Henry VIII

   Henry VIII (1491- 1547)

H enry VIII is one of history's most notorious monarchs. Much of his renownedness did he receive through his despotic style. He managed to marry 6 different wives during his reign, of whom 2 was sentenced to public execution. Henry VIII and England were at war with their arch enemy, France, not less than 3 times, the first time between 1512 and 1514, and then between 1522- 1523, and 1543- 1546.

   The Family of Henry VIII

H enry VIII was the third son of Henry VII (1547- 1509), the founder of the Tudor dynasty, and the queen Elizabeth of York. The birth took place at his manor in Greenwich by the Thames. During his later upbringing, Henry VIII stayed there only on official occasions. His youth, which was characterized by luxury and privilegies, was spent mainly at the castle of Eltham, instead of at the manor in Greenwhich. At the tender age of 3, Henry was proclaimed Duke of York by the heralds of the assembled court at Westminster Palace. The young Henry VIII was described by eyewitnesses as precocious and conscious.

   Arthur and Catherine

I n November in the year of 1501, did his father, Henry VII, arrange the wedding of England's head successor to the throne, Arthur, 15 years old, and Catherine of Aragon, 16 years old, and daughter of Ferdinand, the catholic, of Aragon, and Isabella of Castilia, on a political basis. However, the young Arthur died only a few months after the wedding.


A t papal exemption, Catherine was now betrothed in great haste to the new heir, Henry VIII. After the father had died in tuberculosis, they were marrried on the 11th of June in 1509. The coronation was celebrated with joust, dance, hunting and feasting, in general.

   New Politics

T he situation in England was at the time of Henry VIII's admission to the throne favourable in every way, and the young monarch could allow himself luxury and entertainment. The National Council took care of all routine issues, and the parliament was called upon only on order from Henry VIII. Thomas Wolsey, son of a butcher, Royal Chaplain, as well as Dean of Lincoln, since 1507, soon became Henry VIII's right hand. He used the religious power as a tool of his own power ambitions, and even sought the papal office in the long term. Thomas Wolsey was tirelessly ambitious, very quick-witted, and also ingratiating by aptitude, which appealed well to Henry VIII. Together they gave a strongly anti-feudal, reformist character to the politics.

   France, the enemy

S oon Henry VIII decided to attack France, and Thomas Wolsey was commissioned to gather and equip an army. The reason was mainly that the French, along with the Scots, constituted a threat against English merchant vessels. By uniting with the German- Roman Emperor Maximilian, England would according to plan gain striking power. From the English garrison of Calais, Henry draw forth with 25 000 men towards Throuanne, which city he, diverted by a parallel attack at sea, soon had taken in cooperation with Maximilian. Then he besieged and took Tornai at Lille. At the same time had queen Catherine beaten a Scottish attack in a decisive battle at Flodden.

    Henry's sister, Mary

S ince the King of France, the 52-year-old widower, Louis XII, had got his eyes opened to the striking power of his enemy, he thought it fair to accept a proposed marriage from Henry VIII, between himself and Henry VIII's somewhat reluctant 18-year-old sister, Mary. In connection to this, as well as the victory over Scotland, Henry VIII had strengthened his international power position considerably.

   Thomas Wolsey

H owever, Louis XII died fairly soon, whereupon Wolsey had the opportunity to step in and show his diplomatic and political abilities. An arrangement of new connections between the potentates of France and England, which included the son of the new king, Francois I, and the newborn daughter of Henry VIII (who, like the sister, had the name of Mary), was complemented with the withdrawal of Tornai for 600 000 crowns. In connection to these complications, Thomas Wolsey came to receive a strong position of power, through his cunning and his good results. On recommendation from Henry VIII, he was inaugurated to Bishop of Lincoln, and soon to Arch Bishop of York, as well, by Pope Leo X. After one year was Tomas Wolsey appointed to the office and title of Lord Chancellor of England.

   Feast and Brash Luxury

T he kings of the two countries had agreed to meet and force through a final peace treaty at Calais, a meeting that soon was to be turned into a feast and display of luxury. The party of Henry VIII consisted of more than 5000 people and 3000 horses, and large amounts of equipment. A temporary luxury building of tree, glass and cloth was solely built for the purpose. The kings competed with each other and chosen knights in events like javelin, joust, and fencing with two-hand sword. People gorged and feasted. Eventually, this sort of diplomacy was successful in finding some sort of agreement.


H enry VIII felt, in spite of the treaty, unsure, since the engagement between the daughter Mary and the son of Francois I, transformed into marriage, would imply intermarriage with a French subject. This would hardly be accepted of English people in general, since Mary was his only legitimate descendant. As a consort of a French prince, her English successionship would be risked at the advantage of another candidate to the throne, the Duke of Buckimham, a heir of Edward III. Henry VIII found a temporary solution to the problem. He had a conspiracy arranged against the Duke III, who was accused of imagining the king's death, something that was imposed with death penalty. Noone in the Royal Jury dared to do anything but meeting the intentions of Henry. The Duke was quickly sentenced, and was executed at the Tower.

   Another War

H enry decided to wage a new war on France. The only problem was that he had wasted his heritage from the father through his wasteful style of living. Wolsey got the job to present the demands for a new capital tax regarding all land and all goods before the House of Commons. The goal was to yield a sum of 800 000 pounds, an incredible amount of money. Thomas Wolsey had demanded 4 shillings for every pound, but managed to enforce 2 shillings for every pound. Wolsey evaded the parliament by asking for a “friendly allowance”, with reference to the feudal support duty, from priests and laymen. His measure met fierce resistance, among other things in the counties of Suffolk, Essex and Kent. Now, Henry VIII stepped in to raise his popularity among the people, at the expence of Thomas Wolsey, and cancelled the tax, as well as the war. Thomas Wolsey understood that Henry VIII, in fact, wasn't very happy to surrender an important project in this way. He felt compelled to appease Henry VIII by presenting him a brick palace, a building at Hampton Court, which was very much appreciated by the monarch.

   The Fall of Thomas Wolsey

H enry was very troubled over the fact that his consort, Catherine had not been able to give him a son. In connection to his deepened feelings for a lover by the name of Anna Boleyn, he came to the decision that he and Catherine had to be divorced. He assigned Wolsey to have the present marriage invalidated. According to the guidelines of the church statutes, this may only take place if Catherine's earlier marriage with the deceased Arthur had been fulfilled. It was decided that the matter was to be tested legally, in the presence of the papally appointed Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio. During this trial, Catherine certified before Henry, God, and the auditorium, that she had been only his woman, and that she had been untouched when she and Henry had initiated their relationship. Other witnesses stated the contrary, while some were unsure. The court decided to relegate the case to Rome, which annoyed Henry VIII, who hoped to settle and solve the matter at home, a great deal. A distressed Thomas Wolsey got his national seal taken away. Wolsey retired to his arch bishop seat at York. However, it was proved that he had sent a letter to the pope, from that place, with a recommendation to prevent Henry VIII from marrying Anne, as long as the matter had not been treated in Rome, something that the pope had obeyed. The furious Henry VIII commanded that Wolsey must be arrested for treason. However, dysentery anticipated Henry VIII, and ended the life of the old cardinal.

   Anne Boleyn

I n order to solve the marriage with Catherine of Aragon, to the advantage of his new passion, Anne Boleyn, without obstacles from Rome, Henry VIII had to break with the papacy. In great haste, when Anne was pregnant, as well, the parliament approved a law that decreed the king's supremacy over the church. To oppose this was equivalent to treason, and many came to face a cruel death for this reason, like John Houghton, among others, who was dragged through the city and cut to pieces, in public. Henry VIII had already entered the marriage with Anne Boleyn, when the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, declared the original marriage with Catherine of Aragon to be invalid. Catherine was disowned and had to spend the remainder of her life in the castle of Kimbolton. Just before she later passed away in 1536, she wrote a personal letter to Henry VIII, certifying her love for him, and wishing him all the kindness of God.

   Thomas Cromwell

N ow had Thomas Cromwell, who had earlier worked as Wolsey's first secretary, replaced him as trustee. The administrative ability of Cromwell was exellent, and he did carry through several fundamental reformations of the administrative system of the State, during his time. Together with Henry VIII did he take action to bring a confiscation of the large riches of the monasteries about, which would go to the monarch. Spies were sent out to gather information about the supposedly debauched life of the monasteries, and did also found an abundance of such information. Before soon, enough material had been gathered to carry through a law in the parliament, which dissolved the monasteries.

   Anne Boleyn is Executed

A nna Boleyn was an outspoken and carefree woman. She often got fits of rage that shed bad light on Henry VIII, and became jealous, very easily. The first pregnancy resulted, much to the king's disappointment, in yet another daughter. In due time, Anne Boleyn got pregnant again, but the son she gave birth to was born dead. It was suspected that the miscarriage might have some connection to her, according to Henry's point of view, exaggerated reactions to a relationship he had initiated with a woman by the name of Jane Seymour. After various scenes and accusations from her part, Henry VIII was fed up. Thomas Cromwell, who had a grudge against Anne Boleyn, because of the French friendly attitude of her and her allies, instituted with bringing in indictment against her for treason, fornication and incest, after collecting necessary information. Anne Boleyn was sentenced against her denial, and was executed through beheading together with her supposed lovers. The measure was appreciated by many who had looked upon the pride and carefreeness of Anne Boleyn with strong dislike

   Jane Seymour

N ow, Henry VIII entered a marriage with the shy Jane Seymour. In 1537, Jane got pregnant, whereupon she gave birth to a boy on the twelfth of October, something that did Henry VIII very happy. At last could he see an end to the throne succession problem that he had been uneasy about for so long. Sad to say, she was struck by child's bed fever, perchance partly as a result of exhaustion during long ceremonies and courtships. She passed away on the 24th of October. Henry VIII mourned her of all his heart, and commanded, that when he would be buried himself, he was to be buried together with Jane in the crypt of St. George's Chapel in Windsor.


E ven earlier had Henry VIII displayed his power through magnificent buildings and arrangements. New chapels was built, as was the magnificent building, which is a part of St. James palace. Now, he fulfilled the dissolvement of the monasteries and reformed the clergy, and the education system thoroughly. New dioceses were exclaimed in Westminster, Petersborough, Chester, Oxford, Gloucester and Bristol.

   Anna von Cleve

A fter the demise of Jane Seymour, England needed a new queen. It became the assignment of Thomas Cromwell to find her. Cromwell searched across Europe in order to find a woman of the right standing and religion. After being rejected in Denmark and France, Cromwell finally found a 24-year-old woman in the duchy. Her name was Anna, and her only language was german. Cromwell realized political benefits with Anna, historically referred to as Anna von Cleve, and suggested her to Henry for this matter, and praised, in some sort of contrast to the actual conditions, her beuty, and demonstrated a portrait before Henry where her pockmarkedness did not show, as well. Henry VIII, who had expected the worst, got his apprehensions realized when Anna von Cleve came to England. Henry VIII was not happy, and he participated in the wedding ceremonies with the greatest reluctance. Cromwell understood that everything wasn't right. The king did not hide his feelings and did not touch the bride.

   Cromwell is Arrested

O n the 10th of June in 1540, during a council meeting, the king's soldiers trudged in and arrested Cromwell for treason and heresy. A law was passed, which in general terms decreed the dissolution of Henry VIII's marital alliance with Anna von Cleve, with a reference towards an earlier betrothal between Anna and the Marquis of Lorraine, together with the fact that the marriage had never been fulfilled. Anna got a round compensation, and parted from Henry VIII without tears.

   Katharina Howard

I nstead the King laid eyes upon one of Anna von Cleve's ladies-in-waiting, Katharina Howard. This Katharina Howard was merely in her teens, rather short and energetic, and perhaps a little stupid. On the 28th of July in 1540, the very same day that Cromwell was beheaded, the two entered into marriage with each other. Very likely had Katharina Howard's uncle recommended her to encourage Henry VIII, for influence political reasons. Still did the great age difference, together with the King's physical greying with a double chin, baldness and leg wound, constitute an incentive of ambivalence on Katharina Howard's part. In fact did she have a disposition for fragility from her childhood, and it was soon to be proved that this disposition would manifest itself during the marriage with Henry VIII, as well. For Katharina Howard and her family had enemies, as well, of whom Arch Bishop Cranmer was one. One fine day did he place a letter, containing information on Katharina Howard's debauched living, in the hand of Henry VIII. The past of Katharina was exposed together with her doings as a queen. In a decisive council meeting, Henry VIII burst out crying, to the embarrasement of everyone. He had regarded the marriage with Katharina Howard as a power injection, and a fresh new start to his life. Now, everything had come to nothing. Katharina Howard was executed through beheading in February. Before that, the supposed lovers had met the same fate, and their heads had been pierced on stakes, as cautionary example.

   Catherine Parr

T he only one of Henry VIII's consorts who survived him by a scarce margin, proved to be the last in the row, Catherine Latimer (born Parr, and widow). At first, she wasn't very happy to be courted, in part because she knew what had happened to all the earlier Queens of the King, and in part because she cherished another man in secret. To deny Henry VIII was beyond the bounds of possibilities, and she knew how to meet her fate with fairly good courage. She had a good education, a kind temperament, as well as a warm, caring hand, which later suited the king very well, at the end of his life. They entered into marriage on the 12th of June with much pomp and ceremony. Much like the former marriage, Henry VIII's mood got better in a decisive way, now, which also was something that was considered with gratitude from the point of view of the Court. Catherine Parr had the ability to handle Henry VIII, and was a considerate stepmother for his children, as well.


N ow the time was right to regulate the situation, after decades of revolutions of the church and the state. Henry VIII realized 3 important elements for the point of view of the church. First and foremost, all disagreements between different fractions, who preached against one another, had to be prosecuted. Secondly, a healthy moral had to be ensured within the church. Marriage among priests was forbidden, and women in general were not allowed to read the Bible. For the third, a strong skeleton of new titles, texts and cermonies had to be brought into perfection. The church was also brought towards a more protestant friendly direction. Henry VIII needed content officials within the state. This was achieved through a number of concessions and favours. The parliament gained freedom of speech and the possibility to reach the King through courtships. People was also ascribed the right not to be imprisoned. In this way, Henry VIII managed to procure the capital for a new campaign in France, as well as the liberation from the old loans, that he would have had to repay, otherwise.

   Further War

T he goal of the mentioned campaign was to take Montreunil, from where Boulogne would be able to reach. Henry VIII intended to spearhead the attack, personally. They sailed in July, 1544, and 2 months later, the resistance in Boulogne was quenched. On the other hand, Montreuil was never taken. A garrison was left for Bolougne to keep, after which Henry VIII returned to England. After the return, people in England were surprised over a French invasion attempt, intended to conquer Portsmouth and gain control over the English Channel. The rearmed English navy was now seriously put to the test. The attack came from a fleet of about 200 French ships. After being stopped outside outside Portsmouth, and being defeated at Shoreham, the French had to retreat, as a result of illness and shortage of necessities. However, the English had suffered the losses in the form of Brighton, that had been burned to the very ground, while the ostentatious man-of-war, Mary Rose, had went down, without needing the help of the enemy. The ship was filled with water through the cannon gates, which the responsible had forgot to close, in a wind capsizing. The battles against the French continued during the spring of 1546, at Boulogne, which the French tried to take back. A peace treaty was signed on the 7th of June, where Boulogne was returned for a large amount of money.

   Henrik VIII:s Decease

N ow, Henry VIII started to approach the end of his life. A leg wound, which he had brought on himself 10 years earlier in a three day event, brought him complications. He continued to maintain his typical charasteristics, egoism, indulgence and cunning, to the very last. The Duke of Norfolk and his son, the Earl of Surrey, were arrested for carrying the royal coat of arms on their own coat of arms, and would have been executed, had not the death of the king anticipated them. One fine day in the end of January, Arch Bishop Cranmer was summoned to the bed of Henry VIII, where he lay dying. The king was not able to speak any longer, and only squeezed the Archbishop's hand, in a final effort, before death would enter. The body of Henry VIII was embalmed and placed in a coffin, next to the remains of Jane Seymour, in St. George's Chapel.

   Kåre Andersson


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