King Henry VIII belonged to the house of Tudor and was the King of England from 1509 until 1547. He is one of the most famous rulers of England especially due to his 6 marriages.
His first divorce was the most important reason behind the English Reformation and the formation of the Church of England.
King Henry VIII was fond of food, drink, and parties. He also loved sports and music. He built various beautiful structures like the Hampton Court Palace.
King Henry VIII became the heir to the throne when he was only 10 years old due to the death of his elder brother King Arthur, who was 15 years old.
He married the widow of his brother, Catherine of Aragon before he was crowned, however, because they were not able to conceive a male child, Henry sought a divorce from her.
When the papal authority refused to annul the marriage King Henry initiated the English Reformation.
King Henry had several mistresses but the most significant affair of King Henry’s love life was with Anne Boleyn. She is considered as a chief reason for King Henry to seek a divorce from his brother’s widow.
King Henry VIII beheaded two of his wives and one of them was Anne Boleyn. The only child Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII had together was Queen Elizabeth.
King Henry VIII had three children from his six marriages. They all ruled England for a certain time, Queen Elizabeth being the most influential of them all.
The lavish and often overindulgent lifestyle of King Henry VIII showed its ill-effects towards his old age.
He became extremely obese and had an ulcer on his leg which emanated a foul smell. He became increasingly bad-tempered and hardly exercised like he used to.
He died when he was only 55 years of age on 28 January 1547 at the Palace of Whitehall. He was buried next to Jane Seymour, his third wife and the mother of his only son.
King Henry VIII’s Early Life
King Henry VIII was born on 28 June 1491 to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. He was their second son and at the age of only 2, he was made the Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.
Young Henry had many other titles throughout his childhood because his father wanted to keep all the important positions limited to his family.
Henry Tudor was trained by the best tutors and was fluent in English, Latin, French, and Italian. He enjoyed playing sports like tennis and was a very good fighter.
He often went hunting or spent his time reading and dancing. Young Henry was not first in line for the throne, therefore, spent his time going outdoors and developing his skills as a royal.
King Arthur, Henry’s elder brother, married Cathrine of Aragon in November 1501. She was the daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile.
Within 20 weeks of the marriage, King Arthur died possibly due to a mysterious disease that killed several people in England called the sweating sickness.
The death of his elder brother put young Henry directly in line for the throne. His father began to prepare him for his future and appointed him the Duke of Cornwall in October 1502.
To maintain relationships with Spain, Henry VII proposed marriage between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. On 23 June 1503, their marriage was formed via a treaty.
Within a year, Isabella died and new complications arose in the marriage of Henry and Catherine due to deteriorating relations with Ferdinand II.
At the age of 14, Henry rejected his marriage with Catherine but at age 17 after his father’s death, King Henry ascended to the throne and married Catherine of Aragon.
In 1510, King Henry VIII charged two ministers from his father’s court with high treason and executed them. They would become the first of the thousands more executed by the new king.
King Henry VIII did not have the same view on matters of the court as his father. Therefore, he pardoned many people his father punished and executed those who stood in his way.
Soon after their marriage, Catherine became pregnant but their girl child was a stillborn. This put strain on the newlyweds but soon after a boy was born and an environment of festivities was observed throughout London.
Just seven weeks later their son Henry died. After two more stillborns, Catherine finally gave birth to their only surviving child called Mary in February 1516.
Though the birth of Mary reduced tensions between Henry and Catherine, Henry had grown used to keeping mistresses.
We do not know how many mistresses he had but some were more important than the others.
His affair with Elizabeth Blount is notable because it started right around the birth of Mary in 1516 and resulted in an illegitimate son called Henry Fitzroy.
In June 1525, King Henry appointed Henry Fitzroy as the Duke of Richmond in an attempt to legitimize him.
King Henry and His Wives
Catherine of Aragon
The strain on his marriage with Catherine had increased because they were not able to conceive a male heir for the throne. At this time, Henry was 34 and Catherine was 40 years old.
King Henry VIII had an affair with Mary Boleyn and is rumored to have fathered two children from her. However, Henry’s attention soon turned to the sister of his mistress, Anne Boleyn, a charming young girl of 25 in the Queen’s entourage.
Anne Boleyn rejected Henry because she did not want to end up becoming his mistress like her sister. This made Henry think of possible ways to divorce Catherine and marry Anne.
The issue of the heir to the throne had become ‘the King’s Great Matter’. The possible solutions were to either legitimize Henry Fitzroy, or have Mary, his daughter married for the birth of a grandchild.
The last option was the most controversial but also the most appealing to King Henry. It was to seek annulment of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon and marry someone at a child-bearing age.
Henry was a devout Catholic and was even given the title of Fidei Defensor which means Defender of the Faith by Pope Leo X, but the obsession to marry Anne Boleyn led King Henry to devise various complicated arguments and plans to convince the Pope to annul his marriage.
In 1527, Henry sent William Knight to convince Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage, however, his trip was unsuccessful and the pope refused to comply with Henry’s wishes.
Adamant on divorcing Catherine, Henry asked the pope to arrange a court to hear his case in England. The pope agreed and Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio was selected to hear the proceedings in 1529.
However, 2 months later the case came back to Rome and it was clear that the pope would not grant an annulment. This angered Henry and he blamed Cardinal Wolsey for it. He was soon sentenced to death and died while awaiting his execution.
Sir Thomas More took on the role of Cardinal Wolsey and initially supported Henry, however, he was also a devout Christian and was opposed to the divorce.
Anne Boleyn and the Church of England
Henry had removed Catherine from the court and Anne Boleyn occupied her rooms in the palace.
She was an extraordinarily intelligent girl and knew much about the ideas of the Protestant Reformers.
Anne devised a plan to appoint Thomas Cranmer to the position of the Archbishop and in return, he would support the annulment of Henry’s first marriage.
Henry, too, was making efforts toward his marriage to Boleyn by enlisting the support of Francis Calais I, the King of France, in the winter of 1532.
During this time, King Henry was occupied with reforming England and changed several statutes that govern the relationship of a king and the pope. Thus, the structure for the Church of England was formed.
Soon the marriage of Catherine and Henry was annulled by Thomas Cranmer. He declared that the marriage of Anne Boleyn and King Henry was legitimate on 28 May 1533.
Anne Boleyn was crowned the Queen and Catherine was reduced to Princess Dowager, as the widow of King Arthur.
Soon Anne gave birth to a girl child, who was named after Henry’s mother Elizabeth of York.
The marriage of Anne Boleyn and Henry was not peaceful. In fact, within two years Henry was already planning to leave Anne without having to go back to Catherine.
Anne had a violent temper which Henry disliked. Though she attracted him with her intelligence and charisma, the same qualities angered many others and she made too many enemies in the court.
In 1534, she suffered a miscarriage. Henry’s desire for a male heir was playing a significant role in the deterioration of his new marriage. Anne was desperate to satisfy the King’s desire and was aware of the consequences if she failed.
On 8 January 1536, Catherine of Aragon died. Just a month later King Henry got unhorsed in a jousting tournament and injured his leg.
The news of the accident sent Anne into shock and she lost her long-awaited male child on 29 January 1536.
Anne’s enemies in the court plotted to remove her by possibly reconciling Henry with his first daughter Mary. Thomas Cromwell, the chief minister of Henry’s court wanted her executed.
The loss of Anne’s son instigated her downfall and she was soon charged with conspiracy, adultery, and witchcraft. She was also charged with incest along with her brother George Boleyn.
The charges were not proven, however, the execution of Henry’s second wife took place on 19 May 1536 on Tower Green.
Jane Seymour and Foreign Affairs
Immediately after Anne’s execution, Henry married Jane Seymour and they conceived a son on October 12, 1537. He was named Prince Edward VI.
Though Henry finally received a son and an heir to the throne, he lost his third wife due to complications in childbirth.
On 24 October 1537, Jane Seymour died and was buried in Windsor. Though Henry experienced sorrow, he commanded Thomas Cromwell to look for another wife for himself.
The relationship between King Henry and his allies in Europe rapidly degraded when Charles V and Francis I made peace with each other in January 1539.
King Henry became paranoid due to the various threats conveyed to him by Thomas Cromwell, his spymaster. He spent money on coastal defenses in case of a Franco-German invasion.
Anne of Cleves and Religious Allies
Thomas Cromwell suggested that the 25-year-old sister of the Duke of Cleves called Anne would make a perfect match for King Henry.
The Duke of Cleves was a Lutheran and a Catholic and was an important ally in case of an attack on England by the Roman Catholic forces.
Hans Holbein, a German painter, was sent to draw Anne’s portrait. The painting was praised by the ministers in Henry’s court and soon Henry became the 49-year-old groom to Anne of Cleves.
The marriage ended as soon as it began as Henry sought annulment and Anne also did not object. Anne of Cleves was then given the title of ‘the King’s Sister’ along with two houses and a big allowance.
Thomas Cromwell was not accused for the failure of Henry’s marriage, however, he was beheaded for the crimes of treason, selling export licenses, granting passports, and receiving commissions without permission.
Catherine Howard and Adultery
Soon after Cromwell’s execution, King Henry tied the knot with Catherine Howard, the niece of the Duke of Norfolk. She was only 17 years old.
King Henry was very happy with his young bride and gave her lots of jewelry and the lands that belonged to Cromwell.
However, charges of adultery were leveled against her soon after. Though she denied them, the confessions of her former fiance Francis Dereham and of her new lover Thomas Culpeper led to the beheading of Catherine Howard on 13 February 1542.
Catherine Parr and Reconciliation with Daughters
Henry’s last wife was a very rich widow called Catherine Parr. She was a reformer and won Henry’s heart through arguments about religion. They got married in July 1543.
Parr played a very big role in helping Henry improve his relations with his daughters. The Third Succession act allowed both Mary and Elizabeth to be in the line of succession with their brother Edward.
Death and Heirs
King Henry suffered from various diseases before his death. He had become very obese due to the jousting accident during his marriage with Anne Boleyn.
His waist measured 54 inches and he required a lot of help to move around. His physical strength was compromised and he no longer enjoyed the outdoors the way he did in his youth.
His body was covered in pus-filled boils and his wound from the accident had become festered leading to ulcers on his leg. His moods swung wildly and he often had a very bad temper.
All the physical and psychological problems that Henry suffered led to his early death at age 55 on 28th January 1547.
He was succeeded first by his son Edward VI and later by Mary I. His most successful child, however, was Elizabeth I who created a stable political environment in England for a period of 44 years.