Henry VIII of England

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Henry VIII

King Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.
King of England; Lord/King of Ireland (more...)
Reign 21 April 1509 – 28 January 1547
Coronation 24 June 1509
Predecessor Henry VII
Successor Edward VI
Born 28 June 1491
Greenwich Palace, Greenwich
Died 28 January 1547 (aged 55)
Palace of Whitehall, London
Burial 4 February 1547
St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle
Among others
House Tudor
Father Henry VII of England
Mother Elizabeth of York
Religion Anglican
prev. Roman Catholic

Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was the first ever English King of Ireland, and continued the nominal claim by English monarchs to the Kingdom of France. Henry was the second Tudor monarch, succeeding his father, Henry VII.

Henry is known for his consequential role in the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, besides his six marriages and many extramarital affairs, as well as his effort to obtain an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which led to conflict with the Pope. His disagreements with the Pope led Henry to separate the Church of England from papal authority, with himself as king and as the Supreme Head of the Church of England; the disputes also led to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. His principal dispute was with papal authority rather than with doctrinal matters, and he remained a believer in core Catholic theological teachings despite his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.[1] Henry oversaw the legal union of England and Wales with the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542. He is also well known for a long personal rivalry with both Francis I of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, with whom he frequently warred.

Domestically, Henry is known for his radical changes to the English Constitution, ushering in the theory of the divine right of kings to England. Besides asserting the sovereign's supremacy over the Church of England, thus initiating the English Reformation, he greatly expanded royal power. Charges of treason and heresy were commonly used to quash dissent, and those accused were often executed without a formal trial, by means of bills of attainder. He achieved many of his political aims through the work of his chief ministers, some of whom were banished or executed when they fell out of his favour. People such as Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Richard Rich, and Thomas Cranmer figured prominently in Henry's administration. He was an extravagant spender and used the proceeds from the Dissolution of the Monasteries and acts of the Reformation Parliament to convert money into royal revenue that was formerly paid to Rome. Despite the influx of money from these sources, Henry was continually on the verge of financial ruin due to his personal extravagance as well as his numerous costly continental wars.

His contemporaries considered Henry in his prime to be an attractive, educated, and accomplished king, and he has been described as "one of the most charismatic rulers to sit on the English throne".[2] Besides ruling with considerable power, he was also an author and composer. His desire to provide England with a male heir stemmed partly from personal vanity and partly from his belief that a daughter would be unable to consolidate Tudor power and maintain the fragile peace that existed following the Wars of the Roses.[3] This led to the two things for which Henry is most remembered: his six marriages and his break with the pope (who would not allow an annulment of Henry's first marriage). As he aged, Henry became severely obese and his health suffered, contributing to his death in 1547. He is frequently characterised in his later life as a lustful, egotistical, harsh, and insecure king.[4] He was succeeded by his son Edward VI.

Early years

Henry's childhood copy of De Officiis, bearing the inscription in his hand, "Thys boke is myne".

Born 28 June 1491 at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, London, Henry Tudor was the third child and second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.[5] Of the young Henry's six siblings, only three Arthur, Prince of Wales; Margaret; and Mary – survived infancy.[6] He was baptised by Richard Fox, the Bishop of Exeter, at a church of the Observant Franciscans close to the palace.[7] 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 at age three, and was inducted into the Order of the Bath soon after. The day after the ceremony he was created Duke of York and a month or so later made Warden of the Scottish Marches. In May 1495, he was appointed to the Order of the Garter.[7] Henry was given a first-rate education from leading tutors, becoming fluent in Latin and French, and learning at least some Italian.[8][9] Not much is known about his early life – save for his appointments – because he was not expected to become king.[7] In November 1501, Henry also played a considerable part in the ceremonies surrounding the marriage of his brother, Prince Arthur, to Catherine of Aragon, the youngest surviving child of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile.[10] As Duke of York, Henry used the arms of his father as king, differenced by a label of three points ermine.

Detail of illumination in the Vaux Passional thought to depict Henry mourning the loss of his mother (1503). His sisters are also pictured.

In 1502, Arthur died at the age of 15 of sweating sickness,[11] just 20 weeks after his marriage to Catherine.[12] Arthur's death thrust all his duties upon his younger brother, the 10-year-old Henry. After a little debate, Henry became the new Duke of Cornwall in October 1502, and the new 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. As a result, the young Henry would later ascend 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 Arthur's widow Catherine.[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 "impediment 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 instead to obtain a dispensation for "affinity", which took account of the possibility of consummation.[16] The young Henry's age, only eleven, prevented cohabitation.[15] Isabella's death in 1504, and the ensuing problems of succession in Castile, complicated matters. Her father preferred her to stay in England, but Henry VII's relations with Ferdinand had deteriorated.[17] Catherine was therefore 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 in England indefinitely. Devout, she began to believe that it was God's will that she marry the prince despite his opposition.[18]

Early reign

Henry VII died on 21 April 1509, and the 17-year-old Henry succeeded him as king. Soon after his father's burial on 10 May, Henry suddenly declared that he would indeed marry Catherine, leaving unresolved several issues concerning 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. Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I had been attempting to marry his granddaughter (and Catherine's niece) Eleanor to Henry; she had now been jilted.[20] Henry's wedding to Catherine was kept low-key and was held at the friar's church in Greenwich on 11 June 1509.[19] On 23 June 1509, Henry led the now 23-year-old Catherine from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey for their 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 the ceremony, there was a grand banquet in Westminster Hall.[22] As Catherine wrote to her father, "our time is spent in continuous festival".[19]

Eighteen-year-old Henry VIII after his coronation in 1509

Two days after Henry's coronation, he arrested his father's two most unpopular ministers, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley. They were charged with high treason and were executed in 1510. Historian Ian Crofton has maintained that such executions would become Henry's primary tactic for dealing with those who stood in his way; the two executions were certainly not the last.[5] Henry also returned to the public some of the money supposedly extorted by the two ministers.[23] By contrast, Henry's view of the House of York – potential rival claimants for the throne – was more moderate than his father's had been. Several who had been imprisoned by his father, including the Marquess of Dorset, were pardoned.[24] Others (most notably Edmund de la Pole) went unreconciled; de la Pole was eventually beheaded in 1513, an execution prompted by his brother Richard siding against the king.[25]

Soon after, Catherine conceived, but the child, a girl, was stillborn on 31 January 1510. About four months later, Catherine again became pregnant.[26] 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.[27] However, the child died seven weeks later.[26] Catherine had two stillborn sons in 1514 and 1515, but gave birth in February 1516 to a girl, Mary. Relations between Henry and Catherine had been strained, but they eased slightly after Mary's birth.[28]

Although Henry's marriage to Catherine has since been described as "unusually good",[29] it is known that Henry took mistresses. 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.[30] The most significant mistress for about three years, starting in 1516, was Elizabeth Blount.[28] Blount is one of only two completely undisputed mistresses, few for a virile young king.[31][32] Exactly how many Henry had is disputed: David Loades believes Henry had mistresses "only to a very limited extent",[32] whilst Alison Weir believes there were numerous other affairs.[33] Catherine did not protest, and in 1518 fell pregnant again with another girl, who was also stillborn.[28] 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 his eventual legitimisation.[34] In 1533, FitzRoy married Mary Howard, but died childless three years later.[35] At the time of Richmond's death in June 1536, Parliament was enacting the Second Succession Act, which could have allowed him to become king.[36]

France and the Habsburgs

The meeting of Francis I and Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520

In 1510, France, with a fragile alliance 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 that divided his council. Certainly war with the combined might of the two powers would have been exceedingly difficult.[37] Shortly thereafter, however, Henry also signed a pact with Ferdinand. After Pope Julius II created the anti-French Holy League in October 1511,[37] Henry followed Ferdinand's lead and brought England into the new League. An initial joint Anglo-Spanish attack was planned for the spring to recover Aquitaine for England, the start of making Henry's dreams of ruling France a reality.[38] The attack, however, following a formal declaration of war in April 1512, was not led by Henry personally[39] and was a considerable failure; Ferdinand used it simply to further his own ends, and it strained the Anglo-Spanish alliance. Nevertheless, the French were pushed out of Italy soon after, and the alliance survived, with both parties keen to win further victories over the French.[39][40] Henry then pulled off a diplomatic coup by convincing the Emperor to join the Holy League.[41] Remarkably, Henry had also secured the promised title of "Most Christian King of France" from Julius and possibly coronation by the Pope himself in Paris, if only Louis could be defeated.[42]

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

On 30 June 1513, Henry invaded France, and his troops defeated a French army at the Battle of the Spurs – a relatively minor result, but one which was seized on by the English for propaganda purposes. Soon after, the English took Thérouanne and handed it over to Maximillian; Tournai, a more significant settlement, followed.[43] Henry had led the army personally, complete with large entourage.[44] His absence from the country, however, had prompted his brother-in-law, James IV of Scotland, to invade England at the behest of Louis.[45] Nevertheless, the English army, overseen by Queen Catherine, decisively defeated the Scots at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513.[46] Among the dead was the Scottish king, thus ending Scotland's brief involvement in the war.[46] These campaigns had given Henry a taste of the military success he so desired. However, despite initial indications, he decided not to pursue a 1514 campaign. He had been supporting Ferdinand and Maximilian financially during the campaign but had received little in return; England's coffers were now empty.[47] With the replacement of Julius by Pope Leo X, who was inclined to negotiate for peace with France, Henry signed his own treaty with Louis: his sister Mary would become Louis' wife, having previously been pledged to the younger Charles, and peace was secured for eight years, a remarkably long time.[48]

Charles V ascended the thrones of both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire following the deaths of his grandfathers, Ferdinand in 1516 and Maximilian in 1519. Francis I likewise became king of France upon the death of Louis in 1515,[49] leaving three relatively young rulers and an opportunity for a clean slate. The careful diplomacy of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey 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.[50] Henry met Francis I on 7 June 1520 at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais for a fortnight of lavish entertainment. Both hoped for friendly relations in place of the wars 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.[50] Henry had more in common with Charles, whom 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 sought to secure an alliance with Burgundy, then part of Charles' realm, and the continued support of Charles.[51] A small English attack in the north of France made up little ground. Charles defeated and captured Francis at Pavia and could dictate peace; but he believed he owed Henry nothing. Sensing this, Henry decided to take England out of the war before his ally, signing the Treaty of the More on 30 August 1525.[52]

Annulment from Catherine

Catherine of Aragon, Henry's first queen

During his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry conducted an affair with Mary Boleyn, Catherine's lady-in-waiting. There has been speculation that Mary's two children, Henry and Catherine Carey, were fathered by Henry, but this has never been proved, and the King never acknowledged them as he did Henry FitzRoy.[53] In 1525, as Henry grew more impatient with Catherine's inability to produce the male heir he desired,[54][55] he became enamoured of Mary Boleyn's sister, Anne, then a charismatic young woman of 25 in the Queen's entourage.[56] Anne, however, resisted his attempts to seduce her, and refused to become his mistress as her sister Mary Boleyn had.[57][nb 1] It was in this context that Henry considered his three options for finding a dynastic successor and hence resolving what came to be described at court as the King's "great matter". These options were legitimising Henry FitzRoy, which would take the intervention of the pope and would be open to challenge; marrying off Mary as soon as possible and hoping for a grandson to inherit directly, but Mary was considered unlikely to conceive before Henry's death; or somehow rejecting Catherine and marrying someone else of child-bearing age. Probably seeing the possibility of marrying Anne, the third was ultimately the most attractive possibility to the 34-year-old Henry,[59] and it soon became the King's absorbing desire to annul his marriage to the now 40-year-old Catherine.[60] It was a decision that would lead Henry to reject papal authority and initiate the English Reformation.

Henry, c. 1531

Henry's precise motivations and intentions over the coming years are not widely agreed on.[61] Henry himself, at least in the early part of his reign, was a devout and well-informed Catholic to the extent that his 1521 publication Assertio Septem Sacramentorum ("Defence of the Seven Sacraments") earned him the title of Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) from Pope Leo X.[62] The work represented a staunch defence of papal supremacy, albeit one couched in somewhat contingent terms.[62] It is not clear exactly when Henry changed his mind on the issue as he grew more intent on a second marriage. Certainly, by 1527 he had convinced himself that in marrying Catherine, his brother's wife, he had acted contrary to Leviticus 20:21,[nb 2] an impediment the Pope had never had (he now believed) the authority to dispense with. It was this argument Henry took to Pope Clement VII in 1527 in the hope of having his marriage to Catherine annulled, forgoing at least one less openly defiant line of attack.[61] In going public, all hope of tempting Catherine to retire to a nunnery or otherwise stay quiet were lost.[63] Henry sent his secretary, William Knight, to appeal directly to the Holy See by way of a deceptively worded draft papal bull. Knight was unsuccessful; the Pope could not be misled so easily.[64]

Other missions concentrated on arranging an ecclesiastical court to meet in England, with a representative from Clement VII. Though Clement agreed to the creation of such a court, he never had any intention of empowering his legate, Lorenzo Campeggio, to decide in Henry's favour.[64] This bias was perhaps the result of pressure from Charles V, Catherine's nephew, though it is not clear how far this influenced either Campeggio or the Pope. After less than two months of hearing evidence, Clement called the case back to Rome in July 1529, from which it was clear that it would never re-emerge.[64] With the chance for an annulment lost and England's place in Europe forfeit, Cardinal Wolsey bore the blame. He was charged with praemunire in October 1529[65] and his fall from grace was "sudden and total".[64] Briefly reconciled with Henry (and officially pardoned) in the first half of 1530, he was charged once more in November 1530, this time for treason, but died while awaiting trial.[64][66] After a short period in which Henry took government upon his own shoulders,[67] Sir Thomas More took on the role of Lord Chancellor and chief minister. Intelligent and able, but also a devout Catholic and opponent of the annulment,[68] More initially cooperated with the king's new policy, denouncing Wolsey in Parliament.[69]

A year later, Catherine was banished from court, and her rooms were given to Anne. Anne was an unusually educated and intellectual woman for her time, and was keenly absorbed and engaged with the ideas of the Protestant Reformers, though the extent to which she herself was a committed Protestant is much debated.[58] When Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham died, Anne's influence and the need to find a trustworthy supporter of the annulment had Thomas Cranmer appointed to the vacant position.[68] This was approved by the Pope, unaware of the King's nascent plans for the Church.[70]

Marriage to Anne Boleyn

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

In the winter of 1532, Henry met with Francis I at Calais and enlisted the support of the French king for his new marriage.[71] Immediately upon returning to Dover in England, Henry, now 41, and Anne, now 32, went through a secret wedding service.[72] 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.[73] Catherine was formally stripped of her title as queen, becoming instead "princess dowager" as the widow of Arthur. In her place, Anne was crowned queen consort on 1 June 1533.[74] 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.[75]

Following the marriage, there was a period of consolidation taking the form of a series of statutes of the Reformation Parliament aimed at finding solutions to any remaining issues, whilst protecting the new reforms from challenge, convincing the public of their legitimacy, and exposing and dealing with opponents.[76] Although the canon law was dealt with at length by Cranmer and others, these acts were advanced by Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Audley and the Duke of Norfolk and indeed by Henry himself.[77] With this process complete, in May 1532 More resigned as Lord Chancellor, leaving Cromwell as Henry's chief minister.[78] With the Act of Succession 1533, Catherine's daughter, Mary, was declared illegitimate; Henry's marriage to Anne was declared legitimate; and Anne's issue was decided to be next in the line of succession.[79] With the Acts of Supremacy in 1534, Parliament also recognised the King's status as head of the church in England and, with the Act in Restraint of Appeals in 1532, abolished the right of appeal to Rome.[80] It was only then that Pope Clement took the step of excommunicating Henry and Thomas Cranmer, although the excommunication was not made official until some time later.[nb 3]

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 and 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.[86] Henry is traditionally believed to have had an affair with Margaret ("Madge") Shelton in 1535, although historian Antonia Fraser argues that Henry in fact had an affair with her sister Mary Shelton.[31]

Opposition to Henry's religious policies was quickly suppressed in England. A number of dissenting monks, including the first Carthusian Martyrs, were executed and many more pilloried. The most prominent resisters included John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More, both of whom refused to take the oath to the King.[87] Neither Henry nor Cromwell sought to have the men executed; rather, they hoped that the two might change their minds and save themselves. Fisher openly rejected Henry as supreme head of the Church, but More was careful to avoid openly breaking the Treason Act, which (unlike later acts) did not forbid mere silence. Both men were subsequently convicted of high treason, however – More on the evidence of a single conversation with Richard Rich, the Solicitor General. Both were duly executed in the summer of 1535.[87]

These suppressions, as well as the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act of 1536, in turn contributed to more general resistance to Henry's reforms, most notably in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a large uprising in northern England in October 1536.[88] Some 20,000 to 40,000 rebels were led by Robert Aske, together with parts of the northern nobility.[89] Henry VIII promised the rebels he would pardon them and thanked them for raising the issues. Aske told the rebels they had been successful and they could disperse and go home.[90] Henry saw the rebels as traitors and did not feel obliged to keep his promises with them, so when further violence occurred after Henry's offer of a pardon he was quick to break his promise of clemency.[91] The leaders, including Aske, were arrested and executed for treason. In total, about 200 rebels were executed, and the disturbances ended.[92]

Execution of Anne Boleyn

Henry c. 1537

On 8 January 1536 news reached the king and the queen that Catherine of Aragon had died. 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. Later that month, the King was unhorsed in a tournament and was badly injured and it seemed for a time that his 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.[93] For most observers, this personal loss was the beginning of the end of the royal marriage.[94] 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.[95] 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.[96]

Although the Boleyn family still held important positions on the Privy Council, Anne had many enemies, including the Duke of Suffolk. Even her own uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, had come to resent her attitude to her power. The Boleyns preferred France over the Emperor as a potential ally, but the King's favour had swung towards the latter (partly because of Cromwell), damaging the family's influence.[97] Also opposed to Anne were supporters of reconciliation with Princess Mary (among them the former supporters of Catherine), who had reached maturity. A second annulment was now a real possibility, although it is commonly believed that it was Cromwell's anti-Boleyn influence that led opponents to look for a way of having her executed.[98][99]

Anne's downfall came shortly after she had recovered from her final miscarriage. Whether it was primarily the result of allegations of conspiracy, adultery, or witchcraft remains a matter of debate among historians.[58] Early signs of a fall from grace included the King's new mistress, the 28-year-old Jane Seymour, being moved into new quarters,[100] and Anne's brother, George Boleyn, being refused the Order of the Garter, which was instead given to Nicholas Carew.[101] Between 30 April and 2 May, five men, including Anne's brother, were arrested on charges of treasonable adultery and accused of having sexual relationships with the queen. Anne was also arrested, accused of treasonous adultery and incest. Although the evidence against them was unconvincing, the accused were found guilty and condemned to death. George Boleyn and the other accused men were executed on 17 May 1536.[102] At 8 am on 19 May 1536, Anne, age 36, was executed on Tower Green.[103]

Marriage to Jane Seymour; domestic and foreign affairs

Jane Seymour (left) became Henry's third wife, pictured at 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 the 45-year-old Henry became engaged to Seymour, who had been one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting. They were married ten days later.[104] On 12 October 1537, Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, the future Edward VI.[105] The birth was difficult, and the queen died on 24 October 1537 from an infection and was buried in Windsor.[106] The euphoria that had accompanied Edward's birth became sorrow, but it was only over time that Henry came to long for his wife. At the time, Henry recovered quickly from the shock.[107] 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 European continent.[108]

With Charles V distracted by the internal politics of his many kingdoms and external threats, and Henry and Francis on relatively good terms, domestic and not foreign policy issues had been Henry's priority in the first half of the 1530s. In 1536, for example, Henry granted his assent to the Laws in Wales Act 1535, which legally annexed Wales, uniting England and Wales into a single nation. This was followed by the Second Succession Act (the Act of Succession 1536), which declared Henry's children by Jane to be next in the line of succession and declared both Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate, thus excluding them from the throne. The king was also granted the power to further determine the line of succession in his will, should he have no further issue.[109] However, when Charles and Francis made peace in January 1539, Henry became increasingly paranoid, perhaps as a result of receiving a constant list of threats to the kingdom (real or imaginary, minor or serious) supplied by Cromwell in his role as spymaster.[110] Enriched by the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry used some of his financial reserves to build a series of coastal defences and set some aside for use in the event of a Franco-German invasion.[111]

Marriage to Anne of Cleves

Having considered the matter, Cromwell, now Earl of Essex, suggested Anne, the 25-year-old 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.[112] Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to Cleves to paint a portrait of Anne for the king.[113] 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.[114] After seeing Holbein's portrait, and urged on by the complimentary description of Anne given by his courtiers, the 49-year-old king agreed to wed Anne.[115] However, it was not long before Henry wished to annul the marriage so he could marry another.[116][117] Anne did not argue, and confirmed that the marriage had never been consummated.[118] Anne's previous betrothal to the Duke of Lorraine's son Francis provided further grounds for the annulment.[119] The marriage was subsequently dissolved, and Anne received the title of "The King's Sister", two houses and a generous allowance.[118] It was soon clear that Henry had fallen for the 17-year-old Catherine Howard, the Duke of Norfolk's niece, the politics of which worried Cromwell, for Norfolk was a political opponent.[120]

Shortly after, the religious reformers (and protégés of Cromwell) Robert Barnes, William Jerome and Thomas Garret were burned as heretics.[118] 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 never formally accused of being responsible for Henry's failed marriage.[121] Cromwell was now surrounded by enemies at court, with Norfolk also able to draw on his niece's position.[120] Cromwell was charged with treason, selling export licences, granting passports, and drawing up commissions without permission, and may also have been blamed for the failure of the foreign policy that accompanied the attempted marriage to Anne.[122][123] He was subsequently attainted and beheaded.[121]

Marriage to Catherine Howard

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, a first cousin and lady-in-waiting of Anne Boleyn.[124] He was absolutely delighted with his new queen, and awarded her the lands of Cromwell and a vast array of jewellery.[125] Soon after the marriage, however, Queen Catherine had an affair with the courtier Thomas Culpeper. She also employed Francis Dereham, who had previously been 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.[126] Though Henry originally refused to believe the allegations, Dereham confessed. It took another meeting of the council, however, before Henry believed the accusations against Dereham and went into a rage, blaming the council before consoling himself in hunting.[127] 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 Culpeper. Culpeper and Dereham were both executed, and Catherine too was beheaded on 13 February 1542.[128]

Shrines destroyed and monasteries dissolved

In 1538, the chief minister T. Cromwell pursued an extensive campaign against what is termed "idolatry" by the followers of the old religion, culminating in September with the dismantling of the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury. As a consequence, the king was excommunicated by the Pope Paul III on 17 December of the same year. In 1540, Henry sanctioned the complete 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 remained. Consequently, 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.

Second invasion of France and the "Rough Wooing" of Scotland

The 1539 alliance between Francis and Charles had soured, eventually degenerating into renewed war. With Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn dead, relations between Charles and Henry improved considerably, and Henry concluded a secret alliance with the Emperor and decided to enter the Italian War in favour of his new ally. An invasion of France was planned for 1543.[129] In preparation for it, Henry moved to eliminate the potential threat of Scotland under the youthful James V. Victory would continue the Reformation in Scotland, which was still Catholic, and Henry hoped to unite the crowns of England and Scotland by marriage of James' daughter, the future Mary, Queen of Scots, to his son Edward. Henry made war on Scotland for several years in pursuit of this goal, a campaign dubbed by Victorian chroniclers as "the Rough Wooing".

The Scots were defeated at Battle of Solway Moss on 24 November 1542,[130] and James died on 15 December. The Scottish Regent Arran agreed to the marriage in the Treaty of Greenwich on 1 July 1543.

Despite the success with Scotland, Henry hesitated to invade France, annoying Charles. Henry finally went to France in June 1544 with a two-pronged attack. One force under Norfolk ineffectively besieged Montreuil. The other, under Suffolk, laid siege to Boulogne. Henry later took personal command, and Boulogne fell on 18 September 1544.[131][132] However, Henry had refused Charles' request to march against Paris. Charles' own campaign fizzled, and he made peace with France that same day.[133] Henry was left alone against France, unable to make peace. Francis attempted to invade England in the summer of 1545, but reached only the Isle of Wight before being repulsed. Out of money, France and England signed the Treaty of Camp on 7 June 1546. Henry secured Boulogne for eight years. The city was then to be returned to France for 2 million crowns (£750,000). Henry needed the money; the 1544 campaign had cost £650,000, and England was once again bankrupt.[133]

Meanwhile, though Henry still clung to the Treaty of Greenwich, the Scots repudiated it in December 1543. Henry launched another war on Scotland, sending an army to burn Edinburgh and lay waste to the country. The Scots would not submit, though. Defeat at Ancrum Moor prompted a second invasion force. This war was nominally ended by the Treaty of Camp, although unrest continued in Scotland, including French and English interventions, up to Henry's death.[132][133]

Marriage to Catherine Parr

Henry married his last wife, the wealthy widow Catherine Parr, in July 1543.[134] A reformer at heart, she argued with Henry over religion. Ultimately, Henry remained committed to an idiosyncratic mixture of Catholicism and Protestantism; the reactionary mood which had gained ground following the fall of Cromwell had neither eliminated his Protestant streak nor been overcome by it.[135] Parr helped reconcile Henry with his daughters Mary and Elizabeth.[136] In 1543, an Act of Parliament put the daughters back in the line of succession after Edward, Prince of Wales. The same act allowed Henry to determine further succession to the throne in his will.[137]

Physical decline

Henry in 1542

Late in life, Henry became obese, with a waist measurement of 54 inches (140 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 re-opened and aggravated a previous injury he had sustained years earlier, to the extent that his doctors found it difficult to treat. The wound festered for the remainder of his life and became ulcerated, thus preventing him from maintaining the level of physical activity he had previously enjoyed. The jousting accident is also believed to have caused Henry's mood swings, which may have had a dramatic effect on his personality and temperament.[138][139]

The theory that Henry suffered from syphilis has been dismissed by most historians.[140] A more recent theory suggests that Henry's medical symptoms are characteristic of untreated type 2 diabetes.[139] Alternatively, his wives' pattern of pregnancies and his mental deterioration have led some to suggest that the king may have been Kell positive and suffered from McLeod syndrome.[141] According to another study, Henry VIII's history and body morphology may have been the 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.[142]

Death and burial

Coffins of King Henry VIII (centre, damaged), Queen Jane (right), King Charles I with a child of Queen Anne (left), vault under the choir, St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, marked by a stone slab in the floor. 1888 sketch by Alfred Young Nutt, Surveyor to the Dean and Canons

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 allegedly uttered his last words: "Monks! Monks! Monks!" perhaps in reference to the monks he caused to be evicted during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.[143]

On 14 February 1547 Henry's coffin lay overnight at Syon Monastery, en route for burial in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. Twelve years before in 1535 a Franciscan friar named William Peyto (or Peto, Petow) (died 1558 or 1559), had preached before the King at Greenwich Palace "that God's judgements were ready to fall upon his head and that dogs would lick his blood, as they had done to Ahab",[144] whose infamy rests upon 1 Kings 16:33: "And Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him".[145] The prophecy was said to have been fulfilled during this night at Syon, when some "corrupted matter of a bloody colour"[146] fell from the coffin to the floor.

Henry VIII was interred in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, next to Jane Seymour.[147] Over a hundred years later, King Charles I (1625–1649) was buried in the same vault.[148]


After his death, Henry's only legitimate son, Edward, inherited the Crown, becoming Edward VI (1547–1553). Since Edward was then only nine years old, he could not exercise actual power. Rather, 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. If Edward went childless, the throne was to pass to Mary, Henry VIII's daughter by Catherine of Aragon, and her heirs. If Mary's issue failed, the crown was to go to Elizabeth, Henry's daughter by Anne Boleyn, 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, Queen Mary of France, the Greys. The descendants of Henry's sister Margaret – the Stuarts, rulers of Scotland – were thereby excluded from the succession.[149] This final provision failed when James VI of Scotland became James I of England upon Elizabeth's death.

Public image

Musical score of "Pastime with Good Company", c. 1513, composed by Henry.

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.[150]

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.[150] He could also sight read music and sing well.[150] 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.[6] 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 and Latin, and was thoroughly at home in his well-stocked library. He personally annotated many books and wrote and published one of his own. 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 an argument for absolute obedience to the monarchy and claimed that the English church had always been independent from Rome.[151] At the popular level, theatre and minstrel troupes funded by the crown travelled around the land to promote the new religious practices: 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.[152] Henry worked hard to present an image of unchallengeable authority and irresistible power.[153]

A large well-built athlete (over 6 feet [1.8 m] tall and strong 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".[154] Henry finally retired from jousting 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. He then started adding weight and lost the trim, athletic figure that had made him so handsome; Henry's courtiers began dressing in heavily padded clothes to emulate – and flatter – their increasingly stout monarch. Towards the end of his reign his health rapidly declined.[155][156][157]


Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1526

The power of Tudor monarchs, including Henry, was 'whole' and 'entire', ruling, as they claimed, by the grace of God alone.[158] The crown could also rely on the exclusive use of those functions that constituted the royal prerogative. These included acts of diplomacy (including royal marriages), declarations of war, management of the coinage, the issue of royal pardons and the power to summon and dissolve parliament as and when required.[159] Nevertheless, as evident during Henry's break with Rome, the monarch worked within established limits, whether legal or financial, that forced him to work closely with both the nobility and parliament (representing the gentry).[159]

In practice, Tudor monarchs used patronage to maintain a royal court that included formal institutions such as the Privy Council as well as more informal advisers and confidants.[160] Both the rise and fall of court nobles could be swift: although the often-quoted figure of 72,000 executions during his reign is inflated,[161] Henry did undoubtedly execute at will, burning or beheading two of his wives, twenty peers, four leading public servants, six close attendants and friends, one cardinal (John Fisher) and numerous abbots.[153] Among those who were in favour at any given point in Henry's reign, one could usually be identified as a chief minister,[160] though one of the enduring debates in the historiography of the period has been the extent to which those chief ministers controlled Henry rather than vice versa.[162] In particular, historian G. R. Elton has argued that one such minister, Thomas Cromwell, led a "Tudor revolution in government" quite independent of the king, whom Elton presented as an opportunistic, essentially lazy participant in the nitty-gritty of politics. Where Henry did intervene personally in the running of the country, Elton argued, he mostly did so to its detriment.[163] The prominence and influence of faction in Henry's court is similarly discussed in the context of at least five episodes of Henry's reign, including the downfall of Anne Boleyn.[164]

From 1514 to 1529, Thomas Wolsey (1473–1530), a cardinal of the established Church, oversaw domestic and foreign policy for the young king from his position as Lord Chancellor.[165] Wolsey centralised the national government and extended the jurisdiction of the conciliar courts, particularly the Star Chamber. The Star Chamber's overall structure remained unchanged, but Wolsey used it to provide for much-needed reform of the criminal law. The power of the court itself did not outlive Wolsey, however, since no serious administrative reform was undertaken and its role was eventually devolved to the localities.[166] Wolsey helped fill the gap left by Henry's declining participation in government (particularly in comparison to his father) but did so mostly by imposing himself in the King's place.[167] His use of these courts to pursue personal grievances, and particularly to treat delinquents as if mere examples of a whole class worthy of punishment, angered the rich, who were annoyed as well by his enormous wealth and ostentatious living.[168] Following Wolsey's downfall, Henry took full control of his government, although at court numerous complex factions continued to try to ruin and destroy each other.[169]

Thomas Cromwell in 1532 or 1533

Thomas Cromwell (c. 1485–1540) also came to define Henry's government. Returning to England from the continent in 1514 or 1515, Cromwell soon entered Wolsey's service. He turned to law, also picking up a good knowledge of the Bible, and was admitted to Gray's Inn in 1524. He became Wolsey's "man of all work".[170] Cromwell, driven in part by his religious beliefs, attempted to reform the body politic of the English government through discussion and consent, and through the vehicle of continuity and not outward change.[171] He was seen by many people as the man they wanted to bring about their shared aims, including Thomas Audley. By 1531, Cromwell and those associated with him were already responsible for the drafting of much legislation.[171] Cromwell's first office was that of the master of the King's jewels in 1532, from which he began to invigorate the government finances.[172] By this point, Cromwell's power as an efficient administrator in a Council full of politicians exceeded what Wolsey had achieved.[173]

Cromwell did much work through his many offices to remove the tasks of government from the Royal Household (and ideologically from the personal body of the King) and into a public state.[173] He did so, however, in a haphazard fashion that left several remnants, not least because he needed to retain Henry's support, his own power, and the possibility of actually achieving the plan he set out.[174] Cromwell made the various income streams put in place by Henry VII more formal and assigned largely autonomous bodies for their administration.[175] The role of the King's Council was transferred to a reformed Privy Council, much smaller and more efficient than its predecessor.[176] A difference emerged between the financial health of the king, and that of the country, although Cromwell's fall undermined much of his bureaucracy, which required his hand to keep order among the many new bodies and prevent profligate spending that strained relations as well as finances.[177] Cromwell's reforms ground to a halt in 1539, the initiative lost, and he failed to secure the passage of an enabling act, the Proclamation by the Crown Act 1539.[178] He too was executed, on 28 July 1540.[179]


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

Henry inherited a vast fortune and a prosperous economy from his father Henry VII, who had been frugal and careful with money. This fortune was estimated to £1,250,000 (£375 million by today's standards).[180] By comparison, however, the reign of Henry was a near-disaster in financial terms. Although he further augmented his royal treasury through the seizure of church lands, Henry's heavy spending and long periods of mismanagement damaged the economy.[181]

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. Henry hung 2,000 tapestries in his palaces; by comparison, James V of Scotland hung just 200.[182] Henry took pride in showing off his collection of weapons, which included exotic archery equipment, 2,250 pieces of land ordnance and 6,500 handguns.[183] 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),[184] but were eroded by inflation and rising prices brought about by war. Indeed, war and Henry's dynastic ambitions in Europe exhausted the surplus he had inherited from his father 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.[185] The Crown had profited a small amount in 1526 when Wolsey had put England onto a gold, rather than silver, standard, and had debased the currency slightly. Cromwell debased the currency more significantly, starting in Ireland in 1540. The English pound halved in value against the Flemish pound between 1540 and 1551 as a result. The nominal profit made was significant, helping to bring income and expenditure together, but it had a catastrophic effect on the overall economy of the country. In part, it helped to bring about a period of very high inflation from 1544 onwards.[186]


Main article: English Reformation
Henry's Italian-made suit of armour, c. 1544. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Henry is generally credited with initiating the English Reformation – the process of transforming England from a Catholic country to a Protestant one – though his progress at the elite and mass levels is disputed,[187] and the precise narrative not widely agreed.[61] Certainly, in 1527, Henry, until then an observant and well-informed Catholic, appealed to the Pope for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine.[61] No annulment was immediately forthcoming, the result in part of Charles V's control of the Papacy.[188] The traditional narrative gives this refusal as the trigger for Henry's rejection of papal supremacy (which he had previously defended), though as historian A. F. Pollard has argued, even if Henry had not needed an annulment, Henry may have come to reject papal control over the governance of England purely for political reasons.[189]

In any case, between 1532 and 1537, Henry instituted a number of statutes that dealt with the relationship between king and pope and hence the structure of the nascent Church of England.[190] These included the Statute in Restraint of Appeals (passed 1533), which extended the charge of praemunire against all who introduced papal bulls into England, potentially exposing them to the death penalty if found guilty.[191] Other acts included the Supplication against the Ordinaries and the Submission of the Clergy, which recognised Royal Supremacy over the church. 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 the Oath of Supremacy acknowledging the King as such. Similarly, following the passage of the Act of Succession 1533, all adults in the Kingdom were required to acknowledge the Act's provisions (declaring Henry's marriage to Anne legitimate and his marriage to Catherine illegitimate) by oath;[192] those who refused were subject to imprisonment for life, and any publisher or printer of any literature alleging that the marriage to Anne was invalid subject to the death penalty.[193] Finally, the Peter's Pence Act was passed, 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.[194] The King had much support from the Church under Cranmer.[195]

Henry, to Thomas Cromwell's annoyance, insisted on parliamentary time to discuss questions of faith, which he achieved through the Duke of Norfolk. This led to the passing of the Act of Six Articles, whereby six major questions were all answered by asserting the religious orthodoxy, thus restraining the reform movement in England.[117] It was followed by the beginnings of a reformed liturgy and of the Book of Common Prayer, which would take until 1549 to complete.[196] The victory won by religious conservatives did not convert into much change in personnel, however, and Cranmer remained in his position.[197] Overall, the rest of Henry's reign saw a subtle movement away from religious orthodoxy, helped in part by the deaths of prominent figures from before the break with Rome, especially the executions of Thomas More and John Fisher in 1535 for refusing to renounce papal authority. Henry established a new political theology of obedience to the crown that was continued for the next decade. It reflected Martin Luther's new interpretation of the fourth commandment ("Honour thy father and mother"), brought to England by William Tyndale. The founding of royal authority on the Ten Commandments was another important shift: reformers within the Church utilised the Commandments' emphasis on faith and the word of God, while conservatives emphasised the need for dedication to God and doing good. The reformers' efforts lay behind the publication of the Great Bible in 1539 in English.[198] Protestant Reformers still faced persecution, particularly over objections to Henry's annulment. Many fled abroad, including the influential Tyndale,[199] who was eventually executed and his body burned at Henry's behest.

When taxes once payable to Rome were transferred to the Crown, Cromwell saw the need to assess the taxable value of the Church's extensive holdings as they stood in 1535. The result was an extensive compendium, the Valor Ecclesiasticus.[200] In September of the same year, Cromwell commissioned a more general visitation of religious institutions, to be undertaken by four appointee visitors. The visitation focussed almost exclusively on the country's religious houses, with largely negative conclusions.[201] In addition to reporting back to Cromwell, the visitors made the lives of the monks more difficult by enforcing strict behavioural standards. The result was to encourage self-dissolution.[202] In any case, the evidence gathered by Cromwell led swiftly to the beginning of the state-enforced dissolution of the monasteries with all religious houses worth less than £200 vested by statute in the crown in January 1536.[203] After a short pause, surviving religious houses were transferred one by one to the Crown and onto new owners, and the dissolution confirmed by a further statute in 1539. By January 1540 no such houses remained: some 800 had been dissolved. The process had been efficient, with minimal resistance, and brought the crown some £90,000 a year.[204] The extent to which the dissolution of all houses was planned from the start is debated by historians; there is some evidence that major houses were originally intended only to be reformed.[205] Cromwell's actions 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.[206] Although little opposition to the supremacy could be found in England's religious houses, they had links to the international church and were an obstacle to further religious reform.[207]

Response to the reforms was mixed. The religious houses had been the only support of the impoverished,[208] and the reforms alienated much of the population outside London, helping to provoke the great northern rising of 1536–1537, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.[209] Elsewhere the changes were accepted and welcomed, and those who clung to Catholic rites kept quiet or moved in secrecy. They would re-emerge during the reign of Henry's daughter Mary (1553–1558).


See also: Tudor navy
Depiction of Henry embarking at Dover, c. 1520

Apart from permanent garrisons at Berwick, Calais, and Carlisle, England's standing army numbered only a few hundred men. This was increased only slightly by Henry.[210] Henry's invasion force of 1513, some 30,000 men, was composed of billmen and longbowmen, at a time when the other European nations were moving to hand guns and pikemen. The difference in capability was at this stage not significant, however, and Henry's forces had new armour and weaponry. They were also supported by battlefield artillery and the war wagon,[211] relatively new innovations, and several large and expensive siege guns.[212] The invasion force of 1544 was similarly well-equipped and organised, although command on the battlefield was laid with the dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk, which in the case of the latter produced disastrous results at Montreuil.[132]

Henry is traditionally cited as one of the founders of the Royal Navy.[213] 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.[213] 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.[214] Henry was also responsible for the creation of a permanent navy, with the supporting anchorages and dockyards.[213] Tactically, Henry's reign saw the Navy move away from boarding tactics to employ gunnery instead.[215] 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.[216]

Henry's break with Rome incurred the threat of a large-scale French or Spanish invasion.[84] To guard against this, in 1538, he began to build a chain of expensive, state-of-the-art defences, along Britain's southern and eastern coasts from Kent to Cornwall, largely built of material gained from the demolition of the monasteries.[217] These were known as Henry VIII's Device Forts. He also 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.[84] Wolsey had many years before conducted the censuses required for an overhaul of the system of militia, but no reform resulted.[218] In 1538–39, Cromwell overhauled the shire musters, but his work mainly served to demonstrate how inadequate they were in organisation.[84] The building works, including that at Berwick, along with the reform of the militias and musters, were eventually finished under Queen Mary.[219]


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 nominal English rule.[220] 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.[221] However, upon the death of the 8th Earl of Kildare, governor of Ireland, fractious 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.[222] 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.[223] 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.[224]

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.[225][226] 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.[227] 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.[227] 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.[228][229]

Although the Offaly revolt was followed by a determination to rule Ireland more closely, Henry was wary of 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.[230] Until the break with Rome, it was widely believed that Ireland was a Papal possession granted as a mere fiefdom to the English king, so in 1541 Henry asserted England's claim to the Kingdom of Ireland free from the Papal overlordship. This change did, however, also allow a policy of peaceful reconciliation and expansion: the Lords of Ireland would grant their lands to the King, before being returned as fiefdoms. The incentive to comply with Henry's request was an accompanying barony, and thus a right to sit in the Irish House of Lords, which was to run in parallel with England's.[231] 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 the plan was abandoned in 1543, not to be replaced.[232]


The complexities and sheer scale of Henry's legacy ensured that, in the words of Betteridge and Freeman, "throughout the centuries [since his death], Henry has been praised and reviled, but he has never been ignored".[162] A particular focus of modern historiography has been the extent to which the events of Henry's life (including his marriages, foreign policy and religious changes) were the result of his own initiative and, if they were, whether they were the result of opportunism or of a principled undertaking by Henry.[162] The traditional interpretation of those events was provided by historian A.F. Pollard, who in 1902 presented his own, largely positive, view of the king, "laud[ing him] as the king and statesman who, whatever his personal failings, led England down the road to parliamentary democracy and empire".[162] Pollard's interpretation, which was broadly comparable to 17th century publications of Lord Herbert of Cherbury and his contemporaries, remained the dominant interpretation of Henry's life until the publication of the doctoral thesis of G. R. Elton in 1953. That thesis, entitled "The Tudor Revolution in Government", maintained Pollard's positive interpretation of the Henrician period as a whole, but reinterpreted Henry himself as a follower rather than a leader. For Elton, it was Cromwell and not Henry who undertook the changes in government – Henry was shrewd, but lacked the vision to follow a complex plan through.[162] Henry was little more, in other words, than 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 [the king]".[233]

Although the central tenets of Elton's thesis have now been all but abandoned, it has consistently provided the starting point for much later work, including that of J. J. Scarisbrick, his student. Scarisbrick largely kept Elton's regard for Cromwell's abilities, but returned agency to Henry, who Scarisbrick considered to have ultimately directed and shaped policy.[162] For Scarisbrick, Henry was a formidable, captivating man who "wore regality with a splendid conviction".[234] The effect of endowing Henry with this ability, however, was largely negative in Scarisbrick's eyes: to Scarisbrick the Henrician period was one of upheaval and destruction and those in charge worthy of blame more than praise.[162] Even among more recent biographers, including David Loades, David Starkey and John Guy, there has ultimately been little consensus on the extent to which Henry was responsible for the changes he oversaw or the correct assessment of those he did bring about.[162]

This lack of clarity about Henry's control over events has contributed to the variation in the qualities ascribed to him: religious conservative or dangerous radical; lover of beauty or brutal destroyer of priceless artefacts; friend and patron or betrayer of those around him; chivalry incarnate or ruthless chauvinist.[162] One traditional approach, favoured by Starkey and others, is to divide Henry's reign into two halves, the first Henry being dominated by positive qualities (politically inclusive, pious, athletic but also intellectual) who presided over a period of stability and calm, and the latter a "hulking tyrant" who presided over a period of dramatic, sometimes whimsical, change.[160][235] Other writers have tried to merge Henry's disparate personality into a single whole; Lacey Baldwin Smith, for example, 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, and having at best a mediocre intellect.[236]

Style and arms

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 Henry for his Defence of the Seven Sacraments, 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. 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 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).

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 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.


Marriages and issue

Known children of Henry VIII of England
By Catherine of Aragon (married Palace of Placentia 11 June 1509; annulled 23 May 1533)
Unnamed daughter
31 January 1510
Henry, Duke of Cornwall1 January 151122 February 1511died aged almost two months
Henry, Duke of Cornwall
17 September 1513
died shortly after birth
Henry, Duke of Cornwall
8 January 1515
Queen Mary I18 February 151617 November 1558married Philip II of Spain in 1554; no issue
Unnamed daughter
10 November 1518
stillbirth in the 8th month of pregnancy[237] or lived at least one week
By Anne Boleyn (married Westminster Abbey 25 January 1533; annulled 17 May 1536) beheaded on 19 May 1536
Queen Elizabeth I7 September 153324 March 1603 never married; no issue
Unnamed son
August/September 1534
Unnamed son
29 January 1536
miscarriage of a child, believed male, in the fourth month of pregnancy[238]
By Jane Seymour (married Palace of Whitehall 30 May 1536) died 24 October 1537
King Edward VI12 October 15376 July 1553 unmarried; no issue
By Anne of Cleves (married Palace of Placentia 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 Somerset15 June 151923 July 1536illegitimate; acknowledged by Henry VIII in 1525; no issue

See also

Grene growith the holy (0:31)
A Christmas carol attributed to Henry VIII

Problems playing this file? See media help.


  1. For arguments in favour of the contrasting view – i.e. that Henry himself initiated the period of abstinence, potentially after a brief affair – see Bernard, G. W. (2010). Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions..[58]
  2. Although Henry would have read the verse in its Latin (vulgate) form, the translation used in the 1604 King James Bible is instructive: "And if a man shall take his brother's wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother's nakedness; they shall be childless".
  3. On 11 July 1533 Pope Clement VII 'pronounced sentence against the King, declaring him excommunicated unless he put away the woman he had taken to wife, and took back his Queen during the whole of October next.'[81] Clement died on 25 September 1534. On 30 August 1535 the new pope, Paul III, drew up a bull of excommunication which began '‘Eius qui immobilis’[82][83] G. R. Elton puts the date the bull was made official as November 1538.[84] On 17 December 1538 Pope Paul III issued a further bull which began ‘Cum redemptor noster’, renewing the execution of the bull of 30 Aug. 1535, which had been suspended in hope of his amendment.[1][85] Both bulls are printed by Bishop Burnet, History of the Reformation of the Church of England, 1865 edition, Volume 4, P 318ff and in Bullarum, diplomatum et privilegiorum sanctorum Romanorum pontificum Taurinensis (1857) Volume VI, Page 195


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  65. Lockyer, Roger (22 May 2014). Tudor and Stuart Britain: 1485–1714. Routledge. p. 46. ISBN 978-1-317-86882-8. Retrieved 13 July 2014. The King had no further use for Wolsey, who had failed to procure the annulment of his marriage, and he summoned Parliament in order that an act of attainder should be passed against the cardinal. The act was not needed, however, for Wolsey had also been commanded to appear before the common-law judges and answer the charge that by publishing his bulls of appointment as papal legate he had infringed the Statute of Praemunire.
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  68. 1 2 Losch, Richard R. (1 May 2002). The Many Faces of Faith: A Guide to World Religions and Christian Traditions. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-8028-0521-8. Henry decided to turn to the archbishop of Canterbury for the annulment, but Wolsey, recognizing that it was too late, opposed this move. Henry discharged him and appointed his friend Sir Thomas More as chancellor, confident that More would support him. More refused to make any statement for or against the annulment. When pressed to do so he resigned as the chancellor and retired to private life. He had such a reputation for integrity that his endorsement would have engendered huge support for the annulment among Parliament and the people, who loved Catherine. More's silence so angered Henry that he tried to force his hand by having him imprisoned and tried. The perfidy of the king's secretary, Thomas Cromwell, however, and the perjury of a petty bureaucrat, Richard Rich, brought about More's conviction and execution for treason in 1535. Meanwhile, a respected Cambridge scholar priest, Tomas Cranmer, supported Henry and sought support for him from the European universities.
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  98. Wilson, Derek (21 June 2012). A Brief History of the English Reformation. Constable & Robinson. p. 92. ISBN 978-1-84901-825-8. Retrieved 13 July 2014. Cromwell, with his usual single-minded (and ruthless) efficiency, organised the interrogation of the accused, their trials and their executions. Cranmer was absolutely shattered by the 'revelation' of the queen's misdeeds. He wrote to the king expressing his difficulty in believing her guilt. But he fell into line and pronounced the annulment of Henry's second marriage on the grounds of Anne's pre-contract to another.
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  146. Aungier, George James, History and Antiquities of Syon Monastery, the Parish of Isleworth and the Chapel of Hounslow; Compiled from Public Records, Ancient Manuscripts, Ecclesiastical and Other Authentic Documents. London, 1840, p.92
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  234. Scarisbrick 1968, p. 17
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Further reading


  • Bowle, John (1964). Henry VIII: a Study of Power in Action. Little, Brown and Company. 
  • Erickson, Carolly (1984). Mistress Anne: the Exceptional Life of Anne Boleyn. 
  • Cressy, David (1982). "Spectacle and Power: Apollo and Solomon at the Court of Henry VIII". History Today. 32 (Oct): 16–22. ISSN 0018-2753. 
  • Gardner, James (1903). "Henry VIII". Cambridge Modern History. 2. 
  • Graves, Michael (2003). Henry VIII'. 
  • Ives, E. W (2004). "Henry VIII (1491–1547)". The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 
  • Rex, Richard (1993). Henry VIII and the English Reformation. 
  • Ridley, Jasper (1985). Henry VIII. 
  • Starkey, David (2002). The Reign of Henry VIII: Personalities and Politics. Random House. ISBN 978-0-09-944510-4. 
  • Starkey, David; Doran, Susan (2009). Henry VIII: Man and Monarch. British Library Publishing Division. ISBN 978-0-7123-5025-9. 
  • Tytler, Patrick Fraser (1837). "Life of King Henry the Eighth". Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd. Retrieved 17 August 2008. 
  • Weir, Alison (1996). The Children of Henry VIII. 

Scholarly studies

  • Bernard, G. W. (1986). War, Taxation, and Rebellion in Early Tudor England: Henry VIII, Wolsey, and the Amicable Grant of 1525. 
  • Bernard, G. W. (1998). "The Making of Religious Policy, 1533–1546: Henry VIII and the Search for the Middle Way". Historical Journal. 41 (2): 321–349. doi:10.1017/S0018246X98007778. ISSN 0018-246X. JSTOR 2640109. 
  • Bush, M. L. (2007). "The Tudor Polity and the Pilgrimage of Grace". Historical Research. 80 (207): 47–72. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2281.2006.00351.x. ISSN 0950-3471. 
  • Coleman, Christoper; Starkey, David, eds. (1986). Revolution Reassessed: Revision in the History of Tudor Government and Administration. 
  • Doran, Susan (2009). The Tudor Chronicles: 1485 - 1603. Sterling Publishing. pp. 78–203. ISBN 978-1-4351-0939-1. 
  • Fox, Alistair; Guy, John, eds. (1986). Reassessing the Henrician Age: Humanism, Politics and Reform 1500–1550. 
  • Guy, John. The Children of Henry VIII (Oxford University Press; 2013) 258 pages; traces the lives of Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond.
  • Head, David M. (1982). "Henry VIII's Scottish Policy: a Reassessment". Scottish Historical Review. 61 (1): 1–24. ISSN 0036-9241. 
  • Head, David M. (1997). "'If a Lion Knew His Own Strength': the Image of Henry VIII and His Historians". International Social Science Review. 72 (3–4): 94–109. ISSN 0278-2308. 
  • Hoak, Dale (2005). "Politics, Religion and the English Reformation, 1533–1547: Some Problems and Issues". History Compass (3). ISSN 1478-0542. 
  • Lindsey, Karen (1995). Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII. Reading, MA., US: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. ISBN 0-201-60895-2. 
  • MacCulloch, Diarmaid, ed. (1995). The Reign of Henry VIII: Politics, Policy, and Piety. 
  • Marshall, Peter (2009). (Re)defining the English Reformation. Journal of British Studies. 48. pp. 564–85. 
  • Mackie, J. D. (1952). The Earlier Tudors, 1485–1558. 
  • Maloney, William J. (2015). Diseases, Disorders and Diagnoses of Historical Individuals. Anaphora Literary Press. ISBN 978-1-68114-193-0. 
  • Moorhouse, Geoffrey (2003). The Pilgrimage of Grace: the Rebellion That Shook Henry VIII's Throne. Phoenix. ISBN 978-1-84212-666-0. 
  • Moorhouse, Geoffrey (2007). Great Harry's Navy: How Henry VIII Gave England Seapower. 
  • Moorhouse, Geoffrey (2009). The Last Divine Office: Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. 
  • Slavin, Arthur J, ed. (1968). Henry VIII and the English Reformation. 
  • Smith, H. Maynard (1948). Henry VIII and the Reformation. 
  • Thurley, Simon (1991). "Palaces for a Nouveau Riche King". History Today. 41 (6). 
  • Trollope, William (1874). A practical and historical commentary on the liturgy and ritual of the Church of England: with examination questions. J. Hall. 
  • Wagner, John A. (2003). Bosworth Field to Bloody Mary: An Encyclopedia of the Early Tudors. ISBN 1-57356-540-7. 
  • Walker, Greg (2005). Writing under Tyranny: English Literature and the Henrician Reformation. 
  • Wernham, Richard Bruce. Before the Armada: the growth of English foreign policy, 1485-1588 (1966), a standard history of foreign policy

Primary sources

Henry VIII of England
Born: 28 June 1491 Died: 28 January 1547
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Henry VII
Lord of Ireland
1509 –1541
Crown of Ireland Act 1542
King of England
1509 –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

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