Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII (28 June 1491–28 January 1547) was King of England and Lord of Ireland (later King of Ireland) from 22 April 1509 until his death. He was the second monarch of the Tudor dynasty, succeeding his father, Henry VII. He is famous for having been married six times, and also wielded the most untrammeled power of any British monarch. Notable events to occur during his reign included the establishment of the Church of England, the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the union of England and Wales.
Several significant pieces of legislation were enacted during Henry VIII's reign. They included several Acts which severed the English Church from the Roman Catholic Church, the Act of Union 1536 (which united England and Wales into one nation), the Buggery Act 1533 (the first anti-homosexual enactment in England), and the Witchcraft Act 1542 (which punished "invoking or conjuring an evil spirit" with death).
Henry is known to have been an avid gambler and dice player during his lifetime. He excelled at sport—especially real tennis—during his youth. He was also an accomplished musician and poet; according to legend, he wrote the popular folk song Greensleeves. He was also involved in the construction and improvement of several buildings, including King's College Chapel, Hampton Court Palace, Nonsuch Palace and Westminster Abbey.
Born at the Palace of Placentia, Henry was the third child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Only three of Henry's six siblings—Arthur (the Prince of Wales), Margaret and Mary—survived infancy. His father had become King through conquest, but had solidified his hold by marrying Elizabeth, the sister and heiress of Edward V.
In 1493, he was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. In 1494, the young Henry was created Duke of York. He was subsequently appointed Earl Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, though still a child.
In 1501, he attended the wedding of his elder brother Arthur and Catherine of Aragon, who were at the time only about fifteen and sixteen years old, respectively. The two were sent to spend time in Wales, as was then customary for the heir-apparent and his wife, but Arthur caught an infection and died. Consequently, at the age of eleven, Henry, Duke of York found himself heir-apparent to the Throne. Soon thereafter, he was created Prince of Wales.
Henry VII was still eager to maintain the marital alliance between England and Spain through a marriage between Henry, Prince of Wales and Catherine. Since the Prince of Wales sought to marry his brother's widow, he had to first obtain a dispensation from the Pope. Catherine maintained that her first marriage was never consummated; if she were correct, no papal dispensation would have been necessary. Nonetheless, both the English and Spanish parties agreed on the necessity of a papal dispensation for the removal of all doubts regarding the legitimacy of the marriage. Due to the impatience of the Catherine's mother, Queen Isabella, the Pope hastily granted his dispensation in a Papal Bull. Thus, fourteen months after her husband's death, Catherine found herself engaged to the Prince of Wales. By 1505, however, Henry VII lost interest in an alliance with Spain, and the young Prince of Wales was forced to declare that his betrothal had been arranged without his assent.
Henry ascended the Throne in 1509 upon his father's demise. Catherine's father, the Aragonese King Ferdinand II, sought to control England through his daughter, and consequently insisted on her marriage to the new English King. Henry wed Catherine about nine weeks after his accession, despite the concerns of Pope Julius II and William Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, regarding the marriage's validity. They were both crowned at Westminster Abbey on 24 June 1509. Queen Catherine's first pregnancy ended in stillbirth in 1510. She gave birth to a son, Henry, in 1511, but he died within two months of his birth.
For about two years after Henry's accession, Richard Fox, the Bishop of Winchester and Lord Privy Seal, and William Warham controlled matters of state. From 1511 onwards, however, power was held by the ecclesiastic Thomas Wolsey. In 1511, Henry joined the Holy League, a body of European rulers opposed to the French King Louis XII. The League also included such European rulers as Pope Julius II, the Aragonian King Ferdinand II and the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Henry and Ferdinand also signed the Treaty of Westminster. Henry personally joined the English Army as they crossed the English Channel into France, and took part in sieges and battles.
In 1514, however, Ferdinand left the alliance, and the other parties made peace with the French. Irritation towards Spain led to discussion of a divorce with Queen Catherine. However, upon the accession of the French King Francis I in 1515, England and France grew antagonistic, and Henry reconciled with Ferdinand. In 1516, Queen Catherine gave birth to a girl, Mary, encouraging Henry that he could still have a male heir despite his wife's previous failed pregnancies (one stillbirth, one miscarriage and two short-lived infants).
Ferdinand died in 1516, to be succeeded by his grandson—Queen Catherine's nephew—Charles. In 1519, when Maximilian also died, Wolsey—who was by that time a Cardinal—secretly proposed Henry as a candidate for the post of Holy Roman Emperor, though supporting the French King Francis in public. In the end, however, the prince-electors settled on Charles. The subsequent rivalry between Francis and Charles allowed Henry to act as a mediator between them. Henry came to hold the balance of power in Europe. Both Francis and Charles sought Henry's favour, the former in a dazzling and spectacular manner at the Field of Cloth of Gold, and the latter more solemnly at Kent. After 1521, however, England's influence in Europe began to wane. Henry entered into an alliance with Charles V, and Francis I was quickly defeated. Charles's reliance on Henry subsided, as did England's power in Europe.
The King's Great Matter
Henry VIII's accession was the first peaceful one England had witnessed in several years. The Tudor dynasty, however, was a new one; its legitimacy could still be tested. Henry felt that only a male heir could secure the Throne; no Queen had ever ruled England, and the English people seemed distrustful of female rulers. Although Queen Catherine had been pregnant at least seven times (for the last time in 1518), only one child, the Princess Mary, had survived beyond infancy. Henry had previously been happy with mistresses, including Mary Boleyn and Elizabeth Blount, with whom he had had a bastard son, Henry Fitzroy. In 1526, when it became clear that Queen Catherine could have no further children, he began to pursue Mary Boleyn's sister, Anne. Anne was not the chief cause of Henry's attempt to rid himself of Queen Catherine—that designation most likely appertains to Henry's desire for a male heir.
Henry's long and arduous attempt to end his marriage to Queen Catherine became known as "The King's Great Matter." Unbeknownst to Queen Catherine, Cardinal Wolsey and William Warham held an inquiry into the validity of her marriage to Henry. Queen Catherine, however, testified that her marriage to Arthur, Prince of Wales had never been consummated, and that there was therefore no impediment to her subsequent marriage to Henry. The inquiry could proceed no further, and was dropped.
Without informing Cardinal Wolsey, Henry directly appealed to the Holy See. He sent William Knight, his secretary, to Rome to argue that Julius II's Bull was obtained by trickery, and consequently void. In addition, he requested Pope Clement VII to grant a dispensation allowing him to marry any woman, even in the first degree of affinity. (Such a dispensation was necessary because Henry had previously had intercourse with Anne Boleyn's sister Mary.) Knight found that Pope Clement VII was practically the prisoner of the Emperor Charles V. He had difficulty gaining access to the Pope, and when he finally did, he could accomplish little. Clement VII did not agree to annul the marriage, but he did grant the desired dispensation, probably presuming that the dispensation would be of no effect as long as Henry remained married to Catherine.
Being advised of the King's predicament, Cardinal Wolsey sent Stephen Gardiner and Edward Foxe to Rome. Perhaps fearing Queen Catherine's nephew, Charles V, Pope Clement VII originally resisted acquiescing. Foxe was sent back with a commission authorising the commencement of proceedings, but the restrictions imposed made it practically meaningless. Gardiner strove for a "decretal commission," which decided the points of law beforehand, and left only questions of fact to be decided. Clement VII was pressured into accepting the proposal; he permitted Cardinal Wolsey and Lorenzo Cardinal Campeggio to try the case jointly. His decretal commission was issued in secret; it was not to be shown to anybody, and was to always remain in Cardinal Campeggio's possession. Points of law were already settled in the commission: the Papal Bull authorising Henry's marriage to Catherine was to be declared void if the grounds alleged therein were false. For instance, the Bull would be void if it falsely asserted that the marriage was absolutely necessary to maintain the Anglo-Spanish alliance.
Cardinal Campeggio arrived in England in 1528. Proceedings, however, were brought to a halt when the Spanish produced a second document allegedly granting the necessary dispensation. It was asserted that, a few months before he had granted papal dispensation in a public Bull, Pope Julius II had secretly granted the same in a private Brief sent to Spain. The decretal commission, however, only made mention of the Bull; it did not authorise Cardinal Campeggio and Cardinal Wolsey to determine the validity of the Brief. For eight months, the parties wrangled over the authenticity of the Brief. Meanwhile, Queen Catherine appealed to her nephew, Charles V, for support. Charles pressured the Pope into recalling Cardinal Campeggio to Rome in 1529.
Angered with Cardinal Wolsey for the delay, Henry stripped him of his wealth and power. He was charged with præmunire—undermining the King's authority by agreeing to represent the Pope—but died on his way to be tried. With Cardinal Wolsey fell other powerful ecclesiastics in England; laymen were appointed to offices such as those of Lord Chancellor and Lord Privy Seal, which were formerly confined to clergymen.
Power then passed to Thomas Cranmer (who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1532) and Thomas Cromwell (who became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1533). On 25 January 1533, Cranmer participated in the wedding of Henry and Anne Boleyn. In May, Cranmer pronounced Henry's marriage to Catherine void, and shortly thereafter declared the marriage Anne valid. The Princess Mary was deemed illegitimate, and was replaced as heiress-presumptive by Queen Anne's daughter, the Princess Elizabeth. Catherine lost the title "Queen," and became the Dowager Princess of Wales; Mary was no longer a "Princess," but a mere "Lady." The Dowager Princess of Wales would die of cancer in 1536.
Considerable religious upheaval followed Henry's excommunication in July 1533. Urged by Thomas Cromwell, Parliament passed several Acts that sealed the breach with Rome in the spring of 1534. The Statute in Restraint of Appeals prohibited appeals from English ecclesiastical courts to the Pope. It also prevented the Church from making any regulations without the King's consent. The Ecclesiastical Appointments Act 1534 required the clergy to elect Bishops nominated by the Sovereign. The Act of Supremacy 1534 declared that the King was "the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England"; the Treasons Act 1534 made it high treason, punishable by death, to refuse to acknowledge the King as such. The Pope was denied sources of revenue such as Peter's Pence.
Rejecting the decisions of the Pope, Parliament validated the marriage between Henry and Anne with the Act of Succession 1534. Catherine's daughter, the Lady Mary, was declared illegitimate, and Anne's issue were declared next in the line of succession. All adults were required to acknowledge the Acts' provisions; those who refused to do so were liable to imprisonment for life. The publisher or printer of any literature alleging that Henry's marriage to Anne was invalid was automatically guilty of high treason, and could be punished by death.
Opposition to Henry's religious policies were quickly suppressed. Several dissenting monks were tortured and executed. Cromwell, for whom was created the post of "Viceregent in Spirituals", was authorised to visit monasteries, ostensibly to ensure that they followed royal instructions, but in reality to assess their wealth. In 1536, an Act of Parliament allowed Henry to seize the possessions of the lesser monasteries (those with annual incomes of £200 or less).
In 1536, Queen Anne began to lose Henry's favour. After the Princess Elizabeth's birth, Queen Anne had two pregnancies that ended in either miscarriage or stillbirth. Henry VIII, meanwhile, had begun to turn his attentions to another lady of his court, Jane Seymour. Perhaps encouraged by Thomas Cromwell, Henry had Anne arrested on charges of using witchcraft to trap Henry into marrying her, of having adulterous relationships with five other men, of incest with her brother George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, of injuring the King and of conspiring to kill him—which amounted to treason. (The charges were most likely fabricated.) The court trying the case was presided over by Anne's own uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. In May 1536, the Court condemned Anne and her brother to death, either by burning at the stake or by decapitation, whichever the King pleased. The other four men Queen Anne had allegedly been involved with were to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Lord Rochford was beheaded soon after the trial ended; the four others implicated had their sentences commuted from hanging, drawing and quartering to decapitation. Anne was also beheaded soon thereafter. One may note that her marriage to Henry was annulled shortly before her execution. Hence, since Anne was officially not married to Henry, neither she nor the five men already executed could have committed adultery. This subtle point, however, was conveniently ignored.
Days after Anne's execution in 1536, Henry married Jane Seymour. The Act of Succession 1536 declared Henry's children by Queen Jane to be next in the line of succession, and declared both the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth illegitimate, excluding them. The King was granted the power to further determine the line of succession in his will. Jane gave birth to a son, the Prince Edward, in 1537, and died two weeks thereafter.
At about the same time as his marriage to Jane Seymour, Henry granted his assent to the Act of Union 1536, which formally annexed Wales, uniting England and Wales into one nation. The Act provided for the sole use of English in official proceedings in Wales, inconveniencing the numerous speakers of the Welsh language.
Henry continued with his persecution of his religious opponents. In 1536, an uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in northern England. To appease the rebellious Roman Catholics, Henry agreed to allow Parliament to address their concerns. Furthermore, he agreed to grant a general pardon to all those involved. He kept neither promise, and a second uprising occurred in 1537. As a result, the leaders of the rebellion were convicted of treason and executed. In 1538, Henry sanctioned the destruction of shrines to Roman Catholic Saints. In 1539, England's remaining monasteries were all dissolved, and their property transferred to the Crown. As a reward for his role, Thomas Cromwell was created Earl of Essex. Abbots and priors lost their seats in the House of Lords; only archbishops and bishops came to comprise the ecclesiastical element of the body. The Lords Spiritual, as members of the clergy with seats in the House of Lords were known, were for the first time outnumbered by the Lords Temporal.
Henry's only surviving son, the Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall, was not a healthy child. Therefore, Henry desired to marry once again to ensure that a male could succeed him. Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex suggested Anne, the sister of the Protestant Duke of Cleves, who was seen as an important ally in case of a Roman Catholic attack on England. Hans Holbein the Younger was despatched to Cleves to paint a portrait of Anne for the King. After regarding Holbein's flattering portrayal, and urged by the complimentary description of Anne given by his courtiers, Henry agreed to wed Anne. When Anne arrived in England, Henry is said to have found her utterly unattractive. Nonetheless, he married her on 6 January 1540.
Soon thereafter, however, Henry desired to end the marriage, not only because of his personal feelings but also because of political considerations. The Duke of Cleves had become engaged in a dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor, with whom Henry had no desire to quarrel. Queen Anne was intelligent enough not to impede Henry's quest for an annulment. She testified that her marriage was never consummated. The marriage was subsequently annulled on the grounds that Anne had previously been contracted to marry another European nobleman. She received the title of "The King's Sister," and was granted Hever Castle, the former residence of Anne Boleyn's family. The Earl of Essex, meanwhile, fell out of favour for his role in arranging the marriage, and was subsequently attainted and beheaded. The office of Vicegerent in Spirituals, which had been specifically created for him, was not filled, and still remains vacant.
On 28 July 1540—the same day Lord Essex was executed—Henry married the young Catherine Howard, Anne Boleyn's first cousin. Soon after her marriage, however, Queen Catherine may have had an affair with the courtier Thomas Culpeper. She also employed Francis Dereham—who was previously informally engaged to her and had an affair with her prior to her marriage—as her secretary. Thomas Cranmer, who was opposed to the powerful Catholic Howard family, brought evidence of Queen Catherine's activities to the King's notice. Though Henry originally refused to believe the allegations, he allowed Cranmer to conduct an investigation, which resulted in Queen Catherine's implication. When questioned, the Queen could have admitted a prior contract to marry Dereham—which would have made her subsequent marriage to Henry invalid—but she instead claimed that Dereham had forced her to enter into an adulterous relationship. Dereham, meanwhile, exposed Queen Catherine's relationship with Thomas Culpeper.
On 1 December 1541, Culpeper and Durham were executed. Catherine was condemned not by a trial, but by an Act of Attainder passed by Parliament. The Act recited the evidence against the Queen, and Henry would have been obliged to listen to the entire text before granting the Royal Assent. Because "the repetition of so grievous a Story and the recital of so infamous a crime" in the King's presence "might reopen a Wound already closing in the Royal Bosom," a special clause permitting Commissioners to grant the Royal Assent on the King's behalf was inserted in the Act. This method of granting the Royal Assent had never been used before, but, in later reigns, it came to replace the traditional personal appearance of the Sovereign in Parliament.
Catherine's marriage was annulled shortly before her execution. As was the case with Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard could not have technically been guilty of adultery, as the marriage was officially null and void from the beginning. Again, this point was ignored, and Catherine was executed on 13 February 1542. She was only about eighteen years old at the time.
Henry married his last wife, the wealthy widow Catherine Parr, in 1543. She argued with Henry over religion; she was a Protestant, but Henry remained a Catholic. Her odious behaviour almost led to her undoing, but she saved herself by a show of submissiveness. She helped reconcile Henry with his first two daughters, the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth. In 1544, an Act of Parliament put them back in the line of succession after the Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall, though they were still deemed illegitimate. The same Act allowed Henry to determine further succession to the Throne in his will.
Later in life, Henry was grossly overweight, and possibly suffered from gout. The theory that he suffered from syphilis is certainly less than compelling, since neither his children nor his wives are known to have suffered from any symptoms. In his younger days, however, he had been a very active man. His increased size dates from a jousting accident in 1536. He suffered a thigh wound which not only prevented him from taking exercise, but also gradually became ulcerated and may have indirectly led to his death, which occurred on 28 January 1547 (the ninetieth anniversary of Henry's father's birth) at the Palace of Whitehall. Henry VIII was buried in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, next to his wife Jane Seymour.
A mnemonic for the fates of Henry's wives is "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived." (An alternative version is "King Henry the Eighth, to six wives he was wedded: One died, one survived, two divorced, two beheaded.") The doggerel, however, may be misleading. Firstly, Henry was never divorced from any of his wives; rather, his marriages to them were annulled. Secondly, four marriages—not two—ended in annulments. (The marriages to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were annulled shortly before their executions.)
Under the Act of Succession 1544, Henry's only surviving son Edward inherited the Crown, becoming Edward VI. Edward was the first Protestant monarch to rule England. Since Edward was only nine years old at the time, he could not exercise actual power. Henry's will designated sixteen executors to serve on a council of regency until Edward reached the age of eighteen. The executors chose Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford (Jane Seymour's elder brother) to be Lord Protector of the Realm. They required, however, that Lord Hertford "not do any act but with the advice and consent of the rest of the co-executors." Nonetheless, Lord Hertford seized power to become the sole Regent. He was overthrown by John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland and executed for treason. The Duke of Northumberland, however, did not make himself Lord Protector; instead, he urged Edward to declare his majority before becoming eighteen years old, thereby transgressing Henry VIII's will.
Under the Act of Succession 1544 and under Henry VIII's will, Edward was to be succeeded (in default of his issue) by Henry VIII's daughter by Catherine of Aragon, the Lady Mary. If the Lady Mary did not have children, she was to be succeeded by his daughter by Anne Boleyn, the Lady Elizabeth. Finally, if the Lady Elizabeth also did not have children, she was to be followed by the descendants of Henry VIII's deceased sister, Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk. Edward VI and his advisors, however, had different designs. As he lay on his deathbed, Edward created a will that purported to contradict the provisions of Henry's will. The Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth were excluded from the line of succession as illegitimate. Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk (daughter of Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk) was laid aside because Edward feared that her husband might claim the Crown for himself. Edward finally settled on the Lady Jane Grey, the daughter of the Duchess of Suffolk and the daughter-in-law of the powerful Duke of Northumberland. Upon Edward's decease in 1553, the Lady Jane was proclaimed Queen. Under the law, however, she should not have succeeded; an Act of Parliament specifically permitted Henry to devise the Crown in his will, but no similar legislation had been passed for Edward. Mary deposed and executed Jane, taking the Crown for herself.
When Mary I died without issue in 1558, she was succeeded by her sister Elizabeth. Elizabeth I did not marry or name an heir, causing a succession crisis. Under Henry VIII's will, Elizabeth was supposed to be succeeded by the heir of Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk (the Lady Anne Stanley). Elizabeth was actually succeeded, however, by James VI, King of Scots. James was already a powerful ruler in Scotland, and was Elizabeth's closest living relative. He argued that his hereditary right to succeed was greater than the Lady Anne's statutory right. James was sufficiently powerful, and his opponents weak; thus, his succession faced little opposition.
In modern times, Henry VIII has become one of the most popular historical kings of the English monarchy. This is mainly based on the common perception of his larger than life character as an over-eating, womanising bon vivant, which in turn is based on somewhat exaggerated or apocryphal stories of his life. In 2002, Henry VIII placed fortieth in a BBC-sponsored poll on the 100 Greatest Britons.
Henry VIII was the subject of William Shakespeare's historical play, Henry VIII: All Is True. The play, however, has never been one of Shakespeare's more popular plays. Curiously, it was Henry VIII that was playing on June 29 1613 when the Globe Theatre burnt down.
There have been many films about Henry and his court. Two that bear mention are The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), starring Charles Laughton, whose performance earned him an Academy Award, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1972), starring Keith Michell. In addition, Richard Burton was nominated for an Academy Award for his Henry opposite Genevieve Bujold's Anne Boleyn in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969).
Henry was almost certainly the inspiration for the title of the popular song "I'm Henry the Eighth, I am" (1911), recorded by Harry Champion and later by Herman's Hermits; the actual song, however, is about a man named Henry whose wife has been married to seven different individuals, all named Henry.
An episode of the 1960s American sitcom Betwiched had Samantha Stevens staving off a lustful Henry's intentions to make her his next wife. Sid James played Henry in the movie Carry On Henry (1970), which portrayed the relationship between the King and two fictitious wives ("Marie of Normandy" and "Bettina", a mistress). In 1973 Rick Wakeman released a rock concept album on The Six Wives of Henry VIII, his first solo album after splitting from Yes. Henry's life was the subject of a famous but inaccurate Simpsons television episode from 2004, in which Homer Simpson played the King.
Style and arms
Henry VIII was the first English monarch to regularly use the style "Majesty", though the alternatives "Highness" and "Grace" were also used from time to time.
Several changes were made to the royal style during his reign. Henry originally used the style "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England and France and Lord of Ireland." In 1521, pursuant to a grant from Pope Leo X rewarding a book by Henry attacking Martin Luther and defending Catholicism, the royal style became "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England and France, Defender of the Faith and Lord of Ireland." The title After the breach with Rome, Pope Paul III rescinded the grant of the title "Defender of the Faith," but an Act of Parliament declared that it remained valid.
In 1535, Henry added the "supremacy phrase" to the royal style, which became "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England and France, Defender of the Faith, Lord of Ireland and of the Church of England in Earth Supreme Head." In 1536, the phrase "of the Church of England" changed to "of the Church of England and also of Ireland."
In 1542, Henry changed the title "Lord of Ireland" to "King of Ireland" after being advised that many Irish people regarded the Pope as the true head of their country, with the Lord acting as a mere representative. The style "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith and of the Church of England and also of Ireland in Earth Supreme Head" remained in use until the end of Henry's reign.