One of Britain’s most colourful King’s and is easily most well known- but not for his heart-warming personality. Henry VIII most extraordinary claim to fame would be six wives and their unfortunate fates. Henry accomplished a lot more in his time as King, like his changes to the English Constitution and separation from the Church of England.
Born the 28 June 1491, King Henry ascended the throne on 21 April 1509. He was the third child and second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, but he was only one of the three of their six children to survive infancy. Not much is known about Henry’s youth as he was never to be King, except for appointments including becoming Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports at the age of two.
In 1502 Henry’s older brother, Arthur (heir to the throne), passed away at the age of fifteen shortly after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Arthur’s death put all the pressure on the ten-year-old Henry, in October 1502 he became the Duke of Cornwall and the new Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester in 1503. Despite being next-in-line Henry did not appear in public, was supervised at all times and had very few tasks. This lack of duty would be problematic when Henry ascend as he was “untrained in the exacting art of kingship.” Henry was also to marry the widowed Catherine, in an attempt by Henry VII to secure the bond between England and Spain.
After succeeding his father as King, Henry followed his father’s wish and married Catherine despite the problems that many tried to cause. On 11 June 1509 the couple wed, with his coronation taking place days later on the 23 June. The marriage started out well, but Catherine failed to give Henry a son, and he had an annulment from his first wife around the time he started an affair, Anne Boleyn. Anne was the first of Henry’s wives to be executed on counts of adultery and incest with her brother. Charges that have now been proven to be untrue, but were cooked-up to give Henry an out of his marriage to Anne also could not give the King a son.
Next came the marriage to Jane Seymour, eleven days after Anne’s execution. Just over a year later on 12 October 1537 Jane gave birth to the future Edward VI, but childbirth was difficult, and Jane passed away two weeks later. Marriage was thought to heal Henry’s broken heart, so the marriage to Anne of Cleves was arranged. Soon Henry fell in love with another and wished to have the marriage annulled. Anne agreed and was given the title of “The King’s Sister’ along with an allowance and two houses. The woman Henry had fallen for was Catherine Howard, Anne Boleyn’s first cousin. The new Queen did not stay faithful for long and soon had an affair, she was beheaded on 13 February 1542. Henry’s last wife was the widow Catherine Parr, who outlived Henry.
A lot can be said about Henry VIII and his wives, after all it is what he is best known for, but Henry accomplished many things in his lifetime. He also is credited with is a significant role in the Church of England separating from the Roman Catholic Church to become Protestant. When Henry wished to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, the Pope would not grant him his wish. Henry was not being a man to be told he could not have his way found a way to the Pope’s authority. The King was to be “the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England” through the Act of Supremacy in 1534. Anyone who refused the Oath of Supremacy was charged with treason, an act punishable by death. Henry never had problems with the teachings of the Catholic Church, only papal authority. He remained to follow the Catholic theological teachings, with himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. He also oversaw the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Henry brought massive changes to the English Constitution. Under his reign, he brought in the theory of the divine right of kings. Included in this was the sovereign’s rule over the Church of England which set off the English Reformation- giving greater power to royals. Included in this was the outcome of the Dissolution of the Monasteries with money formerly being paid to Rome now being transformed into royal revenue.
With all that occurred during his time as King, he passed away at the age of 55 on 28 January 1547 on what would have been his father’s 90th birthday. Henry’s health was weak, mostly to do with his obesity, which shortened his life expectancy. On 14 February 1547 the coffin that his body lay was kept overnight at Syon Monastery before it finished its journey to St George’s Chapel, Windsor where it was to be buried.
Henry VIII was placed in his tomb in St George’s Chapel next to the one women to may have ever truly loved, Jane Seymour.
Photo Credit: Matthew G. Bisnaz via Wikimedia