King Henry VIII

Born: June 28, 1491

Greenwich, London, England

Reign: April 21, 1509 - January 28, 1547 (37 years)

Died: January 28, 1547

City of London, London, England (Age 55)


Henry Tudor was born the second son (but the only one to survive to adulthood) of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York on June 28, 1491. In an age where primogeniture still reigned supreme, being a younger son, even that of a king, could be difficult. The king, however, wanted to make sure that all of his children were provided for and awarded Henry, at a very early age, with a number of titles, honors and lucrative positions which included warden of the Cinque Ports, earl marshal of England and lieutenant of Ireland. In addition, Henry was made a Knight of the Garter and created Duke of York, the latter of which was (and still is) reserved for the second son of monarchs. In 1501, the prince stole the show at the wedding celebrations held for the marriage of his elder brother Arthur and Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Henry’s life changed dramatically when his brother Arthur died of consumption in April 1502. At the age of ten, Henry was now the lone male representative of the house of Tudor and, as heir apparent to the throne, he was given all the titles that went with it, including Duke of Cornwall, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester.

Very shortly after Arthur’s death, it was proposed that Henry marry his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon. After all, the alliance with Spain was a valuable one and Henry VII most certainly did not want to give up Catherine’s rich dowry. But, with Ferdinand delaying the delivery of the dowry, Catherine was kept in England and treated very poorly. Additionally, the issue of the relation between Henry and Catherine became a major issue and required a papal dispensation. This was easily enough gotten, but the big question that arose in the minds of all at the time was one that would become a significant factor in the 1520s and 30s: Was the marriage between Arthur and Catherine ever consummated? It is unlikely that the true answer to this question will ever come out but, if the marriage was indeed consummated, that would make Henry and Catherine, in the eyes of the law and the church, brother and sister, making theirs a union that would never be approved. Much of the final years of the reign of Henry VII would be spent debating the proposed marriage, both politically and religiously. Also during this time period, Henry himself was kept under strict surveillance and was given very little liberty by his paranoid and overprotective father, who had no desire to see his one remaining male heir die, along with his just-established dynasty. When Henry VII died on April 21, 1509, and the prince succeeded him as Henry VIII, it was undoubtedly, to a certain extent, a relief.

For many years, the accession to the throne of Henry VIII has been looked at as a sort of rebirth in England. The new king was a handsome, athletic and intelligent patron of the arts, a stark contrast from his father, who turned into a bitter and reclusive miser in his later years, even if his scrimping did leave his son with a rich and prosperous kingdom to inherit. To show that change had indeed arrived, one of Henry’s first acts as king was to arrest two of his father’s most loathed advisors, Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, who had been most responsible for carrying out the late king’s miserly deeds. The men spent over a year in the tower before they were finally executed for their crimes in the summer of 1510. Granted, they were only doing what their sovereign had ordered them to when they committed the “crimes” that cost them their lives, but Henry wanted to make sure that any major traces of the more negative aspects of his father’s generally peaceful reign were wiped away.

Another of Henry’s first acts as king was to marry Catherine of Aragon, which he did less than two months after his accession. The marriage was met with much opposition from powerful clerics such as Archbishop William Warham of Canterbury, but Henry claimed that the marriage was a dying wish of his father’s and he also seemed to have genuinely loved and cared for his new bride. At the time, the king and indeed most other members of his inner sanctum made no attempts whatsoever to question the validity of the union and it was only when Catherine (who was five years Henry’s senior) failed to produce a male heir that her position as queen consort was put in danger. In the opening years of his reign, Henry spent most of his time participating in jousts, hunts, sporting events and other chivalrous and athletic activities, another stark contrast from his workaholic father, whose frugal and cautious treatment must have further fuelled the younger Henry’s passions. The new king was also not afraid to spend the large sums left to him from his father in the royal exchequer. This was first made evident in Henry’s astonishingly lavish coronation ceremony, in addition to his vast patronage of jewelers, musicians and artists.

With Henry’s energetic and chivalrous spirit came a thirst for adventure that could only be truly satisfied by emulating the past actions of the his heroes, men such as Edward III and Henry V, who were both able to win glorious victories and conquer large portions of France during the Hundred Years’ War. What better way to accomplish these goals than to renew the war with France? Henry’s father, though forced to participate in several battles (namely Bosworth and Stoke) to win and protect his throne, had always been aloof to war and chose to instead play the parts of diplomat, politician and administrator. The old king did involve himself to a certain extent in continental politics, but never gave any immense amount of thought to conducting a full-scale invasion of France. Henry’s opportunity to quench his thirst for war came when Pope Julius II declared King Louis XII of France to be a schismatic for his occupation of certain parts of Italy. In the fall of 1511, Henry formally joined the Holy League with Pope Julius and his own father-in-law, Ferdinand of Spain. Henry and Ferdinand then planned a joint invasion of France in which the primary goal was to conquer Aquitaine, a duchy that had been in English possession for nearly three hundred years before it was permanently lost to the French in 1453. Unfortunately, Henry did not anticipate being betrayed by Ferdinand, who by this point was a wily and scheming old man who only cared about furthering his own interests, and after Henry sent a  large force to Spain in the spring of 1512, Ferdinand showed little interest in aiding his son-in-law in his quest to re-conquer Aquitaine. Instead, the Spanish monarch had intended to use the English forces to help him conquer the independent kingdom of Navarre. Once Ferdinand accomplished this task on his own, he had little use for English intervention (though he had no qualms of blaming Henry for “deserting” him afterward). The English army, demoralized and on the point of mutiny, was forced to return home in disgrace.

As disastrous as the campaign of 1512 was, it ultimately did little to discourage Henry in his quest for adventure and a new campaign was prepared for the following spring. This time, the Holy League also consisted of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, in addition to Pope Julius and Ferdinand, putting the French (who had already been expelled from most of Italy) in a much more precarious position. For this expedition, Henry planned on going in person and set out at the end of June. Before he left though, he felt it necessary executed Edmund de la Pole, a nephew of Edward IV and Richard III when he found out that Edmund’s younger brother, Richard, would be fighting for the French. The de la Pole’s had been pretenders to the throne since Richard III supposedly named the eldest brother, John, as his heir. Edmund would be the first in a series of political imprisonments and executions, started during the reign of Henry VII, carried out by the king that would continue throughout his reign, and is therefore worthy of note.

Before Henry himself departed to the continent, he received two pieces of bad news: Firstly, his father-in-law Ferdinand had once again betrayed him, this time by concluding a truce with the French. Ferdinand cannot be made to look completely dishonorable though when one considers that, as an immediate neighbor to France, it was in his best interests to stay on good terms with her. It also must be assumed that Ferdinand did not want to feed into his son-in-laws blind ambition to any great extent, which would most likely lead him on to crazier schemes in the future. Secondly, an English force that had preceded Henry’s own army had already been taken out in Brittany. When Henry finally made it into France, he joined forces with Maximilian and his Imperial forces. The two armies marched deeper into France and besieged the town of Therouanne. When a  French army came to relieve the town, they were surprised by the Anglo-Empirical army and were routed at the Battle of the Spurs (so called because the French took to their horses so quickly). The English subsequently took Therouanne and handed it over to Maximilian, who burned it to the ground. Henry then marched on to the city of Tournai and, after a siege of a little over a week, took it. Finding his moderate victories to be sufficient, and knowing that the campaign season was nearing its end, Henry departed the continent in October (though another expedition was already being planned for the following year).

While the English were winning the comparatively meager Battle of the Spurs (an engagement in which the king himself did not even take part in), Henry missed his chance at a truly glorious victory. Taking advantage of Henry’s absence from his homeland, James IV of Scotland (Henry’s brother-in-law) marched into England with a massive army. The attack was by no means unexpected. It was standard practice for the Scots, long-time allies of France, to strike against the English while the king was away fighting in France. An army led by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, a man of seventy, was able to hand the Scottish army a crushing defeat at the Battle of Flodden Field. Thousands of Scots were killed in the bloody engagement, including a large number of high-ranking Scottish noblemen and clerics and, most importantly, King James IV himself. The victory was highly significant for the English because the new Scottish king, James V, was an infant, which virtually assured the fact that the Scots would not pose a significant threat to English security for years to come as the remaining Scottish nobles fought over who would control the underage king. For his services, Surrey was restored to his father’s old title, Duke of Norfolk.

As the year 1514 arrived, Henry prepared to make take part in a third campaign to the continent. Unfortunately, by this point, the political landscape had drastically changed. Pope Julius II died and was succeeded by Leo X, a man more poised towards peace than war. Both Ferdinand and Maximilian also wavered and made their peace with France. Even after all this, Henry was still intent on war against France. But, put under heavy pressure from both Pope Leo and his own advisers, Henry had no choice but to give in and made his own peace with France, a peace that was sealed by the marriage between Henry’s sister Mary and Louis XII, a man more than thirty years her senior (though the French king would be dead within three months). Though Henry was happy to have gained some military experience in the campaigns of 1512-14, all in all, they accomplished little but to drain the royal coffers that his father had worked so hard to fill. The new French king, Francis I, was a man very much like Henry: young, ambitious and hungry for adventure. For this reason, it comes as no surprise that, very shortly after his accession to the throne, Francis began to stir up trouble in Scotland (as a distraction for the English) and marched his army into Italy, where they seized the duchy of Milan. In order to stop his rival king’s momentum, Henry proposed to form an alliance with Ferdinand (who soon died, to be succeeded by his grandson, Charles), Maximilian and the Swiss. Not surprisingly, these allies once again proved unreliable and, by early 1517, had all agreed to the Treaty of Noyon with King Francis, leaving England, for the time being, isolated and alone in the world of European politics.

Bitterness caused by England’s isolated political position did begin to spread into England itself. This is made evident by the outbreak of “Evil May Day” riot in the streets of London in the spring of 1517, where the main targets for the rebels were foreign merchants. Although the small rebellion was easily put down, it became clear that some sort of an arrangement for peace had to be made between England and the continental nations to reduce tensions. This quest for peace resulted in the Treaty of London. Ratified in the fall of 1518, the treaty was an agreement between the powers of Europe (England, France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire and several other lesser states) which stipulated that all countries were to live in peace with one another and, if one country were invaded, all others would come to its aid. Additionally, England and France came to a separate agreement for peace in which King Francis was to purchase back Tournai from Henry and seal the deal with the betrothal of the French dauphin to Henry’s daughter Mary.

Though Pope Leo would have loved to have taken credit for the Treaty of London, the real author of this masterful piece of diplomacy was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, an Englishman. Born the son of an Ipswich butcher, Wolsey built himself up to become the archetypal man of church and state. Holding only minor sway during the reign of Henry VII, Wolsey started off the reign of Henry VIII as merely the king’s almoner. Through hard work and vaulting ambition, Wolsey ultimately became the king’s most powerful and trusted adviser and it was he who was most responsible for the planning of the French expeditions and the subsequent peace settlements that went with them. Being created Archbishop of York (1514), cardinal (1515) and Lord Chancellor (1515), Wolsey dominated the church, the government and the king’s attentions, making himself lavishly wealthy and gaining him widespread hatred amongst the nobility, who were none too happy of having what they believed to be their rightful place in politics usurped by the son of a mere tradesman. But, as long as he had the king’s favor (which he did, for the most part, for the first twenty years of the reign), the cardinal was destined to remain the most powerful man in England, excepting Henry himself.

The Treaty of London was just the latest display of his power and dominance in both domestic, as well as foreign, politics. As a condition of the treaty, Henry was to have face to face meetings with both King Francis and the newly elected Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (who was already King of Spain), a grandson of both Ferdinand of Spain and the previous emperor, Maximilian. As both men vied for the English king’s friendship, Wolsey, once again, took center stage when it came to planning the meetings. The proposed meetings did not take place until mid-1520. Henry first met briefly with Charles V on England’s southern coast. This was just a preliminary to the meeting with Francis, which had already been in the making for quite some time, which was to become one of the most lavish and spectacular displays of kingship the world has ever seen. The Field of the Cloth of Gold took place in a field not far from the English-controlled town of Calais, just across the channel from Dover, and lasted for several weeks. After the festivities ended, Henry met with Charles V once more, in Calais, on his way home to England.

Unfortunately, the Treaty of London did not hold up for very long and, by 1521, France and the empire were at war again (as the Italian War was renewed). Both Francis and Charles courted Henry as an ally to fight for their cause and after much diplomatic bargaining between Cardinal Wolsey and Imperial ambassadors, it was agreed that England would side with the empire, concluding that it had been Francis who had renewed hostilities and broken the treaty. As part of the agreement, the English were to openly declare war against France in 1522 and to provide the empire with troops the following year if Francis and Charles had not already solved their differences by that point.

Back in England, it is worth noting that Henry committed his second political execution when he had Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, executed for high treason. Buckingham, whose father had actually been executed by Richard III for the same offense, was  accused of supposedly plotting to take the throne if Henry died without male heirs (of which he had none at this point) or, by some accounts, of murdering the king. The duke (who was easily the wealthiest nobleman in the realm) did have a distant claim to the throne, being descended from Edward III twice over, but any claim he did have would have been inferior to that of Henry, making it seem foolish on his part to attempt to gain support to conduct a far-fetched coup, if indeed the accusations against him were true. For this reason, most contemporaries concluded that Buckingham deserved his punishment, however tragic it may have been; The fall of Buckingham was significant though, because it represented  the first real public recognition that Henry, who was now thirty years of age, still lacked a male heir and, considering this fact, would deal with any pretenders to his throne with deadly extremity.

The following years were almost entirely absorbed in the debate on whether or not Henry should fully commit himself to giving aid to Charles V against Francis. The opinions of the king and Wolsey consistently differed on the matter, with the latter leaning towards peace over war. A small English force was sent to France in the spring of 1522, on what would turn out to be a seemingly pointless expedition. The following year, Henry dispatched a more substantial army, under the command of his close friend (and brother-in-law) Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, which achieved little more. Henry debated sending yet another force to the continent in 1524, after Duke Charles of Bourbon (a pretender to the French throne and a supposed English ally) made minor gains against his fellow Frenchmen, but thought better of it when Bourbon was subsequently chased away.

In February 1525, after three consecutive years of costly and meaningless military campaigns, Henry and the English achieved a major victory over the French without having to lift a finger or spend a single penny. At the Battle of Pavia, Charles V’s army handed the French a crushing defeat, with King Francis himself being taken captive (and remaining a prisoner for nearly a year). In addition, Henry was also happy to hear that Richard de la Pole (called the “White Rose” for his connection to the house of York), brother of Edmund de la Pole, who had been executed in 1513 as a result of his brother’s treasonous activities in France, was killed in the battle, ridding Henry of yet another dangerous pretender to his throne. With Francis a captive and the French army in shambles, Henry believed this to be the perfect opportunity to invade France and win back at least some of the territories his forefathers had once possessed. Unfortunately, this grand scheme would never come to fruition. Charles V had no intentions of aiding Henry in conquering France (even if he did have the financial means at his disposal, which he did not), a move that would have given the English king more power than the emperor would have wanted him to have. On top of this, the so-called “Amicable Grant,” which was to fund the major French campaign that Henry had been planning for the past several years, was flat out rejected by the English people, who had already been bled dry by heavy taxation brought on by years of futile military endeavors. For these reasons, the Treaty of the More, drawn up by Wolsey, was signed between England and France.

Because of Charles V’s refusal to provide aid for Henry’s proposed conquest of France, anti-Imperial sentiment was high within England, but Henry still refused to participate in the League of Cognac, designed specifically to wage war on the empire, which consisted of France, the Papacy and several Italian states, choosing to remain an impartial moderator, at least for the time being, in continental politics. Events took an even more dramatic turn when, in May 1527, an Imperial army sacked Rome and, for all intensive purposes, took the Pope, Clement VII (the leader of the League of Cognac), prisoner. Charles V himself was not present at the sack, and was indeed somewhat ashamed of the actions of his army, but was certainly happy that one of his primary adversaries was in his custody and at his mercy. For Henry, Charles V’s control over Pope Clement would be crucial because it would interfere with a “Great Matter” in England, a matter that now must be brought to light.

Up to 1527, Henry’s reign had been dominated by England’s involvement, or lack thereof, in continental affairs. Within England, when not busy with foreign affairs, Henry spent a majority of his time participating in hunts, jousts, tennis matches and other sporting events and left most of the politics in the kingdom to the politicians (namely Wolsey). By this point though, Henry was forced to focus his attentions on a very real and serious domestic issue: the succession. After eighteen years of marriage, Henry and Queen Catherine had yet to produce a healthy male heir to the throne. Although Catherine had been almost constantly with child for the first decade or so of the reign, all of the pregnancies had ended in miscarriages, stillbirths or sickly children who did not survive infancy, with the exception of the Princess Mary, born in 1516. Henry did have an illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, via one of his several mistresses, but he knew that it would be a difficult task to put him on the throne and that his claim would always be questionable.

Since Catherine was now over forty and past her childbearing years, the best solution that Henry had was to annul the marriage and take on a new bride who could provide him with the son that he so desperately needed. For this reason, Henry became obsessed with a passage from Leviticus in the Bible which stated that it was a grave sin to marry the widow of one’s brother and that the couple shall die childless as punishment. The king used this passage as the basis for proving that his marriage to Catherine was never valid and he was therefore free to marry another, despite the fact that there was a rival passage from the book of Deuteronomy which completely contradicted the Leviticus passage. It turns out that the king already had another woman waiting in the wings: Anne Boleyn. Anne was the daughter of a well-known courtier, Thomas Boleyn, and the sister of one of the king’s former mistresses, Mary Boleyn. It is not known, nor can it be precisely calculated, when Henry became infatuated with the mysterious and seductive Anne, but it must have within two years of 1527. Though Henry was well-known for ridding himself of his concubines when he tired of them, Anne made sure to keep the king’s interest by depriving him of sexual activity and claiming that he could not have her until he made her his queen. This only made Henry want the annulment from his marriage to Catherine even more and he frantically set about taking the steps to make it happen.

At first, Henry left the matter to his right-hand man, Wolsey, who genuinely believed that the annulment would be only a small part of his grander diplomatic mission: another universal peace treaty, reminiscent of 1518. Wolsey planned to force Pope Clement, still in the emperor’s custody, to give him papal power during his captivity. Neither this plan, nor Wolsey’s plan for a universal peace came to fruition and Henry became impatient with the cardinal and sent direct appeals to Clement for the annulment. This was an obvious shun to Wolsey, whose power was already beginning to dwindle as other courtiers gained more influence with the king during the cardinal’s absence. Meanwhile, back in England, Henry had informed Catherine of his plans to divorce her. She was, quite understandably, devastated and almost immediately appealed to Charles V, her nephew (being the son of her sister Joanna), for aid in the situation. Charles, in turn, openly voiced his opposition to the proposed annulment and claimed it needed to be decided in Rome. This was an unwanted setback for Henry considering the fact that Pope Clement, who Henry needed to ultimately grant the annulment, was wrapped around Charles V’s finger and would not dare do anything to anger him.

Though Clement eventually escaped from Charles V’s grasp and fled to Orvieto, he was still careful not to offend the emperor and therefore would make no final decision on Henry’s divorce case. Henry, for his part, continuously sent envoys to the Pope to plead his case, but Clement would do nothing committal and only forestalled his answers or provided ambiguous and obscure solutions. At one point, he even provided a papal bull approving the marriage between Henry and Anne (which needed a dispensation because of Henry’s earlier affair with Anne’s sister), but only if Henry’s marriage to Catherine were declared invalid. After many months of being cajoled and bullied by the English king, Clement finally decided to send a representative from Rome to England to work with Cardinal Wolsey in deciding whether the royal marriage was valid or not.

Though Henry and Wolsey both looked at the Pope’s decision as a sort of victory, it was merely another stalling technique. The man that Clement chose to represent him, Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, though competent, was an old man virtually crippled by gout. For this reason, his progress to England was painfully slow and he did not arrive until the fall of 1528. If the cardinal’s progress had not slowed the annulment process down enough, it appears that he was given strict instructions by Clement to continue to stall and to do whatever he could to avoid a full-blown trial, which only made Henry angrier. Apparently, the Pope was hoping that someone in the situation would give, whether it be Henry, Catherine or Charles V, making his decision on granting, or not granting, the annulment worlds easier. At one point, Campeggio and Wolsey actually attempted to convince Catherine to join religious orders, which would automatically make her marriage null and void, but the queen kindly but firmly refused the offer, claiming that her marriage with Arthur had never been consummated and she was therefore Henry’s true wife. In her opinion, it would be sinful to break a marriage that had been sanctioned by the Pope and by God. Catherine’s refusal of the cardinals made a trial to decide the matter increasingly likely and her insistence that she had never engaged in intercourse with Arthur was to be one of her most powerful defenses.

The stalemate over the annulment carried on as Clement, Campeggio and Catherine and her many supporters continued to filibuster the issue, even under extreme pressure from Henry and his envoys. Henry saw a ray of hope at one point when it was reported that Clement was dead, but when it turned out that he was merely violently ill and that progress in the case would be even slower, the king’s frustrations came to a boiling point. The king became so angry by this point that he demanded that the case be tried immediately, without the Pope’s permission. This resulted in the well-known trial at Blackfriars. Momentum was clearly in the queen’s corner. She was extremely popular amongst the commons of England, had a large number of powerful supporters at home and abroad and had already announced that she had appealed the case to Rome, where she knew Henry would never travel to participate in the trial. Catherine was so full of pride and confidence that she actually left the courtroom in the middle of the session and disobeyed numerous orders to return. This frustrated the king even more, as he was attempting to have a quick trial which would be over by the time Clement’s order came from Rome to cease and desist. In the end, Campeggio made the decision to call off the trial until the end of the summer vacation, to have it pick back up in October, in Rome. Henry was both discouraged and furious that he did not get what he so desperately wanted. He had made to look like a fool and was anxious to lay the blame on someone. That someone would be Cardinal Wolsey.

Although Wolsey and the king had not always seen eye to eye, Henry was well aware of the fact that the cardinal had been the backbone of his government for nearly twenty years and that it was he who conducted most of the day to day business of the kingdom while the king himself hunted and jousted. Unfortunately, Wolsey had failed his master when he needed him the most, during the annulment proceedings, and was accused of actually working against the annulment. On top of this, Wolsey, as has already been stated, had many powerful enemies at court, including Anne and her family and the influential Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk (the latter of whom was Anne’s uncle), who were only too thrilled to rid themselves of the cardinal for good so that they may take what they believed to be their rightful place in the king’s favor. Working in cohesion with one another, Suffolk, Norfolk and Thomas Boleyn accused Wolsey of numerous crimes (mostly trumped up), which related to the cardinal’s excessive fortune and his unsuccessful foreign policies. Apparently, the court faction’s strategy was effective and Wolsey was dismissed from the chancellorship and forced to quietly retire. Henry, however, still showed signs of sympathy to his once treasured minister and Wolsey’s enemies were very much concerned that he might be returned to favor. Therefore, over the following months, the nobles kept up the pressure and were ultimately able to convince the king that Wolsey was conspiring against him with Rome. The cardinal was promptly arrested for treason at his see in York and began the slow journey south to where he would have undoubtedly faced execution. However, Wolsey seems to have contracted a severe case of dysentery along the way and died at Leicester in November 1530, depriving Henry of the most capable and industrious public servant he had yet to see.

As Cardinal Wolsey was suffering from his swift downfall and demise, Henry (now free to pursue his own plans without the cardinal’s influence) was in the process of beginning what was to be a long and drawn out campaign against the church. At the so-called Reformation Parliament, which began in November 1529, bills were approved (that the king supported) which forbade clergymen to possess certain worldly goods and lands, to hold secular office and to be non-resident clerics, in addition to several other restrictions that were clearly meant to limit the church’s power. On top of this, Henry himself began to push for an English translation of the New Testament to be made available for the common man, a prospect that had been feared by churchmen for centuries. Clearly, Henry was beginning to develop a decisively hostile attitude towards the Catholic church, that very same church which had forbade him his divorce and put the succession of his dynasty in danger.

The opening of the Reformation Parliament and the anticlerical sentiment that was blatantly present within it was the first major sign that the Protestant Reformation, which was already in full swing in certain areas of the continent and was based upon the teachings of Martin Luther, was slowly but surely making its way into England. Though Henry still claimed to be a traditional Catholic, and was very much opposed to much of what Luther preached, he had, semi-inadvertently, begun a downward spiral that would culminate in the separation of England from Rome. From this point forward, the Protestant reformers (who wanting nothing more than a separation from Rome and a complete overhaul of the English church), knowing that they had the king’s backing if it meant he would finally get his annulment, would be out in full force. One of these reformists who broke out onto the political scene was Thomas Cranmer, an obscure cleric who had long harbored anti-papal sentiments. Cranmer was to take part in Henry’s next scheme to gain support for his annulment cause. This plan involved sending Cranmer and several others to a number of universities throughout England and the continent in an attempt to gain valuable opinions in favor of the annulment. In the end, the results were mixed. Some scholars ruled in favor of Henry, others against and others refused to give an opinion.

Henry’s next strategy was much more significant. Angry with the fact that Clement had continuously led him around by the leash, Henry vowed to do the same to him. As the king claimed that he would obey whatever decision Rome decided on the case, he was continuously stalling the court’s decision so that he may put an argument forward which stated that the English people were not subject to papal authority and that the annulment case should therefore only be tried within England. When Clement was finally informed of this plot, he was furious, but Henry kept up the pressure, stating that he was God’s supreme representative in England (more of an emperor than a king) and that he owed allegiance to no one. Much of Henry’s case was built around the statute of praemunire, passed in the late fourteenth century by Richard II when he was in a conflict with the Pope, which basically stated that England was not subject to any foreign influence and that legal matters could only be decided by the English king. It was this statute that the lords used to further Wolsey’s downfall, stating that as papal legate to England, he was violating the law; an absurd accusation of course, but effective. Henry then sent his minions out to the universities yet again, this time to find examples of cases being decided in local courts, in opposition to the papacy.

Meanwhile, in England, the church was continuing to feel the effects of the Pope’s stubbornness and the king’s newfound authority as Henry continued to charge its members with praemunire violations for professing their loyalties to Rome. Archbishop Warham agreed to name the king as “Supreme Head of the English church,” but would not relinquish the ties the church had with the papacy. Henry kept up the pressure and the clergy was forced to submit and buy pardons at inflated prices for their praemunire “offenses.” It became all too apparent that, if Clement remained adamant in his decision to not grant the king his annulment, Henry fully planned to further his reformation of the English church and ultimately sever all ties to Rome. Before severing these ties though, the king had to further wear down the church in England so that when it came time to try his case there, he would be virtually assured victory.

The church of England had already been severely weakened in the previous sessions of the Reformation Parliament (by the bills passed in the first session and the praemunire attacks in the second) and Henry now planned an even more aggressive approach. When parliament reconvened in early 1532, the “Supplication against the Ordinaries,” basically a document of general complaints against clerical power, wealth and involvement in secular affairs, was brought against the clergy by the commons. The king added to this a number of stipulations which put clerical activities under royal control. Since the opening of the Reformation Parliament in 1529, it had been Henry’s primary goal to limit the power of the church and bring it under secular law, ending years of clerical legislative immunity, and making them more malleable to his demands (i.e. the annulment). Finally, in May 1532, Henry received the Submission of the Clergy, which gave him alone the power to call Convocation into session. Further bills were brought up, and ultimately passed, during this time which limited the annate payments (which Roman appointed bishops were forced to pay) to Rome and gave Henry the power to appoint English bishops with no papal interference.

From this point on, events proceeded rapidly, and in Henry’s favor. When Archbishop Warham died in August 1532, Henry was able to choose his successor. He chose none other than the avid reformist, Thomas Cranmer (though the appointment was also confirmed by Rome as a sign of good will).  It also appears that, around this time, Anne finally decided to give in to Henry sexually and was most certainly pregnant by late 1532. Since Henry did not want the future heir to be born a bastard, he and Anne were secretly married in January 1533. The king clearly had no intentions whatsoever of reconciling with Rome at this point. This was proven when, several months later, parliament passed the highly significant statute in Restraint of Appeals, which stated that all matters (including, of course, the annulment case), both religious and secular, were to be tried only in England and could not be appealed to Rome. In other words, the king, as supreme head of the church of England, would have the final say in all matters, period.  The statute was drawn up by Henry’s new right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell was a former protégé of Cardinal Wolsey, an avid reformist, an ally of the Boleyn faction at court and was, by 1533, the king’s top adviser, a role he would hold for the remainder of the decade. Anne Boleyn was now queen in all but name and the annulment of the marriage between Henry and Catherine simply had to be made official, which it was, by Cranmer, in May 1533. Anne was solemnly crowned and anointed queen the following month. Catherine had already been banned from Henry’s presence and lived in various places in England, in general poverty, until her death in January 1536. After six years of torturous debate, Henry was finally free of his first wife.

When Clement heard of all that was happening in England, he was, understandably, irate and threatened Henry with excommunication if he did not rid himself of Anne and take back Catherine. This threat shook Henry, but it did not stop him from completing the breach with Rome. The king did suffer a sort of setback in September 1533 when Queen Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, instead of the much longed for son that was expected of her. It was obviously impossible for Henry to have predicted, at the time, that Elizabeth would go on to become one of England’s greatest monarchs and he was therefore most likely not particularly happy with her birth. The following year, Henry completed England’s separation from the papacy. In the Act in Absolute Restraint of Annates, it was forbidden for any money to be paid to Rome or for the papacy to interfere in appointing clerics within England. The Heresy Act was also passed, which stated that it was no longer heresy to deny Rome. Later that year, the Act of (Royal) Supremacy was passed which officially declared that Henry was the head of the church of England (with full authority over it) and that, within England, the Pope was now nothing more that the Bishop of Rome and had no power whatsoever. On top of this, the Act of Succession was ratified which made Henry’s children by Anne the rightful heirs to the kingdom, therefore making the Princess Mary (who had already been banned from seeing her mother) illegitimate. In Rome, Clement finally ruled on the annulment case, in favor of Catherine. The ruling, however, did not slow down Henry in the least bit, as he put the next part of his plan into action.

This involved requiring all citizens of England to sign the oath of Succession, which meant fully acknowledging the Act of Succession and the Royal Supremacy. Many of those who were asked to take the oath, did so willingly (whether they agreed with it or not), not wanting to anger the king. There were a number of clerics though, some highly influential, who refused outright to agree to the act. As a way to force their hands, parliament passed the Treason Act, which made it a treasonable offense, punishable by death, to deny the Succession oath. After the act passed, many of those who had once spurned the oath, now gladly signed it. Others, unfortunately, would not budge and were arrested, charged and executed, including a number of Carthusian monks. The most well-known of those executed though were, by far, Bishop John Fisher of Rochester and Sir Thomas More, both executed in the summer of 1535. Fisher’s downfall came as no surprise considering the fact that he was quite arguably the most vocal opponent within England on the annulment case. More, on the other hand, was a well-respected humanist and a very dear friend to the king. But, in the end, his staunch Catholic beliefs would not allow him to take the oath of Succession. It went to show that even influential men such as Fisher and More could not deny the Royal Supremacy.

It cannot be doubted that the years following 1527 contained a great deal of drama, but the year 1536 was poised to outdo them all. The year began with the death of Catherine of Aragon (and rumors, most likely false, that she was poisoned). This, however, was small news compared to the events that occurred in the spring: the downfall and death of Anne Boleyn. Since the birth of Princess Elizabeth in 1533, Anne had been pregnant at least two, but probably three, more times, but all the pregnancies had ended in miscarriages, the most recent of which was in early 1536. The king was, of course, extremely displeased that the woman he had gone through so much trouble to attain had done nothing to help the succession. On top of this, the presence of Anne would hold up any peace negotiations with Charles V and a number of other allies. Most significantly though, Henry had already found a new woman to lust after: Jane Seymour, the daughter of a minor nobleman. For all these reasons, Anne had to go. Henry’s ministers began looking for ways of ending the marriage and ultimately chose to accuse Anne of adultery with five different men, including her own brother George, an act that would constitute high treason. Anne and the men were promptly arrested, convicted and subsequently beheaded. Less than two weeks later, Henry married Jane Seymour.

With Anne dispatched and a new royal bride now in place, Henry and Cromwell began their next project against the church: the dissolution of the monasteries. The plan was to dismantle all of the monasteries, friaries and other religious houses throughout the realm, liquidate their assets and absorb them into the crown. At first, only the lesser monasteries were to be dissolved, but, by the end of the decade, all were gone. Though these religious houses had long been financially burdensome to the crown, many citizens looked to them for spiritual guidance and as places of refuge. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that, as the monasteries were in the process of being dissolved, a fairly large-scale rebellion broke out in England’s north: the Pilgrimage of Grace.

The pilgrimage began with separate risings in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, the latter under the leadership of a local lawyer named Robert Aske, the causes of which are various. The north of England was, by far, more religiously conservative than the south and most in the region had been angry at Henry’s shunning of Catherine, the break from Rome and the evil ministers, namely reformists such as Cromwell and Cranmer, that Henry surrounded himself with. Combine these aspects with the dissolution of the monasteries and Aske and the other leaders (who consisted of local tradesmen and minor nobles) were able to recruit thousands of men. It was even believed at one point that Charles V and the Pope considered offering the rebels assistance in their cause. Upon hearing of the outbreak of the pilgrimage, Henry was irate and intended to end it quickly and ruthlessly. He sent the Duke of Norfolk to negotiate with the rebels and to inform them that their grievances were to be considered in parliament and that all participants would be awarded full pardons.

Aske and his fellow rebels felt they had no reason to distrust their king and the leaders were even invited to London to meet Henry, an invitation they gladly accepted. It may never be known as to what Henry’s real intentions were in this situation but, when yet another rebellion broke out in Yorkshire, the rebel leaders’ fates were sealed and all were arrested, charged with treason and executed in June 1537. In a particularly violent display, Henry then sent forces up to take care of any remaining strains of rebellion and many men, women and children alike were unmercifully put to death. It was indeed a bloody scene and one of the low points of Henry’s reign. Good news followed this heinous event though, when, in October 1537, Queen Jane gave birth to a healthy boy, Prince Edward. Unfortunately, Jane did not long survive the birth and died several days later of cradle fever. But, Henry now had the son and heir that, for years, he had been yearning for.

Henry almost immediately began shopping around for a new bride after Jane’s death and a substantial number of women from the continent were considered from both France and the Holy Roman Empire. These negotiations were halted, however, when Francis and Charles V agreed to a lengthy truce in June 1538 and vowed to take down Henry for his schismatic enterprises. Representing the papacy in opposition to England was Cardinal Reginald Pole, an English exile living in Rome. Pole had been violently opposed to Henry’s split with the Pope and had contemplated leading an army to England during the Pilgrimage of Grace to aid the rebels. Perhaps more importantly though, Pole was a grandson of George, Duke of Clarence (a brother of Kings Edward IV and Richard III), and therefore possessed a claim to the throne. Pole was enthusiastic about invading England with French and Imperial support, but when Francis and Charles V proved aloof to an English campaign, he realized his cause was practically lost and he constantly had to watch his back to prevent assassination attempts from English spies abroad. Since Henry could not get his hands on the cardinal himself, his aggressions were taken out on Pole’s family and friends back in England. In late 1538, Pole’s brother Henry and several other men that possessed royal blood (including Edward Neville and Henry Courtenay) were arrested, implicated in the cardinal’s schemes and executed. Pole’s young nephew was thrown in the tower and never seen again and even his mother, Margaret, Countess of Salisbury (a woman in her mid-sixties) was arrested and imprisoned. The countess wasted away in the tower for two years before she was brutally beheaded. Though Henry’s immediate reasons for destroying the Pole family were undoubtedly because of the cardinal’s treasonous activities abroad, the arrests and executions also had their political and dynastic implications, as Henry completed the elimination of any man, woman or child who had any claim to his throne.

England’s precarious political situation in the late 1530s, and Henry’s desire not to further alienate the many remaining orthodox Catholics in his realm, is most likely what caused parliament to pass the Act of Six Articles, which basically defended a number of traditional Catholic beliefs, such as transubstantiation and clerical celibacy among others. Yet, the dissolution of the monasteries continued and Cromwell began to search for brides for Henry within Europe’s Protestant community. The king most certainly wanted to have some friends on the continent to give possible aid against France, the Empire or the Papacy should they resume hostilities against him. After months of negotiations, it was agreed that Henry would marry Anne, a sister of Duke Wilhelm of Cleves. When Anne finally arrived in England, Henry was immediately disgusted by her, but knew that he had to go through with the marriage anyway. The two were married in January 1540, but the union was never consummated and Henry at once began to search for grounds for an annulment. Henry claimed that Anne had supposedly already been betrothed to another man years earlier and, for that reason, their own marriage had no validity. If she wanted to, Anne could have fiercely protested this, but she was no Catherine of Aragon and happily agreed to the annulment. Henry held nothing against her (and even began to refer to her as his “sister”) and rewarded her compliance with two houses and a comfortable annuity for the rest of her life.

Meanwhile, a group of powerful nobles and conservatives at court were in the process of using the disastrous marriage as a means to bring down their nemesis, Thomas Cromwell. Like Wolsey before him, Cromwell had gained the enmity of the nobility by being a man of humble birth (he was the son of a blacksmith) who had usurped their rightful place in the king’s favor. Cromwell also made a number of enemies in the conservative faction because of the many reformist policies that he had played such a vital role in creating. The marriage to Anne of Cleves was just the ammunition Cromwell’s enemies needed to destroy him and, when he was in a weakened state, they moved in for the kill. In June 1540, Cromwell was suddenly arrested during a council meeting. He was subsequently brought up on a number of trumped up charges, which included heresy and usurping royal authority, among other things, and attainted. Despite his pleas to the king for mercy, he was beheaded the following month.

The nobles and conservatives had been successful in their destruction of Cromwell because they were able to paint him as an overly ambitious, Lutheran heretic. It must be remembered that, despite the fact that Henry did not care for Rome and had no interest in an Anglo-Papal reunion, he was still an Orthodox Catholic in many of his beliefs (hence the passage of the Six Articles defending Catholicism). The conservatives drew attention to the fact that Cromwell was an avid reformist and opposed traditional Catholic principles such as clerical celibacy and transubstantiation. Perhaps more importantly though, the senior noble at court, the Duke of Norfolk (the same duke that had been so prominent in Wolsey’s downfall) had entranced the king by offering his own niece, Catherine Howard, to be his fifth wife. Catherine was a lusty and outgoing girl of about sixteen who was easily able to seduce the middle-aged Henry. The two were married the very day of Cromwell’s execution and, for the second time, Norfolk had one of his nieces as England’s queen (the duke’s other niece to serve as queen was Anne Boleyn). Cromwell’s execution and Henry’s marriage to the Catholic Catherine Howard was a huge blow to the Protestant cause in England, but one which it would soon enough recover from. Overall, Henry barely had anything to do with the death of his talented minister and, on several occasions, expressed regret for allowing it to happen. The judicial murder of Cromwell (and that is exactly what it was) showed just how violent the quarrel between the reformist and conservative factions at court was becoming.

The year following his fifth marriage, Henry took an extensive progress to England’s north. It was the first time in his life he had ever been to the region and the visit was long overdue, being that he wanted to be reassured that all was well in the north after the Pilgrimage of Grace five years earlier. Another reason for Henry’s journey north was to meet with his nephew, King James V of Scotland, at York. Henry was hoping to talk the Scottish king into following England in shunning the papacy and dissolving the religious houses within Scotland. When Henry arrived at York, he waited for his nephew for over a week, but James never showed. Apparently, the Scottish king and his advisors did not care for Henry’s suggestion to separate themselves from Rome as he had done. Understandably enraged, Henry returned south, only to find that there was a much more serious personal problem awaiting him involving the person of the queen.

Archbishop Cranmer informed the king that, before their marriage, Catherine had seemingly led a life of debauchery, engaging in sexual relationships with her music teacher, Henry Manox, and one Francis Dereham, the latter of whom it was believed she may have been betrothed to. More significantly though, it was discovered that, during her marriage to the Henry, Catherine engaged in an illicit affair with Thomas Culpepper, one of the king’s grooms, and had even invited Dereham to court to work in her own household. At first, Henry did not want to believe that his wife would be capable of such atrocities. But, in the end, it was not difficult to see the writing on the wall and that the queen was guilty. Henry, his ego shattered, was in no mood to be merciful. Both Culpepper and Dereham were arrested for treason and executed, the latter suffering the full traitor’s death of hanging, drawing and quartering, in December 1541. Queen Catherine and Lady Rochford (the widow of George Boleyn and the woman who had supposedly acted as a go-between to the queen and Culpepper) were both beheaded two months later. When one looks at this situation retrospectively, it is easy to see that the marriage between Henry and Catherine Howard was destined for disaster. After all, Catherine was a young and careless girl anxious to explore the depths of her sexuality, while the king was an increasingly obese man nearing fifty with a festering, foul-smelling leg wound (from a previous jousting accident). The fact of the matter is though, that Henry’s contemporaries were not so blind to see that the marriage would fail either. But no one dared question him and Henry himself was too blinded by love (and lust) that he could not see that he was leading himself into the abyss.

With the Catherine debacle now behind him, Henry turned his attentions back to his recalcitrant nephew, James V. By this point, Henry was planning on forming an alliance with Charles V for a joint invasion of France and did not want the Scots to be a problem, as they had been at Flodden back in 1513. Therefore, Henry sent ambassadors north to meet with the Scottish envoys to negotiate a peace settlement. When the Scots wavered though, Henry sent an army. The English force created mass devastation in southern Scotland, prompting James V to send an army of his own. At the Battle of Solway Moss, the English routed the Scottish army and captured a number of important noblemen. The real victory, however, came several weeks after the battle when James V suddenly died (supposedly of grief from the Scottish loss at Solway Moss) and was succeeded by his daughter Mary, a girl born just a week earlier.

Scotland was now in a very similar situation to that of 1513, when the sudden death of the king resulted in an infant ascending the throne, and a struggle for power amongst the nobility was inevitable. Henry could have moved in for the kill and conquered the land, but chose to go the diplomatic route and suggested to the new Scottish regent, the Earl of Arran, that Queen Mary should marry his own son, Prince Edward, now five years of age. At first, Arran and the Scots seemed receptive to this idea (even agreeing to the Treaty of Greenwich between the two countries), but wavered and stalled negotiations for a solid year, before finally deciding to resume the so-called Auld Alliance with France in December 1543. Meanwhile, Henry had already officially concluded a treaty with Charles V and a joint Anglo-Imperial invasion of France was in the works. While all of these diplomatic theatrics were occurring, Henry had quietly married his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr, in July 1543. A widow twice over and a zealous Protestant, Catherine would bring stability to Henry’s life in his final years to counteract a marriage history that had been anything but stable.

After their deceitful alliance with the French, Henry was most certainly eager to avenge himself on the Scots and sent an army under the control of Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford ( a maternal uncle to Price Edward), to do just that. Hertford’s army marched into Scotland and caused a great deal of damage to a number of major towns, including the Scottish capital Edinburgh, before returning home. So began the so-called War of the Rough Wooing, where Henry attempted to gain possession of Queen Mary by force so that she could marry the prince. For now, this was sufficient for Henry, whose attentions were fully focused on the invasion of France. The first English armies, under the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk, arrived in France in June 1544. Henry himself arrived the following month. The original plan had been for a joint Anglo-Imperial army to march directly to Paris and take it. Arguments erupted, however, about Henry’s lack of mobility and the realism of such an ambitious plan of action and Henry opted to simply lay siege to the coastal city of Boulogne. After a siege of about two months, the town surrendered to the English. Shortly after his triumph, Henry returned home, leaving the rest of his army in France.

The expedition did not go as smoothly as Henry had expected it to and things became even more complex when Francis and Charles V concluded a peace treaty, the latter claiming that Henry had broken their earlier accord by not marching towards Paris. Deserted by their allies, the rest of Henry’s army was forced to return to Calais when the dauphin attempted to chase them away from Boulogne, though the town remained in English hands for the time being. Peace talks were opened with the French, but to no avail, and it was clear that Henry’s campaign, despite the taking of Boulogne, was nothing but an expensive failure. To make matters worse, the Scots were still causing trouble in the north, angered by continued English raids in their country, and were even able to defeat an English army at the Battle of Ancrum Moor. On top of this, Scotland’s ally, France, threatened to invade England from Scotland and, at one point, actually sent ships to cause trouble on England’s south coast. Luckily, nothing significant ever came of these raids, but Henry was clearly isolated (once again) and nearly bankrupt from all the fruitless endeavors in France and Scotland that he had engaged in.

Henry’s health continued to decline during the final years of his life and reign, but events in England and abroad did not slow down. On the foreign front, the king was anxious to continue the war with France and, without the emperor’s help, turned to the German Protestant princes in an attempt to form alliances. This did not happen and Henry was forced to conclude a peace treaty with Francis, which stipulated that Boulogne was to be bought back, at an exorbitant price, within eight years. The peace was a hollow one and tensions between the two countries remained high. In addition, the War of the Rough Wooing with Scotland was still going strong and would continue into the next reign.

At home, the biggest story was the increasingly hostile and violent feud between the two leading factions at court: the Conservatives, led by men such as Bishop Gardiner and the Duke of Norfolk, and the Reformists, who consisted of Archbishop Cranmer, Edward Seymour and John Dudley, among others. The Conservatives had already tried to bring down Cranmer on heresy charges, much in the same way they had ruined Cromwell, several years earlier and had burned a Protestant woman named Anne Askew at the stake. They now turned their attentions on Queen Catherine, whom they knew to be of the reformed faith. Knowing that Henry still displayed conservative tendencies on certain issues, Gardiner and the others approached the king about the queen’s beliefs and asked for permission to arrest and examine her, her sister and a majority of her household. Henry made the bishop believe that he agreed with him and even signed the arrest warrant. However, Catherine was informed as to what was going on and submitted herself to her husband. When Gardiner and his entourage arrived to arrest the queen, Henry viciously rebuked them and sent them away, embarrassed. This strange incident has been the topic of much discussion amongst historians and it can only be speculated as to what Henry was thinking. It is possible that this was an outright rejection of the Conservative party (highly possible considering what would happen later) or it could have simply been Henry asserting his authority over his highly intelligent and sophisticated wife. The answer is by no means clear.

One thing that is clear though is that the Reformist party was clearly the faction that was on the rise. Seymour and Dudley dominated the council (the former owing a great deal of his power to being an uncle to the royal heir) and even Prince Edward and Princess Elizabeth were quietly being brought up in the reformed faith. It appears that Henry saw which way the wind was blowing and, in his final will, appointed mainly Reformists to the regency council that would rule during his son’s minority. Bishop Gardiner was left out completely and the Howards, the Duke of Norfolk and his son and heir, the ill-mannered poet Earl of Surrey, were completely destroyed by the Reformists. Both Norfolk and Surrey were arrested on a number of trumped up (and seemingly absurd) charges and thrown in the tower. Surrey was executed and Norfolk was due to face the same fate, but was saved by the king’s own death. King Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547, at the age of fifty-five, after a reign of thirty-seven years. He was succeeded on the throne by his nine-year-old son as Edward VI. Edward Seymour was given the responsibility of protector of the realm during the royal minority of his nephew. 

Assessment and Analysis

To this day, Henry VIII is looked at as one of the most notorious and well-known monarchs the world has ever seen. The primary reason for this is because of the fact that he significantly aided the progress of the Protestant Revolution. Henry’s “Great Matter,” as it has come to be known as, was never meant to go as far as it did. While it is undoubtedly true that Henry desperately wanted an annulment from his marriage, he originally had no intentions of breaking with Rome or bringing England into the Protestant fold. Henry merely wanted to take on another wife so that he may have a son and secure the continuation of his dynasty. When Pope Clement refused to grant him the annulment, Henry gradually drifted towards a strong sentiment of anti-clericalism that extended into the church of England itself.

From this point on, Henry made it his goal to separate England from the papacy and to control the English church. It should not be assumed, however, that Henry considered himself to be a Protestant or a Lutheran like men such as Cromwell or Archbishop Cranmer. The king still favored the traditional Catholic mass and continued to advocate clerical celibacy and transubstantiation, all aspects of religion that Protestantism was strictly against. On several occasions Henry even directly criticized Martin Luther and, in his earlier days, wrote the Defense of the Seven Sacraments, an essay praising Catholicism, and was given the title of “Defender of the Faith” by the Pope. Henry’s pro-orthodox beliefs continued even after the split with Rome, even after the Submission of the (English) Clergy and even after the dissolution and destruction of the monasteries. These mixed signals undoubtedly made many contemporaries wonder.

On the topic of religion, it must be concluded that Henry did what was seemed best for himself and for his dynasty, sometimes favoring avid Reformists such as Cranmer, Cromwell and Seymour, while at other times showing favor to Conservatives such as Norfolk and Gardiner. In the end though, Henry realized that the more progressive of the beliefs would be the one that ultimately succeeded and this is assumedly why he packed his son’s regency council with Reformists. Once Henry died, England delved deeper into Protestantism in the reign of his son.

In addition to his religious beliefs, Henry’s basic personality was always unpredictable. One never knew whether they would find the happy, adventurous king who loved hunting and tennis or the cruel, paranoid tyrant who would do anything necessary to get his way. Though Henry did have a merciful side, he was by no means afraid to shed blood, particularly in his later years when his health started to fail him. Henry’s cruelty was widespread and was best shown in his brutal quelling of the Pilgrimage of Grace and the executions of men such as Cromwell, More, Fisher and most likely Wolsey if he did not die beforehand, in addition to two of his own wives and their supposed lovers. Like his father before him, Henry was also very careful in dealing with those who might have a rival claim to the throne, even after the birth of his son. The Poles, the de la Poles, the Courtneys and the Duke of Buckingham, among others, all found this out the hard way. Even Henry’s own uncle, Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle, an illegitimate son of Edward IV was arrested at one point.

When one looks at the facts though, Henry had nothing to be paranoid about when it came to the legitimacy of his claim to the throne. As dubious as Henry VII’s claim was, Henry VIII was a grandson of Edward IV through his eldest daughter and therefore had a far superior claim to the Poles (descended from Edward IV’s younger brother); the de la Poles (younger sister of Edward IV) and the Courtnenays (younger daughter of Edward IV). Henry, however, was not willing to take any chances or give his continental enemies a rival claimant to support in the deadly game of European politics. Many of Henry’s political and dynastic executions occurred in his later years, when the virile, young sportsman had already turned into the fat, stinking mammoth of a man who could barely walk at the end of his life.

In the end though, despite all his cruelties, his flaws, his indecisions and his inconsistencies, it is difficult not to look at King Henry VIII as the archetypal symbol of progress and as a man truly worthy to be a king. The strong reign of Henry VIII was counteracted by the near disastrous reigns of his son, Edward VI, and his elder daughter, Mary, but his younger daughter, Elizabeth, would be that same symbol of progress that her father was, making the sixteenth century one of the most remarkable eras in England’s illustrious history.

Further Reading

Bernard, G. W. The King's Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church

Coby, Patrick J. and Mark C. Carnes. Henry VIII and the Reformation Parliament: Reacting to the Past

Fraser, Antonia. Henry VIII

George, Margaret. The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by his Fool, Will Somers

Graves, Michael A. Henry VIII

Hutchinson, Robert. The Last Days of Henry VIII: Conspiracy, Treason and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant

Lipscomb, Suzannah. 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII

Loades, David. Henry VIII and His Queens

Loades, David. Henry VIII: Court, Church and Conflict

MacDonald, Alan and Phillip Reeve. Henry VIII and His Chopping Block

Moorhouse, Geoffrey. The Last Divine Office: Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monestaries

Muhlbach, Luise. Henry VIII and his Court

Pollard, Albert Frederick. Henry VIII

Price, Sean Stewart. Henry VIII: Royal Beheader

Rex, Richard. Henry VIII and the English Reformation

Ridly, Jasper. Henry VIII: The Politics of Tyranny

Scarisbrick, J. J. Henry VIII

Smith, Lacey Baldwin. Henry VIII: The Mask of Royalty

Starkey, David and Susan Doran. Henry VIII: Man and Monarch

Weir, Alison. Henry VIII: The King and His Court

Wilson, Derek. A Brief History of Henry VIII

Wilson, Derek. In the Lion's Court: Power, Ambition, and Sudden Death in the Reign of Henry VIII

Wooding, Lucy. Henry VIII

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