Henry VIII of England

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Monarchs of Great Britain

Henry VIII
Reign 22 April 1509– 28 January 1547
Coronation 24 June 1509
Born 28 June 1491
Palace of Placentia
Died 28 January 1547, aged 55
Palace of Whitehall
Buried St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle
Predecessor Henry VII
Successor Edward VI
Consort Catherine of Aragon (1509-1533)
Anne Boleyn (1533-1536)
Jane Seymour (1536-1537)
Anne of Cleves (1540-1540)
Catherine Howard (1540-1542)
Catherine Parr (1543-1547)
Issue Mary I
Elizabeth I
Edward VI
Royal House Tudor
Father Henry VII
Mother Elizabeth of York
Silver groat of Henry VIII, minted c. 1540. The reverse depicts the quartered arms of England and France
Silver groat of Henry VIII, minted c. 1540. The reverse depicts the quartered arms of England and France

Henry VIII ( 28 June 1491 - 28 January 1547) was King of England and Lord of Ireland, later King of Ireland, from 22 April 1509 until his death. He was the second monarch of the House of Tudor, succeeding his father, Henry VII. Henry VIII is famous for having been married six times, and ultimately breaking with the Roman Catholic Church. He wielded perhaps the most unfettered power of any English monarch, and brought about the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the union of England and Wales.

Henry VIII was the younger son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. His elder brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales, died in 1502, leaving Henry as heir to the throne.

Many significant pieces of legislation were enacted during Henry VIII's reign. They included the several Acts which severed the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church and established Henry as the supreme head of the Church in England.

Henry VIII is known to have been an avid gambler and dice player. In his youth, he excelled at sports, especially jousting, hunting, and real tennis. He was also an accomplished musician, author, and poet; his best known piece of music is Pastyme With Good Company ("The Kynges Ballade"). Henry VIII was also 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 Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, such as Christ Church, Oxford, Hampton Court Palace, palace of Whitehall, and Trinity College, Cambridge.

Early life and first marriage

The future Henry VIII was born at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich in 1491
The future Henry VIII was born at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich in 1491

Born at the Palace of Placentia at Greenwich, Henry VIII was the third child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Only three of Henry VIII's six siblings — Arthur (the Prince of Wales), Margaret and Mary — survived infancy. In 1493, Henry was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. In 1494, he was created Duke of York. He was subsequently appointed Earl Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, though still a child. As a youth, Henry was also given a first-rate education from leading tutors (along the way becoming fluent in Latin, French, and Spanish). This training was in anticipation of him having a career in the Church, not as monarch, as that was a role reserved for his older brother, Prince Arthur. Nevertheless, upon the sudden death of Arthur in 1502, Henry became Prince of Wales and heir to the throne.

Despite losing his first-born son and heir, Henry's father refused to give up his efforts to seal a marital alliance between England and Spain. In place of the dead Arthur, Henry was offered to Spain for marriage to Catherine of Aragon, youngest surviving heir of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. In order for the new Prince of Wales to marry Arthur's widow, a dispensation had to be obtained from the Pope to overrule the impediment of affinity. (Catherine maintained that her first marriage was never consummated; if she were correct, no papal dispensation would have been necessary — merely a dissolution of ratified marriage would be needed.) Both the English and Spanish parties agreed on the necessity of a papal dispensation for the removal of all doubts regarding the legitimacy of the marriage. Due to the impatience of Catherine's mother, Queen Isabella, the Pope granted his dispensation in the form of a Papal Bull. Thus, fourteen months after her young husband's death, Catherine found herself betrothed to his brother, the new Prince of Wales. By 1505, however, the king lost interest in an alliance with Spain, and Henry was forced to declare that his betrothal had been arranged without his assent.

Continued diplomatic manoeuvring over the fate of the proposed marriage lingered until the death of Henry VII in 1509. Young King Henry VIII, able to decide the issue for himself without a regent by virtue of having just turned eighteen, decided to proceed with the marriage to Catherine. They married on June 11, two weeks before their formal coronations.

Early reign

Henry VIII proved by nearly all accounts to be a popular and energetic monarch at the outset of his reign. Gifted not only with his father's considerable intelligence and erudition but also with charm and athletic ability, Henry soon transformed his court into a leading centre of humanism in Western Europe by attracting and promoting talented men of the new learning, such as Thomas Wolsey and Sir Thomas More, to key positions in his government. Many of these men were from middle class backgrounds and as such, complemented Henry's general policy of advancing the gentry to offset the power of the old nobility, which was still weakened from the War of the Roses. Left with a large surplus in the Treasury by his father, Henry lavished funds on arts, learning and advancing his new favourites at court. Even more was to be spent in carving out a prominent new role for England in European affairs..

The first such opportunity offered itself in 1512, when Henry was able to join the Holy League, which then included the Papal States, Spain and Venice in alliance against France's efforts to dominate the Italian peninsula. While few tangible military successes resulted from Henry's subsequent continental campaign, his forces were able to add yet another entry to the long list of resounding victories over Scottish arms at the Battle of Flodden Field in September 1513 — a victory which, along with Henry's capture of Tournai two weeks later, allowed the king sufficient manoeuvring room to make peace with France the following year. Nonetheless, the ancient Anglo-French rivalry was intensified by the accession in 1515 of Francis I of France, who competed with Henry for prestige as a fellow gifted, magnetic young monarch. This personal and political rivalry reached an ostentatious climax of sorts in Henry's extravagant meeting with Francis at the " Field of Cloth of Gold" near Calais, France, in 1520. Results from the conference proved as fleeting as the Holy League war, however. In the end, it proved merely an expensive and glittering interlude in a larger, three-way struggle for power between Henry, Francis and the new Spanish king, Charles of Hapsburg, whose power was enormously augmented by his election as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1519. Aided by his adroit Lord Chancellor, Thomas (now Cardinal) Wolsey, Henry soon resurrected the Spanish alliance with Charles, but ultimately played a limited role in the ensuing war with France over Italian lands. The king of France spent the next several years contesting Emperor Charles for control of Italy, losing control of Milan and ultimately being captured by Charles at Pavia in 1525. Faced with the age-old papal nightmare of imperial dominance of Italy come again to life, Pope Clement VII solicited Henry to join a new alliance, the League of Cognac, against the emperor.

Henry had ample religious and increasing personal motives for achieving a closer alliance with the papacy. His early theological education had inculcated in him a deep interest in religious issues, and he quickly carved out a record as a staunch supporter of the Catholic Church in the controversies of the era. Henry capped these efforts by authoring a blistering attack on Martin Luther titled Assertio Septem Sacramentorum, a tract vindicating the Church's dogmatic teaching on the sacraments, the sacrifice of the mass, and papal supremacy — all doctrines which had come under assault by Luther. The authorship of the Assertio was questioned at the time, not least by Luther, although most modern scholars attribute a major share of the writing to the king. Henry's tract earned him the honorific title Defensor Fidei (Defender of the Faith) from Pope Leo X (a title which all subsequent monarchs of England have retained).

This theological prestige, coupled with Henry's papal military alliance, increasingly entered Henry's dynastic calculations in 1526-27 as it became increasingly clear that his wife, Queen Catherine, was unlikely to provide a male heir for the Tudor throne. Now over 40, Catherine was considered unlikely to mother any sequels to a disappointing maternal record — three short-lived sons, a miscarriage, and one surviving child, Princess Mary (later Mary I of England). Unwilling to accept a female heir yet convinced of his own continuing ability to sire healthy offspring (thanks to reputed illegitimate issue from his mistresses), Henry increasingly pondered the possibility of obtaining Church sanction for invalidating his marriage to Catherine, whose Spanish birth and connect were increasingly a liability in Henry's anti-imperial foreign policy.

Religious upheaval and divorce from Queen Catherine

Part of the series on
Anglican Communion

English Reformation
Apostolic Succession
Episcopal polity


Lancelot Andrewes
Thomas Cranmer
Henry VIII
Richard Hooker
John Henry Newman
Jeremy Taylor
William Temple
Desmond Tutu
Rowan Williams

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Anglican Consultative Council
Primates' Meeting

Liturgy and Worship

Book of Common Prayer
High Church · Low Church
Broad Church
Oxford Movement
Thirty-Nine Articles
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Saints in Anglicanism

King Henry's increasing impatience with Catherine's inability to produce the desired heir was given a new spur when he became attracted to a charismatic young courtier in the Queen's entourage, Anne Boleyn, in 1525. Henry ordered Cardinal Wolsey to begin formal proceedings with Rome to annul his marriage, sending the king's secretary, William Knight, to Rome to petition for an annulment of Henry's marriage with Catherine on the grounds that her brief marriage to Henry's dead brother Arthur had, indeed, been consummated. Pope Clement VII was highly reluctant to grant the king’s request, however, for fear that it would anger Charles V, who was Catherine’s nephew. Clement's reluctance was only magnified after the sack of Rome in 1527, a disaster which left him effectively Charles's prisoner. Wolsey's efforts to lobby for the divorce were unavailing. These failures, concomitant with his growing estrangement from Anne Boleyn, finally led to Wolsey's dismissal as Chancellor by Henry in 1529. His replacement, Sir Thomas More, seemed an even less likely candidate to secure Henry's desired end, given his scruples about the suit and devout loyalty to Rome.

At the same time, however, Henry discovered and promoted other men of a different temper; chief among these were two gifted young clerics, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer. It was Cromwell who first suggested in 1529 that Henry should consult the great universities of Europe for an opinion about the validity of his marriage. The project, abetted by apparent bribes and favours, achieved the hoped-for success, with favourable opinions offered to the English Parliament in 1530. Cranmer's support of the King's efforts to put aside the Queen was rewarded with a position as ambassador to the imperial court, and shortly thereafter, he was appointed to replace William Warham as Archbishop of Canterbury upon the latter's death. Cromwell, meanwhile, earned a position as chief advisor to the king with his even more daring — and fateful — proposal that Henry consider abolishing papal supremacy and declare himself head of the Church in England. Both Cromwell and Cranmer were protégés of Boleyn, who shared her growing sympathies with Protestant doctrines taking shape on the continent — and soon had a chance to put them in practice. Threats of withheld papal tithes having failed to move Clement VII to action, Henry finally took matters into his own hands: he secretly married Boleyn in January 1533, and shortly thereafter, had his allies in Parliament pass a statute forbidding further appeals to Rome. Archbishop Cranmer quickly moved to declare Henry's marriage to Catherine invalid and his new one to Anne Boleyn valid. Boleyn was crowned Queen of England on June 1, and gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I of England) three months later.

The Pope reacted by moving to excommunicate Henry in July 1533. (Historians disagree on the exact date of the excommunication; according to Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples, the bull of 1533 was a draft with penalties left blank and was not made official until 1535. Others say Henry was not officially excommunicated until 1538, by Pope Paul III). Considerable religious upheaval followed. Urged by Cromwell, Parliament passed several Acts that enforced the breach with Rome in the spring of 1534. The Statute in Restraint of Appeals prohibited appeals from English ecclesiastical courts to the Pope. It also prevented the Church from making any regulations without the King's consent. The Ecclesiastical Appointments Act 1534 required the clergy to elect bishops nominated by the Sovereign. The Act of Supremacy 1534 declared that the King was "the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England"; the Treasons Act 1534 made it high treason punishable by death to refuse to acknowledge the King as such. The Pope was also denied sources of revenue such as Peter's Pence.

Rejecting the decisions of the Pope, Parliament validated the marriage between Henry and Anne with the Act of Succession 1533. Catherine's daughter, the Lady Mary, was declared illegitimate, and Anne's issue were declared next in the line of succession. Included in this declaration was, most notably, a clause repudiating "any foreign authority, prince or potentate". All adults in the Kingdom were required to acknowledge the Act's provisions by oath; those who refused to do so were subject to imprisonment for life. The publisher or printer of any literature alleging that Henry's marriage to Anne was invalid was automatically guilty of high treason, and could be punished by death.

Opposition to Henry's religious policies was quickly suppressed in England. A number of dissenting monks were tortured and executed. The most prominent resisters included John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More, Henry's former Lord Chancellor, both of whom refused to take the oath and were subsequently convicted of high treason and beheaded at Tyburn in 1535. Thomas Cromwell, for whom was created the post of "Vicegerent in Spirituals", was authorized to visit monasteries, ostensibly to ensure that they followed royal instructions, but in reality to assess their wealth. In 1536, an Act of Parliament allowed Henry to seize the possessions of the lesser monasteries (those with annual incomes of £200 or less). These suppressions in turn contributed to further resistance among the English people, most notably in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a large uprising in the north of England in October of the same year. After negotiations with the Pilgrimage's leaders broke down, Henry ordered its leaders, including its chief, Robert Aske, arrested and executed for treason. Dissolution of the remaining, larger monasteries followed a subsequent authorizing act by Parliament in April 1539 (See main article: Dissolution of the monasteries).

Execution of his second wife, Queen Anne

Though she was instrumental in helping to bring about these radical religious changes, the King's relationship with his Queen quickly soured. After the Princess Elizabeth's birth, Queen Anne had two pregnancies that ended in either miscarriage or stillbirth, resurrecting old frustrations that Henry had experienced with Catherine. Determined to father a male heir, and perhaps encouraged by Thomas Cromwell, Henry had Anne arrested on charges of using witchcraft to trap him into marrying her, of having adulterous relationships with five other men, of incest with her brother George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, of injuring the King and of conspiring to kill him, which amounted to treason; the charges were most likely fabricated. The court trying the case was presided over by Anne's own uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. In May 1536, the Court condemned Anne and her brother to death, either by burning at the stake or by decapitation, whichever the King pleased. The other four men Queen Anne had allegedly been involved with were to be hanged, drawn and quartered, however their sentences ultimately commuted to decapitation. Anne and her brother George were also beheaded soon thereafter. At her final Mass, the Queen publicly swore to her innocence in the presence of a priest and various witnesses.

Birth of a Prince and death of his third wife, Queen Jane

One day after Anne's execution in 1536 Henry got engaged to, and 10 days later married Jane Seymour, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting to whom the King had been showing favour for some time. The Act of Succession 1536 declared Henry's children by Queen Jane to be next in the line of succession, and declared both the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth illegitimate, thus excluding them from the throne. The King was granted the power to further determine the line of succession in his will. Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward the future Edward VI, in 1537, Jane died at Greenwich Palace on 24 October 1537 of puerperal fever. After Jane's death, the entire court mourned with Henry for some time. Henry also considered her to be his only "true" wife, being the only one who had given him the male heir he so desperately sought.

Major Acts in the Kingdom

At about the same time as his marriage to Jane Seymour, Henry granted his assent to the Laws in Wales Act 1535, which legally annexed Wales, uniting England and Wales into one unified nation. The Act provided for the sole use of English in official proceedings in Wales, inconveniencing the numerous speakers of the Welsh language.

Henry continued with his persecution of his religious opponents. In 1536, an uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in Northern England. To appease the rebellious Roman Catholics, Henry agreed to allow Parliament to address their concerns. Furthermore, he agreed to grant a general pardon to all those involved. He kept neither promise, and a second uprising occurred in 1537. As a result, the leaders of the rebellion were convicted of treason and executed. In 1540, Henry sanctioned the destruction of shrines to Roman Catholic Saints. In 1542, England's remaining monasteries were all dissolved, and their property transferred to the Crown. As a reward for his role, Thomas Cromwell was created Earl of Essex. Abbots and priors lost their seats in the House of Lords; only archbishops and bishops came to comprise the ecclesiastical element of the body. 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.

Henry's mistresses

Historians are only sure of the names of two of Henry's mistresses: Elizabeth Blount and Mary Boleyn ( Anne's sister). Elizabeth Blount gave birth to Henry's illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, and there are numerous rumours of Mary Boleyn giving birth to Henry's illegitimate child, though there is no proof of this. There is also evidence to link him to several other women such as: Jane Popicourt,1510, a Frenchwoman at the court and a mistress of the kidnapped Duc de Longueville; Lady Anne Stafford, in 1514, sister of the duke of Buckingham and wife of Lord Hastings; and Margaret Shelton, in 1534-5, cousin of Anne & Mary Boleyn. There are also references to a lady he housed in a manor house (unknown year), an 'unknown lady' in 1534 and a lady from Tournai, in his excursions into France in 1513.

Henry's innovative court

Henry was the quintessential Renaissance Man, and his court was a centre of scholarly and artistic innovation. The discovery of America or "The New World" set the stage for Henry's innovative attitude. Henry was among the first European rulers to learn about the true geography of the world, a revolutionary discovery. In 1507, the cartographers Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann published the first "modern" map of the world, the first map to accurately depict the American Continent and a separate Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, a radical thought for the time. This discovery created an atmosphere of exploration and discovery in the arts and sciences which Henry took full advantage of in his court and daily life, setting the stage for his descendent Elizabeth the Great.

Later years

Henry was shown the above picture of Anne of Cleves
Henry was shown the above picture of Anne of Cleves

Henry desired to marry once again to ensure that a male could succeed him. Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex suggested Anne, the sister of the Protestant Duke of Cleves, who was seen as an important ally in case of a Roman Catholic attack on England. Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to Cleves to paint a portrait of Anne for the King. After regarding Holbein's flattering portrayal, and urged by the complimentary description of Anne given by his courtiers, Henry agreed to wed Anne. On Anne's arrival in England, Henry is said to have found her utterly unattractive, privately calling her a "Flanders Mare". She was painted totally without any signs of her pockmarked face. Nevertheless, he married her on 6 January 1540.

Henry desired to end the marriage, not only because of his personal feelings but also because of political considerations. The Duke of Cleves had become engaged in a dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor, with whom Henry had no desire to quarrel. Queen Anne was intelligent enough not to impede Henry's quest for an annulment. She testified that her marriage was never consummated. Henry was said to have come into the room each night and merely kissed his new bride on the forehead before sleeping. The marriage was subsequently annulled on the grounds that Anne had previously been contracted to marry another European nobleman. She received the title of "The King's Sister", and was granted Hever Castle, the former residence of Anne Boleyn's family. The Earl of Essex, meanwhile, fell out of favour for his role in arranging the marriage, and was subsequently attainted and beheaded. The office of Vicegerent in Spirituals, which had been specifically created for him, was not filled.

On 28 July 1540 (the same day Lord Essex was executed) Henry married the young Catherine Howard, Anne Boleyn's first cousin. He was absolutely delighted with his new queen. Soon after her marriage, however, Queen Catherine had an affair with the courtier, Thomas Culpeper. She also employed Francis Dereham, who was previously informally engaged to her and had an affair with her prior to her marriage, as her secretary. Thomas Cranmer, who was opposed to the powerful Catholic Howard family, brought evidence of Queen Catherine's activities to the King's notice. Though Henry originally refused to believe the allegations, he allowed Cranmer to conduct an investigation, which resulted in Queen Catherine's implication. 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 Thomas Culpeper.

Catherine's marriage was annulled shortly before her execution. As was the case with Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard could not have technically been guilty of adultery, as the marriage was officially null and void from the beginning. Again, this point was ignored, and Catherine was executed on 13 February 1542. She was only about eighteen years old at the time.

Henry married his last wife, the wealthy widow Catherine Parr, in 1543. She argued with Henry over religion; she was a radical, but Henry remained a conservative. This behaviour almost led to her undoing, but she saved herself by a show of submissiveness. She helped reconcile Henry with his first two daughters, the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth. In 1544, an Act of Parliament put them back in the line of succession after Edward, Prince of Wales, though they were still deemed illegitimate. The same Act allowed Henry to determine further succession to the throne in his will.

A mnemonic for the fates of Henry's wives is "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived". An alternative version is "King Henry the Eighth, to six wives he was wedded: One died, one survived, two divorced, two beheaded". The doggerel, however, may be misleading. Firstly, Henry was never divorced from any of his wives; rather, his marriages to them were annulled. Secondly, four marriages — not two — ended in annulments. The marriages to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were annulled shortly before their executions.

The cruelty and tyrannical disposition of Henry became more and more apparent as he advanced in years and failed in health. And the fearful series of political executions, which had commenced with that of Edmund de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk in 1513, was terminated by that of Henry Earl of Surrey, in January, 1547. According to Holinshed, the number of executions in this reign amounted to 72,000.

Death and succession

King Henry VIII died in the Palace of Whitehall in 1547
King Henry VIII died in the Palace of Whitehall in 1547

Later in life, Henry was grossly overweight, with a waist measurement of 54 inches (137 cm), and possibly suffered from gout. The well known theory that he suffered from syphilis was first promoted approximately 100 years after his death. More recent support for this idea has come from a greater understanding of the disease and has led to the suggestion that Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I all displayed symptoms characteristic of congenital syphilis. Henry's increased size dates from a jousting accident in 1536. He suffered a thigh wound which not only prevented him from taking exercise, but also gradually became ulcerated and may have indirectly led to his death, which occurred on 28 January 1547 at the Palace of Whitehall. He died on what would have been his father's 90th birthday. Henry VIII was buried in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, next to his wife Jane Seymour. Almost a hundred years later Charles I would also be buried in his grave. Within a little more than a decade after his death, all three of his children sat on the English throne, and were his only descendants.

Henry VIII had another child, Henry Fitzroy by a mistress, Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount. The young boy was made Duke of Richmond in June 1525 in what some thought was one stop on the path to legitimatising him. This never occurred, however, and Fitzroy never acceded to the throne. In 1533, he married Mary Howard of the Norfolk Howards. Henry died only three years later without any successors.

Under the Act of Succession of 1543, Henry's only surviving son, Edward, inherited the Crown, becoming Edward VI. Edward was the first Protestant monarch to rule England. Since Edward was only nine years old at the time, he could not exercise actual power. 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. In the event of a death without children, Edward was to be succeeded (in default of his issue) by Henry VIII's daughter by Catherine of Aragon, the Princess Mary. If Princess Mary did not have children, she was to be succeeded by his daughter by Anne Boleyn, Princess Elizabeth. Finally, if Princess Elizabeth also did not have children, she was to be followed by the descendants of Henry VIII's deceased sister, Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk. Mary, Queen of Scots, was Henry's older sister Margaret Tudor's granddaughter and therefore exempt from succession according to this act.


No account of the legacy of Henry VIII can overlook its dominating fact — the launching of the English Reformation. Though mainly motivated by dynastic and personal concerns, and despite never really abandoning the fundamentals of the Catholic faith, Henry ensured that the greatest act of his reign would be one of the most radical and decisive of any English monarch. His break with Rome in 1533-4 was an act with enormous consequences for the course of modern English history well beyond the end of the Tudor dynasty: not only in making possible the subsequent transformation of England into a vibrant (albeit very distinctive) Protestant society, but also in the shift of economic and political power from the Church to the gentry, chiefly through the seizure and transfer of monastic lands and assets — a short-term strategy with long term social consequences. Henry's decision to entrust the regency of his son Edward's minor years to a decidedly Protestant regency council dominated by Edward Seymour — most likely for the simple tactical reason that Seymour seemed likely to provide the strongest leadership for the kingdom — ensured that the Protestant reformation would be consolidated and even furthered during his son's reign. Such ironies marked other aspects of his legacy. He fostered humanist learning and yet was responsible for the deaths of several outstanding English humanists. Obsessed with securing the succession to the throne, he left no heirs but an unhealthy minor male heir and two daughters. The power of the state was magnified, yet so too (at least after Henry's death) were demands for increased political participation by the middle class. Henry worked with some success to once again make England a major player on the European scene but depleted his treasury in the course of doing so, a legacy that would remain an issue for English monarchs through the very end of the Tudor dynasty.

Together with Alfred the Great and Charles II, Henry is traditionally called one of the founders of the Royal Navy. There are good reasons for this — his reign featured some naval warfare and, more significantly, large royal investment in shipbuilding (including a few spectacular ' great ships' such as Mary Rose), dockyards (such as HMNB Portsmouth) and naval innovations (eg the use of cannon on-board ship - although archers were still deployed on medieval-style forecastles and bowcastles as the ship's primary armament on large ships, or co-armament where cannon were used). However, it is a misnomer since Henry did not bequeath to his immediate successors a ' navy' in the sense of a formalised organisation with structures, ranks, formalised munitioning structures etc, but only in the sense of a set of ships (albeit some spectacular ones). Elizabeth I still had to cobble together a set of privately owned ships to fight off the Spanish Armada (which was consisted of about 130 war ships and converted merchant ships) and in the former, formal sense the modern British navy, the Royal Navy, is largely a product of the Anglo-Dutch naval rivalry of the seventeenth century.

By his break with Rome, Henry incurred the threat of a large-scale French or Spanish invasion. To guard against this he strengthened existing coastal defence fortresses (such as Dover Castle and, also at Dover, Moat Bulwark and Archcliffe Fort — he personally visited for a few months to supervise, as is commemorated in the modern exhibition in Dover Castle's keep there). He also built a chain of new 'castles' (in fact, large bastioned and garrisoned gun batteries) along Britain's southern coast from East Anglia to Cornwall, largely built of material gained from the demolition of monasteries. These were also known as Henry VIII's Device Forts.

In 2002, Henry VIII placed 40th in a BBC-sponsored poll on the 100 Greatest Britons.


Henry VIII's ancestors in three generations
Henry VIII Father:
Henry VII of England
Paternal Grandfather:
Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Owen Tudor
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Catherine of Valois
Paternal Grandmother:
Lady Margaret Beaufort
Paternal Great-grandfather:
John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso
Elizabeth of York
Maternal Grandfather:
Edward IV of England
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Cecily Neville
Maternal Grandmother:
Elizabeth Woodville
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Jacquetta of Luxembourg

In popular culture


There have been many films about Henry and his court, notably The Private Life of Henry VIII ( 1933), starring Charles Laughton, whose performance as Henry earned him an Academy Award, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII ( 1973), starring Keith Michell, based on an earlier TV series (see below). Richard Burton and Geneviève Bujold were nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Actress for their roles as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in Anne of the Thousand Days ( 1969). Henry, played by Robert Shaw, also appears as one of the main characters in the multiple- Oscar-winning movie about Thomas More, A Man for All Seasons ( 1966), based upon Robert Bolt's play of the same name. Also, Henry VIII (again played by Charles Laughton) was a featured character in a movie about the early years of Elizabeth I, Young Bess ( 1953).


Henry has also made many television appearances. In drama, a notable example is the 1970 BBC series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, starring Keith Michell, made up of six television plays, one per wife, each by a different author. Another is the 2003 ITV feature-length Henry VIII, with Ray Winstone as Henry, critically panned for portraying Henry as an East End gangster, speaking with Winstone's characteristic Cockney tones, surrounded by a court speaking in Received Pronunciation.

In 2006, Showtime announced a new series dramatizing Henry VIII as a young man called The Tudors (TV series). The 2007 series will star Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as the young king.

In documentary, the leading academic on Henry, David Starkey, produced the Channel 4 series Henry VIII and The Six Wives of Henry VIII - the latter gave one episode each to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, one jointly to Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, and another jointly to Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr. Henry also has an episode to himself in the more recent series Monarchy.


In 1910. Fred Murray and R. P. Weston wrote a music hall song, "I'm Henery the Eighth, I Am", which plays off Henry VIII's numerous wives, although the lyrics make it clear that it is actually about a man named Henry who is the eighth with that name to have married the woman alluded to in the song. It became a signature song of Harry Champion, and became a Number 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States when it was revived in 1965 by British rock band Herman's Hermits.

Style and arms

Henry VIII was the first English monarch to regularly use the style "Majesty", though the alternatives "Highness" and "Grace" were also used from time to time.

Several 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 a book by Henry attacking Martin Luther and defending Catholicism, 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". After the breach with Rome, Pope Paul III rescinded the grant of the title "Defender of the Faith", but an Act of Parliament declared that it remained valid.

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" (see 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 because Ireland had originally been given to the English King Henry II by Pope Adrian IV in the twelfth century as a feudal territory under papal overlordship. The meeting of Irish Parliament that proclaimed Henry VIII 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.

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 'loyall'. His emblem was the Tudor rose and the Beaufort portcullis.

Henry VIII'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).


Name Birth Death Notes
By Catherine of Aragon (married June 11, 1509 annulled May 23, 1533; she died January 6, 1536)
Miscarried daughter January 31, 1510 January 31, 1510  
Henry, Duke of Cornwall 1 January 1511 22 February 1511  
Unnamed son November 1513 November 1513  
Henry, Duke of Cornwall December 1514 December 1514  
Queen Mary I 18 February 1516 17 November 1558 married 1554, Philip II of Spain; no issue
Unnamed child November 10, 1518 November 10, 1518  
By Anne Boleyn (married January 25, 1533 annulled 1536; she was executed May 19, 1536)
Queen Elizabeth I 7 September 1533 24 March 1603   never married, no issue
" Henry Tudor" 1534 1534 Historians are uncertain if the child was born and died shortly after birth, or if it was a miscarriage. The affair was hushed up and we cannot even be certain of the child's sex.
" Edward Tudor" 29 January 1536 29 January 1536  
By Jane Seymour (married May 30, 1537; she died October 25, 1537)
King Edward VI 12 October 1537 6 July 1553  
By Anne of Cleves (married January 6, 1540 annulled 1540; she died July 17, 1557)
no issue
By Catherine Howard (married July 28, 1540 annulled 1541; she was executed February 13, 1542)
no issue
By Catherine Parr (married July 12, 1543; died September 5, 1548)
no issue
By Elizabeth Blount
Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset 15 June 1519 18 June 1536 illegitimate; married 1533, the Lady Mary Howard; no issue
By The Lady Mary Boleyn ( many historians now reject the legend that the following two children were fathered by Henry VIII)
Catherine Carey c. 1524/1529 15 January 1568 reputed illegitimate; married Sir Francis Knollys; had issue
Henry Carey, Baron Hunsdon 4 March 1525/ 1526 23 July 1596 reputed illegitimate; married 1545, Ann Morgan; had issue
By Mary Berkeley
Sir Thomas Stucley c. 1525 August 4, 1578 reputed illegitimate; married Anne Curtis; had issue
Sir John Perrot c. 1527 September 1592 reputed illegitimate; married (1) Ann Cheyney and (2) Jane Pruet; had issue
By Joan Dyngley
Etheldreda Malte c. 1529 aft. 1555 reputed illegitimate; married 1546–1548 to John Harrington; no known issue

* Note: Of Henry VIII's reputedly illegitimate children, only the Duke of Richmond and Somerset was formally acknowledged by the King. The paternity of his other alleged illegitimate children is not fully established. There may also have been other illegitimate children born to short-term unidentified mistresses.


  • Technically, Henry was only married twice. Four of his marriages were annulled which means they never took place.
  • His court jester was named Will Somers.
  • The only surviving piece of clothing worn by Henry VIII is a cap of maintenance, awarded to the Mayor of Waterford, along with a bearing sword, in 1536. It currently resides in the Waterford Museum of Treasures.
  • It is widely believed (but almost certainly wrongly) that he composed the song Greensleeves for his lover and future Queen, Anne Boleyn.
  • Henry VIII was the first member of the English Royal Family to wear silk stockings.
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