Henry VIII of England

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Henry VIII
King Henry VIII after Hans Holbein the Younger, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
King of England and Ireland (more...)
Reign 21 April 1509 – 28 January 1547
Coronation 24 June 1509
Predecessor Henry VII
Successor Edward VI
House House of Tudor
Father Henry VII of England
Mother Elizabeth of York
Born (1491-06-28)28 June 1491
Greenwich Palace, Greenwich
Died 28 January 1547(1547-01-28) (aged 55)
Palace of Whitehall, London
Burial 4 February 1547 St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle

Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France. Henry was the second monarch of the Tudor dynasty, 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. Yet he remained a believer in core Catholic theological teachings, even after his excommunication from the Catholic Church.[1] Henry oversaw the legal union of England and Wales with the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542.

Henry was considered an attractive, educated and accomplished king in his prime and has a reputation as "one of the most charismatic rulers to sit on the English throne".[2][3] Besides ruling with absolute power, he also engaged himself as an author and composer. 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[4]—led to the two things for which Henry is remembered: His six marriages, and the English Reformation (making England a mostly 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.[5]


Early years: 1491–1509

Catherine of Aragon as a young widow, by court painter Michael Sittow, c.1502

Born at Greenwich Palace, Henry VIII was the third child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and their second son.[6] Of the young Henry's six siblings, only three — Arthur, Prince of Wales; Margaret; and Mary — survived infancy.[7] He was baptised by Richard Fox, the Bishop of Exeter, at a church of the Observant Franciscans close to the palace.[8] In 1493, at the age of two, Henry was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. He was subsequently appointed Earl Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland aged three, and was inducted into the Order of the Bath soon after. The day after the ceremony he was made Duke of York; a month or so later he was made Warden of the Scottish Marches. In May 1495, he was appointed to the Order of the Garter.[8] Henry was given a first-rate education from leading tutors, becoming fluent in Latin, French, and at least some Spanish and Ancient Greek.[9][10] Elizabeth of York, his mother, died when Henry was aged 11. Not much is known about his early life – save for his appointments – because he was not expected to become king.[8] In November 1501, Henry also played a considerable part in the ceremonies surrounding the marriage of his brother, Prince Arthur, to Catherine of Aragon.[11]

In 1502, Arthur died at the age of 15, after only 20 weeks of marriage to Catherine of Aragon.[12] Arthur's death thrust all his duties upon his younger brother, the 10-year-old Henry, who after a little debate succeeded him to the Dukedom of Cornwall in October 1502, and the Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester in February 1503.[13] Henry VII gave the boy few tasks. Young Henry was strictly supervised and did not appear in public. Scarisbrick says he ascended the throne "untrained in the exacting art of kingship."[14]

Henry VII renewed his efforts to seal a marital alliance between England and Spain, by offering his second son in marriage to Catherine, youngest surviving child of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile.[12] Both Isabella and Henry VII were keen on the idea, which had arisen very shortly after Arthur's death.[15] On 23 June 1503, a treaty was signed for their marriage, and they were betrothed two days later.[16] A papal dispensation was only needed for the "impedement of public honesty" if the marriage had not been consummated as Catherine and her duenna claimed, but Henry VII and the Spanish Ambassador set out to obtain a dispensation for "affinity", which took account of consummation.[16] The young Henry's age, only eleven, prevented cohabitation and the parties were thus required to wait.[15] Isabella's death in 1504, and the ensuing problems of succession in Castile, changed Catherine's position. Her father, Ferdinand, preferred her to stay in England, but Henry VII's relations with Ferdinand had deteriorated.[17] Catherine was left in limbo for some time, culminating in Prince Henry's rejection of the marriage as soon he was able, at the age of 14. Ferdinand's solution was to make his daughter ambassador, allowing her to stay. Devout, she began to believe that it was God's will that she marry the prince.[18]

Early reign: 1509–1525

Eighteen year-old Henry after his coronation in 1509

Henry VII died on 22 April 1509; soon after his burial on 10 May the new Henry VIII suddenly declared that he would indeed marry Catherine, curtailing the causes of hesitation concerning Catherine – over the papal dispensation and a missing part of the marriage portion.[16][19] The new king maintained that it had been his father's dying wish that he marry Catherine.[18] Whether or not this was true, it was certainly convenient: the Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire had been attempting to marry his granddaughter, Eleanor, to Henry; she had now been jilted.[20] The wedding was kept low-key and was held at the friar's church in Greenwich.[19]

On 23 June 1509, Henry led Catherine from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey for the coronation, which took place the following day.[21] it was a grand affair: the king's passage was lined with tapestries and laid with fine cloth.[21] Following Henry's coronation by the archbishop of Canterbury, there was a grand banquet in Westminster Hall.[22] As Catherine wrote to her father, "our time is spent in continuous festival".[19]

Two days after Henry's coronation, he arrested his father's two most unpopular ministers, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley (grandfather of daughter Elizabeth's favourite courtier in later life, Robert 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, as believed by historians such as Crofton.[6] Henry also returned to the public some of the money supposedly extorted by the two ministers: "his executors made restitution of great sums of money, to many persons taken against good conscience to the said king's use, by the forenamed Empson and Dudley."[23]

Soon after the coronation, Catherine conceived, but the child – a girl – was stillborn on 31 January 1510. About four months later, she again became pregnant.[24] On New Year's Day 1511, the child – Henry – was born. After the grief of losing their first child, the couple were pleased to have a boy and there were festivities to celebrate, including a jousting tournament.[25] Unfortunately, however, the child died seven weeks later.[24]

It was revealed in 1510 that Henry had been conducting an affair with one of the sisters of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, either Elizabeth or Anne Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon.[26] Her brother became enraged and Lord George Hastings, her husband, sent her to a convent.[27] Catherine miscarried again in 1514, but gave birth successfully in February 1516 to a girl, Princess Mary. Relations between king and queen had been strained, but they eased slightly after Mary's birth. Henry had had very few mistresses; the most significant was Elizabeth Blount for about three years in 1516 onwards. Catherine did not protest, and in 1518 fell pregnant again with another girl, only for her to be stillborn.[28] Elizabeth is one of only two completely undisputed mistresses, few for a virile young king.[29][30] Exactly how many Henry had is disputed: David Loades believes Henry had mistresses "only to a very limited extent",[30] whilst Alison Weir believes there were numerous other affairs, conducted in the king's river-side mansion of Jordan House[disambiguation needed].[31] Blount gave birth in June 1519 to Henry's illegitimate son, Henry FitzRoy.[28] The young boy was made Duke of Richmond in June 1525 in what some thought was one step on the path to legitimising 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 (July 1536), Parliament was enacting the Second Succession Act, which could have allowed Henry's illegitimate son to become king.

France and the Habsburgs

In 1510, France, more or less allied with the Holy Roman Empire in the League of Cambrai, was winning a war against Venice. Henry renewed his father's friendship with Louis XII of France, an issue which divided his council. Certainly war with the combined might of the two powers would have been exceedingly difficult.[32] Shortly after, he also signed a contradictory pact with Ferdinand against France. The problem was resolved with a shift in the League with the creation of the Holy League by Pope Julius II in October 1511.[32] Henry brought England into the anti-French alliance shortly after, with an initial joint Anglo-Spanish attack on Aquitaine for the spring to recover for England. It appeared to be the start of making Henry's dreams reality.[33] The attack, starting with the declaration of war on France in April, was not led by Henry personally.[34] It was a considerable failure – due mostly to Ferdinand using the attack to his own ends – and put strain on the Anglo-Spanish alliance; however, the French were pushed out of Italy soon after and the alliance survived.[34][35] Soon after Henry pulled off a diplomatic coup by convincing the Emperor to join the Holy League.[36] Before Henry began on the invasion, he had Edmund de la Pole – a prisoner in the Tower of London – executed, prompted by his brother Richard siding against the king.[37] Remarkably, Henry had also secured the promised title of "Most Christian King of France", and possibly coronation by the Pope himself in Paris, but only if Louis could be defeated.[38]

The meeting of Francis I and Henry VIII at the Field of Cloth of Gold.

On 30 June 1513, Henry invaded France and his troops defeated a French army at the Battle of the Spurs; a minor result, but one which was seized on by the English and played up. Soon after, the English seized Thérouanne and handed it over to Maximillian; Tournai, a more significant settlement, followed.[39] Henry had led the army personally, complete with large entourage.[40] His brother-in-law, James IV of Scotland, invaded England at the behest of Louis.[41] The English army, led by Queen Catherine, who acted as regent of England while Henry was in France, defeated the Scots at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513. Among the dead was the King James IV, ending Scotland's brief involvement in the war.[42] These campaigns had given Henry a taste of the military success he so desired. However, despite initial indications he would pursue a 1514 campaign, Henry decided against such a move. He had been supporting Ferdinand and Maximilian financially during the campaign but had got back little; England's own coffers were now empty.[43] With the replacement of Julius by Pope Leo X, who was inclined to peace with France, Henry instead signed a treaty with Louis: Mary would become Louis' wife, having previously been pledged to the younger Charles, and peace secured for eight years, a remarkably long time.[44]

Charles I replaced Ferdinand as King of Spain in 1516 and Maxilimillian as Emperor in 1519; Francis I became King of France on Louis' death.[45] Cardinal Thomas Wolsey's careful diplomacy had resulted in the Treaty of London in 1518, aimed at uniting the kingdoms of western Europe in the wake of a new Ottoman threat and it seemed that peace might be secured.[46] Meeting Francis I on 7 June 1520 at the Field of the Cloth of Gold 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. The strong air of competition laid to rest any hopes of a renewal of the Treaty of London, however, and conflict was inevitable.[46] Henry had more in common with Charles, who he met once before and once after Francis. Charles brought the Empire into war with France in 1521; Henry offered to mediate but little was achieved and by the end of the year Henry had aligned England with Charles. He still clung to his previous aim of restoring English lands in France, but also securing an alliance with Burgundy and the continuing support of Charles.[47] A small English attack in the north of France made up little ground. When Francis and his army were defeated at the Battle of Pavia, leaving Charles (who believed he owed Henry nothing) free to make peace, Henry decided to take England out of the war before his ally, signing the Treaty of the More on 30 August 1525.[48]

King's Great Matter: 1525–1534

Catherine of Aragon, Henry's first queen

Henry became impatient with Catherine's inability to produce the heir he desired.[49] Henry wanted a male heir to consolidate the power of the Tudor dynasty, and Catherine was now past the age of child-bearing.[50] Henry had three options: legitimise Henry FitzRoy, which would take the intervention of the pope and would be open to challenge; marry off Mary as soon as possible and hope for a grandson to inherit directly, but Mary was an undersized child and was unlikely to conceive before Henry's death; or somehow reject Catherine and find someone else. The third was the most attractive possibility to Henry.[51]

Around this time, Henry conducted an affair with Mary Boleyn, 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.[52] In 1525, as Henry grew more impatient, he became enamoured of Mary's sister, Anne Boleyn, then a charismatic young woman in the Queen's entourage.[53] Anne at first resisted his attempts to seduce her, and refused to become his mistress as her sister Mary Boleyn had.[54] It is commonly believed that Anne, by refusing to become Henry's mistress, pushed Henry into the course of action he later undertook; this story was widely used by Protestant supporters of Anne and may be exaggerated. It is clear that by 1528 Henry was infatuated by her and was beginning to plan a second marriage.[50] It soon became the King's absorbing desire to annul his marriage to Catherine.[55] When Henry confronted Catherine in 1527, claiming that their marriage had never been valid – the Old Testament forbade marrying the wife of your brother in Leviticus 20:21 – all hope of tempting Catherine to retire to a nunnery or otherwise stay quiet were lost.[56]

Henry appealed directly to the Holy See, independently from 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 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.[57]

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.[57] The Pope had never had any intention of empowering his legate. Charles V also resisted the annulment of his aunt's marriage, but it is not clear how far this influenced the pope. It is clear that Henry saw that the Pope was unlikely to give him an annulment.[58] 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.[59] 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 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.[60]

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.[61]

Second marriage

Portrait of Anne Boleyn, Henry's second queen; a later copy of an original painted c.1534

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.[62] Immediately upon returning to Dover in England, Henry and Anne went through a secret wedding service.[63] 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.[64]

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.[65] Rejecting the decisions of the Pope, Parliament validated the marriage of Henry and Anne with the First Succession Act (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

Meanwhile, Parliament had forbidden all appeals to Rome and exacted the penalties of praemunire against all who introduced papal bulls into England. Parliament 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,[nb 1][nb 2] declaring at the same time the archbishop's decree of annulment to be invalid and the marriage with Anne null. The papal nuncio was withdrawn from England and diplomatic relations with Rome were broken off.[60] 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.[66]

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 executed and his body burned at King Henry's behest. Theological and practical reforms would follow only under Henry's successors.

Later life: 1534–1540

Henry c.1537

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 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.[67] Henry is traditionally believed to have had affair with Margaret ("Madge") Shelton in 1535, although historian Antonia Fraser has claimed that Henry in fact had an affair with her sister Mary Shelton.[29]

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.[68] For most observers, this personal loss was the beginning of the end of the royal marriage.[69]

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.[70] 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.[71] 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 the Order of the Garter, which was instead given to Jane Seymour's brother, who became Earl of Hertford.[72][73]

Five men, including Anne's own brother, were arrested on charges of incest and treason, accused of having sexual relationships with the queen.[74] On 2 May 1536 Anne was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. She was accused of adultery, incest and high treason.[75] 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 am 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.[76]

Birth of a prince

Jane Seymour (left) became Henry's third wife, pictured right with Henry and the young Prince Edward, c.1545, by an unknown artist. At the time that this was painted, Henry was married to his sixth wife, Catherine Parr.

The day after Anne's execution in 1536 Henry became engaged to Seymour, who was one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting.[77] They were married 10 days later. 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 Second Succession Act (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, should he have no further issue.[78]

On 12 October 1537, Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, the future Edward VI.[79] The birth was difficult and the queen died on 24 October 1537 from an infection and was buried in Windsor.[80] Measures were immediately put in place to find another wife for Henry, which, at the insistence of Cromwell and the court, were focused on the Continent.[81] 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 that he so desperately sought. He was buried next to her.

Final years: 1540–1547

Henry's foreign policy had played second fiddle to domestic concerns about his wives in preceding years, with Charles V distracted by the internal politics of his many kingdoms and external threats and Henry and Francis on relatively good terms. However, when Charles and Francis made peace in January 1539, Henry became increasingly apprehensive. Cromwell as spymaster supplied Henry with a constant list of threats to the kingdom (real or imaginary, weak or serious), and Henry was increasingly paranoid in their wake.[82] Enriched by the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry used some of his reserves into building a series of coastal defences and some aside for the expected Franco-German invasion.[83]

However, the alliance between Francis and Charles soon soured, and degenerated to war. With Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn now dead, relations between Charles and Henry improved considerably and Henry decided to enter the Italian War in favour of his new ally. An invasion was planned for 1543.[84] In preparation for it, Henry lured Scottish forces south into the area around Carlisle before defeating them in the Battle of Solway Moss.[85] Although Henry's plans for Scotland's new queen, Mary, to marry his son Edward failed despite the signing of the Treaty of Greenwich, Scotland was indeed kept out the French war. Henry's hesitation on his French invasion annoyed Charles, however. Henry's own invasion in June 1544 successfully captured Montreuil and Boulogne successfully besieged.[86] Charles' efforts were unsuccessful, and, irritated by Henry, he made peace with the French.[87] Henry was left alone against France, unable to agree a peace deal; England was once again placed under threat of invasion. When it came, however, it was a fiasco that brought France to the negotiating table. Signing the Treaty of Camp, Henry secured Boulogne for eight years, after which the French would get it back if 2 million crowns were paid, or £750,000. Henry's motivation was now financial; the 1544 campaign had cost £650,000 and England was once again bankrupt.[88] Henry still clung to the Treaty of Greenwich, which the Scottish rejected; whether the countries were at war or not remained unclear up to Henry's death.[89]

Marriage to Anne of Cleves

At this time, Henry wished to marry once again to ensure the succession. Cromwell, now Earl of Essex, suggested Anne, the sister of the Duke of Cleves, who was seen as an important ally in case of a Roman Catholic attack on England, for the duke fell between Lutheranism and Catholicism.[90] Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to Cleves to paint a portrait of Anne for the king.[91] Despite speculation that Holbein painted her in an overly flattering light, it is more likely that the portrait was accurate; Holbein remained in favour at court.[92] After regarding Holbein's portrayal, and urged by the complimentary description of Anne given by his courtiers, the king agreed to wed Anne.[93] On Anne's arrival in England, Henry is said to have found her unattractive, privately calling her a "Flanders Mare".[94]

Henry wished to annul the marriage so he could marry another.[95] The Duke of Cleves had become engaged in a dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor, with whom Henry had no desire to quarrel.[citation needed] Anne did not argue, and confirmed that the marriage had never been consummated.[96] Henry was said to have come into the room each night and merely kissed his new bride on the forehead before retiring.[citation needed] The subject of Anne's previous marriage arrangements with the Duke of Lorraine's son eventually provided for the answer, one complicated enough that the remaining impediments to an annulment were thus removed.[97] The marriage was subsequently dissolved and Anne received the title of "The King's Sister", two houses and a generous allowance.[96]

Cromwell, meanwhile, fell out of favour although it is unclear exactly why, for there is little evidence of differences of domestic or foreign policy; despite his role, he was not officially accused of being responsible for Henry's failed marriage. He was subsequently attainted and beheaded.[98] Cromwell had been amongst enemies at court and the failure of the marriage to Anne allowed Cromwell's greatest rival, the Duke of Norfolk, to offer up his niece – Catherine Howard to the king. Charges of treason, selling export licences, granting passports, and drawing up commissions without permission were all laid at Cromwell's table, and may have been accompanied with blame for the Cleves failure, and the failure of the foreign policy it accompanied.[99] The office of Vicegerent in Spirituals, which had been specifically created for him, was not filled.[citation needed] Shortly after, the religious reformers Robert Barnes, William Jerome and Thomas Garret were burned as heretics, innocent of the crime attributed to them.[96]

Marriages to Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr

Miniature Portrait of Catherine Howard, Henry's fifth wife, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1540 (left) and Catherine Parr, Henry's sixth and last wife (right)

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.[100] He was absolutely delighted with his new queen, and awarded her the lands of Cromwell and a vast array of jewellery.[101] Soon after her marriage, however, Queen Catherine had an affair with the courtier Thomas Culpeper. She employed Francis Dereham, who was previously informally engaged to her and had an affair with her prior to her marriage, as her secretary. The court was informed of her affair with Dereham whilst Henry was away; they dispatched Thomas Cranmer to investigate, who brought evidence of Queen Catherine's previous affair with Dereham to the king's notice.[102] Though Henry originally refused to believe the allegations, Dereham confessed. It took another meeting of the council, however, before Henry believed and went into a rage, blaming the council before consoling himself in hunting.[103] 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. Culpeper and Dereham were executed, and Catherine too was beheaded on 13 February 1542.[104]

In 1540, Henry sanctioned the destruction of shrines to saints. In 1542, 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 July 1543.[105] 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.[citation needed] She helped reconcile Henry with his first two daughters, the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth.[106] 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.

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, pus-filled boils and possibly suffered from gout. His obesity and other medical problems can be traced from the 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 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 he had previously enjoyed. The jousting accident is believed to have caused Henry's mood swings, which may have had a dramatic effect on his personality and temperament.[107]

Meeting of Henry and Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor

The theory that Henry suffered from syphilis has been dismissed by most historians.[108] A more recent theory suggests that Henry's medical symptoms, and those of his older sister Margaret Tudor, are characteristic of untreated Type II diabetes. According to research published in March 2011, his wives' pattern of pregnancies and his mental deterioration suggests that the king may have been Kell positive and suffered from McLeod syndrome.[109] Obesity specialists at Imperial College London have analysed Henry VIII’s history and body morphology to identify that this was likely as a result of traumatic brain injury after his 1536 jousting accident, which in turn led to a neuroendocrine cause of his obesity. This analysis identifies growth hormone deficiency (GHD) as the source for his increased adiposity but also significant behavioural changes noted in his later years, including his multiple marriages.[110]

Henry's obesity 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 died soon after allegedly uttering his last words: "Monks! Monks! Monks!",[111] perhaps in reference to the monks he caused to be evicted during the dissolution of the monasteries.[112] Henry VIII was interred in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, next to his wife Jane Seymour.[113] Over a hundred years later, Charles I was buried in the same vault.

After his death, his only 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 failed, the crown was to go to Henry's daughter by Anne Boleyn, Princess Elizabeth, and her heirs. Finally, if Elizabeth's line 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.

Power and authority


Henry with Charles V (right) and Pope Leo X (center), c. 1520

Financially, the reign of Henry was a near-disaster. Although he inherited a prosperous economy (and further augmented his royal treasury by seizures of church lands), Henry's heavy spending and high taxes damaged the economy.[114][115] 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.[116] By comparison, his neighbour and nephew James V of Scotland had five palaces and 200 tapestries.[117] He took pride in showing off his collection of weapons, which included exotic archery equipment, 2,250 pieces of land ordnance and 6,500 handguns.[118]

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).[119] 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),[120] 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 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.[121] 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.


Gold crown of Henry VIII, minted c. 1544–1547. The reverse depicts the quartered arms of England and France.

Henry began his reign with heavy reliance on advisers 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 signalled by the dramatic display of amity on the Field of the 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 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.

Geoffrey 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.[122][nb 3]

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.[124]

English navy

Depiction of Henry embarking at Dover, c.1520

Henry is traditionally cited as one of the founders of the Royal Navy.[125] Technologically, Henry invested in large cannon for his warships, an idea that had taken hold in other countries, to replace the smaller serpentines in use.[125] He also flirted with designing ships personally – although his contribution to larger vessels, if any, is not known, it is believed that he influenced the design of rowbarges and similar galleys.[126] Henry was also responsible for the creation of a permanent navy, with the supporting anchorages and dockyards.[125] Tactically, Henry's reign saw the Navy move away from boarding tactics to employ gunnery instead.[127] The Navy was enlarged up to fifty ships (the Mary Rose was one of them), and Henry was responsible for the establishment of the "council for marine causes" to specifically oversee all the maintenance and operation of the Navy, becoming the basis for the later Admiralty.[128]

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, at Dover, Moat Bulwark and Archcliffe Fort, which he personally visited for a few months to supervise. He 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 known as Henry VIII's Device Forts.


Henry's Italian-made suit of armour, c.1544. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Henry never formally repudiated the doctrines of the 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. Henry and his advisors felt the pope was acting in the role of an Italian prince involved in secular affairs, which obscured his religious role. They said Rome treated England as a minor stepchild, allowing it one cardinal out of fifty, and no possibility of that cardinal becoming pope. For reasons of state it was increasingly intolerable to Henry that major decisions in England were settled by Italians. The divorce issue exemplified the problem but was not itself the cause of the problem.[nb 4]

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 1532–1537, 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 (1534), 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 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.[130]

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 ("Honour 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.[131]

Response to the reforms was mixed. The reforms, which closed down monasteries that were the only support of the impoverished,[132] alienated most of the population outside London and helped provoke the great northern rising of 1536–1537, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.[133] 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.[134][135] Elsewhere the changes were accepted and welcomed, and those who clung to Catholic rites kept quiet or moved in secrecy. They would re-emerge 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 programme was designed primarily to create a landed gentry beholden to the crown, which would use the lands much more efficiently.[136]

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. Henry's catechism of 1545, called the King's Primer, left out the saints.[137] 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.


The division of Ireland in 1450

At the beginning of Henry's reign, Ireland was effectively divided into three zones: the Pale, where English rule was unchallenged; Leinster and Munster, the so-called "obedient land" of Anglo-Irish peers; and the Gaelic Connaught and Ulster, with merely notional English rule.[138] Until 1513, Henry continued the policy of his father, to allow Irish lords to rule in the king's name and accept steep divisions between the communities.[139] However, upon the death of the 8th Earl of Kildare, governor of Ireland, fractional Irish politics combined with a more ambitious Henry to cause trouble. When Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond died, Henry recognised one successor for Ormond's English, Welsh and Scottish lands, whilst in Ireland another took control. Kildare's successor, the 9th Earl, was replaced as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey in 1520.[140] Surrey's ambitious aims were costly, but ineffective; English rule became trapped between winning the Irish lords over with diplomacy, as favoured by Henry and Wolsey, and a sweeping military occupation as proposed by Surrey.[141] Surrey was recalled in 1521, with Piers Butler – one of claimants to the Earldom of Ormond – appointed in his place. Butler proved unable to control opposition, including that of Kildare. Kildare was appointed chief governor in 1524, resuming his dispute with Butler, which had before been in a lull. Meanwhile, the Earl of Desmond, an Anglo-Irish peer, had turned his support to Richard de la Pole as pretender to the English throne; when in 1528 Kildare failed to take suitable actions against him, Kildare was once again removed from his post.[142]

The Desmond situation was resolved on his death in 1529, which was followed by a period of uncertainty. This was effectively ended with the appointment of Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and the king's son, as lord lieutenant. Richmond had never before visited Ireland, his appointment a break with past policy.[143] For a time it looked as if peace might be restored with the return of Kildare to Ireland to manage the tribes, but the effect was limited and the Irish parliament soon rendered ineffective.[144] Ireland began to receive the attention of Cromwell, who had supporters of Ormond and Desmond promoted. Kildare, on the other hand, was summoned to London; after some hesitation, he departed for London in 1534, where he would face charges of treason.[144] His son, Thomas, Lord Offaly was more forthright, denouncing the king and leading a "Catholic crusade" against the king, who was by this time mired in marital problems. Offaly had the Archbishop of Dublin murdered, and besieged Dublin. Offaly led a mixture of Pale gentry and Irish tribes, although he failed to secure the support of Lord Darcy, a sympathiser, or Charles V. What was effectively a civil war was ended with the intervention of 2,000 English troops – a large army by Irish standards – and the execution of Offaly (his father was already dead) and his uncles.[145]

Although the Offaly revolt was followed by a determination to rule Ireland more closely, Henry was weary of getting into drawn out conflict with the tribes and a royal commission recommended that the only relationship with the tribes was to be promises of peace, their land protected from English expansion. The man to lead this effort was Sir Antony St Leger, as Lord Deputy of Ireland, who would remain into the post past Henry's death.[146] There had been a well-founded belief that Ireland was merely a fief of England from the Pope, so with the break from Rome came the assertion of Henry to the Kingdom of Ireland in 1541. It did, however, also reflect Henry's policy of peaceful reconciliation and expansion; the Lords of Ireland would grant their lands to the King, before being returned as fief. The incentive was an accompanying barony, and thus a right to sit in the Irish House of Lords – to run in parallel with England's.[147] The Irish law of the tribes did not suit such an arrangement, because the chieftain did not have the required rights; this made progress tortuous and it was abandoned in 1543 not to be replaced.[148]

Public image

Jonathan Rhys Meyers' portrayal of a youthful Henry VIII.

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 the Cloth of Gold. He scouted the country for choirboys, taking some directly from Wolsey's choir, and introduced Renaissance music into court. Musicians included Benedict de Opitiis, Richard Sampson, Ambrose Lupo, and Venetian organist Dionisio Memo. Henry himself kept a considerable collection of instruments; he was skilled on the lute, could play the organ, and was a talented player of the virginals.[149] He could also sight read music and sing well.[149] He was 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. He was an avid gambler and dice player, and excelled at sports, especially jousting, hunting, and real tennis. He was known for his strong defence of conventional Christian piety.[7] The King was 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.

Henry was an intellectual. The first English king with a modern humanist education, he read and wrote English, French, Latin and was thoroughly at home in his well-stocked library. He personally annotated many books and wrote and published one of his own. He is said to have written the song "Helas madam". 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.[150] At the popular level, theatre and minstrel troupes funded by the crown travelled 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.[151]

A strong man, over six feet tall and broad in proportion, Henry 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.[152][153]

Henry worked hard to present an image of unchallengeable authority and irresistible power. He executed at will, beheading, often in public, more English notables than any monarch before or since. The roll of heads included two wives, twenty peers, four leading public servants, and six of the king's close attendants and friends, not to mention one cardinal and various heads of monasteries. In addition, Cardinal Wolsey died en route to his treason trial.[154]


Musical score of Pastime with good company, c.1513, composed by Henry

Though mainly motivated by dynastic and personal concerns, and despite never really abandoning the fundamentals of the 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 1533–1534 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 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.

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. 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.

Historian J. Scarisbrick concludes that Henry was a formidable, captivating man who "wore regality with a splendid conviction."[155] However, his overpowering charm could turn unpredictably into anger and shouting, for he was high-strung, unstable, hypochondriac, and possessed of a strong streak of cruelty. Lacey Smith considered him an egotistical borderline 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.[156]

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.

Style and arms

Henry's shield as the Duke of York (left) and armorial as Prince of Wales (right).
Henry's armorial during his early reign (left) and later reign (right)

Many 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 12th 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).


Marriages and issue

Name Birth Death Notes
By Catherine of Aragon (married Greenwich Palace 11 June 1509; annulled 23 May 1533)
Unnamed Daughter 31 January 1510 31 January 1510 miscarriage
Henry, Duke of Cornwall 1 January 1511 22 February 1511 died aged almost two months
Unnamed Son November 1513 died shortly after birth
Henry, Duke of Cornwall December 1514 died within one month of birth
Queen Mary I 18 February 1516 17 November 1558 married 1554, Philip II of Spain; no issue
Unnamed Daughter November 1518 stillbirth in the 8th month of pregnancy[157][158]
By Anne Boleyn (married Westminster Abbey 25 January 1533; annulled 17 May 1536) beheaded on 19 May 1536
Queen Elizabeth I 7 September 1533 24 March 1603 never married; no issue
Henry, Duke of Cornwall August/September 1534
Unnamed son 29 January 1536 miscarriage of a seemingly male child after about 3 1/2 months of pregnancy[159]
By Jane Seymour (married York Place 30 May 1536; Jane Seymour died 24 October 1537)
King Edward VI 12 October 1537 6 July 1553 unmarried; no issue
By Anne of Cleves (married Greenwich Palace 6 January 1540; annulled 9 July 1540)
no issue
By Catherine Howard (married Oatlands Palace 28 July 1540; annulled 23 November 1541) beheaded on 13 February 1542
no issue
By Catherine Parr (married Hampton Court Palace 12 July 1543; Henry VIII died 28 January 1547)
no issue
By Elizabeth Blount
Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset 15 June 1519 23 July 1536 illegitimate; acknowledged by Henry VIII in 1525 and given a dukedom; married Lady Mary Howard in 1533; no issue
By Mary Boleyn
Paternity is debated by most historians and was never acknowledged by Henry VIII
Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys c. 1524 15 January 1569 married Sir Francis Knollys; had issue
Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon 4 March 1526 23 July 1596 married 1545, Ann Morgan; had issue

See also


  1. ^ Historians disagree on the exact date of the excommunication; according to Winston Churchill's 'History of the English Speaking Peoples', the bull of 1533 was a draft with penalties left blank and was not made official until 1535. Others say Henry was not officially excommunicated until 1538, by Pope Paul III, brother of Cardinal Franklin de la Thomas.
  2. ^ According to J. J. Scarisbrick, Pope Paul promulgated the Bull of Excommunication on 17 December 1538.[1]
  3. ^ Elton is sharply hostile toward the king — an "ego-centric monstrosity," whose reign "owed its successes and virtues to better and greater men about him; most of its horrors and failures sprang more directly from himself."[123]
  4. ^ A. F. Pollard provides the classic statement of the Henrician position. Pollard argues that that Spain and France stayed loyal because they controlled the papacy.[129]


  1. ^ a b Scarisbrick 1997, p. 361
  2. ^ Guy 2000, p. 41.
  3. ^ Adams 1986, pp. 111–112.
  4. ^ Wilkinson 2009, p. 70
  5. ^ Ives 2006, pp. 28–36
  6. ^ a b Crofton 2006, p. 128
  7. ^ a b Crofton 2006, p. 129
  8. ^ a b c Scarisbrick 1997, p. 3
  9. ^ Churchill 1966, p. 29
  10. ^ Scarisbrick 1997, pp. 14–15
  11. ^ Scarisbrick 1997, p. 4
  12. ^ a b Crofton 2006, p. 126
  13. ^ Scarisbrick 1997, pp. 4–5
  14. ^ Scarisbrick 1997, p. 6
  15. ^ a b Loades 2009, p. 22
  16. ^ a b c Scarisbrick 1997, p. 8
  17. ^ Loades 2009, pp. 22–23.
  18. ^ a b Loades 2009, p. 23
  19. ^ a b c Loades 2009, p. 24
  20. ^ Scarisbrick 1997, p. 12
  21. ^ a b Scarisbrick 1997, pp. 18–19
  22. ^ Scarisbrick 1997, p. 19
  23. ^ Hall 1904, p. 17
  24. ^ a b Loades 2009, p. 26
  25. ^ Scarisbrick 1997, p. 18
  26. ^ Hart 2009, p. 27
  27. ^ Weir 2002, p. 121
  28. ^ a b Loades 2009, pp. 48–49
  29. ^ a b Fraser 1994, p. 220
  30. ^ a b Loades 2009, pp. 47–48
  31. ^ Weir 2002, p. missing
  32. ^ a b Loades 2009, p. 27
  33. ^ Loades 2009, pp. 27–28
  34. ^ a b Scarisbrick 1997, pp. 28–31
  35. ^ Loades 2009, pp. 30–32
  36. ^ Loades 2009, p. 62
  37. ^ Scarisbrick 1997, pp. 31–32
  38. ^ Scarisbrick 1997, pp. 33–34
  39. ^ Loades 2009, pp. 62–63
  40. ^ Scarisbrick 1997, pp. 35–36
  41. ^ Guicciardini 1968, p. 280
  42. ^ Loades 2009, p. 63
  43. ^ Loades 2009, pp. 65–66
  44. ^ Loades 2009, pp. 66–67
  45. ^ Loades 2009, pp. 67–68
  46. ^ a b Loades 2009, pp. 68–69
  47. ^ Loades 2009, p. 69
  48. ^ Loades 2009, pp. 70–71
  49. ^ Lacey 1972, p. 70
  50. ^ a b Crofton 2006, p. 51
  51. ^ Loades 2009, pp. 88–89
  52. ^ Cruz & Suzuki 2009, p. 132
  53. ^ Scarisbrick 1997, p. 154
  54. ^ Weir 2002, p. 160
  55. ^ Brigden 2000, p. 114
  56. ^ Loades 2009, pp. 91–92
  57. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg "Henry VIII" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.
  58. ^ Morris 1998, p. 166
  59. ^ Haigh 1993, p. 92f
  60. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg "Clement VII" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.
  61. ^ Williams 1971, p. 136
  62. ^ Williams 1971, p. 123
  63. ^ Starkey 2003, pp. 462–464
  64. ^ Williams 1971, p. 124
  65. ^ Williams 1971, pp. 128–131
  66. ^ Lehmberg 1970, p. missing
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  70. ^ Ashley 2003, p. 240
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  75. ^ Hibbert missing, pp. 54–55
  76. ^ Hibbert missing, p. 60
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  107. ^ "The jousting accident that turned Henry VIII into a tyrant". The Independent (UK). 18 April 2009. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/the-jousting-accident-that-turned-henry-viii-into-a-tyrant-1670421.html. Retrieved 25 August 2010.
  108. ^ Hays 2010, p. 68
  109. ^ Whitely, Banks & Kramer 2010, p. missing cited Sohn, Emily (11 March 2011). "King Henry VIII's Madness Explained". discovery.com. http://news.discovery.com/history/henry-viii-blood-disorder-110311.html. Retrieved 25 March 2011.
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  157. ^ David Starkey: Six Wives: . The Queens of Henry VIII. p. 160
  158. ^ Letter by the Venetian ambassador December 13th, 1518: „The Queen had been delivered in her eighth month of a stillborn daughter, to the great sorrow of the nation at large.“ In: Calendar of State Papers Relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 2: 1509–1519, p 478–482 (1867).
  159. ^ David Starkey: Six Wives. The Queens of Henry VIIIp. 553


Further reading


  • Bowle, John. Henry VIII: a Study of Power in Action. Little, Brown, 1964.
  • Erickson, Carolly. Mistress Anne: the Exceptional Life of Anne Boleyn. (1984). 464 pp.
  • Cressy, David. "Spectacle and Power: Apollo and Solomon at the Court of Henry VIII." History Today 1982 32(oct): 16–22. ISSN: 0018-2753 Fulltext: Ebsco
  • Gardner, James. "Henry VIII" in Cambridge Modern History vol 2 (1903), a brief political history online edition
  • Graves, Michael. Henry VIII (2003), 217 pp
  • Ives, E. W. "Henry VIII (1491–1547)", in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), online at OUP
  • Pollard, A. F. Henry VIII (1905), 470 pp; the first modern biography, accurate and still valuable online edition
  • Rex, Richard. Henry VIII and the English Reformation. (1993). 205 pp.
  • Ridley, Jasper. Henry VIII. (1985). 473 pp.
  • Scarisbrick, J. J. Henry VIII (1968). 592 pp.
  • Smith, Lacey Baldwin. Henry VIII: the Mask of Royalty (1971), online edition
  • Starkey, David. Six Wives: the Queens of Henry VIII (2003) excerpt and text search
  • Starkey, David. The Reign of Henry VIII: Personalities and Politics (1986). 174 pp
  • Starkey, David, and Susan Doran. Henry VIII: Man and Monarch (2009). 288 pp
  • Tytler, Patrick Fraser (1836). Life of King Henry the Eighth. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd (published 1837). http://books.google.com/?id=lWUDAAAAQAAJ. Retrieved 17 August 2008
  • Weir, Alison. Henry VIII, King and Court (2001). 640 pp, a flattering portrait excerpt and text search
  • Weir, Alison. The Children of Henry VIII. (1996). 400 pp.

Scholarly studies

  • Bernard, G. W. The King's Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church. (2005). 712 pp. excerpts and text search
  • Bernard, G. W. "The Making of Religious Policy, 1533–1546: Henry VIII and the Search for the Middle Way." Historical Journal 1998 41(2): 321–349. Issn: 0018-246x Fulltext: in Jstor
  • Bernard, G. W. War, Taxation, and Rebellion in Early Tudor England: Henry VIII, Wolsey, and the Amicable Grant of 1525. (1986). 164 pp
  • Elton, G. R. The Tudor Revolution in Government: Administrative Changes in the Reign of Henry VIII (1953; revised 1962), major interpretation online edition
    • Coleman, Christoper, and David Starkey, eds. Revolution Reassessed: Revision in the History of Tudor Government and Administration (1986), evaluates Elton thesis
  • Elton, G. R. Reform and Reformation: England, 1509–1558 (1977), hostile to Henry
  • Fielder, Martha Anne. "Iconographic Themes in Portraits of Henry VIII." PhD dissertation Texas Christian U. 1985. 232 pp. DAI 1985 46(6): 1424-A. DA8517256 Fulltext: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
  • Fox, Alistair, and John Guy, eds. Reassessing the Henrician Age: Humanism, Politics and Reform 1500–1550 (1986), 242pp; advanced essays by scholars
  • Head, David M. "Henry VIII's Scottish Policy: a Reassessment." Scottish Historical Review 1982 61(1): 1–24. Issn: 0036-9241 Argues that if Henry intended to take over Scotland then his 1542 victory at Solway Moss was the opportune moment, for the French were unable to intervene, the Scottish nobility was in disarray, and the infant Mary was in line for Scotland's throne. Instead, Henry adopted a policy similar to that in Ireland, since he could not afford outright conquest or the luxury of diplomacy.
  • Lindsey, Karen. Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII (1995) online edition
  • Loades, David. Henry VIII: Court, Church and Conflict (2007) 248pp; by a leading scholar excerpt and text search
  • MacCulloch, Diarmaid, ed. The Reign of Henry VIII: Politics, Policy, and Piety. (1995). 313 pp. essays by scholars
  • Marshall, Peter. "(Re)defining the English Reformation," Journal of British Studies July 2009, Vol. 48 Issue 3, pp 564–85,
  • Mackie, J. D. The Earlier Tudors, 1485–1558 (1952), a political survey of the era online edition
  • Moorhouse, Geoffrey. Great Harry's Navy: How Henry VIII Gave England Seapower (2007)
  • Moorhouse, Geoffrey. The Last Divine Office: Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries (2009)
  • Slavin, Arthur J., ed. Henry VIII and the English Reformation (1968), readings by historians. online edition
  • Smith, H. Maynard. Henry VIII and the Reformation (1948) online edition
  • Wagner, John A. Bosworth Field to Bloody Mary: An Encyclopedia of the Early Tudors (2003). ISBN 1-57356-540-7.
  • Walker, Greg. Writing under Tyranny: English Literature and the Henrician Reformation. (2005). 556 pp.

Historiography and memory

  • Head, David M. "'If a Lion Knew His Own Strength': the Image of Henry VIII and His Historians." International Social Science Review 1997 72(3–4): 94–109. Issn: 0278-2308 Fulltext: Ebsco
  • Hoak, Dale. "Politics, Religion and the English Reformation, 1533–1547: Some Problems and Issues." History Compass 2005 3 (Britain and Ireland): 7 pp Issn: 1478-0542 Fulltext: Blackwell Synergy
  • Ives, Eric. "Will the Real Henry VIII Please Stand Up?" History Today 2006 56(2): 28–36. Issn: 0018-2753 Fulltext: Ebsco
  • Rankin, Mark. 'Imagining Henry VIII: Cultural Memory and the Tudor King, 1535–1625'. PhD Dissrertation, Ohio State. U. Dissertation Abstracts International 2007 68(5): 1987-A. DA3264565, 403p.

Primary sources

External links

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
Crown of Ireland Act 1542
King of England
21 April 1509 – 28 January 1547
Succeeded by
Edward VI
Title last held by
Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair
King of Ireland
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir William Scott
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by
Sir Edward Poyning
Preceded by
The Marquess of Berkeley
Earl Marshal
Succeeded by
The Duke of Norfolk
Peerage of England
Title last held by
Prince of Wales
Title next held by
Preceded by
Duke of Cornwall
Title next held by