Henry VIII of England

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Henry VIII
King of England, King of Ireland, Prince of Wales
Henry-VIII-kingofengland 1491-1547.jpg
Reign 22 April1509 – 28 January1547
Coronation 24 June 1509
Born 28 June 1491(1491-06-28)
Palace of Placentia
Died 28 January 1547 (aged 55)
Palace of Whitehall
Buried St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle
Predecessor Henry VII
Successor Edward VI
Consort Katherine of Aragon (1509-1533)
Anne Boleyn (1533-1536)
Jane Seymour (1536-1537)
Anne of Cleves (1540-1540)
Katherine Howard (1540-1542)
Catherine Parr (1543-1547)
Issue Mary I
Elizabeth I
Edward VI
Royal House Tudor
Father Henry VII
Mother Elizabeth of York

Henry VIII (June 28, 1491 – January 28, 1547) was King of England and Lord of Ireland (later King of Ireland) from April 22, 1509, until his death. He was the second monarch of the Tudor dynasty, succeeding his father, Henry VII of England. He is famous for having been married six times and for wielding the most untrammeled power of any British monarch. Notable events during his reign included the break with Rome and the subsequent establishment of the independent Church of England, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the union of England and Wales.

Several significant pieces of legislation were enacted during Henry VIII's reign. They included the several Acts which severed the English Church from the Roman Catholic Church and established Henry as the supreme head of the Church in England.

Henry was an avid gambler and dice player, and as well, an accomplished musician, author, poet, and sportsman. He was also involved in the construction and improvement of several buildings, including King's College, Cambridge; Christ Church, Oxford; Hampton Court Palace, Nonsuch Palace, and Westminster Abbey. His sponsorship of education and of the arts contributed to the English Renaissance which continued under the reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I.

His enduring legacy is the start of the English Reformation, initially triggered not by theological but political reasons. As a result of the church-state relationship that emerged under Henry VIII (with the king as head of the church, following Martin Luther's model) and of efforts to impose membership of the Church of England on the whole population, other denominations evolved during the years that followed Henry's reign. These include the Congregationalists, Baptists, Unitarians, and Presbyterians.

Although Henry's personal life was no model, by claiming headship of the Church he directly contributed toward the development of a new understanding of Britain's place in the world, and of its historical role. Looking less to Europe (where the Pope was) and more to the industriousness and spirit of seafaring adventure that characterized the island nation, Henry's reign fostered the later British imperial expansion, which spread the English language, ideas of fair-play and eventually of human rights, of democracy and of religious liberty that still live on in the nations of the Commonwealth and in the United States.

Early life

Born at the Palace of Placentia at Greenwich, Henry was the third child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Only three of Henry's six siblings, Arthur, Prince of Wales, Margaret Tudor, and Mary Tudor (queen consort of France), survived infancy. His father had become King through conquest, but solidified his hold by marrying Elizabeth, the sister of Edward V of England. In 1493, the young Henry, just two years old, was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. Dover was the main route for travel across the channel to Europe, and a source of tax-revenue on imports. In 1494, he was created Duke of York. He was subsequently appointed Earl Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, though still a child.

In 1501, he attended the wedding of his elder brother Arthur and Catherine of Aragon, who were at the time only about fifteen and sixteen years old, respectively. The two were sent to spend time in Wales, as was customary for the heir-apparent and his wife, but Arthur caught an infection and died. Consequently, at the age of eleven, Henry, Duke of York found himself heir-apparent to the Throne. Soon thereafter, he was created Prince of Wales (the title held by the heir).

Henry VII was still eager to maintain the marital alliance between England and Spain through a marriage between Henry, Prince of Wales and Catherine. Since the Prince of Wales sought to marry his brother's widow, he first had to obtain a dispensation from the Pope. Catherine maintained that her first marriage was never consummated; if she were correct, no papal dispensation would have been necessary. Nonetheless, both the English and Spanish parties agreed on the necessity of a papal dispensation for the removal of all doubts regarding the legitimacy of the marriage. Due to the impatience of Catherine's mother, Queen Isabella, the Pope hastily granted his dispensation in a Papal Bull. Thus, fourteen months after her husband's death, Catherine found herself engaged to the Prince of Wales. By 1505, however, Henry VII lost interest in an alliance with Spain, and the young Prince of Wales was forced to declare that his betrothal had been arranged without his assent.

Early reign

Henry ascended the throne in 1509 upon his father's death. Catherine's father, the Aragonese King Ferdinand II, sought to control England through his daughter, and consequently insisted on her marriage to the new English King. Henry wed Catherine of Aragon about nine weeks after his accession on June 11, 1509, at Greenwich, despite the concerns of Pope Julius II and William Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, regarding the marriage's validity. They were both crowned at Westminster Abbey on June 24, 1509. Queen Catherine's first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage in 1510. She gave birth to a son, Henry, on January 1, 1511, but he only lived until February 22.

For two years after Henry's accession, Richard Fox, the Bishop of Winchester and Lord Privy Seal, and William Warham controlled matters of state. From 1511 onwards, however, power was held by the ecclesiastic Thomas Wolsey. In 1511, Henry joined the Catholic Holy League, a body of European rulers opposed to the French King Louis XII. The League also included such European rulers as Pope Julius II, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and Ferdinand II, with whom Henry also signed the Treaty of Westminster in 1511. Henry personally joined the English Army as they crossed the English Channel into France, and took part in sieges and battles.

In 1514, however, Ferdinand left the alliance, and the other parties made peace with the French. Irritation towards Spain led to discussion of a divorce with Queen Catherine. However, upon the accession of the French King Francis I in 1515, England and France grew antagonistic, and Henry reconciled with Ferdinand. In 1516, Queen Catherine gave birth to a girl, Mary I of England, encouraging Henry that he could still have a male heir despite his wife's previous failed pregnancies (one stillbirth, one miscarriage and two short-lived infants).

Ferdinand died in 1516, to be succeeded by his grandson (Queen Catherine's nephew) Charles V. By October 1518, Wolsey had engineered the Papacy-led Treaty of London to resemble an English triumph of foreign diplomacy, placing England at the centre of a new European alliance with the ostensible aim of repelling Moorish invasions through Spain (this being the original intention of the Pope). In 1519, when Maximilian also died, Wolsey, who was by that time a Cardinal, secretly proposed Henry as a candidate for the post of Holy Roman Emperor, though supporting the French King Francis in public. In the end, however, the prince-electors settled on Charles V. The subsequent rivalry between Francis and Charles allowed Henry to act as a mediator between them. Henry came to hold the balance of power in Europe. Both Francis and Charles sought Henry's favor, the former in a dazzling and spectacular manner at the Field of Cloth of Gold, and the latter more solemnly at Kent. After 1521, however, England's influence in Europe began to wane. Henry entered into an alliance with Charles V, and Francis I was quickly defeated. Charles' reliance on Henry subsided, as did England's power in Europe.

It is interesting to note that Henry's interest in European affairs extended to the attack on Luther's German revolution. In 1521, he dedicated his Defense of the Seven Sacraments, which earned him the title of "Defender of the Faith.” Prior to this, his title had been "inclitissmus," meaning "infamous." The later title was maintained even after his break with Rome, and is still used by the monarch today.

The demise of Henry's involvement in Europe contributed directly to his successors' turning their eyes farther afield, as sea exploration, overseas commerce and colonization of far-flung territories became the mainstay of British power, resulting in the Empire on which the 'sun never set.'

The King's Great Matter

Henry VIII's accession was the first peaceful one England had witnessed in many years; however, the new Tudor dynasty's legitimacy could yet be tested. The English people seemed distrustful of female rulers, and Henry felt that only a male heir could secure the throne. Although Queen Catherine had been pregnant at least seven times (for the last time in 1518), only one child, the Princess Mary, had survived beyond infancy. Henry had previously been happy with mistresses, including Mary Boleyn and Elizabeth Blount, with whom he had had a bastard son, Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset. In 1526, when it became clear that Queen Catherine could have no further children, he began to pursue Mary Boleyn's sister, Anne Boleyn. Although it was almost certainly Henry's desire for a male heir that made him determined to divorce Catherine, he was very infatuated with Anne, despite her childbearing inexperience and famously plain looks.

Henry's long and arduous attempt to end his marriage to Queen Catherine became known as ‘The King's Great Matter.’ Cardinal Wolsey and William Warham quietly began an inquiry into the validity of her marriage to Henry. Queen Catherine, however, testified that her marriage to Arthur, Prince of Wales had never been consummated, and that there was therefore no impediment to her subsequent marriage to Henry. The inquiry could proceed no further, and was dropped.

Without informing Cardinal Wolsey, Henry directly appealed to the Holy See in Rome. He sent his secretary William Knight to Rome to argue that Julius II's Papal Bull was obtained by trickery, and consequently void. In addition, he requested Pope Clement VII to grant a dispensation allowing him to marry any woman, even in the first degree of affinity; such a dispensation was necessary because Henry had previously had intercourse with Anne Boleyn's sister Mary. Knight found that Pope Clement VII was practically the prisoner of the Emperor Charles V. He had difficulty gaining access to the Pope, and when he finally did, he could accomplish little. Clement VII did not agree to annul the marriage, but he did grant the desired dispensation, probably presuming that the dispensation would be of no effect as long as Henry remained married to Catherine.

Being advised of the King's predicament, Cardinal Wolsey sent Stephen Gardiner and Edward Fox to Rome. Perhaps fearing Queen Catherine's nephew, Charles V, Pope Clement VII initially demurred. Fox was sent back with a commission authorizing the commencement of proceedings, but the restrictions imposed made it practically meaningless. Gardiner strove for a ‘decretal commission,’ which decided the points of law beforehand, and left only questions of fact to be decided. Clement VII was persuaded to accept Gardiner's proposal, and permitted Cardinal Wolsey and Lorenzo Cardinal Campeggio to try the case jointly. His decretal commission was issued in secret; it was not to be shown to anybody, and was to always remain in Cardinal Campeggio's possession. Points of law were already settled in the commission; the Papal Bull authorizing Henry's marriage to Catherine was to be declared void if the grounds alleged therein were false. For instance, the Bull would be void if it falsely asserted that the marriage was absolutely necessary to maintain the Anglo-Spanish alliance.

Cardinal Campeggio arrived in England in 1528. Proceedings, however, were brought to a halt when the Spanish produced a second document allegedly granting the necessary dispensation. It was asserted that, a few months before he had granted papal dispensation in a public Bull, Pope Julius II had secretly granted the same in a private Brief sent to Spain. The decretal commission, however, only made mention of the Bull; it did not authorize Cardinal Campeggio and Cardinal Wolsey to determine the validity of the Brief. For eight months, the parties wrangled over the authenticity of the Brief. Meanwhile, Queen Catherine appealed to her nephew, Charles V, who pressured the Pope into recalling Cardinal Campeggio to Rome in 1529.

Angered with Cardinal Wolsey for the delay, Henry stripped him of his wealth and power. He was charged with præmunire—undermining the King's authority by agreeing to represent the Pope—but died on his way to trial. With Cardinal Wolsey fell other powerful ecclesiastics in England; laymen were appointed to offices such as those of Lord Chancellor and Lord Privy Seal, which were formerly confined to clergymen.

Power then passed to Sir Thomas More (the new Lord Chancellor), Thomas Cranmer (the Archbishop of Canterbury), and Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex (the Chancellor of the Exchequer). On January 25, 1533, Cranmer participated in the wedding of Henry and Anne Boleyn. In May, Cranmer pronounced Henry's marriage to Catherine void, and shortly thereafter declared the marriage to Anne valid. The Princess Mary was deemed illegitimate, and was replaced as heiress-presumptive by Queen Anne's new daughter, the Princess Elizabeth. Catherine lost the title ‘Queen,’ and became the Dowager Princess of Wales; Mary was no longer a ‘Princess,’ but a mere ‘Lady.’ The Dowager Princess of Wales would die of cancer in 1536.

Sir Thomas More, who had left office in 1532, accepted that Parliament could make Anne Queen, but refused to acknowledge its religious authority. Instead, he held that the Pope remained the head of the Church. As a result, he was charged with high treason, and beheaded in 1535. Judging him to be a martyr, the Roman Catholic Church later made him a saint.

Religious upheaval

Henry VIII King of England and Ireland. Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger.

The Pope responded to these events by excommunicating Henry in July 1533. Considerable religious upheaval followed. Urged by Thomas Cromwell, Parliament passed several Acts that sealed the breach with Rome in the spring of 1534. The Statute in Restraint of Appeals prohibited appeals from English ecclesiastical courts to the Pope. It also prevented the Church from making any regulations without the King's consent. 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’; the Treasons Act 1534 made it high treason, punishable by death, to refuse to acknowledge the King as such. Technically, the English Reformation dates from this Act. The Pope was denied sources of revenue such as Peter's Pence.

Rejecting the decisions of the Pope, Parliament validated the marriage between Henry and Anne with the English Act of Succession, 1534. Catherine's daughter, the Lady Mary, was declared illegitimate, and Anne's issue was declared next in the line of succession. All adults were required to acknowledge the Act's provisions; those who refused to do so were liable 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 by death.

Opposition to Henry's religious policies was quickly suppressed. Several dissenting monks were tortured and executed. Cromwell, for whom was created the post of ‘Vicegerent in Spirituals,’ was authorized to visit monasteries, ostensibly to ensure that they followed royal instructions, but in reality to assess their wealth. In 1536, an Act of Parliament allowed Henry to seize the possessions of the lesser monasteries (those with annual incomes of £200 or less). However, he did not squander the revenue but created six new dioceses for his independent Church, including Oxford.

In 1536, Queen Anne began to lose Henry's favor. After the Princess Elizabeth's birth, Queen Anne had two pregnancies that ended in either miscarriage or stillbirth. Henry VIII, meanwhile, had begun to turn his attentions to another lady of his court, Lady Jane Seymour. Perhaps encouraged by Thomas Cromwell, Henry had Anne arrested on charges of using witchcraft to trap Henry into marrying her, of having adulterous relationships with five other men, of incest with her brother George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, of injuring the King, and of conspiring to kill him, which amounted to treason; the charges were most likely fabricated. The charge of witchcraft was a convenient one for men to use against women who threatened to wield power in a male-dominated world. The charge was placed on the statute books during Henry's reign. The court trying the case was presided over by Anne's own uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. In May 1536, the Court condemned Anne and her brother to death, either by burning at the stake or by decapitation, whichever the King pleased. The other four men Queen Anne had allegedly been involved with were to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Lord Rochford was beheaded soon after the trial ended; the four others implicated had their sentences commuted from hanging, drawing and quartering to decapitation. Anne was also beheaded soon thereafter. Her marriage to Henry was annulled shortly before her execution. Hence, since Anne was officially not married to Henry, neither she nor the five men already executed could have committed adultery. This subtle point, however, was conveniently ignored.

Birth of a Prince

Only days after Anne's execution in 1536, Henry married Jane Seymour. The Act of Succession 1536 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, excluding them. The King was granted the power to further determine the line of succession in his will. Jane gave birth to a son, the Prince Edward, in 1537, and died two weeks thereafter. After Jane's death, the entire court mourned with Henry for some time. Henry also considered her to be his only "true" wife; being the only one who had given him the male heir he so desperately sought.

Major Acts

At about the same time as his marriage to Jane Seymour, Henry granted his assent to the Acts of Union 1536-1543, which formally annexed Wales, uniting England and Wales into one nation. The Act provided for the sole use of English in official proceedings in Wales, inconveniencing the numerous speakers of the Welsh language.

Henry continued with his persecution of his religious opponents. In 1536, an uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in Northern England. To appease the rebellious Roman Catholics, Henry agreed to allow Parliament to address their concerns. Furthermore, he agreed to grant a general pardon to all those involved. He kept neither promise, and a second uprising occurred in 1537. As a result, the leaders of the rebellion were convicted of treason and executed. In 1538, Henry sanctioned the destruction of shrines to Roman Catholic Saints. In 1539, England's remaining monasteries were all dissolved, and their property transferred to the Crown. As a reward for his role, Thomas Cromwell was created Earl of Essex. 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.

Later years

Henry's only surviving son, the Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall, was not a healthy child. Therefore, Henry desired to marry once again to ensure that a male could succeed him. Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex suggested Anne of Cleves, 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 (famous for his portrait of Henry} was dispatched to Cleves to paint a portrait of Anne for the King. After regarding Holbein's flattering 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 Mare." She was painted totally without any signs of her pox marked face. Nevertheless, he married her on January 6, 1540.

Soon thereafter, however, Henry desired to end the marriage, not only because of his personal feelings but also because of political considerations. 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. She testified that her marriage was never consummated. Henry was said to have came into the room each night and kissed his new bride on the forehead and then gone to sleep. The marriage was subsequently annulled on the grounds that Anne had previously been contracted to marry another European nobleman. She received the title of "The King's Sister," and was granted Hever Castle, the former residence of Anne Boleyn's family. The Earl of Essex, meanwhile, fell out of favor for his role in arranging the marriage, and was subsequently attainted (declared guilty of a crime and assigned a punishment—all without a trial) and beheaded. The office of Vicegerent in Spirituals, which had been specifically created for him, was not filled, and still remains vacant.

On July 28, 1540 (the same day Lord Essex was executed), Henry married the young Catherine Howard, Anne Boleyn's first cousin. Soon after her marriage, however, Queen Catherine may have 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 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.

In December 1541, Culpeper and Dereham were executed. Catherine was condemned not by a trial, but by an Act of Attainder passed by Parliament. The Act recited the evidence against the Queen, and Henry would have been obliged to listen to the entire text before granting the Royal Assent. Because "the repetition of so grievous a Story and the recital of so infamous a crime" in the King's presence "might reopen a Wound already closing in the Royal Bosom," a special clause permitting commissioners to grant the Royal Assent on the King's behalf was inserted in the Act. This method of granting the Royal Assent had never been used before, but, in later reigns, it came to replace the traditional personal appearance of the sovereign in Parliament.

Catherine's marriage was annulled shortly before her execution. As was the case with Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard could not have technically 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 February 13, 1542. She was only about eighteen years old at the time.

Henry married his last wife, the wealthy widow Catherine Parr, in 1543. She argued with Henry over religion; she was a Protestant, but Henry remained a Catholic. This behavior almost led to her undoing, but she saved herself by a show of submissiveness. She helped reconcile Henry with his first two daughters, the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth. In 1544, an Act of Parliament put them back in the line of succession after the Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall, though they were still deemed illegitimate. The same Act allowed Henry to determine further succession to the throne in his will.

Death and succession

Later in life, Henry was grossly overweight, with a waist measurement of 54 inches (137 cm), and possibly suffered from gout. The well-known theory that he suffered from syphilis was first promoted approximately 100 years after his death. Henry's increased size dates from a jousting accident in 1536. He suffered a thigh wound which not only prevented him from taking exercise, but also gradually became ulcerated and may have led indirectly to his death, which occurred on January 28, 1547 at the Palace of Whitehall. He died on what would have been his father's 90th birthday. Henry VIII was buried in St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle next to his wife Jane Seymour. Within a little more than a decade after his death, all three of his children sat on the English throne.

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." The doggerel, however, 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. Ironically, the annulments undermined the process under which Boleyn and Howard were executed: annulments operate on the basis that there had never been a marriage. If they had never been married to him, they could not have committed adultery, one of the central charges against them. However, this technicality did not stop their execution.

Under the Act of Succession of 1544, Henry's only surviving son, Edward, inherited the Crown, becoming Edward VI. Edward was the first Protestant monarch to rule England. Since Edward was only nine years old at the time, he could not exercise actual power. Henry's will designated sixteen executors to serve on a council of regency until Edward reached the age of eighteen. The executors chose Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, Jane Seymour's elder brother, to be Lord Protector of the Realm (the title later used by Oliver Cromwell during the brief Republican period). They required, however, that Lord Hertford "not do any act but with the advice and consent of the rest of the co-executors." Nonetheless, Lord Hertford seized power to become the sole Regent. He was overthrown by John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland and executed for treason. The Duke of Northumberland, however, did not make himself Lord Protector; instead, he urged Edward to declare his majority before becoming eighteen years old, thereby transgressing Henry VIII's will.

Under the Act of Succession 1544 and under Henry VIII's will, Edward was to be succeeded (in default of his issue) by Henry VIII's daughter by Catherine of Aragon, the Lady Mary. If the Lady Mary did not have children, she was to be succeeded by his daughter by Anne Boleyn, the Lady Elizabeth. Finally, if the Lady Elizabeth also did not have children, she was to be followed by the descendants of Henry VIII's deceased sister, Mary Tudor (queen consort of France), Duchess of Suffolk. Edward VI and his advisors, however, had different designs. As he lay on his deathbed, Edward created a will that purported to contradict the provisions of Henry's will. The Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth were excluded from the line of succession as illegitimate. Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk (daughter of Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk) was laid aside because Edward feared that her husband Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk might claim the Crown for himself. Edward finally settled on the Lady Jane Grey, the daughter of the Duchess of Suffolk and the daughter-in-law of the powerful Duke of Northumberland. Upon Edward's decease in 1553, the Lady Jane was proclaimed Queen. Under the law, however, she should not have succeeded; an Act of Parliament specifically permitted Henry to devise the Crown in his will, but no similar legislation had been passed for Edward. With this justification, Mary deposed and executed Jane, taking the Crown for herself.

When Mary I died without issue in 1558, her sister Elizabeth succeeded her. Elizabeth I did not marry or name an heir, causing a succession crisis. To prevent the Scottish from becoming the dynastic family of Europe, Elizabeth I ordered the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots to try to prevent her from taking the throne. Under Henry VIII's will, Elizabeth was supposed to be succeeded by the heir of Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk (the Lady Anne Stanley). Elizabeth was actually succeeded, however, by James VI, King of Scots. James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. He was already a powerful ruler in Scotland, and was Elizabeth's closest living relative. He argued that his hereditary right to succeed was greater than the statutory right of Lady Anne. James was sufficiently powerful, and his opponents weak; thus, his succession faced little opposition. James VI became James I, the first House of Stuart King of England.


Indeed, Henry had opposed Luther's reforms. However, this resulted in a process of indigenization by which the Church in England became 'of England,' with a translation of the Bible and a Book of Common Prayer that came to be regarded as masterpieces of the English language, and as ingredients of English identity. For many, the Church of England as its liturgy and practices developed, is quintessentially English so that those who do not 'belong' to this Church often feel at home when they visit, even though they identify with other Christian denominations or with none at all.

In modern times, Henry VIII has become one of the most popular historical kings of the English monarchy. This is mainly based on the common perception of his larger than life character as an over-eating, womanizing bon vivant, which in turn is based on somewhat exaggerated or apocryphal stories of his life. In 2002, Henry VIII placed 40th in a BBC-sponsored poll on the 100 Greatest Britons.

Henry VIII was the subject of William Shakespeare's historical play, Henry VIII: All Is True. The play, however, has never been one of Shakespeare's more popular plays. Curiously, it was Henry VIII that was playing on June 29, 1613, when Shakespeare's Globe Theatre burned down.

There have been many films about Henry and his court. Two that bear mention are The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), starring Charles Laughton, whose performance earned him an Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Actor, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1972 in television), starring Keith Michell. Richard Burton was nominated for an Academy Award for his Henry opposite Genevieve Bujold's Anne Boleyn in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969). Henry, played by Robert Shaw, also appears as one of the main characters in the multiple-Academy Award (Oscar)-winning movie about Thomas More, A Man for All Seasons (1966), based upon Robert Bolt's play of the same name.

In addition to theater and film, references to Henry VIII have been made in other elements of modern culture, such as television and pop music. These may be regarded as trivial and they are certainly not very serious treatments of Henry VIII; however, some feel they do serve to illustrate the unfortunate degeneration of values in which divorce and multiple divorce, and even serial adultery has entered the popular mind as something to be joked about, or perhaps even admired.

However, Henry's enduring legacy is the way in which post-Henry VIII Britain turned, to a large degree, away from Europe towards the world beyond. Of course, British involvement in Europe did not cease, since the Spanish Armada, the Napoleonic Wars and two World Wars all subsequently involved the British. What changed was Britain's perception of itself less in terms of being a European state and more as the motherland of overseas colonies and protectorates. The Church of England, too, that he separated from Rome developed into a major and significant Protestant denomination whose missionaries spread Christianity throughout what became the British Empire and beyond.

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 from time to time.

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 and defending Catholicism, the royal style became "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England and France, Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) and Lord of Ireland." After the breach with Rome, Pope Paul III rescinded the grant of the title "Defender of the Faith," but an Act of Parliament declared that it remained valid.

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 Church of Ireland."

In 1542, Henry changed the title "Lord of Ireland" to "King of Ireland" 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 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 Coure Loyall (true heart) and he had this embroidered on his clothes in the form of a heart symbol and with the word 'loyall.' His emblem was the Tudor rose and the Beaufort portcullis.

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).


Name Birth Death
By Catherine of Aragon (married June 11, 1509; annulled 1533; she died January 6, 1536)
Miscarried daughter January 31, 1510 January 31, 1510  
Henry, Duke of Cornwall January 1, 1511 February 22, 1511  
Unnamed son November 1513 November 1513  
Henry, Duke of Cornwall December 1514 December 1514  
HM Queen Mary I February 18, 1516 September 13, 1558 married 1554, Philip II of Spain; no issue
Unnamed child November 10, 1518 November 10, 1518  
By Anne Boleyn (married January 25, 1533; annulled 1536; she was executed May 19, 1536)
HM Queen Elizabeth I September 7, 1533 March 24, 1603   never married, no issue
? Henry Tudor 1534 1534 Historians are uncertain if the child was born and died shortly after birth, or if it was a miscarriage. The affair was hushed up and even the child's sex is uncertain.
Unnamed son January 29, 1536 January 29, 1536  
By Jane Seymour (married May 20, 1536; she died October 25, 1537)
HM King Edward VI October 12, 1537 July 6, 1553  
By Anne of Cleves (married January 6, 1540; annulled 1540; she died July 17, 1557)
no issue
By Catherine Howard (married July 28, 1540; annulled 1541; she was executed February 13, 1542)
no issue
By Catherine Parr (married July 12, 1543; he died January 28, 1547; she remarried and died September 5, 1548)
no issue
By Elizabeth Blount
Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset 15 June 1519 18 June 1536 illegitimate; married 1533, the Lady Mary Howard; no issue
By The Lady Mary Boleyn (Alison Weir) now reject the legend that the following two children were fathered by Henry VIII)
Catherine Carey c. 1524 January 15, 1568 reputed illegitimate; married Sir Francis Knollys; had issue
Henry Carey, Baron Hunsdon March 4, 1526 July 23, 1596 reputed illegitimate; married 1545, Ann Morgan; had issue
By Mary Berkeley
Sir Thomas Stucley c. 1525 August 4, 1578 reputed illegitimate; married Anne Curtis; no known issue
Sir John Perrot c. 1527 September 1592 reputed illegitimate; married (1) Ann Cheyney and (2) Jane Pruet; had issue
By Joan Dyngley
Etheldreda Malte c. 1529 aft. 1555 reputed illegitimate; married 1546–1548 to John Harrington; no known issue

* Note: Of Henry VIII's reputedly illegitimate children, only the Duke of Richmond and Somerset was formally acknowledged by the King. The paternity of his other alleged illegitimate children is not fully established. There may also have been other illegitimate children born to short-term mistresses who we no longer know of.

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