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Henry VIII of England
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Henry VIII of England


Henry VIII, Henry Tudor (June 28, 1491 - January 28, 1547) was King of England from April 22 (crowned on June 24), 1509 until his death on January 28, 1547. He was accorded the title King of Ireland by the Irish Parliament in 1541, having previously been styled Lord of Ireland.

Born at the royal Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, London, he was the second son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. He was made Prince of Wales after the death of his older brother Arthur, Prince of Wales. A dispensation from Pope Julius II was necessary in order to allow him to marry his brother's widow Catherine of Aragon, and this was obtained on the basis of non-consummation. They contracted a marriage on June 11 1509.

Henry's reign began full of promise, and the diplomats, courtiers and politicians who surrounded the new king gushed forth praise for their new king and his wife. However, warning-signs were already beginning to appear. Henry ruthlessly executed his father's two closest advisors and even the loyal Sir Thomas More noted that if his head would gain the king a castle in France it would have been off tomorrow.

Henry's first marital affair took place in 1510, with the sister of the duke of Buckingham, who he later executed for treason in 1521. There were numerous other affairs - the most important with Elizabeth Blount and then Mary Boleyn. Blount bore the king an illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy in 1519, and there were (probably unsubstantiated) rumours that Boleyn had also borne a royal bastard.

Queen Catherine, however, was not so lucky. Her first four or five pregnancies ended in stillbirth, miscarriage or short-lived infants. A miscarriage in 1513 was brought about by the stress caused by a Scottish invasion, which Catherine had had to suppress herself because Henry was then fighting a pointless glory-seeking war with France. The only royal child to survive was the future Mary I, born in 1516. Queen Catherine's last pregnancy was in 1518, and she passed the menopause in 1524.

Throughout his life, Henry he was an avid gambler playing at dice, tables and cards. It is claimed by some that he was playing Primero at the time of Elizabeth's birth. Other card games played by Henry include cent, Imperial and Pope Julius. Henry's apparently jovial exterior, however, masked a meglomaniacal streak and complete self-absorption.

The other major achievement of Henry's reign was the Act of Union of 1536, which effectively brought Wales under English government, with the result that the first Welsh members of parliament were elected in 1542. Henry was proud of his own Welsh blood. In 1533 Henry introduced the first legislation against homosexuals with the Buggery Act, making buggery punishable by hanging, a penalty not finally lifted until 1861. Henry is also responsible for the 6 Articles of 1539 which reaffirmed the Catholic nature of the Church of England.

Table of contents
1 The Great Matter and Later Marriages
2 Health
3 Portrayals
4 References
5 External links
6 See also

The Great Matter and Later Marriages

Henry fell for Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn's younger sister, sometime around 1523 or 1525. Confident, clever, imperious and ambitious, Anne had her sights set on a fine aristocratic marriage and felt that by becoming the king's mistress she'd become damaged goods and lose her chance to make a good match. Her tart refusal to have anything to do with the king's lust for her was accurately summed up in her famous retort, "Your wife I cannot be, and your mistress I will not be!" Henry, obsessed with her, proposed marriage sometime around 1527, Anne, stunned, said yes after some consideration. It would only require a simple annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine, and Anne could be made queen.

The long, protracted divorce of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon is often called "The Great Matter." It split England's political elite, affected foreign policy, the economy, the future development of the monarchy and England's religious fabric. Political careers were made and broken in the fires of the Great Matter. Henry's chief minister, Cardinal Wolsey was dismissed after failing to achieve his master's goals, and Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer rose-up to replace him.

A cancer of suspicion gripped the royal palace. Spies were everywhere. Catherine of Aragon managed to plant double agents in the English embassies abroad, Anne Boleyn's cousin was sent to Rome to spy on Wolsey's spies and Europe came to the brink of war. Pope Clement VII's hesitation led to an international crisis, and it was Anne Boleyn's religious opinions that won out. Anne, a passionate reformer, helped mastermind the schism with the Catholic Church (which she felt was corrupt, due to the Pope's influence). England's own national, proto-Protestant Church of England was established in 1533.

Anne, having denied Henry her sexual favours for so many years, was secretly married to him sometime in 1532 (possibly whilst in France). She fell pregnant soon after, and there was a second wedding in England in January 1533. Catherine of Aragon, having been sent to the countryside in 1531, was formally divorced, stripped of her titles and died in 1536, of cancer.

Anne was 4 months pregnant when she was crowned on June 1. That September, she gave birth to Elizabeth. Henry put a brave face on things, but was already conducting an affair with one of his wife's maids. In the meantime, a wave of terror was unleashed on all those who would not acknowledge Henry as true Head of the Church. Hundreds of monks were horribly executed, and Henry's childhood friend Thomas More went to the block in 1535. Queen Anne had, by this point, suffered two miscarriages. A third occured in January 1536.

Henry's treatment of his second wife was disgusting. He flaunted his latest adulteries in her face, publicly blamed her for their children's death and even wrote a play presenting her as a whore. He gave tacit approval for a palace plot which brought about her fall in May 1536, and Anne and five supposed "lovers" were executed between 17 May and 19 May to make room for Henry's new love. Anne behaved with remarkable bravery and dignity on the day of her death.

By this time, Henry's ever-roving eye had settled on Catherine's and Anne's lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour; they married 11 days after Anne's execution on May 30. She was as docile and subserviant as Anne had been manipulative and sharp-tongued. On October 12, 1537, Jane gave Henry his heir, Edward; 12 days later, she died.

Henry actually mourned for a few years (and would instruct that he be buried next to her). He may have remained a widower had it not been for the fact that Edward was never a healthy lad. On the advice of Cromwell, he reluctantly chose the German Anne of Cleves in the hopes of producing another male heir. Anne's brother, Wilhelm, Duke of Jülich-Cleves, was seen by Cromwell as a key ally should France and the Holy Roman Empire decide to move against the countries which had overthrown Papal Authority. But, by the time the wedding took place on January 6, 1540, tensions between Wilhelm and the Empire were escalting toward war, and Henry had no desire to get sucked in. Worse, the portrait of Anne that had smittened him was more than flattering. Indeed, Henry found her so unattractive, he could not bring himself to consummate the marriage. Fortunately, (for her) Anne did not fight his quest for an annulment, and graciously accepted the "title" of "the King's Sister." She spent the rest of her life in England (receiving a generous pension), and would outlive him.

Cromwell, like his predecessors, More and Wolsey, soon fell from favour and was charged with treason. Henry would take advantage of the situation to move his main London residence to the Palace of Whitehall (formerly Wolsey's and known as York Place) from the Palace of Westminster. Cromwell was executed on the day Henry remarried; the King would later openly lament the loss of his "most faithful servant".

On July 28, 1540, he made Catherine Howard, a first cousin of Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves's lady-in-waiting his fifth wife. By all accounts, she renewed the aging monarch's zest for life. He showered his "rose without a thorn" with lavish gifts, even lands he had given to Jane. Unfortunately, Catherine was emotionally immature and promiscuous. Henry first refused to believe she was unfaithful. There was a question as to if she was precontracted (slated to be engaged) to Francis Dereham, a pensioner in her grandmother's house. Were this the case, then Catherine was never legally married, and, hence, did not commit treason. Her true love was Thomas Culpepper, a first cousin and a gentleman with the King's Privy Chamber. She could have saved herself had she said she was precontracted, but Henry's shock and heartbreak had turned to wrath; his young queen was doomed. On December 1, 1541, Culpepper and Dereham were exectued. On February 13, 1542, Catherine was beheaded. Her last words were: "I die a Queen, but I would rather die the wife of Thomas Culpepper." She was only 19 or 20 years old.

His last wife was Catherine Parr. Her father, Thomas Parr of Kendal, had distinguished himself in the service of both Henry and his father. Twice-widowed, Catherine was very wealthy due to her marriages. She was also in love with Thomas Seymour, the brother of Jane, but knew better than to spurn the King's interest; they married on July 12, 1543. Despite her love for Seymour, the marriage was a great success. She reconciled him to his children, and give each the maternal affection so long denied them. When Henry left for France on a military campaign in July 1544, Catherine was made Regent of England; the only other wife who had been accorded that honour was Catherine of Aragon. The only bump in their happiness was religion.

Although Henry was forced to repudiate the papacy in order to marry Anne Boleyn, his true beliefs are uncertain. However, he became persuaded, by the man who married them, no less, that Catherine was a heretic, as she was a follower of evangelical Protestantism. Its core belief that one needed to study the Bible for himself was not only revolutionary, it threatened Henry's power as Supreme Head of the Church since this encouraged his subjects to think for themselves. One night, when the King was unwell, Catherine began to lecture him on religion. When an arrest warrant was left outside her rooms a few days later, she immediately went to Henry, and persuaded him that her lecture was merely an attempt to learn from him and to distract him from his woes. Her appeal to his vanity saved her life.

Less than four months after Henry's death, Catherine married Seymour (his brother, Edward, was Protector of the Kingdom, ruling in the name of 9 year old Edward VI). The happiness she no doubt expected was short-lived, even when she learned that she was pregnant. She was forced to send Elizabeth away after Seymour acted improperly toward her, a breach which hurt both women deeply. On August 30, 1548, Catherine gave birth to a girl, Mary. She died on September 5 of puerperal sepsis, which had claimed Jane Seymour.

A mnemonic to remember the fates of his six queens is "Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived."


It is well known that later in life Henry was grossly overweight, and possibly suffered from gout. The theory that Henry suffered from syphilis is certainly less than compelling, since none of the children suffered from any symptoms of the disease, nor did any of his wives. In his younger days, however, he had been a very active man. His increased size dates from a jousting accident in 1536. He suffered a thigh wound which not only prevented him from taking exercise, but which gradually became ulcerated and may have indirectly led to his death. Henry died in 1547 (on the exact 90th anniversary of his father's birth) at Whitehall in London and was buried at Windsor.


There have been many films about Henry and his court. Two that bear mention are 1933's The Private Life of Henry VIII starring Charles Laughton, whose performance earned him an Academy Award, and 1972's The Six Wives of Henry VIII starring Keith Michell. Richard Burton was Oscar-nominated for his Henry opposite Genevieve Bujold's Anne Boleyn in 1969's Anne of the Thousand Days. An episode of the 1960's American sitcom Betwiched had Samantha Stevens staving off a lustful Henry's intentions to make her his next wife. The life of Henry VIII was the subject of a famous Simpsons TV episode, in which Homer Simpson played Henry (the story is rather inaccurate). The Hallmark Channel also aired a movie on Henry VIII. PBS recently ran a mini-series on Henry and his wives.


External links

See also

Preceded by:
Henry VII
King of England Succeeded by:
Edward VI
King of Ireland