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Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) was King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547. He was the second Tudor monarch, succeeding his father Henry VII. Henry is best known for his six marriages, in particular his efforts to have his first marriage (to Catherine of Aragon) annulled. His disagreement with the Pope on the question of such an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority. He appointed himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England and dissolved convents and monasteries, for which he was excommunicated. Henry is also known as "the father of the Royal Navy"; he invested heavily in the Navy, increasing its size greatly from a few to more than 50 ships.

Domestically, Henry is known for his radical changes to the English Constitution, ushering in the theory of the divine right of kings. He also greatly expanded royal power during his reign. He frequently used charges of treason and heresy to quell dissent, and those accused were often executed without a formal trial by means of bills of attainder. He achieved many of his political aims through the work of his chief ministers, some of whom were banished or executed when they fell out of his favour. Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Richard Rich, and Thomas Cranmer all figured prominently in his administration.

Henry was an extravagant spender, using the proceeds from the dissolution of the monasteries and acts of the Reformation Parliament.

Henry's contemporaries considered him an attractive, educated, and accomplished king.

Early years

Born 28 June 1491 at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, Kent, Henry Tudor was the third child and second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.[6] Of the young Henry's six siblings, only three – Arthur, Prince of Wales; Margaret; and Mary – survived infancy.[7] He was baptised by Richard Fox, the Bishop of Exeter, at a church of the Observant Franciscans close to the palace.[8] 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 made a Knight 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. The reason for all the appointments to a small child was so his father could keep personal control of lucrative positions and not share them with established families.[8] Henry was given a first-rate education from leading tutors, becoming fluent in Latin and French, and learning at least some Italian.[9][10] Not much is known about his early life – save for his appointments – because he was not expected to become king.[8] In November 1501, Henry also played a considerable part in the ceremonies surrounding his brother's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the youngest surviving child of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile.[11] As Duke of York, Henry used the arms of his father as king, differenced by a label of three points ermine. He was further honoured, on 9 February 1506, by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I who made him a Knight of the Golden Fleece.[12]

In 1502, Arthur died at the age of 15, possibly of sweating sickness,[13] just 20 weeks after his marriage to Catherine.[14] 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.[15] Henry VII gave the boy few tasks. Young Henry was strictly supervised and did not appear in public. As a result, he ascended the throne "untrained in the exacting art of kingship".[16]

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.[14] Both Isabella and Henry VII were keen on the idea, which had arisen very shortly after Arthur's death.[17] On 23 June 1503, a treaty was signed for their marriage, and they were betrothed two days later.[18] 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.[18] Cohabitation was not possible because Henry was too young.[17] 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.[19] 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.[20]

Early reign

Henry VII died on 21 April 1509, and the 17-year-old Henry succeeded him as king.

Two days after his coronation, Henry 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. Politically-motivated executions would remain one of Henry's primary tactics for dealing with those who stood in his way.[6] Henry also returned to the public some of the money supposedly extorted by the two ministers.[25] 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.[26] 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.[27]

Soon after, Catherine conceived, but the child, a girl, was stillborn on 31 January 1510. About four months later, Catherine again became pregnant.[28] 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 festivities were held,[29] including a two-day joust known as the Westminster Tournament. However, the child died seven weeks later.[28] Catherine had two stillborn sons in 1514 and 1515, 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.[30]

Although Henry's marriage to Catherine has since been described as "unusually good",[31] it is known that Henry took mistresses.

France and the Habsburgs

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 that divided his council. Certainly war with the combined might of the two powers would have been exceedingly difficult.[39] Shortly thereafter, however, Henry also signed a pact with Ferdinand. After Pope Julius II created the anti-French Holy League in October 1511,[39] Henry followed Ferdinand's lead and brought England into the new League. An initial joint Anglo-Spanish attack was planned for the spring to recover Aquitaine for England, the start of making Henry's dreams of ruling France a reality.[40] The attack, however, following a formal declaration of war in April 1512, was not led by Henry personally[41] and 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.[41][42] Henry then pulled off a diplomatic coup by convincing the Emperor to join the Holy League.[43] Remarkably, Henry had also secured the promised title of "Most Christian King of France" from Julius and possibly coronation by the Pope himself in Paris, if only Louis could be defeated.[44]

On 30 June 1513, Henry invaded France, and his troops defeated a French army at the Battle of the Spurs – a relatively minor result, but one which was seized on by the English for propaganda purposes. Soon after, the English took Thérouanne and handed it over to Maximillian; Tournai, a more significant settlement, followed.[45] Henry had led the army personally, complete with large entourage.[46] His absence from the country, however, had prompted his brother-in-law, James IV of Scotland, to invade England at the behest of Louis.[47] Nevertheless, the English army, overseen by Queen Catherine, decisively defeated the Scots at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513.[48] Among the dead was the Scottish king, thus ending Scotland's brief involvement in the war.[48] These campaigns had given Henry a taste of the military success he so desired. However, despite initial indications, he decided not to pursue a 1514 campaign. He had been supporting Ferdinand and Maximilian financially during the campaign but had received little in return; England's coffers were now empty.[49] 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 sister Mary would become Louis' wife, having previously been pledged to the younger Charles, and peace was secured for eight years, a remarkably long time.[50]

Charles V ascended the thrones of both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire following the deaths of his grandfathers, Ferdinand in 1516 and Maximilian in 1519. Francis I likewise became king of France upon the death of Louis in 1515,[51] leaving three relatively young rulers and an opportunity for a clean slate. The careful diplomacy of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey 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.[52] Henry met Francis I on 7 June 1520 at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais for a fortnight of lavish entertainment. Both hoped for friendly relations in place of the wars 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.[52] 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 sought to secure an alliance with Burgundy, then part of Charles' realm, and the continued support of Charles.[53] A small English attack in the north of France made up little ground. Charles defeated and captured Francis at Pavia and could dictate peace; but he believed he owed Henry nothing. Sensing this, Henry decided to take England out of the war before his ally, signing the Treaty of the More on 30 August 1525.[54]

Annulment from Catherine

During his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry conducted an affair with Mary Boleyn, Catherine's lady-in-waiting. There has been speculation that Mary's two children, Henry and Catherine Carey, were fathered by Henry, but this has never been proved, and the King never acknowledged them as he did Henry FitzRoy.[55] In 1525, as Henry grew more impatient with Catherine's inability to produce the male heir he desired,[56][57] he became enamoured of Mary Boleyn's sister, Anne, then a charismatic young woman of 25 in the Queen's entourage.[58] Anne, however, resisted his attempts to seduce her, and refused to become his mistress as her sister Mary Boleyn had.[59][1] 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 options were 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 considered 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 the 34-year-old Henry,[61] and it soon became the King's absorbing desire to annul his marriage to the now 40-year-old Catherine.[62] It was a decision that would lead Henry to reject papal authority and initiate the English Reformation.

Henry's precise motivations and intentions over the coming years are not widely agreed on.[63] 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.[64] The work represented a staunch defence of papal supremacy, albeit one couched in somewhat contingent terms.[64] 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,[2] an impediment Henry now believed that the Pope never had the authority to dispense with. It was this argument Henry took to Pope Clement VII in 1527 in the hope of having his marriage to Catherine annulled, forgoing at least one less openly defiant line of attack.[63] In going public, all hope of tempting Catherine to retire to a nunnery or otherwise stay quiet was lost.[65] 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.[66]

Other missions concentrated on arranging an ecclesiastical court to meet in England, with a representative from Clement VII.

A year later, Catherine was banished from court, and her rooms were given to Anne.

Marriage to Anne Boleyn

In the winter of 1532, Henry met with Francis I at Calais and enlisted the support of the French king for his new marriage.[73] Immediately upon returning to Dover in England, Henry, now 41, and Anne went through a secret wedding service.[74] 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.[75] 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.[76] 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.[77]

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 any remaining issues, whilst protecting the new reforms from challenge, convincing the public of their legitimacy, and exposing and dealing with opponents.[78] 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 and indeed by Henry himself.[79] With this process complete, in May 1532 More resigned as Lord Chancellor, leaving Cromwell as Henry's chief minister.[80] With the Act of Succession 1533, Catherine's daughter, Mary, was declared illegitimate; Henry's marriage to Anne was declared legitimate; and Anne's issue was decided to be next in the line of succession.[53] With the Acts of Supremacy in 1534, Parliament also recognised the King's status as head of the church in England and, with the Act in Restraint of Appeals in 1532, abolished the right of appeal to Rome.[82] It was only then that Pope Clement took the step of excommunicating Henry and Thomas Cranmer, although the excommunication was not made official until some time later.[3]

The king and queen were not pleased with married life.

Opposition to Henry's religious policies was quickly suppressed in England.

These suppressions, as well as the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act of 1536, in turn contributed to more general resistance to Henry's reforms, most notably in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a large uprising in northern England in October 1536.[91] Some 20,000 to 40,000 rebels were led by Robert Aske, together with parts of the northern nobility.[92] Henry VIII promised the rebels he would pardon them and thanked them for raising the issues. Aske told the rebels they had been successful and they could disperse and go home.[93] 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.[94] The leaders, including Aske, were arrested and executed for treason. In total, about 200 rebels were executed, and the disturbances ended.[95]

Execution of Anne Boleyn

On 8 January 1536 news reached the king and the queen that Catherine of Aragon had died.

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, but the King's favour had swung towards the latter (partly because of Cromwell), damaging the family's influence.[99] Also opposed to Anne were supporters of reconciliation with Princess Mary (among them the former supporters of Catherine), who had reached maturity. A second annulment was now a real possibility, although it is commonly believed that it was Cromwell's anti-Boleyn influence that led opponents to look for a way of having her executed.[100][101]

Anne's downfall came shortly after she had recovered from her final miscarriage.

Marriage to Jane Seymour; domestic and foreign affairs

The day after Anne's execution in 1536 the 45-year-old Henry became engaged to Seymour, who had been one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting. They were married ten days later.[106] On 12 October 1537, Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, the future Edward VI.[107] The birth was difficult, and the queen died on 24 October 1537 from an infection and was buried in Windsor.[108] 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.[109] 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.[110]

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.

Marriage to Anne of Cleves

Having considered the matter, Cromwell, now Earl of Essex, suggested Anne, the 25-year-old 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.[114] Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to Cleves to paint a portrait of Anne for the king.[115] 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.[116] After seeing Holbein's portrait, and urged on by the complimentary description of Anne given by his courtiers, the 49-year-old king agreed to wed Anne.[117] However, it was not long before Henry wished to annul the marriage so he could marry another.[118][119] Anne did not argue, and confirmed that the marriage had never been consummated.[120] Anne's previous betrothal to the Duke of Lorraine's son Francis provided further grounds for the annulment.[121] The marriage was subsequently dissolved, and Anne received the title of "The King's Sister", two houses and a generous allowance.[120] It was soon clear that Henry had fallen for the 17-year-old Catherine Howard, the Duke of Norfolk's niece, the politics of which worried Cromwell, for Norfolk was a political opponent.[122]

Shortly after, the religious reformers (and protégés of Cromwell) Robert Barnes, William Jerome and Thomas Garret were burned as heretics.[120] 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 never formally accused of being responsible for Henry's failed marriage.[123] Cromwell was now surrounded by enemies at court, with Norfolk also able to draw on his niece's position.[122] Cromwell was charged with treason, selling export licences, granting passports, and drawing up commissions without permission, and may also have been blamed for the failure of the foreign policy that accompanied the attempted marriage to Anne.[124][125] He was subsequently attainted and beheaded.[123]

Marriage to Catherine Howard

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.[126] He was absolutely delighted with his new queen, and awarded her the lands of Cromwell and a vast array of jewellery.[127] Soon after the marriage, however, Queen Catherine had an affair with the courtier Thomas Culpeper. She also employed Francis Dereham, who had previously been 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.[128] Though Henry originally refused to believe the allegations, Dereham confessed. It took another meeting of the council, however, before Henry believed the accusations against Dereham and went into a rage, blaming the council before consoling himself in hunting.[129] 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 Culpeper. Culpeper and Dereham were both executed, and Catherine too was beheaded on 13 February 1542.[130]

Shrines destroyed and monasteries dissolved

In 1538, the chief minister Thomas Cromwell pursued an extensive campaign against what was termed "idolatry" by the followers of the old religion, culminating in September with the dismantling of the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury. As a consequence, the king was excommunicated by Pope Paul III on 17 December of the same year.[60] In 1540, Henry sanctioned the complete 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 remained. Consequently, 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.

Second invasion of France and the "Rough Wooing" of Scotland

The 1539 alliance between Francis and Charles had soured, eventually degenerating into renewed war.

Despite the early success with Scotland, Henry hesitated to invade France, annoying Charles.

Marriage to Catherine Parr

Henry married his last wife, the wealthy widow Catherine Parr, in July 1543.[137] 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.[138] Parr helped reconcile Henry with his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.[139] In 1543, an Act of Parliament put them back in the line of succession after Edward. The same act allowed Henry to determine further succession to the throne in his will.[140]

Physical decline and death

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 to the jousting accident in 1536 in which he suffered a leg wound. The accident re-opened and aggravated a previous injury he had sustained years earlier, to the extent that his doctors found it difficult to treat. The chronic 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 also believed to have caused Henry's mood swings, which may have had a dramatic effect on his personality and temperament.[141][142]

The theory that Henry suffered from syphilis has been dismissed by most historians.[143][144] Historian Susan Maclean Kybett ascribes his demise to scurvy, which is caused by a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables.[145] 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.[142][146] According to another study, Henry VIII's history and body morphology may have been 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.[147]

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. The tomb he had planned (with components taken from the tomb intended for Cardinal Wolsey) was only partly constructed and would never be completed. (The sarcophagus and its base were later removed and used for Lord Nelson's tomb in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral.)[148] Henry was interred in a vault at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, next to Jane Seymour.[149] Over a hundred years later, King Charles I (1625–1649) was buried in the same vault.[150]


Upon Henry's death, he was succeeded by his son Edward VI. Since Edward was then only nine years old, he could not rule directly. Instead, 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. If Edward died childless, 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, Mary, the Greys. The descendants of Henry's sister Margaret – the Stuarts, rulers of Scotland – were thereby excluded from the succession.[151] This final provision failed when James VI of Scotland became King of England in 1603.

Public image

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,[152] and Henry himself kept a considerable collection of instruments. He was skilled on the lute and could play the organ, and he was a talented player of the virginals.[152] He could also sight read music and sing well.[152] He was an accomplished musician, author, and poet; his best known piece of music is "Pastime with Good Company" ("The Kynges Ballade"), and he is reputed to have written "Greensleeves" but probably did not.[153]

Henry was an avid gambler and dice player, and he excelled at sports, especially jousting, hunting, and real tennis. He was also known for his strong defence of conventional Christian piety.[7] He was involved in the 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 which he 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.

Henry was a large, well-built athlete, over 6 feet [1.8 m] tall, strong, and broad in proportion, and he excelled at jousting and hunting.


The power of Tudor monarchs, including Henry, was 'whole' and 'entire', ruling, as they claimed, by the grace of God alone.[161] 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.[162] 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).[162]

In practice, Tudor monarchs used patronage to maintain a royal court that included formal institutions such as the Privy Council as well as more informal advisers and confidants.[163] Both the rise and fall of court nobles could be swift: although the often-quoted figure of 72,000 executions of thieves during the last two years of his reign is inflated,[164] 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.[156] Among those who were in favour at any given point in Henry's reign, one could usually be identified as a chief minister,[163] 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.[165] In particular, historian G. R. Elton has argued that one such minister, Thomas Cromwell, led a "Tudor revolution in government" quite independent of the king, whom Elton presented as an opportunistic, essentially lazy participant in the nitty-gritty of politics. Where Henry did intervene personally in the running of the country, Elton argued, he mostly did so to its detriment.[166] 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.[167]

From 1514 to 1529, Thomas Wolsey (1473–1530), a cardinal of the established Church, oversaw domestic and foreign policy for the young king from his position as Lord Chancellor.[30] 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 was eventually devolved to the localities.[169] 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.[170] 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.[171] Following Wolsey's downfall, Henry took full control of his government, although at court numerous complex factions continued to try to ruin and destroy each other.[172]

Thomas Cromwell (c. 1485–1540) also came to define Henry's government.

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.[176] He did so, however, in a haphazard fashion that left several remnants, not least because he needed to retain Henry's support, his own power, and the possibility of actually achieving the plan he set out.[177] Cromwell made the various income streams put in place by Henry VII more formal and assigned largely autonomous bodies for their administration.[178] The role of the King's Council was transferred to a reformed Privy Council, much smaller and more efficient than its predecessor.[179] 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 that strained relations as well as finances.[180] 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.[181] He too was executed, on 28 July 1540.[182]

Henry inherited a vast fortune and a prosperous economy from his father Henry VII, who had been frugal and careful with money.

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.

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.

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,[190] and the precise narrative not widely agreed.[63] Certainly, in 1527, Henry, until then an observant and well-informed Catholic, appealed to the Pope for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine.[63] No annulment was immediately forthcoming, the result in part of Charles V's control of the Papacy.[191] The traditional narrative gives this refusal 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 an annulment, Henry may have come to reject papal control over the governance of England purely for political reasons.[192]

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.[193] 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.[194] 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 on 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;[195] 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.[54] Finally, 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.[197] The King had much support from the Church under Cranmer.[198]

Henry, to Thomas Cromwell's annoyance, insisted on parliamentary time to discuss questions of faith, which he achieved through the Duke of Norfolk.

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.

Response to the reforms was mixed.

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.[213] 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 and the war wagon,[214] relatively new innovations, and several large and expensive siege guns.[215] 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.[133]

Henry's break with Rome incurred the threat of a large-scale French or Spanish invasion.[60] 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.[216] 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.[60] Wolsey had many years before conducted the censuses required for an overhaul of the system of militia, but no reform resulted.[217] In 1538–39, Cromwell overhauled the shire musters, but his work mainly served to demonstrate how inadequate they were in organisation.[60] The building works, including that at Berwick, along with the reform of the militias and musters, were eventually finished under Queen Mary.[218]

Henry is traditionally cited as one of the founders of the Royal Navy.[219] 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.[219] 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.[220] Henry was also responsible for the creation of a permanent navy, with the supporting anchorages and dockyards.[219] Tactically, Henry's reign saw the Navy move away from boarding tactics to employ gunnery instead.[221] The Tudor 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.[222]

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 nominal English rule.[223] 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.[224] However, upon the death of the 8th Earl of Kildare, governor of Ireland, fractious 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.[225] 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.[226] 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.[227]

The Desmond situation was resolved on his death in 1529, which was followed by a period of uncertainty.

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 complexities and sheer scale of Henry's legacy ensured that, in the words of Betteridge and Freeman, "throughout the centuries, Henry has been praised and reviled, but he has never been ignored".[165] Historian J.D.

A particular focus of modern historiography has 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.[165] 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, lauding him, "as the king and statesman who, whatever his personal failings, led England down the road to parliamentary democracy and empire".[165] Pollard's interpretation remained the dominant interpretation of Henry's life until the publication of the doctoral thesis of G. R. Elton in 1953.

Elton's book on 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.[165] 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]".[237]

Although the central tenets of Elton's thesis have since been questioned, 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.[165] For Scarisbrick, Henry was a formidable, captivating man who "wore regality with a splendid conviction".[238] 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.[165] 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.[165]

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.[165] 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.[163][239] 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.[240]

Style and arms

Many changes were made to the royal style during his reign.

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".


Marriages and issue

See also

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