A Brief Biography of Henry VIII

By Tim Lambert

His Early Life

Henry VIII was born at Greenwich Palace on 28 June 1491 the second son of Henry Tudor (Henry VII). However, Henry’s older brother Arthur died in 1502. So Henry came to the throne in 1509. (Henry also had an older sister called Margaret and a younger sister called Mary).

Henry married his first wife, Catherine of Aragon on 11 June 1509. n Henry VIII was a clever and active young man. He spoke Latin, Spanish, and French fluently. He also performed and composed music.

He was good at tennis, wrestling, and casting the bar (throwing an iron bar). Henry also enjoyed hunting, jousting, and hawking. He also liked archery and bowling.

Henry VIII was also keen to revive the glories of the previous centuries when England conquered much of France. In 1511 he launched a warship the Mary Rose. In 1514 he launched the Henry Grace a Dieu.

Meanwhile, in 1512, he went to war with the French. In August 1513 the English won the Battle of the Spurs. (It was so-called because the French cavalry fled without fighting). However, in 1514 Henry VIII made peace with the French and his sister Mary married the king of France.

Meanwhile, the Scots invaded England to support their French allies. However, the Scots were crushed at the battle of Flodden and their king was killed.

In 1515 the Pope made Thomas Wolsey (1474-1530) a Cardinal. The same year the king made him Chancellor.

In 1520 Henry VIII met the king of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Determined to impress the French king Henry VIII had a temporary palace made and it was decorated with very expensive velvet, satin, and cloth of gold. Not to be outdone the French king erected tents of gold brocade.

Catherine had a stillborn daughter in 1510. She had a son in 1511 but he died after a few weeks. Catherine had another son in 1513 but he died soon after he was born. Then in 1515, she had a stillborn son. Only one of her children lived – a girl called Mary who was born in 1516. Catherine had another daughter in 1518 but the girl soon died. Henry VIII was desperate to have a son and heir and Catherine could not give him one.

Henry VIII came to believe that God was punishing him for marrying his brother’s widow. Normally that would not have been allowed but the Pope granted him a special dispensation. Henry VIII now argued that the marriage to Catherine was not valid and should be annulled (declared null and void). Not surprisingly Catherine was opposed to any move to dissolve the marriage.

Henry VIII asked the Pope to annul the marriage. However, the Pope would not cooperate. In 1529 he formed an ecclesiastical court headed by Cardinals Wolsey and Campeggio to look into the matter. However, the court could not reach a verdict.

In the autumn of 1529, Henry VIII sacked Wolsey and banished him to York. In 1530 Wolsey was accused of treason and was summoned to London to answer the charges but he died on the way.

Thomas More replaced him as chancellor. More ruthlessly persecuted Protestants. More also strongly opposed the proposed relaxation of the heresy laws. In 1530 a Protestant named Thomas Hitton was burned at Maidstone. Thomas More called him ‘the Devil’s stinking martyr’. However, More resigned in 1532 and he was replaced by Thomas Cromwell.

Meanwhile, in 1527 Henry VIII began a relationship with Anne Boleyn. Henry was keen to get rid of Catherine and marry Anne. In 1529 Henry called the ‘Reformation Parliament’. Ties between England and Rome were cut one by one. Finally, he lost patience with the Pope and rejected his authority. In 1533 Henry VIII obtained a decree of nullity from Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. (He had already secretly married Anne Boleyn).

Anne gave birth to a daughter the future Queen Elizabeth I in 1533. However, Anne had two miscarriages. Henry was tired of her and in April 1536 she was accused of committing adultery with 5 men, including her brother. Anne and the five men were all executed in May 1536. Immediately afterward Henry VIII married Jane Seymour.

Jane did give Henry VIII one son, Edward, but she died on 24 October 1537, leaving Henry devastated.

The Henrician Reformation

Meanwhile, in 1534 the Act of Supremacy made Henry the head of the Church of England. The same year the Act of Succession was passed. It declared that Anne Boleyn’s child would be heir to the throne.

Although Henry VIII broke with Rome he kept the Catholic religion essentially intact. However, in 1538 Chancellor Thomas Cromwell did make some minor reforms. In 1538 he ordered that every church should have an English translation of the Bible. He also ordered that any idolatrous images should be removed from churches.

Nevertheless, in 1539 Henry VIII passed the Act of Six Articles, which laid down the beliefs of the Church of England. The Six Articles preserved the old religion mainly intact.

However, from 1545 Latin was replaced by English as the language of church services.

Meanwhile, Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. Parliament agreed to dissolve the small ones in 1536. The large ones followed in 1539-1540.

Bolton Abbey

The monks were given pensions and many of them married and learned trades. many monastery buildings became manor houses. Others were dismantled and their stones were used for other buildings.

The vast estates owned by the monasteries were sold and fearing foreign invasion Henry used the wealth to build a network of new castles around the coast.

Changes made by Henry VIII caused resentment in some areas. In 1536 a rebellion began in Louth. (Although it was sparked off by religion the rebels had other grievances). The rebels marched to Doncaster but no pitched battles were fought between them and the royal forces. Instead, Henry VIII persuaded them to disperse by making various promises. However, in 1537 Henry hanged the leaders.

Anne of Cleves

Meanwhile, Henry VIII looked for another wife. Chancellor Cromwell suggested allying with the Duchy of Cleves. The Duke of Cleves had two sisters and Henry VIII sent the painter Holbein to make portraits of them both. After seeing a portrait of Anne of Cleves Henry decided to marry her.

However, when Henry VIII met Anne for the first time he was repulsed. Nevertheless, Henry married her in January 1540 but the marriage was not consummated. Henry divorced Anne six months later but she was given a generous settlement of houses and estates. Anne of Cleves lived quietly until she died in 1557.

For his pains, Cromwell was accused of treason and executed in July 1540. Next, in 1540, Henry VIII married Catherine Howard. However, in December 1541 Henry VIII was given proof that Catherine was unfaithful. Catherine was beheaded on 13 February 1542.

Catherine Parr

In 1543 Henry VIII married Catherine Parr (1512-1548). Meanwhile, in 1536 Henry had an accident jousting. Afterward, he stopped taking exercise and became obese. Worse a painful ulcer appeared on his leg, which his doctors could not cure.

Nevertheless, Henry VIII went to war again. In 1542 he crushed the Scots at Solway Moss. In 1543 Henry went to war with the French. He captured Boulogne but was forced to return to England to deal with the threat of French invasion. The French sent a fleet to the Solent (between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight). They also landed men on the Isle of Wight. In a naval battle, the Mary Rose was lost but the French fleet was forced to withdraw.

Henry VIII

Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547. He was 55. Henry was buried in St George’s Chapel in Windsor on 16 February 1547.