She was however a reformer and was at odds on many occasions with Henry over her beliefs. She definitely sailed close to the wind putting herself in mortal danger on occasion due to her thoughts regarding religion.
Henry by now was unwell. He was very fat plus had many diseases that blighted his life. Gout was one of his tormentors as well as huge boils and it is said syphilis. This has not been proven however with some historians believing that Henry was more likely to have been suffering from what we know now as type II diabetes. Henry died at the age of fifty five, young by today’s standards, on the 28th January 1547.
Henry’s reign was certainly very eventful. He was responsible for the creation of the Church of England plus the dissolution of the monasteries, whereby he caused the people to rise up against him. Henry through guile plus deceit some might say suppressed any opposition to him that came from any quarter making him a Tudor king that will never be forgotten.
Find out more regarding Henry VIII at Tudor History. Org