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Henry VIII of England

Related subjects: Monarchs of Great Britain

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Henry VIII
Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger - Portrait of Henry VIII - Google Art Project.jpg
King Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
King of England and Ireland ( more...)
Reign 21 April 1509 – 28 January 1547
Coronation 24 June 1509
Predecessor Henry VII
Successor Edward VI
  • Catherine of Aragon
  • Anne Boleyn
  • Jane Seymour
  • Anne of Cleves
  • Catherine Howard
  • Catherine Parr
House House of Tudor
Father Henry VII of England
Mother Elizabeth of York
Born (1491-06-28)28 June 1491
Greenwich Palace, Greenwich
Died 28 January 1547(1547-01-28) (aged 55)
Palace of Whitehall, London
Burial 4 February 1547 St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle

Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) was king of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was lord, and later king, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France. Henry was the second monarch of the Tudor dynasty, succeeding his father, Henry VII.

Besides his six marriages, Henry VIII is known for his role in the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. Henry's struggles with Rome led to the separation of the Church of England from papal authority, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and his own establishment as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Yet he remained a believer in core Catholic theological teachings, even after his excommunication from the Catholic Church. Henry oversaw the legal union of England and Wales with the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542.

In 1513, the new king allied with the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximillian I, and invaded France in 1513 with a large, well-equipped army, but achieved little at a considerable financial cost. Maximillian, for his part, used the English invasion to his own ends, and this prejudiced England's ability to defeat the French. This foray would prove the start of an obsession for Henry, who invaded again in 1544. This time, Henry's forces captured the important city of Boulogne but again the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, supported Henry only as long as he needed to and England, strained by the enormous cost of the war, ransomed the city back for peace.

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". Besides ruling with absolute power, he also engaged himself as an author and composer. His desire to provide England with a male heir – which stemmed partly from personal vanity and partly because he believed a daughter would be unable to consolidate the Tudor dynasty and the fragile peace that existed following the Wars of the Roses – led to the two things for which Henry is remembered: his six marriages and the English Reformation. Henry became morbidly obese and his health suffered, contributing to his death in 1547. In later life, he is frequently characterised as a lustful, egotistical, harsh, and insecure king.


Early years

Henry's shield as the Duke of York
Henry's armorial as Prince of Wales
Catherine of Aragon as a young widow, by court painter Michael Sittow, c.1502

Born at Greenwich Palace, Henry Tudor was the third child and second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Of the young Henry's six siblings, only three – Arthur, Prince of Wales; Margaret; and Mary – survived infancy. He was baptised by Richard Fox, the Bishop of Exeter, at a church of the Observant Franciscans close to the palace. 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. Henry was given a first-rate education from leading tutors, becoming fluent in Latin and French, and learning at least some Italian. Not much is known about his early life – save for his appointments – because he was not expected to become king. 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. As Duke of York, Henry used the arms of his father as king, differenced by a label of three points ermine.

In 1502, Arthur died at the age of 15, after 20 weeks of marriage to Catherine. 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. 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."

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. Both Isabella and Henry VII were keen on the idea, which had arisen very shortly after Arthur's death. On 23 June 1503, a treaty was signed for their marriage, and they were betrothed two days later. 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. The young Henry's age, only eleven, prevented cohabitation. 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. 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.

Early reign

Eighteen year-old Henry after his coronation in 1509

Henry VII died on 22 April 1509 and the young Henry succeeded him as king, taking the regnal title Henry VIII. Soon after his father's burial on 10 May, Henry suddenly declared that he would indeed marry Catherine, leaving unresolved issues concerning the papal dispensation and a missing part of the marriage portion. The new king maintained that it had been his father's dying wish that he marry Catherine. 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. Henry's wedding to Catherine was kept low-key and was held at the friar's church in Greenwich. On 23 June 1509, Henry led Catherine from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey for his coronation, which took place the following day. It was a grand affair: the king's passage was lined with tapestries and laid with fine cloth. Following their coronation by the archbishop of Canterbury, there was a grand banquet in Westminster Hall. As Catherine wrote to her father, "our time is spent in continuous festival".

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 argued that such executions would become Henry's primary tactic for dealing with those who stood in his way; they were certainly not the last. Henry also returned to the public some of the money supposedly extorted by the two ministers. 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. 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.

Soon after, Catherine conceived, but the child, a girl, was stillborn on 31 January 1510. About four months later, she again became pregnant. 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. However, the child died seven weeks later. 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. Catherine miscarried again in 1514, 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, and there is little to suggest the marriage was anything but "unusually good" in the period.

The most significant of Henry's mistresses was Elizabeth Blount for about three years in 1516 onwards. Elizabeth is one of only two completely undisputed mistresses, few for a virile young king. Exactly how many Henry had is disputed: David Loades believes Henry had mistresses "only to a very limited extent", whilst Alison Weir believes there were numerous other affairs. Catherine did not protest, and in 1518 fell pregnant again with another girl, who was also stillborn. Blount gave birth in June 1519 to Henry's illegitimate son, Henry FitzRoy. 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. In 1533, FitzRoy married Mary Howard, but died three years later leaving only two illegitimate daughters. 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.

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 which divided his council. Certainly war with the combined might of the two powers would have been exceedingly difficult. Shortly after, Henry also signed a contradictory pact with Ferdinand against France. The problem was resolved with the creation of the anti-French Holy League by Pope Julius II in October 1511 which brought Louis into conflict with Ferdinand. Henry brought England into the Holy League shortly after, with an initial joint Anglo-Spanish attack on Aquitaine planned for the spring to recover for it England. It appeared to be the start of making Henry's dreams of ruling France a reality. The attack, following a formal declaration of war in April, was not led by Henry personally. It 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. Henry then pulled off a diplomatic coup by convincing the Emperor to join the Holy League. Remarkably, Henry had also secured the promised title of "Most Christian King of France", and possibly coronation by the Pope himself in Paris, if only Louis could be defeated.

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 minor result, but one which was seized on by the English for propaganda reasons. Soon after, the English took Thérouanne and handed it over to Maximillian; Tournai, a more significant settlement, followed. Henry had led the army personally, complete with large entourage. His absence from the country prompted his brother-in-law, James IV of Scotland, to invade England at the behest of Louis. The English army, overseen by Queen Catherine, decisively defeated the Scots at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513. Among the dead was the Scottish king, ending Scotland's brief involvement in the war. These campaigns had given Henry a taste of the military success he so desired. However, despite initial indications that he would pursue a 1514 campaign, Henry decided against such a move. He had been supporting Ferdinand and Maximilian financially during the campaign but had got back little; England's own coffers were now empty. 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 daughter Mary would become Louis' wife, having previously been pledged to the younger Charles, and peace secured for eight years, a remarkably long time.

Following the deaths of his grandfathers, Ferdinand and Maximilian, in 1516 and 1519 respectively, Charles of Austria ascended the thrones of Spain and Holy Roman Empire; Francis I became king of France on Louis' death. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey's careful diplomacy 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. Meeting Francis I on 7 June 1520 at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais, he entertained the French king with a fortnight of lavish entertainment to establish a closer diplomatic relationship after the military conflicts 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. 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 securing an alliance with Burgundy and the continuing support of Charles. A small English attack in the north of France made up little ground. When Francis and his army were overwhelmingly defeated at the Battle of Pavia, leaving Charles (who believed he owed Henry nothing) free to make peace with a captured Francis, Henry decided to take England out of the war before his ally, signing the Treaty of the More on 30 August 1525.

Divorce from Catherine

Catherine of Aragon, Henry's first queen

Around this time, Henry conducted an affair with Mary Boleyn, Catherine's lady-in-waiting. There has been speculation that Mary's two children, Catherine and Henry Carey, were fathered by Henry, but this has never been proved and the King never acknowledged them as he did Henry FitzRoy. In 1525, as Henry grew more impatient with Catherine's inability to produce the male heir he desired, he became enamoured of Mary's sister, Anne Boleyn, then a charismatic young woman in the Queen's entourage. Anne, however, resisted his attempts to seduce her, and refused to become his mistress as her sister Mary Boleyn had. 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 were, respectively, 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 an undersized child and was 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 Henry, and it soon became the King's absorbing desire to annul his marriage to Catherine. It was a decision that would see Henry 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. 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. The work represented a staunch defence of papal supremacy, albeit one couched in somewhat contingent terms. 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, an impediment the Pope had never had (he now believed) the authority to dispense with. It was this argument Henry took to the Pope in 1527 in the hope of having his marriage to Catherine annulled, forgoing at least one less openly defiant line of attack. In going public, all hope of tempting Catherine to retire to a nunnery or otherwise stay quiet were lost. 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.

Other missions concentrated on arranging an ecclesiastical court to meet in England, with a representative from the Pope, 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. This bias was perhaps the result of pressure from Charles V, Catherine's aunt, 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. With the chance for a divorce lost and England's place in Europe forfeit, Wolsey bore the blame; charged with praemunire in October 1529, his fall from grace was "sudden and total". 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. After a short period in which Henry took government upon his own shoulders, Sir Thomas More took on the role of Lord Chancellor and chief minister to Henry. Intelligent and able, but also a devout Catholic and opponent of the divorce, More initially cooperated with the king's new policy, denouncing Wolsey in Parliament.

A year later, Queen Catherine was banished from court, and her rooms were given to Anne. With Wolsey gone, Anne had considerable power over political matters. She 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. When Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham died, Anne's influence and the need to find a trustworthy supporter of the divorce had Thomas Cranmer appointed to the vacant position. This was approved by the Pope, unaware of the King's nascent plans for the Church.

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. Immediately upon returning to Dover in England, Henry and Anne went through a secret wedding service. 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. 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. 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.

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 a series of particular problems, whilst protecting the new reforms from challenge, convincing the public of their legitimacy, and exposing and dealing with opponents. 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 as well as a significant role for Henry himself. Following these acts, Thomas More resigned as Chancellor, leaving Cromwell as Henry's chief minister. With the Act of Succession 1533, Catherine's daughter, Mary, was declared illegitimate; his marriage to Anne legitimate; and Anne's issue next in the line of succession. With the Acts of Supremacy Parliament also recognised the King's status as head of the church in England and with the Act in Restraint of Appeals abolished the right of appeal to Rome. It was only then that Pope Clement took the step of excommunicating Henry and Thomas Cranmer, although it was not made official until some time later.

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, given that Henry expected absolute obedience from those who interacted with him in an official capacity at court. 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. Henry is traditionally believed to have had affair with Margaret ("Madge") Shelton in 1535, although historian Antonia Fraser argues that Henry in fact had an affair with her sister Mary Shelton.

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, both of whom refused to take the oath to the King. Neither Henry nor Cromwell sought to have the men executed; rather, Henry and Cromwell hoped that the two might change their minds and save themselves. Fisher openly rejected Henry as supreme head of the Church, but –unlike Fisher–More was careful to avoid openly breaking the Treason Act. Both men were subsequently convicted of high treason, however – More on the evidence of a single conversation with Richard Rich, the Solicitor General. They were beheaded at Tower Hill, just outside the Tower of London.

These suppressions, including the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act of 1536, in turn contributed to further resistance among the English people, most notably in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a large uprising in northern England in October 1536. Some 20,000 to 40,000 rebels were led by Robert Aske, together with parts of the northern nobility. Henry VIII promised the rebels he would pardon them and thanked them for raising the issues to his attention. Aske told the rebels they had been successful and they could disperse and go home. 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. The leaders, including Aske, were arrested and executed for treason. About 200 rebels were executed, and the disturbances ended.

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 the king's 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. For most observers, this personal loss was the beginning of the end of the royal marriage. 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. 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.

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, and the King's favour had swung towards the latter (partly because of Cromwell), damaging the family's influence. Also opposed to Anne were supporters of reconciliation with Princess Mary (among them the former supporters of Catherine), who had now reached maturity. A second divorce was now a real possibility, although it is commonly believed that it was Cromwell's anti-Boleyn influence that led opponents to look for way of having her executed.

Anne's downfall came shortly after she had recovered from her final miscarriage. Whether it was primarily the result of conspiracy, adultery or witchcraft remains a matter of debate among historians. Early signs of a fall from grace included the King's new mistress, Jane Seymour, being moved into new quarters, and Anne's brother, George Boleyn, being refused the Order of the Garter, which was instead given to Jane Seymour's brother, who became Earl of Hertford. Between 30 April and 2 May, five prominent members of the Privy Council, including Anne's brother, were arrested on charges of treasonable adultery, 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. At 8 am on 19 May 1536, Anne was executed on Tower Green.

Marriage to Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour (left) became Henry's third wife, pictured 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 Henry became engaged to Seymour, who had been one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting. They were married 10 days later. On 12 October 1537, Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, the future Edward VI. The birth was difficult, and the queen died on 24 October 1537 from an infection and was buried in Windsor. 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. 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.

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. However, when Charles and Francis made peace in January 1539, Henry became increasingly apprehensive. Cromwell as spymaster supplied Henry with a constant list of threats to the kingdom (real or imaginary, minor or serious), and Henry became increasingly paranoid. 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.

However, the alliance between Francis and Charles soon soured, eventually degenerating into renewed war. With Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn dead, relations between Charles and Henry improved considerably, and Henry decided to enter the Italian War in favour of his new ally. An invasion was planned for 1543. In preparation for it, Henry lured Scottish forces south into the area around Carlisle before defeating them in the Battle of Solway Moss. Although Henry's plans for Scotland's new queen, Mary I, to marry his son Edward failed despite the signing of the Treaty of Greenwich, Scotland was indeed kept out the French war. Henry's hesitation on his French invasion annoyed Charles, however. Henry partitioned his own invasion in June 1544 into two: the Duke of Norfolk led one force, which failed to take Montreuil; but the other, under the Duke of Suffolk, successfully besieged Boulogne. Charles' efforts were unsuccessful, and, irritated by Henry, he made peace with the French. Henry was left alone against France, unable to agree a peace deal; England was once again placed under threat of invasion. When it came, however, it was a fiasco that brought France to the negotiating table. Signing the Treaty of Camp, Henry secured Boulogne for eight years, after which it would be returned to the French if 2 million crowns (£750,000) were paid. Henry's motivation was now financial; the 1544 campaign had cost £650,000, and England was once again bankrupt. Henry still clung to the Treaty of Greenwich, which the Scottish rejected; whether the countries were at war or not remained unclear up to Henry's death.

Marriage to Anne of Cleves

Portrait of Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1539

At this time, Henry wished to marry once again to ensure the succession. Cromwell, now Earl of Essex, suggested Anne, the 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. Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to Cleves to paint a portrait of Anne for the king. 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. After regarding Holbein's portrayal, and urged by the complimentary description of Anne given by his courtiers, the king agreed to wed Anne. However, it was not long before Henry wished to annul the marriage so he could marry another. Anne did not argue, and confirmed that the marriage had never been consummated. The subject of Anne's previous marriage arrangements with the Duke of Lorraine's son eventually provided for the answer, one complicated enough that the remaining impediments to an annulment were thus removed. The marriage was subsequently dissolved, and Anne received the title of "The King's Sister", two houses and a generous allowance. It was already clear that Henry had fallen for Catherine Howard, the Duke of Norfolk's niece, the politics of which worried Cromwell, for Norfolk was a political opponent.

Shortly after, the religious reformers (and protégés of Cromwell) Robert Barnes, William Jerome and Thomas Garret were burned as heretics. 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 not officially accused of being responsible for Henry's failed marriage. Cromwell was now amongst enemies at court, with Norfolk also able to draw on his niece's position. Crowell was charged with treason, selling export licences, granting passports, and drawing up commissions without permission, and may also have been blamed for the Cleves failure and the failure of the foreign policy it accompanied. He was subsequently attainted and beheaded. Cromwell was not replaced as Vicegerent in Spirituals, a position which had been created for him.

Marriages to Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr

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. He was absolutely delighted with his new queen, and awarded her the lands of Cromwell and a vast array of jewellery. Soon after her marriage, however, Queen Catherine had an affair with the courtier Thomas Culpeper. She employed Francis Dereham, who was previously 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. Though Henry originally refused to believe the allegations, Dereham confessed. It took another meeting of the council, however, before Henry believed and went into a rage, blaming the council before consoling himself in hunting. 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. Culpeper and Dereham were executed, and Catherine too was beheaded on 13 February 1542.

In 1540, Henry sanctioned the 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 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 married his last wife, the wealthy widow Catherine Parr, in July 1543. 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. Parr helped reconcile Henry with his first two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. 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.

Death and succession

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 leg wound 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 believed to have caused Henry's mood swings, which may have had a dramatic effect on his personality and temperament.

The theory that Henry suffered from syphilis has been dismissed by most historians. A more recent theory suggests that Henry's medical symptoms are characteristic of untreated Type II diabetes. 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. According to another study, Henry VIII's history and body morphology was likely 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.

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 died soon after allegedly uttering his last words: "Monks! Monks! Monks!", perhaps in reference to the monks he caused to be evicted during the dissolution of the monasteries. Henry VIII was interred in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, next to Jane Seymour. Over a hundred years later, Charles I was buried in the same vault.

After his death, his only legitimate son, Edward, inherited the Crown, becoming Edward VI. 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 default of heirs to Edward, 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 descendants of Henry's sister Margaret – the royal family of Scotland – were therefore excluded from succession according to this act. 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. 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. He could also sight read music and sing well. 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. 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, Latin and was thoroughly at home in his well-stocked library. He personally annotated many books and wrote and published one of his own. He is said to have written the song " Helas madam". He founded Christ Church Cathedral School, Oxford, in 1546. 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 argument for absolute obedience to the monarchy and claimed that the English church had always been independent from Rome. 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. Henry worked hard to present an image of unchallengeable authority and irresistible power.

A big, strong man (over six feet tall and broad in proportion), he 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." 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 due to unhealthy eating.


Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1526

Tudor monarchs including Henry governed absolutely, citing divine right to support their claim to the throne. 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. 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). In practice, Tudor monarchs used patronage to maintain a royal court that included formal institutions such as the Privy Council as well more informal advisers and confidants. 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, 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. Among those who were in favour at any given point in Henry's reign, one could usually be identified as a chief minister, 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. In particular, historian G. R. Elton famously argued that one such minister, Thomas Cromwell, led a "Tudor revolution in government" quite independently from the king, whom Elton presented as an opportunistic, essentially lazy participant in the nitty-gritty of politics who relied on others both for ideas and to do most of the work. Where Henry did intervene personally in the running of the country, Elton argued, he mostly did so to its detriment. 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.

From 1514 to 1529, however, it was Thomas Wolsey (1473–1530), a cardinal of the established Church, who oversaw domestic and foreign policy for the young king from his position as Lord Chancellor. 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 eventually devolved to the localities. 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. 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. Wolsey had greatly disappointed the king when he failed to secure a divorce from Queen Catherine. The treasury was empty after years of extravagance; the peers and people were dissatisfied and Henry needed an entirely new approach; Wolsey had to be replaced. After 16 years at the top, he lost power in 1529 and in 1530 was arrested on false charges of treason and died in custody. Wolsey's fall was a warning to the Pope and to the clergy of England of what might be expected for failure to comply with the king's wishes. Henry then took full control of his government, although at court numerous complex factions continued to try to ruin and destroy each other.

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, he 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". 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. 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. Cromwell's first office was that of the master of the King's jewels in 1532, from which Cromwell began invigorate the government finances. By this point, Cromwell's power as an efficient administrator in a Council full of politicians, exceeded that Wolsey had achieved. 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. He did so, however, in a haphazard fashion that left several remnants, because he needed to retain Henry's support, his own power, and the possibility of actually achieving the plan he set out. Cromwell made the various income streams put in place by Henry VII more formal and assigned largely autonomous bodies for their administration. The role of the King's Council was transferred to a reformed Privy Council, much smaller and more efficient than its predecessor. 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 which strained relations as well as finances. 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. Cromwell's association with the Cleves marriage, whilst not fatal in itself, weakened Cromwell as an anti-Cromwell faction was on the rise. Henry then pursued the hand of Catherine Howard, the Duke of Norfolk's niece, and it was Norfolk who eventually brought Cromwell down. He was executed on 28 July 1540.


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

Financially, the reign of Henry was a near-disaster. Although he inherited a prosperous economy (and further augmented his royal treasury by seizures of church lands), Henry's heavy spending and long periods of mismanagement damaged the economy. Henry hung 2,000 tapestries in his palaces – by comparison, James V of Scotland hung just 200 tapestries. He took pride in showing off his collection of weapons, which included exotic archery equipment, 2,250 pieces of land ordnance and 6,500 handguns.

Henry inherited a vast fortune from his father Henry VII who had, in contrast to his son, been frugal and careful with money. This fortune was estimated to £1,250,000 (£375 million by today's standards). 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. 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), but were eroded by inflation and rising prices brought about by war. Indeed it was war and Henry's dynastic ambitions in Europe that meant that the surplus he had inherited from his father was exhausted 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. 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.


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, and the precise narrative not widely agreed. Certainly, in 1527, Henry, an observant and well-informed Catholic, appealed to the Pope for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine. No annulment was immediately forthcoming, the result in part of Charles V's control of the Papacy. The traditional narrative gives this 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 a divorce, Henry may have come to reject papal control over the governance of England purely for political reasons.

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. 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. 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; 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. Finally, in response to the excommunication of Henry, 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. The King had much support from the Church under Cranmer.

Henry, to 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. It was followed by the beginnings of a reformed liturgy and of the Book of Common Prayer, which would take until 1549 to complete. The victory won by religious conservatives did not convert into much change in personnel, however, and Cranmer remained in his position. 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. Protestant Reformers still faced persecution, particularly over objections to Henry's annulment. Many fled abroad where they met further difficulties, including the influential Tyndale, 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

Response to the reforms was mixed. The religious houses had been the only support of the impoverished, 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. Elsewhere the changes were accepted and welcomed, and those who clung to Catholic rites kept quiet or moved in secrecy. They would re-emerge in the reign of Henry's daughter Mary (1553–1558).


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. 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, a relatively new invention, and several large and expensive siege guns. 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.

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

Henry's break with Rome incurred the threat of a large-scale French or Spanish invasion. 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. 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. Wolsey had many years before conducted the censuses required for an overhaul of the system of militia, but no reform came of it. Under Cromwell, in 1538–9, the shire musters were overhauled, but Cromwell's work served most to demonstrate quite how inadequate they were in organisation. The building works, including that at Berwick, along with the reform of the militias and musters, were eventually finished under Queen Mary.


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 notional English rule. 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. However, upon the death of the 8th Earl of Kildare, governor of Ireland, fractional 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. 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. 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.

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. 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. 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. 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.

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. 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. 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.


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". A particular focus of modern historiography bas 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. 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". 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. 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]".

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. For Scarisbrick, Henry was a formidable, captivating man who "wore regality with a splendid conviction". 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. 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.

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. 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. 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.

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 a book by Henry, the Defence of the Seven Sacraments, attacking Martin Luther, 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 the 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

Name Birth Death Notes
By Catherine of Aragon (married Greenwich Palace 11 June 1509; annulled 23 May 1533)
Unnamed daughter 31 January 1510 31 January 1510 miscarriage
Henry, Duke of Cornwall 1 January 1511 22 February 1511 died aged almost two months
Unnamed son November 1513 died shortly after birth
Henry, Duke of Cornwall December 1514 died within one month of birth
Queen Mary I 18 February 1516 17 November 1558 married Philip II of Spain in 1554; no issue
Unnamed daughter November 1518 stillbirth in the 8th month of pregnancy
By Anne Boleyn (married Westminster Abbey 25 January 1533; annulled 17 May 1536) beheaded on 19 May 1536
Queen Elizabeth I 7 September 1533 24 March 1603 never married; no issue
Henry, Duke of Cornwall August/September 1534
Unnamed son 29 January 1536 miscarriage of a child, believed male, in the fourth month of pregnancy
By Jane Seymour (married York Place 30 May 1536; Jane Seymour died 24 October 1537)
King Edward VI 12 October 1537 6 July 1553 unmarried; no issue
By Anne of Cleves (married 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 Somerset 15 June 1519 23 July 1536 illegitimate; acknowledged by Henry VIII in 1525; no issue
By Mary Boleyn
Paternity is debated by most historians and was never acknowledged by Henry VIII
Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys c. 1524 15 January 1569 married Sir Francis Knollys; had issue
Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon 4 March 1526 23 July 1596 married Ann Morgan in 1545; had issue
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