Ruler of England for 36 years, King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) presided over several changes that brought England into the Protestant Reformation.
Henry VIII: Early Life
The second son of Henry VII, Henry VIII was born on January 28, 1491 and was the first ruler from the House of Tudor. His older brother Arthur was being prepared for the throne while Henry was steered toward a career in the church, with a wide education in music, theology, poetry, language and sports.
Since the age of 2, Arthur was betrothed to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of the Spanish rulers Ferdinand and Isabella, and the teenage couple was married in November 1501. However, Arthur died of a sudden illness months later. Henry VIII became next in line for the throne and was betrothed to his brother’s widow in 1503.
Henry VIII: First years as King
At age 17, Henry VIII took the throne and six weeks later he married Catherine of Aragon. During the next 15 years, while Henry VIII fought three wars with France, Catherine bore him three daughters and three sons, all but one of whom died in infancy. Mary (later Mary I), born in 1516, was the sole survivor.
In those years, Henry VIII was an active king hunting, keeping a festive court, writing, jousting and playing music. He earned the title of “Defender of the Faith” from Pope Leo X by issuing a book-length attack on Martin Luther’s church reforms. However, the absence of a male heir – particularly after he fathered an illegitimate healthy son, Henry Fitzroy – gnawed at Henry VIII.
Dissolving a Marriage, Splitting the Church
By the 1520s, Henry VIII had become infatuated with a young woman in his wife’s entourage called Anne Boleyn. He was also concerned that his marriage to Catherine was cursed by God due to the Old Testament ban on marrying your brother’s widow. King Henry VIII chose to seek a papal annulment that would enable him to remarry.
With the help of his powerful adviser Cardinal Wolsey, King Henry VIII petitioned Pope Clement VII but was rejected because of pressure from Catherine’s nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Wolsey was removed from power for his failure and in 1630 he died awaiting trial for treason.
With the support of the English clergy and parliament, Henry eventually decided that he did not require the pope’s permission to rule on issues affecting the Church of England. Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII were married in 1533, and their daughter Elizabeth was born. Elizabeth was named as heir and Mary was declared as illegitimate. The monasteries in England were closed and majority of them were sold off to add to Henry VIII’s wealth.
Henry VIII: More deaths and marriages
Henry VIII was unhorsed and injured during a jousting tournament in January 1536. Upon hearing the news of his accident, Anne miscarried, delivering a stillborn son. Henry VIII then turned away from her, focusing his affections to Jane Seymour, another woman of his court. In the space of 6 months, Anne was executed for treason and Henry VIII married Jane who gave him a son (the future Edward IV) but died after two weeks.
Henry VIII’s fourth marriage had similarities to his first. His marriage to Anne of Cleves was a political one, chosen to fortify an alliance with her brother, the ruler of a Protestant duchy in Germany. However, the marriage lasted just a few days before Henry had it annulled. Next he married Catherin Howard, who was also beheaded two years later for adultery and treason.
Henry VIII became moody, suspicious and obese in the last years of his reign, plagued by the persistent leg wound from his jousting injury, as well as his personal intrigues. His last marriage, to the widow Catherine Parr in 1543, saw his reconciliation with Elizabeth and Mary, who were returned to the line of succession.
Henry VIII: Death and Legacy
Henry died on January 28 1547 – his 56th birthday. His son Edward, then 9 years old, succeeded him as king but died six years later. Mary I dedicated her five-year reign to steering England back to the Catholic faith, however, Elizabeth I, who was the longest reigning of the Tudor monarchs, re-established the religious reforms of King Henry VIII.