Henry VIII biography King (1491-1547)

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Henry VIII Biography

King (1491–1547)

Henry VIII, king of England, was famously married six times and played a critical role in the English Reformation, turning his country into a Protestant nation.


“I beseech you now with all my heart definitely to let me know your whole mind as to the love between us; for necessity compels me to plague you for a reply, having been for more than a year now struck by the dart of love, and being uncertain either of failure or of finding a place in your heart and affection."[Excerpt from a letter to Anne Boleyn during their courtship.]”

—Henry VIII

Henry VIII - Mini Biography (TV-PG; 03:00) Henry Tudor was born at Greenwich Palace in 1491. Following the death of his brother, he became Henry VIII, king of England. He married six times and initiated the English Reformation.


Henry Tudor, son of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth York, was born at the royal residence, Greenwich Palace, on June 28, 1491. Following the death of his brother, Arthur, he became Henry VIII, king of England. He married six times, beheaded two of his wives and was the main instigator of the English Reformation. His only surviving son, Edward VI, succeeded him after his death on January 28, 1547.

Childhood and Early Adulthood

Henry Tudor, the son of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth York, was born on June 28, 1491, at the royal residence, Greenwich Palace, in Greenwich, London, England. He had six siblings, but only three survived: Arthur, Margaret and Mary. Arthur, being older than Henry, was expected to take the throne. In 1502, Prince Arthur married Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of the Spanish king and queen, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. After less than four months of marriage, Arthur died at the age of 15, leaving his 10-year-old brother, Henry, to assume the throne.

The patriarch, Henry VII, wanted to affirm his family's alliance with Spain, so he offered his young son Henry to Arthur's widow. The two families requested that Pope Julius II officially grant dispensation to Arthur and Catherine's marriage. The pope conceded, but the official marriage of Henry and Catherine was postponed until the death of Henry VII in 1509, when, at the age of 17, Henry married Catherine and the two were crowned at Westminster Abbey. The couple remained married until he divorced her in 1533.

As a young man and monarch, second in the Tudor Dynasty, Henry VIII exuded a charismatic athleticism and diverse appetite for art, music and culture. He was witty and highly educated, taught by private tutors for his entire upbringing. He loved music and wrote some as well. A lover of gambling and jousting, he hosted countless tournaments and banquets. His father always envisioned Arthur as king and Henry as a high-ranking church official—the appropriate role at that time for his secondary birth order. As fate would have it, Henry instead inherited an entire peaceful nation after his father ended the Wars of the Roses. 

Henry was good-natured, but his court soon learned to bow to his every wish. Two days after his coronation, he arrested two of his father's ministers and promptly executed them. He began his rule seeking advisers on most matters, and would end it with absolute control.


Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary

On February 18, 1516, Queen Catherine bore Henry his first child to survive infancy, Princess Mary. Henry grew frustrated by the lack of a male child and began keeping two mistresses at his beckon. His philandering ways were tame by the standards of his contemporaries, but they nonetheless resulted in his first divorce. One of his mistresses, Mary Boleyn, introduced him to her sister, Anne Boleyn. Anne and Henry began secretly seeing one another. Catherine, by now 42 and unable to conceive, set Henry in a tizzy. Henry configured a way to officially abandon his marriage with Catherine. The Book of Leviticus stated that a man who takes his brother's wife shall remain childless. Though Catherine had borne him a child, that child was a girl, which, in Henry's logic, did not count. He thusly petitioned the pope for an annulment. The debate, during which Catherine fought mightily to maintain both her own and her daughter's titles, lasted for six years.

In 1533, Henry's mistress, Anne Boleyn, became pregnant. Henry went over the pope's head and found his saving grace in Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury, and Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn married secretly in January 1533. In August of that year, Anne gave birth to a girl child, Elizabeth.

English Reformation

In 1534, Henry VIII declared himself supreme head of the Church of England. From 1514 to 1529, he had relied on Thomas Wolsey, a Catholic cardinal, to guide his domestic and foreign policies. Wolsey enjoyed a lavish existence under Henry, but when Wolsey failed to deliver Henry's quick annulment from Catherine, the cardinal quickly fell out of favor. After 16 years of power, Wolsey was arrested and falsely charged with treason. He subsequently died in custody. Henry's actions upon Wolsey gave a strong signal to the pope that he would not honor the wishes of even the highest clergy and would instead exercise full power in every realm of his court.

After Henry declared his supremacy, the Christian church separated, forming the Church of England. Henry instituted several statutes that outlined the relationship between the king and the pope and the structure of the Church of England: the Act of Appeals, the Acts of Succession and the first Act of Supremacy, declaring the king was "the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England." These macro reforms trickled down to minute details of worship. Henry ordered clergy to preach against superstitious images, relics, miracles and pilgrimages, and to remove almost all candles from religious settings. His 1545 catechism, called the King's Primer, left out the saints.

Fully separated now from the pope, the Church of England was under England's rule, not Rome's. From 1536 to 1537, a great northern uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace took hold, during which 30,000 people rebelled against the king's changes. It was the only major threat to Henry's security as monarch. The leader, Robert Aske, and 200 others were executed. When John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More, Henry's former Lord Chancellor, refused to take the oath to the king, they were beheaded at Tower Hill.

Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour

Inside the court, Queen Anne suffered greatly from her failure to produce a living male heir. After she miscarried twice, Henry became interested in Jane Seymour, one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting. In an all-out effort to leave his unfruitful marriage, Henry contrived an elaborate story that Anne had committed adultery, had incestuous relations and was plotting to murder him. Henry charged three men on account of their adultery with his wife, and on May 15, 1536, he put her on trial. Anne, regal and calm, denied all charges against her. Four days later, Henry's marriage to Anne was annulled and declared invalid. Anne Boleyn was then taken to the Tower Green, where she was given a private beheading. Within 24 hours of Anne's execution, Jane Seymour and Henry VIII formally wed.

Birth of a Prince

In October 1537, Jane Seymour produced Henry's long-hoped-for son. It was a difficult pregnancy. The baby, named Edward, was christened on October 15, and Jane died nine days later from a pregnancy-related infection. Henry considered Jane to be his only "true" wife. He and his court mourned for an extended period of time after her passing.

Three years later, Henry was ready to marry again, mainly to ensure the succession of his crown. He inquired in foreign courts about the appearances of available women. Anne, the sister of the Duke of Cleves, was suggested. The German artist Hans Holbein the Younger, who served as the king's official painter, was sent out to create a portrait of her. Henry disapproved of Anne in the flesh and divorced her after six months. She received the title of "The King's Sister" and was given Hever Castle as ample residence.

Within weeks, Henry married the very young Catherine Howard, a first cousin to Anne Boleyn. Henry, 49, and Catherine, 19, started out a happy pair. Henry was now dealing with tremendous weight gain and a bad leg. His new wife gave him zest for life, and he repaid her with a lavish gifts. But happiness would not last long for the couple. A pretty woman, Catherine began seeking the attention of men her own age—a tremendously dangerous endeavor for the queen of England. After an investigation into her behavior, she was deemed guilty of adultery. On February 13, 1542, Henry had Catherine executed on the Tower Green.

Catherine Parr

Independent and well-educated, Catherine Parr was Henry's last and sixth wife. She was the daughter of Maud Green, a lady-in-waiting to Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Maud named her daughter after the queen; thus Henry's last wife was named after his first. Parr was a twice-made widow. The two were married in 1543.

The most well-documented incident of Catherine Parr's life was her effort to ban books, a truly horrible act under her husband's leadership that practically got her arrested. When Henry came to admonish her for her brash actions, she submitted to him, saying she was merely looking to create a circumstance when he could teach her the proper way to behave. Henry accepted the sentiment, either true or devised, saving her from a brutal end.

As a middle-aged man, Henry became covered with pus-filled boils and possibly suffered from gout. It was a jousting accident that opened a violent wound in his leg. The wound ulcerated and left him unable to play sports. His eventual obesity required that he be moved with mechanical inventions. His habit of binge-eating highly fatty meats was perhaps a symptom of stress. A recent and credible theory suggests that he suffered from untreated type II diabetes.

On January 28, 1547, at the age of 55, King Henry VIII of England died in London. He was interred in St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle alongside his deceased third wife, Jane Seymour. Henry's only surviving son, Edward, inherited the throne, becoming Edward VI. Princesses Elizabeth and Mary waited in succession.

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