(28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) was King of
England and Lord of Ireland, later King of Ireland and claimant
to the Kingdom of France, from 21 April 1509 until his death.
Henry was the second monarch of the House of Tudor, succeeding
his father, Henry VII.
Henry VIII was a significant figure in
the history of the English monarchy. Although in the first parts
of his reign he energetically suppressed the Reformation of the
Anglican Church, which had been building steam since John
Wycliffe of the fourteenth century, he is more often known for
his ecclesiastical struggles with Rome. These struggles
ultimately led to him separating the Anglican Church from Roman
authority, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and establishing
the English monarch as the Supreme Head of the Church of
England. Although some claim he became a Protestant on his
death-bed, he advocated Catholic ceremony and doctrine
throughout his life; royal backing of the English Reformation
was left to his heirs, Edward VI and Elizabeth I. Henry also
oversaw the legal union of England and Wales (see Laws in Wales
Acts 1535–1542). He is noted in popular culture for being
married six times.
Early years (1491-1509)
Born in Greenwich Palace, Henry VIII was the third child of
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.
Of the young Henry's six siblings, only three — Arthur (the
Prince of Wales), Margaret, and Mary — survived infancy. In
1493, Henry was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Lord
Warden of the Cinque Ports. In 1494, he was created Duke of
York. He was subsequently appointed Earl Marshal of England and
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Henry was given a first-rate
education from leading tutors, becoming fluent in Latin, French,
As it was expected that the throne would pass to Prince Arthur,
Henry's older brother, Henry was prepared for a career in the
Portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger.
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Death of Arthur
In 1502, however, Arthur suddenly died of an unknown disease,
perhaps tuberculosis, and Henry was thrust into all the duties
of his late brother, becoming Prince of Wales. Henry's father
renewed his efforts to seal an alliance between England and
Spain via marriage. In place of the dead Arthur, Spain was
offered Henry in marriage to Prince Arthur's widow, Catherine of
Aragon, the youngest surviving child of King Ferdinand II of
Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile.
In order for the new Prince of Wales to marry his brother's
widow, a dispensation from the Pope was normally required to
overrule the impediment of affinity. Catherine swore that her
marriage to Prince Arthur had been unconsummated. Still, both
the English and Spanish parties agreed that an additional papal
dispensation of affinity would be prudent to remove all doubt
regarding the legitimacy of the marriage.
Due to the impatience of Catherine's mother, Queen Isabella,
the Pope, Julius II, granted his dispensation in the form of a
Papal bull. Thus, fourteen months after her young husband's
death, Catherine found herself betrothed to his brother, the new
Prince of Wales. By 1505, however, Henry VII lost interest in an
alliance with Spain, and the younger Henry declared that his
betrothal had been arranged without his consent.
Continued diplomatic maneuvering over the fate of the
proposed marriage lingered until the death of Henry VII in 1509.
Only 17 years old, Henry married his brother's widow, Catherine,
on 11 June 1509, and on 24 June 1509, the two were crowned at
Westminster Abbey. Two days later, he arrested his father's two
most unpopular ministers, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley.
They were groundlessly charged with high treason and in 1510,
the king had them executed. This was to become Henry's primary
tactic for dealing with those who stood in his way.
France and the Habsburgs
Henry was a Renaissance Man and his court was a centre of
scholarly and artistic innovation and glamourous excess. He was
an accomplished musician, author, and poet. His best known
musical composition is Pastime with Good Company or The Kynges Ballade. He was also known to have been an avid
gambler and dice player. He excelled at sports, especially
jousting, hunting, and tennis. The king was also known for his
strong dedication to the Christian faith.
|The Six Wives of
| Catherine of Aragon
| Anne Boleyn
| Jane Seymour
| Anne of Cleves
| Catherine Howard
| Catherine Parr
In 1511, Pope Julius II proclaimed a Holy League against
France. This new alliance rapidly grew to include not only Spain
and the Holy Roman Empire, but also England. Henry decided to
use the occasion as an excuse to expand his holdings in northern
France. He concluded the Treaty of Westminster, a pledge of
mutual aid against the French with Spain, in November 1511 and
prepared for involvement in the War of the League of Cambrai. In
1513, Henry invaded France and his troops defeated a French army
at the Battle of the Spurs. James IV of Scotland invaded England
at the behest of Louis,
but he failed to draw Henry's attention from France. The Scots'
disastrous defeat at the Battle of Flodden Field took place on 9
September 1513. Among the dead were the Scottish King and the
battle ended Scotland's brief involvement in the war.
On 18 February 1516, Queen Catherine bore Henry one of his
four children to reach adulthood, Princess Mary, who later
reigned as Mary I.
Historians are sure of the names of only two of Henry's
mistresses: Elizabeth Blount (usually referred to as Bessie) and
Mary Boleyn (Anne's sister). Elizabeth Blount gave birth to
Henry's illegitimate son, Henry FitzRoy. The young boy was made
Duke of Richmond in June 1525 in what some thought was one step
on the path to legitimatizing him. In 1533, he married Mary
Howard, Anne Boleyn's first cousin, but died only three years
later without any successors. At the time of FitzRoy's death,
the king was trying to get a law passed that would allow his
otherwise illegitimate son to become king.
Mary Boleyn is believed to be the elder sister of Anne
Boleyn. She is thought to have been his mistress at some point
between 1519 and 1526. Historians have speculated that Mary
Boleyn's two children, Catherine and Henry were fathered by
Henry, but this has never been proven.
The king also had a brief, six-month affair with Mary Shelton
sometime in 1535. Mary has also been confused with her sister,
Margaret. However, it has been confirmed that it was in fact
Mary and not Margaret Shelton with whom Henry had the affair.
Henry's "great matter" (1525-1533)
In 1525, Henry's impatience with what he perceived to be
Catherine's inability to produce the desired heir increased when
he became attracted to a charismatic young woman in the Queen's
entourage, Anne Boleyn. Henry became enamoured with her and
began his pursuit.
Boleyn resisted his attempts to seduce her and she refused to
become his mistress, as her sister Mary Boleyn had. Henry was
all the more attracted to her because of this refusal and he
pursued her relentlessly. Boleyn continued to reject the King’s
initial advances by saying, “I beseech your highness most
earnestly to desist, and to this my answer in good part. I would
rather lose my life than my honesty.”
It is possible that the idea of annulment had suggested
itself to the King much earlier than this, and it is highly
probable that it was motivated by his desire for a male heir.
Before Henry's father Henry VII ascended the throne, England had
been beset by civil warfare over rival claims to the English
crown and Henry wanted to avoid a similar uncertainty over the
succession. The King had no sons due to the death in infancy of
all Catherine of Aragon's children except his daughter Mary.
Anne saw her opportunity in Henry's infatuation and determined
that she would only yield as his acknowledged queen.
It soon became the one absorbing object of the King's desires
to secure an annulment from Catherine.
Henry set his hopes upon a direct appeal to the Holy See, acting
in this independently of Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, to whom he at
first communicated nothing of his plans so far as they related
to Anne. William Knight, the king's secretary, was sent to Pope
Clement VII to sue for the annulment of his marriage with
Catherine. The grounds were that the dispensing bull of Pope
Julius II was obtained by false pretenses, because Catherine's
brief marriage to the sickly Arthur had in fact been
consummated. Henry also petitioned, in the event of his becoming
free, a dispensation to contract a new marriage with 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.
As the pope was at that time the prisoner of Emperor Charles
V, Knight had some difficulty in obtaining access to him. In the
end the king's envoy had to return without accomplishing much,
though the conditional dispensation for a new marriage was
granted. Henry had now no choice but to put his great matter
into the hands of Thomas Wolsey, and Wolsey did all he could to
secure a decision in the King's favour.
How far the pope was influenced by Charles V in his resistance
is difficult to say, but it is clear Henry saw that the Pope was
unlikely to give him an annulment from the Emperor's aunt.
The pope forbade Henry to proceed to a new marriage before a
decision was given in Rome. 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 secret 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 a terminal illness in 1530, he
might have been executed for treason.
His replacement, Sir Thomas More, initially cooperated with the
king's new policy, denouncing Wolsey in Parliament and
proclaiming the opinion of the theologians at Oxford and
Cambridge that the marriage of Henry to Catherine had been
unlawful. As Henry began to deny the authority of the Pope,
More's qualms grew.
A year later, Queen Catherine was banished from court and her
old rooms were given to Anne. With Wolsey gone, Anne now had
considerable power over government appointments and political
matters. 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.
The breaking of the power of Rome in England proceeded little
by little. 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.
Henry attended a meeting with the French king at Calais in
the winter of 1532, in which he hoped he could enlist the
support of Francis I of France for his new marriage. The
conference at Calais was a political triumph, since the French
government gave its support for Henry's re-marriage.
Immediately upon returning to Dover in England, Henry and Anne
went through a secret wedding service.
She soon became pregnant and, as was the custom with royalty,
there was a second wedding service, which took place in London
on 25 January 1533. Events now began to move at a quick pace. 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 good
Catherine was formally stripped of her title as queen and
Anne was consequently crowned queen consort on 1 June 1533. The
queen gave birth slightly prematurely on 7 September 1533. Anne
had given birth to a girl who was christened Elizabeth, in
honour of Henry's mother, Elizabeth of York.
Rejecting the decisions of the Pope, Parliament validated the
marriage between Henry and Anne with the Act of Succession 1533.
Catherine's daughter, the Lady Mary, was declared illegitimate,
and Anne's issue were declared next in the line of succession.
Included in this declaration was, most notably, a clause
repudiating "any foreign authority, prince or potentate". All
adults in the Kingdom were required to acknowledge the Act's
provisions by oath and those who refused to do so were subject
to imprisonment for life. The publisher or printer of any
literature alleging that Henry's marriage to Anne was invalid
was automatically guilty of high treason and could be punished
English Reformation (1533-1540)
Meanwhile, the House of Commons had forbidden all appeals to
Rome and exacted the penalties of præmunire against all who
introduced papal bulls into England. The Commons also prevented
the Church from making any regulations without the King's
consent. It was only then that Pope Clement at last took the
step of launching sentences of excommunication against the King
declaring at the same time the archbishop's decree of annulment
to be invalid and the marriage with Anne null and void. The
papal nuncio was withdrawn from England and diplomatic relations
with Rome were broken off.
Several more laws were passed in England. The Ecclesiastical
Appointments Act 1534 required the clergy to elect bishops
nominated by the Sovereign. The Act of Supremacy 1534 declared
that the King was "the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church
of England" and the Treasons Act 1534 made it high treason,
punishable by death, to refuse to acknowledge the King as such.
In response to the excommunications, the Peter's Pence Act was
passed in and it reiterated that England had "no superior under
God, but only your Grace" and that Henry's "imperial crown" had
been diminished by "the unreasonable and uncharitable
usurpations and exactions" of the Pope.
In defiance of the Pope, the Church of England was now under
Henry’s control, not Rome's.
The king and queen were not pleased with married life. The
royal couple enjoyed periods of calm and affection, but Henry's
frequent infidelities greatly upset his new wife, who reacted
with tears and rage to each new mistress. For his part, Henry
disliked Anne’s constant irritability and violent temper. After
a false pregnancy or miscarriage in 1534, he saw her failure to
give him a son as a betrayal. As early as Christmas 1534, Henry
was discussing with Cranmer and Cromwell the chances of leaving
Anne without having to return to Catherine.
Opposition to Henry's religious policies was quickly
suppressed in England. A number of dissenting monks were
tortured and executed. The most prominent resisters included
John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More, Henry's
former Lord Chancellor, both of whom refused to take the oath to
the King and were subsequently convicted of high treason and
beheaded at Tyburn. These suppressions 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 of the same year. 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 would later be 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. Dissolution of the
remaining, larger monasteries followed a subsequent authorising
act by Parliament in May 1539.
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. 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. This happened on the very day of
Catherine’s funeral, 29 January 1536. For most observers, this
personal loss was the beginning of the end of the royal
Given the King's desperate desire for a son, the sequence of
Anne's pregnancies has attracted much interest. Author Mike
Ashley speculated that Anne had two stillborn children after
Elizabeth's birth and before the birth of the male child she
miscarried in 1536.
Most sources attest only to the birth of Elizabeth in September
1533, a possible miscarriage in the summer of 1534, and the
miscarriage of a male child, of almost four months gestation, in
As Anne recovered from what would be 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
being refused a prestigious court honour, the Order of the
Garter, which was instead given to Jane Seymour's brother.
Five men, including Anne's own brother, were arrested on
charges of incest and treason, accused of having sexual
relationships with the queen.
On 2 May 1536 Anne was arrested and taken to the Tower of
London. She was accused of adultery, incest and high treason.
Although the evidence against them was unconvincing, the accused
were found guilty and condemned to death by the peers. George
Boleyn and the other accused men were executed on May 17, 1536.
On the morning of May 19, the queen was taken to the Tower
Green, where she was to be afforded the dignity of a private
knelt upright, in the French style of executions. The execution
was swift and consisted of a single stroke.
Birth of a prince
After Anne's execution in 1536 Henry became engaged to Jane
Seymour, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting to whom the king
had been showing favour for some time. They were married 10 days
later. At about the same time as this, his third marriage, Henry
granted his assent to the Laws in Wales Act 1535, which legally
annexed Wales, uniting England and Wales into one unified
nation. This was followed by the Act of Succession 1536, which
declared Henry's children by Queen Jane to be next in the line
of succession and declared both the Lady Mary and the Lady
Elizabeth illegitimate, thus excluding them from the throne. The
king was granted the power to further determine the line of
succession in his will. Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward
the future Edward VI, in 1537. The birth was difficult and the
queen died at Greenwich Palace on 24 October 1537 from an
infection. After Jane's death, the entire court mourned with
Henry for an extended period. Henry considered Jane to be his
"true" wife, being the only one who had given him the male heir
he so desperately sought. He was buried next to her at his
Final years (1540-1547)
In 1540, Henry sanctioned the destruction of shrines to
saints. At this time, Henry desired to marry once again to
ensure the succession. Thomas Cromwell, promoted to 1st Earl of
Essex, suggested Anne, the sister of the Protestant Duke of
Cleves, who was seen as an important ally in case of a Roman
Catholic attack on England. Hans Holbein the Younger was
dispatched to Cleves to paint a portrait of Anne for the king.
Although it has been said that he painted her in a more
flattering light, it is unlikely that the portrait was highly
inaccurate, since Holbein remained in favour at court. After
regarding Holbein's portrayal, and urged by the complimentary
description of Anne given by his courtiers, Henry agreed to wed
Anne. On Anne's arrival in England, Henry is said to have found
her utterly unattractive, privately calling her a "Flanders
Henry wished to annul the marriage in order to marry another.
The Duke of Cleves had become engaged in a dispute with the Holy
Roman Emperor, with whom Henry had no desire to quarrel. Queen
Anne was intelligent enough not to impede Henry's quest for an
annulment. Upon the question of marital sex, she testified that
her marriage had never been consummated. Henry was said to have
come into the room each night and merely kissed his new bride on
the forehead before retiring. All impediments to an annulment
were thus removed.
The marriage was subsequently dissolved and Anne received the
title of "The King's Sister," and was granted Hever Castle, the
former residence of Mary Boleyn's family. Cromwell, meanwhile,
fell out of favour for his role in arranging the marriage and
was subsequently attainted and beheaded. The office of
Viceregent in Spirituals, which had been specifically created
for him, was not filled.
On 28 July 1540, (the same day Cromwell was executed) Henry
married the young Catherine Howard
(also found as Katherine), Anne Boleyn's first cousin. He was
absolutely delighted with his new queen. Soon after her
marriage, however, Queen Catherine had an affair with the
courtier, Thomas Culpeper. She also employed Francis Dereham,
who was previously informally engaged to her and had an affair
with her prior to her marriage, as her secretary. Thomas
Cranmer, who was opposed to the powerful Roman Catholic Howard
family, brought evidence of Queen Catherine's activities to the
king's notice. Though Henry originally refused to believe the
allegations, he allowed Cranmer to conduct an investigation,
which resulted in Queen Catherine's implication. When
questioned, the queen could have admitted a prior contract to
marry Dereham, which would have made her subsequent marriage to
Henry invalid, but she instead claimed that Dereham had forced
her to enter into an adulterous relationship. Dereham,
meanwhile, exposed Queen Catherine's relationship with Thomas
Culpeper. As was the case with Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard
could not technically have been guilty of adultery, as the
marriage was officially null and void from the beginning. Again,
this point was ignored, and Catherine was executed on 13
February 1542. She was only about eighteen years old at the
time. That same year, England's remaining monasteries were all
dissolved, and their property transferred to the Crown. Abbots
and priors lost their seats in the House of Lords; only
archbishops and bishops came to comprise the ecclesiastical
element of the body. The Lords Spiritual, as members of the
clergy with seats in the House of Lords were known, were for the
first time outnumbered by the Lords Temporal.
Henry married his last wife, the wealthy widow Catherine
Parr, in 1543. She argued with Henry over religion; she was a
reformer, but Henry remained a conservative. This behaviour
nearly proved her undoing, but she saved herself by a show of
submissiveness. She helped reconcile Henry with his first two
daughters, the Princess Mary and the Lady Elizabeth. In 1544, an
Act of Parliament put the daughters back in the line of
succession after Edward, Prince of Wales, though they were still
deemed illegitimate. The same act allowed Henry to determine
further succession to the throne in his will.
A mnemonic for the fates of Henry's wives is "divorced,
beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived". An alternative
version is "King Henry the Eighth, to six wives he was wedded:
One died, one survived, two divorced, two beheaded". (Or, more
succinctly, "Two beheaded, one died, two divorced, one
survived.") The phrase may be misleading. Firstly, Henry was
never divorced from any of his wives; rather, his marriages to
them were annulled. Secondly, four marriages—not two—ended in
annulments. The marriages to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard
were annulled shortly before their executions and, although her
marriage to Henry was annulled, Anne of Cleves survived him, as
did Catherine Parr.
The cruelty and tyrannical egoism of Henry became more
apparent as he advanced in years and his health began to fail. A
wave of political executions, which had commenced with that of
Edmund de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk in 1513, ended with Henry
Earl of Surrey, in January, 1547, underlined it. According to
Holinshed, the number of executions in this reign amounted to
72,000—higher figures are given by some authorities.
Death and succession
Late in life, Henry became grossly overweight (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
suppurating boils and possibly suffered from gout. His obesity
dates from a jousting accident in 1536 in which he suffered a
leg wound. This prevented him from exercising and gradually
became ulcerated. It undoubtedly hastened his death at the age
of 55, which occurred on 28 January 1547 in the Palace of
Whitehall, on what would have been his father's 90th birthday.
He expired soon after uttering these last words: "Monks! Monks!
The well known theory that Henry suffered from syphilis was
first promoted approximately 100 years after his death .
A more recent theory suggests that Henry's medical symptoms, and
those of his older sister Margaret Tudor, are also
characteristic of untreated Type II diabetes. Henry VIII was
buried in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, next to his wife
Jane Seymour. Almost a hundred years later Charles I was buried
in his grave. Within a little more than a decade after his
death, all three of his royal heirs sat on the English throne,
and all three left no descendants.
Under the Act of Succession of 1543, Henry's only surviving
legitimate son, Edward, inherited the Crown, becoming Edward VI.
Since Edward was only nine years old at the time, he could not
exercise actual power. Henry's will designated 16 executors to
serve on a council of regency until Edward reached the age of
18. The executors chose Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford,
Jane Seymour's elder brother, to be Lord Protector of the Realm.
In default of heirs to Edward, the throne was to pass to Henry
VIII's daughter by Catherine of Aragon, the Princess Mary and
her heirs. If Mary's issue also failed, the crown was to go to
Henry's daughter by Anne Boleyn, Princess Elizabeth, and her
heirs. Finally, if Elizabeth's line also became extinct, the
crown was to be inherited by the descendants of Henry VIII's
deceased younger sister, Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk. The
descendants of Henry's sister Margaret Tudor - the royal family
of Scotland - were therefore excluded from succession according
to this act.
The children of Henry VIII
Mary I, daughter of Catherine
Henry Fitzroy, son of Henry's
mistress, Elizabeth Blount.
Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne
Edward VI, son of Jane
Henry is known to have been an avid gambler and dice player.
In his youth, he excelled at sports, especially jousting,
hunting, and real tennis. He was also an accomplished musician,
author, and poet; his best known piece of music is Pastime
with Good Company ("The Kynges Ballade"). The King was also
involved in the original construction and improvement of several
significant buildings, including Nonsuch Palace, King's College
Chapel, Cambridge and Westminster Abbey in London. Many of the
existing buildings Henry improved were properties confiscated
from Wolsey, such as Christ Church, Oxford, Hampton Court
Palace, the Palace of Whitehall, and Trinity College, Cambridge.
He founded Christ Church Cathedral School, Oxford in 1546. 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. In the centuries since his death, Henry has
inspired or been mentioned in numerous artistic and cultural
Church of England
Though mainly motivated by dynastic and personal concerns,
and despite never really abandoning the fundamentals of the
Roman Catholic Church, Henry ensured that the greatest act of
his reign would be one of the most radical and decisive of any
English monarch. His break with Rome in 1533-34 was an act with
enormous consequences for the subsequent course of English
history beyond the Tudor dynasty. Not only in making possible
the transformation of England into a powerful (albeit very
distinctive) nation; but also in the seizing of economic and
political power from the Church by the aristocracy, chiefly
through the acquisition of monastic lands and assets -- a
short-term strategy with long-term social consequences. Henry's
decision to entrust the regency of his son Edward's minor years
to a decidedly reform-oriented regency council, dominated by
Edward Seymour, was 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 no legitimate
heirs but a young son (who died before his sixteenth birthday)
and two daughters adhering to adversarial religions. The power
of the state was magnified, yet so too (at least after Henry's
death) were demands for increased political participation by the
middle class. Henry worked with some success to once again make
England 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.
Together with Alfred the Great and Charles II, Henry is
traditionally called one of the founders of the Royal Navy. His
reign featured some naval warfare and, more significantly, large
royal investment in shipbuilding (including a few spectacular
great ships such as Mary Rose), dockyards (such as HMNB
Portsmouth) and naval innovations (such as the use of cannon
on-board ship - although archers were still deployed on
medieval-style forecastles and bowcastles as the ship's primary
armament on large ships, or co-armament where cannon were used).
However, in some ways this is a misconception since Henry did
not bequeath to his immediate successors a navy in the sense of
a formalised organisation with structures, ranks, formalised
munitioning structures but only in the sense of a set of ships.
Elizabeth I still had to cobble together a set of privately
owned ships to fight off the Spanish Armada (which consisted of
about 130 warships and converted merchant ships) and in the
former, formal sense the modern British navy, the Royal Navy, is
largely a product of the Anglo-Dutch naval rivalry of the
seventeenth century. Still, Henry's reign marked the birth of
English naval power and was a key factor in England's later
victory over the Spanish Armada.
Henry's break with Rome incurred the threat of a large-scale
French or Spanish invasion. To guard against this he
strengthened existing coastal defence fortresses (such as Dover
Castle and, also at Dover, Moat Bulwark and Archcliffe Fort he
personally visited for a few months to supervise, as is
commemorated in the modern exhibition in Dover Castle's keep
there). He also built a chain of new 'castles' (in fact, large
bastioned and garrisoned gun batteries) along Britain's southern
coast from East Anglia to Cornwall, largely built of material
gained from the demolition of monasteries. These were also known
as Henry VIII's Device Forts.
Style and arms
Henry VIII was the first English monarch to regularly use the
style "Majesty", though the alternatives "Highness" and "Grace"
were also used.
Several changes were made to the royal style during his
reign. Henry originally used the style "Henry the Eighth, by the
Grace of God, King of England, France and Lord of Ireland". In
1521, pursuant to a grant from Pope Leo X rewarding a book by
Henry 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
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 because Ireland had originally been given
to the English King Henry II by Pope Adrian IV in the twelfth
century as a feudal territory under papal overlordship. The
meeting of Irish Parliament that proclaimed Henry VIII 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
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 VIII'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).
Marriage and issue
Catherine of Aragon
(married 11 June 1509 annulled 23 May 1533)
31 January 1510
|Henry, Duke of Cornwall
||1 January 1511
||22 February 1511
|Henry, Duke of Cornwall
|Queen Mary I
||18 February 1516
||17 November 1558
||married 1554, Philip II of Spain;
10 November 1518
By Queen Anne Boleyn
(married 25 January 1533 annulled 1536) beheaded
|Queen Elizabeth I
||7 September 1533
||24 March 1603
||never married, no issue
||Historians are uncertain if the
child was born and died shortly after birth, or if
it had been a miscarriage. The affair was hushed up
and we cannot even be certain of the child's sex.
29 January 1536
By Queen Jane Seymour
(married 30 May 1536; died 25 October 1537)
|King Edward VI
||12 October 1537
||6 July 1553
By Queen Anne of Cleves
(married 6 January 1540 annulled 1540)
By Queen Catherine Howard
(married 28 July 1540 annulled 1541)
By Queen Catherine Parr
(married 12 July 1543; died 5 September 1548)
By Elizabeth Blount
|Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond
||15 June 1519
||18 June 1536
||illegitimate; married 1533, the
Lady Mary Howard; no issue
By Mary Boleyn (not definitely
(Some writers, such as
Alison Weir, now question whether Henry Carey was
fathered by Henry VIII.
||15 January 1568
||married Sir Francis Knollys; had
|Henry Carey, Baron Hunsdon
||4 March 1526
||23 July 1596
||married 1545, Ann Morgan; had