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Henry VIII

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Henry VIII

Henry VIII is probably the most notable Tudor monarch. He is remembered by many as a tyrant who married six times and had two of his wives beheaded. Is that all there is to King Henry VIII? Let’s have a look at his life in more detail.

Henry VIII Facts: Becoming King

Henry VIII was the son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and became King when he was just 17. How did this happen, and how did his early life set him up for his role as King?

Henry's Birth and Early Life

Henry was born on 28 June 1491 at Greenwich Palace in London. He had three siblings:

  • Arthur, born in 1486.

  • Margaret, born in 1489.

  • Mary, born in 1496.

Since he had an older brother, Henry was never meant to become king. All hopes rested on Arthur, the oldest boy. Henry, as the second boy, was regarded as a spare. At the time, child mortality was very high and kings tried to have as many boys as possible to ensure the continuation of their dynasty.

Because of this, soon after Henry's christening, he was sent to live at Eltham Palace with his sister Margaret. Here he lived in a predominantly female household, looked after by his doting mother.

While Arthur was being prepared for the throne, Henry was steered towards a church career. He had a broad education in theology, music, languages, poetry, and sports.

How did Henry become heir to the throne?

On 2 April 1502, after being ill with the sweating sickness, Arthur died. Aged 11, Henry’s life changed overnight. Just before his 13th birthday, he joined the Royal Household. His father was extremely overprotective and Henry was not allowed to go anywhere without an escort.

Despite his protective upbringing, Henry soon flourished. He became a young man who was charming and accomplished. He wrote music and poetry and played as many sports as he could.

Did you know? When Henry was fully grown, he was 6’2” (1.87m) tall! An average Londoner at the time was 5’5” (1.70).

How did Henry become king?

On 21 April 1509, Henry VII died. This now made Henry VIII King of England at just 17 years old. He spent the night before his coronation at the Tower of London and then led his procession to Westminster Abbey.

Did you know? Henry VIII would be the first adult prince to inherit the throne peacefully from his father in almost 100 years.

Henry’s first act as king in 1509 was to marry Catherine of Aragon, his brother's widow. This would secure the alliance with the Spanish Kingdom. On 24 June 1509, Henry was officially crowned King of England, making Catherine a queen once again.

Henry VIII Henry VIII just after his coronation StudySmarterHenry VIII just after his coronation painted by Meynnart Wewyck, Wikimedia Commons.

Information about Henry VIII’s Government

Henry VII had always been involved in his government, but his son Henry VIII believed that the government could be left to trusted men. Who were the most notable of these trusted men in his government?

Cardinal Wolsey

Thomas Wolsey made a name for himself as an efficient administrator for both the Crown and the Church. When Henry VIII became king, Wolsey rose rapidly through the ranks. He was appointed archbishop of York in 1514, a cardinal a year later, and soon the king appointed him Lord Chancellor. Wolsey’s finest moment was the arranging of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, a summit meeting between King Henry VIII and King Francis I, which we will discuss in detail later.

Cardinal

A high-ranking official in the Roman Catholic Church. It is the rank below the Pope.

Lord ChancellorThe highest-ranking among the great officers of state.

When Wolsey was unable to secure an annulment for the marriage between Henry and Catherine of Aragon, he fell from grace. Wolsey tried to regain favour from the king by giving him Hampton Court Palace but it was not enough. In November 1530 Wolsey was arrested near York and accused of treason. On 29 November 1530 Wolsey died while on his way to Leicester to face trial.

Henry VIII Cardinal Wolsey StudySmarterWolsey, unknown artist, 1585–96, Wikimedia Commons.

Sir Thomas More

Thomas More was made a member of the King’s Council in 1518 and in 1521 he was knighted. He was also appointed Chancellor in 1529 but resigned in May 1532.

When the Succession Act was passed in 1534, More was required to take an oath agreeing to:

  • Reject the Pope.

  • Declare the marriage between Henry and Catherine of Aragon invalid.

  • Acknowledge that the children of Henry and Anne Boleyn would be legal heirs to the throne instead of his children with Catherine of Aragon.

The Succession Act 1534 made Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, the heir presumptive, by declaring Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, a bastard - a child born to unmarried parents.

Being an heir presumptive meant that Elizabeth would become Queen of England and Ireland should Henry VIII have no male heir upon his death.

More, a devout Christian, would not take the oath, which infuriated Henry. He was taken to the Tower of London on 17 April 1534 and was charged with treason. He was executed by beheading on 6 July 1535.

Henry VIII Sir Thomas More StudySmarterSir Thomas More, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527, Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell was made Chief Minister by Henry VIII. When Cromwell took care of Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, he was made the King’s Principal Secretary, around April 1534. In July 1536, Cromwell was appointed Lord Privy Seal.

Lord Privy Seal

Responsible for the organisation of government business.

The debacle of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves, orchestrated by Cromwell, started Cromwell’s downfall. This was further aided by the Duke of Norfolk who convinced Henry that Cromwell was plotting to bring a full version of Protestantism to England, something that Henry was very much against. Cromwell was arrested in June 1540 and executed in July 1540.

Henry VIII Thomas Cromwell StudySmarterThomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1532–33, Wikimedia Commons.

Henry VIII’s Wives

It is widely known that Henry VIII married a total of six times, and none of the marriages had a happy ending. Who were the six wives of Henry VIII and what happened to them?

Catherine of Aragon

Catherine was the daughter of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain. As we have discussed, she was the widow of Henry’s older brother Arthur, but after getting a papal dispensation, on the promise that she never consummated her marriage to Arthur, she and Henry were married on 11 June 1509.

Papal dispensation

A reserved right of the Pope that allows for individuals to be exempted from a specific Christian law.

Catherine was pregnant six times, but only one child survived: Mary, the future Queen Mary I of England. Catherine bore Henry VIII no more children meaning, to Henry's disappointment, she did not give him his much-desired male heir.

In the meantime, Henry became infatuated with Anne Boleyn. He wanted to marry her but Catherine would not accept a divorce. The Catholic Church supported Catherine and after several years, Henry had enough. He broke with Rome and declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England. He banned Catherine from his court in 1531 because she did not do what he wanted, and he divorced her against her will in 1533. She died at Kimbolton Castle on 7 January 1536.

Henry VIII Catherine of Aragon StudySmarterPortrait of Catherine of Aragon, Wikimedia Commons.

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn married Henry in January 1533 after seven years of courting. It took this long for them to marry because Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, did not want to accept a divorce so he could marry Anne. Only after Henry's break with Rome was he able to divorce Katherine and marry Anne.

Henry’s and Anne’s first, and only, child, Elizabeth was born on 7 September 1533. She would later become Queen Elizabeth I.

Thomas Cromwell, who was not on good terms with Anne, started to plot her downfall by spreading rumours. Anne was accused of:

  • Adultery with several men.

  • Incest with her own brother, George Boleyn.

  • Plotting against the King.

A sham trial, filled with Anne’s enemies, found her guilty and she was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Anne was executed on 19 May 1536, after three years of marriage.

Henry VIII Anne Boleyn StudySmarterAnne Boleyn, Wikimedia Commons.

Jane Seymour

Jane married Henry a mere 11 days after Anne’s execution, on 30 May 1536.

She got pregnant in early 1537 and on 12 October 1537 a baby boy was born. Finally, a male heir! His name was Edward, later Edward VI, King of England and Ireland.

Jane developed post-natal complications after a difficult birth. She died just two weeks later, on 24 October 1537. Henry considered Jane his favourite wife because she gave him a son, a legitimate heir.

Henry VIII Jane Seymour StudySmarterJane Seymour, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, around 1536, Wikimedia Commons.

Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves was married to Henry on 6 January 1540, without ever meeting him. After only a few months of marriage, Anne was asked to agree to an annulment, which she did. Their marriage was annulled on 9 July 1540.

The annulment was actually not a bad thing for Anne. She was henceforth known as ‘the King’s Beloved Sister’. She was given a generous settlement and Henry treated her extremely well. They remained good friends.

Henry VIII Anne of Cleves StudySmarterAnne of Cleves, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, around 1539, Wikimedia Commons.

Catherine Howard

Catherine married Henry on 28 July 1540. Catherine was still a teenager and Henry was already 49. She was, according to rumours at the time, involved with Thomas Culpeper, Henry’s favourite male courtier. These rumours, along with rumours of a sexual relationship with a young man before she married Henry, eventually led to Catherine being stripped of her title as Queen on 23 November 1541. She was then imprisoned until 13 February 1542, when she was beheaded.

Henry VIII Catherine Howard StudySmarterCatherine Howard, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, around 1540, Wikimedia Commons.

Catherine Parr

Catherine Parr married Henry on 12 July 1543. She was Queen of England until Henry died on 28 January 1547. She was Henry’s last wife and had a great relationship with Henry’s children, Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward.

Catherine was influential in passing the Third Succession Act, which restored both Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession, after Edward VI.

Henry VIII Katherine Parr StudySmarterCatherine Parr, late sixteenth century, Wikimedia Commons.

Henry VIII's Children

Henry VIII had three legitimate children and at least one illegitimate one.

Mary

Mary was born on 18 February 1516 to Henry and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. She became Mary I Queen of England and Ireland on 6 July 1553 after Edward’s death. She ruled until her death on 17 November 1558.

Elizabeth

Elizabeth was born on 7 September 1533 to Henry and his second wife Anne Boleyn. She became Elizabeth I Queen of England and Ireland on 17 November 1558 after Mary’s death. She ruled until her death on 24 March 1603.

Edward

Edward was born on 12 October 1537 to Henry and his third wife Jane Seymour. He became Edward VI King of England and Ireland on 28 January 1547 after Henry’s death when he was only nine years old. He ruled until his death on 6 July 1553.

Henry Fitzroy

Henry Fitzroy was born on 15 June 1519 to Henry and his mistress Elizabeth Blount. Henry Fitzroy was the only child born to a mistress that was acknowledged by Henry. He was an illegitimate child but did get the titles of Duke of Richmond and Somerset. He died on 23 July 1536.

The English Reformation under Henry VIII

The English Reformation was a gradual process that began under Henry VIII’s reign. It started with the break from Rome.

The break from Rome

The failure of Catherine of Aragon to provide Henry with sons was making him doubt that their marriage was just. He wanted to divorce her and marry Anne Boleyn. However, the Church refused to let this happen. The five-year struggle that followed was called the King’s Great Matter.

Eventually, with the help of Thomas Cromwell, Henry decided to break away from the Catholic Church in Rome. The Act of Supremacy in 1534 placed Henry as Supreme Head of the Church of England. Henry could now do whatever he wanted to do, but the Pope excommunicated him. Thus, the English Reformation began.

Excommunication

Exclusion from the Church in all manner.

Dissolution of the monasteries

This was a set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541. Henry VIII disbanded the monasteries, priories, convents, and friaries in England, Wales, and Ireland. By destroying the monastic system, he could acquire all its wealth and properties. Thomas Cromwell introduced the so-called ‘Valor Ecclesiasticus’ to find out how much property the Church owned. This led to the Act of Suppression in 1536 and the Second Suppression Act in 1539.

Act of Suppression

Small monasteries with an income of less than £200 a year were closed. Their building, land, and money were taken by the Crown.

Second Suppression Act

The dissolution of larger monasteries and religious houses. The land was confiscated and sold off to families who sympathised with Henry VIII’s break from Rome.

The Pilgrimage of Grace

Following the dissolution of the monasteries, a large rebel army of over 30,000 people marched to York in October 1536. They demanded the reopening of the monasteries. This march became known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. The rebels were promised a pardon but they were tricked. Henry gave the order that the leaders of the rebellion should be arrested and, in the end, about 200 rebels were executed.

Henry VIII and his Navy

Henry VIII is credited for the rise of the Royal Navy. His father, Henry VII, began the program of building warships for a navy, but upon his death, there were only 5 warships. By the time Henry VIII died, there were over 40.

Henry’s pride and joy was the flagship Mary Rose, which was launched in 1511. The Mary Rose was in service until 1545 when she sank off of the coast of Portsmouth during an engagement with the French fleet.

Did you know? In 1982, the Mary Rose was raised from the riverbed, with many artefacts still intact. Part of the ship and its artefacts are on display in a museum in Portsmouth run by the Mary Rose Trust.

History of Henry VIII’s Reign: Other Key Events

There were many important moments during Henry's life and reign. However, here we will focus on two main ones.

Field of the Cloth of Gold

Charles V became King of Spain in 1516 and Holy Roman Emperor in 1519. Louis XII of France died in 1515 and was succeeded by Francis I. Wolsey’s careful diplomacy resulted in the Treaty of London in 1518 which united England and these kingdoms in the wake of a new Ottoman threat.

Henry met with Francis I on 7 June 1520 near Calais in France. This became known as the Field of Cloth of Gold because of the massive amount of gold cloth used for the tents and pavilions. This summit meeting was a very expensive display of wealth by both kings and it was supposed to strengthen their friendship.

Ottoman

Refers to the Ottoman Empire which controlled much of South-eastern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa.

During the summit, there were banquets and tournaments. There were rules for the tournaments that stated that both kings would never compete against each other. However, since this event was about showing off, Henry challenged Francis to a wrestling match. Henry quickly lost and things turned sour.

Henry VIII Field of Cloth of Gold StudySmarterField of Cloth of Gold, unknown artist, 1545, Wikimedia Commons.

The Rough Wooing

Henry VIII wanted to unite England and Scotland and therefore signed the Treaty Of Greenwich on 1 July 1543. The treaty stipulated that his son Edward was now betrothed to the 7-month-old Mary, Queen of Scots and that she should be brought up in England.

In December 1543, the Scots rejected the treaty and renewed their alliance with France. Filled with rage, in April 1544, Henry ordered Edward Seymour to invade Scotland and burn down Edinburgh. It was the most brutal campaign against the Scots ever. It lasted until March 1551 and it became known as the Rough Wooing.

Henry VIII’s Health and Death

Henry’s health was good during his twenties but deteriorated in the later stages of his life.

Henry VIII's Health

As Henry aged, his once perfect health started to decline. One incident would change his life forever: a jousting accident on 24 January 1536. Henry suffered a severe concussion and a burst varicose ulcer on his left leg (this ulcer was the result of a previous jousting injury in 1527). He got ulcers on both his legs which would never heal. Henry had constant, severe infections and he would be in constant pain for the rest of his life.

Henry also started drinking and eating excessively, causing him to become obese (especially since he could also no longer exercise). According to many historians, it is also very likely that drinking, weight gain, constant infections, and constant pain could have caused the changes in Henry’s behaviour.

By 1546, Henry was so large that he required wooden chairs to carry him around and hoists to lift him. It was his last wife, Catherine Parr, who would nurse him during his final years.

Henry VIII Older Henry VIII StudySmarterHenry VIII, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1537, Wikimedia Commons.

Henry’s Death and Tomb

Henry’s last days were filled with extreme pain. His doctors had to cauterise his leg injuries and he had a chronic stomach ache. On 28 January 1547, Henry died at the age of 55 as a result of renal and liver failure. Henry VIII was buried in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, next to his favourite wife, Jane Seymour.

Cauterisation

Medical practice of burning a part of the body to remove or close off part of it.

The new king would be his son Edward, henceforth known as Edward VI, King of England.

Henry VIII - Key Takeaways

  • Henry VIII was born on 28 June 1491 at Greenwich Palace, becoming heir to the English throne after his older brother, Arthur, died on 2 April 1502.

  • Henry VIII had six wives:
    1. Catherine of Aragon

    2. Anne Boleyn

    3. Jane Seymour

    4. Anne of Cleves

    5. Catherine Howard

    6. Catherine Parr

  • Henry VIII had three children:
    1. Mary, whose mother was Catherine of Aragon.

    2. Elizabeth, whose mother was Anne Boleyn.

    3. Edward, whose mother was Jane Seymour.

  • Henry VIII started the English Reformation by breaking with Rome and making himself Supreme Head of the Church of England. As part of this, he dissolved the monasteries from 1536 to 1541.

  • The Field of the Cloth of Gold was a major event during Henry's life. It was a summit meeting between Henry and Francis I (King of France).

  • The Rough Wooing happened as part of the sixteenth-century war between England and Scotland.

  • Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547, aged 55, as a result of renal and liver failure. He is buried at St George’s Chapel in Windsor, next to his favourite wife, Jane Seymour.

Frequently Asked Questions about Henry VIII

Henry VIII is buried at St George’s Chapel in Windsor, next to his favourite wife, Jane Seymour.

Henry VIII was 55 years old when he died.

Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547.

Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI, succeeded him.

Henry had six wives.

Final Henry VIII Quiz

Question

When was Henry VIII born?

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Answer

Henry VIII was born on 28 June 1491

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Question

When did Arthur die, making Henry VIII heir to the throne?

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Answer

Arthur died on 2 April 1502

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Question

When did Henry VII die, making Henry VIII king?


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Answer

Henry VII died on 21 April 1509.

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Question

How tall was Henry VIII when he was fully grown?


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Answer

Henry VIII was 6’2” (1.87m) tall.

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Question

Name the three most notable people from Henry VIII’s government


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Answer

  1. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey

  2. Sir Thomas More

  3. Thomas Cromwell

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Question

How many times was Henry VIII married?


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Answer

Six times

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Question

What are the names of Henry VIII's six wives?


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Answer

  1. Catherine of Aragon

  2. Anne Boleyn

  3. Jane Seymour

  4. Anne of Cleves

  5. Catherine Howard

  6. Catherine Parr

Show question

Question

Which child was born to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon?


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Answer

Mary, the later Mary I Queen of England and Ireland.

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Which child was born to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn?


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Answer

Elizabeth, the later Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland

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Question

Which child was born to Henry VIII and Jane Seymour?


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Answer

Edward, the later Edward VI, King of England and Ireland

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Question

What was the reason for Henry VIII’s break with Rome?


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Answer

The Church would not annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

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Question

What happened after the break with Rome?


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Answer

The English Reformation. Henry VIII was then Supreme Head of the Church of England.

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How do we call the five-year struggle leading up to the break with Rome?


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Answer

The King’s Great Matter

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Question

When did Henry VIII become Supreme Head of the Church of England?


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Answer

In 1534

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Question

Which two acts are associated with the dissolution of the monasteries and when did they happen?


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Answer

  1. Act of Suppression of 1536

  2. Second Suppression Act of 1539

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Question

When did the Pilgrimage of Grace take place?


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Answer

In October 1536

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Question

When did Henry VIII die?


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Answer

He died on 28 January 1547

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Question

Where is Henry VIII buried?


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Answer

He is buried in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, next to his favourite wife, Jane Seymour.

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Question

Who succeeded Henry VIII?


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Answer

His son Edward, who was now Edward VI King of England and Ireland.

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