Henry Tudor VIII (1491-1547)

Relation to me: 4th cousin 14x removed

Though Henry was a distant cousin of mine, I feel that one cannot go into writing about the 16th century without writing of him first, as he was such an important figure in the history of this time. Henry VIII was King of England from the 21st of April 1509 until his death in 1547. He was the second of the Tudor monarchs and succeeded his father, Henry VII. He’s best known for his six marriages, in particular in his efforts of having his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled. Henry’s disagreement with the Pope on the question of such an annulment led him to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority and appointing himself as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Despite being excommunicated, Henry remained a believer in the core Catholic theological teachings.

Domestically, Henry is known for his radical changes to the English Constitution, ushering in the theory of the divine rights of the kings to England. Besides asserting the sovereign’s supremacy over the Church of England, he greatly expanded royal power during his time as king. Charges of treason and heresy were common use to quash dissent, and those that had been accused were often executed without a formal trial, by the bills of attainder. Henry would achieve many of his political aims through the work of his chief ministers, some of whom were banished or executed when they fell out of favor with him. Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Richard Rich, and Thomas Cranmer all figured prominently in Henry’s administration. He was a great spender and used the proceeds from the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the acts of the Reformation Parliament to convert into the royal revenue the money that was formerly paid to Rome. Despite the influx of those sources, Henry was constantly on the verge of financial ruin. Due to his personal extravagance and his numerous costly wars, particularly with Francis I of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, as he sought to enforce his claims to the Kingdom of France. At home, Henry oversaw the legal union of England and Wales with the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542 and with the following Crown of Ireland Act of 1542. He would be the first English monarch to rule as King of Ireland.

Henry’s contemporaries considered him, in his prime, to be an attractive, well-educated, and accomplished king. He has been described as “one of the most charismatic rulers to sit on the English throne” and he was also an author and composer. As Henry grew older, he became severely obese and his health began to suffer, eventually contributing to his death in 1547. He is frequently characterized in his later life as a lustful, egotistical, harsh and insecure king, much different from his younger years. When he passed away, his son, Edward VI succeeded him as king.

Henry’s Early Years

Henry was born at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, London, England on the 28th of June 1491. He was the third child and second son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York (a Plantagenet). Out of his six siblings, only three—Arthur, the Prince of Wales; Margaret and Mary, would survive infancy. Henry was baptized by Richard Fox, the Bishop of Exeter at a church of the Observant Franciscans that was close to the palace. In 1493, when Henry was just two years of age, he was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. He was also appointed as the Earl Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland when he was just three years of age, and was inducted into the Order of the Bath soon after that. On the day of the ceremony for the Order of the Bath, he was also created Duke of York, and about a month later was made Warden of the Scottish Marches. In May of 1495, Henry was also appointed to the Order of the Garter. He was given a first-rate education from the leading tutors of the time and became fluent in Latin and French, but also learned some Italian. There’s not much else known of Henry’s early life, except for these appointments because he was not expected to become king. However, in November of 1501, Henry had played a considerable part in the ceremonies surrounding the marriage of his brother, Prince Arthur to Catherine of Aragon, the youngest surviving child of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. As the Duke of York, Henry would later use his father’s arms as king, though they were a little different, as he used a label of three points ermine.

Palace of Placentia

The Palace of Placentia


In 1502, Henry’s elder brother, Arthur, at the age of fifteen caught the sweating sickness and died. Arthur’s death would occur just twenty days after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. His death would thrust all of his duties upon his younger brother, the then ten-year-old Henry. After little debate, Henry became the new Duke of Cornwall in October of that year, and the new Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester in February of 1503. Henry VII gave the younger Henry a few tasks, he was strictly supervised and would not appear in public. As a result, the young Henry would later ascend to the throne “untrained in the exacting art of kingship”.

Henry VII would renew his efforts to seal a marital alliance between England and Spain by offering his second son in marriage to Arthur’s widow, Catherine. Both Isabella and Henry VII were keen on the idea that had arose very shortly after Arthur had died. On the 23rd of June, 1503, a treaty was signed for Henry VIII to be married to Catherine. They would be betrothed two days later. A papal dispensation was only needed for the “impediment of public honesty” if the marriage hadn’t been consummated, as Catherine and her duenna claimed, but Henry VII and the Spanish ambassador set out instead to obtain a dispensation for “affinity”. This took into account the possibility of consummation. The young Henry was only eleven years of age when he was betrothed to Catherine, and thus was prevented from cohabitation. Then in 1504, when Isabella had died and there became ensuing problems of succession in Castile, matters became complicated. Catherine’s father preferred for her to stay in England, but Henry VII’s relations with Ferdinand had deteriorated. Catherine was therefore left in limbo for some time, culminating in Prince Henry’s rejection of the marriage as soon as he was able to at the age of fourteen. Ferdinand’s solution to this was to make his daughter an ambassador, allowing her to stay in England indefinitely. Devout, Catherine began to believe that it was God’s will that she marry Prince Henry despite his opposition.

The Early Reign of Henry VIII

Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon


On the 21st of April 1509, Henry VII died and the seventeen-year-old Henry VIII succeeded him as king. Soon after his father’s burial on the 10th of May, Henry suddenly declared that he would marry Catherine, leaving unresolved several issues concerning papal dispensation and a missing part of the marriage portion. The new king had maintained that it had been his father’s dying wish that he marry Catherine. Whether or not this was really true, it was certainly convenient. The Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I had been trying to marry his granddaughter, and Catherine’s niece, Eleanor to Henry, and with the marriage being confirmed by Henry to Catherine, Eleanor was now jilted. Henry’s wedding to Catherine was kept low-key and was held at the friar’s church in Greenwich on the 11th of June, 1509. Henry would lead the now twenty-three-year-old Catherine from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey for their coronation on the 23rd of June 1509. The coronation took place the following day and was a grand affair. The king’s passage was lined with tapestries and laid with fine cloth. Following the ceremony, there was a grand banquet in Westminster Hall, as Catherine wrote to her father, “our time is spent in continuous festival”.

Two days after the coronation, Henry arrested his father’s two most unpopular ministers, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley. They would be charged with high treason and then executed in 1510. The historian Ian Crofton has maintained that these executions would become Henry’s primary tactic for dealing with people who stood in his way. The two executions were certainly not the last for Henry. He would also return to the public some of the money that had supposedly been extorted from them by the two executed ministers. By contrast, Henry’s view of the House of York, potential rival claimants for the throne, was more moderate than it had been for his father. Several who had been imprisoned by Henry VII, including the Marquess of Dorset, were pardoned and others, most notably Edmund de la Pole, went un-reconciled. De la Pole would eventually be beheaded in 1513. His execution was prompted by his brother Richard who sided against the king.

Soon after, Catherine was with child, but the baby, a girl, was stillborn on the 31st of January 1510. About four months later, Catherine again became pregnant. On New Years’ Day of 1511, their child, Henry, was born.

Mary Tudor
Mary Tudor

After dealing with the grief of losing their first child, the couple were pleased to have had a baby boy and a great many festivities were held, including a two-day joust known as the 1511 Westminster Tournament. However, baby Henry would pass away just seven weeks later. Catherine would have two more stillborn sons, born in 1514 and 1515, but then gave birth in February of 1516 to a girl, Mary. The relationship between Henry and Catherine had been strained, but they were somewhat reunited after the birth of Mary.

Although Henry’s marriage to Catherine has since been described as “unusually good”, it is known that Henry had taken mistresses. In 1510, it was revealed that Henry had been conducting an affair with one of the sisters of Edward Stafford, the 3rd Duke of Buckingham, either Elizabeth or Anne Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon. The most significant relationship that Henry had with a mistress had lasted for about three years, starting in 1516 and was with Elizabeth Blount. She is only one of two of Henry’s completely undisputed mistresses, which is a low number for such a virile young king. Exactly how many mistresses that Henry had is disputed, David Loades believes that Henry had mistresses “only to a very limited extent,” Alison Weir believes that the king had numerous other affairs.

Henry FitzRoy
Henry FitzRoy

Though he had mistresses, Catherine did not protest to it, and in 1518 she became pregnant again with another girl, but the baby was stillborn. Elizabeth Blount would give birth in June of 1519 to Henry’s illegitimate son, Henry FitzRoy. The young boy was made the Duke of Richmond in June of 1525 in what some had thought was a step towards him being considered legitimate. In 1533, Henry FitzRoy would marry Mary Howard, but he would die childless just three years after marrying. At the time of his death in June of 1536, the Parliament was in the process of enacting the Second Succession Act, which would have allowed for him to become king if he would have lived.

France and the Habsburgs

In 1510, the French, with a fragile alliance with the Holy Roman Empire in the League of Cambrai, was winning a war against Venice. Henry would renew his father’s friendship with Louis XII of France, an issue that would divide his council. War with the combined might of the two powers would have been exceedingly difficult. Shortly thereafter though, Henry also signed a pact with Ferdinand. After Pope Julius II had created the anti-French Holy League in October of 1511. Henry would follow Ferdinand’s lead and brought England into the League as well. Initially, a joint Anglo-Spanish attack had been planned for the spring, with the mission of recovering Aquitaine for England. This was the start of Henry’s dreams of ruling France becoming a reality. The attack that followed a formal declaration of war in April of 1512, was not led by Henry personally and was a considerable failure. Ferdinand used the attack simply to further his own goals, straining the Anglo-Spanish alliance. Nevertheless, the French were pushed out of Italy not long after and the alliance would survive. Both of the parties would be keen to further victories over the French. Henry then pulled off a diplomatic coup by convincing the Emperor to join the Holy League. Remarkably, he had also secured the promised title of “Most Christian King of France” from Julius and Henry’s coronation would possibly be performed by the Pope himself in Paris, but only if Louis could be defeated.

On the 30th of June, 1513, Henry would invade France, his troops would end up defeating a French army in the Battle of the Spurs, but only with relatively minor results. Not long after the English would take Therouanne and handed it over to Maximilian. A more significant settlement, Tournai, would follow. Henry led the army personally during this battle, complete with his large entourage. His absence from England, though, had prompted his brother-in-law, James IV of Scotland, to invade England at the behest of Louis. Nevertheless, the English army, which was overseen by Queen Catherine, decisively defeated the Scots at the Battle of Flodden on the 9th of September, 1513. Among those that died during the battle, was the Scottish king, thus ending Scotland’s brief involvement in the war. These campaigns would give Henry a taste of the military success that he so desired. Henry had been backing Ferdinand and Maximilian financially during the campaigns, but he would receive little in return. England’s coffers were now empty. With the replacement of Julius by Pope Leo X, who had been inclined to negotiate a peace agreement with France, Henry signed his own treaty with Louis. Henry’s sister Mary would become Louis’ wife, having previously been pledged to the younger Charles. Peace was secured for the following eight years, which was a remarkably long time for the period.

Charles V became King of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire after his grandfathers, Ferdinand in 1516 and Maximilian in 1519, had died. Francis I also became King of France when Louis died in 1515. This would leave three relatively young rulers and the opportunity for a clean slate for each of their countries. The careful diplomacy of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey resulted in the Treaty of London in 1518. It was aimed at uniting the kingdoms of western Europe, in the wake of a new Ottoman threat and it would seem as though the peace might be secured. Henry would meet Francis I on the 7th of June 1520 at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais for two weeks of lavish entertainment. Both kings were hopeful for friendly relations in place of the wars of the previous decade, the strong air of competition laid to rest any hopes of a renewal of the Treaty of London, however, and conflict was unavoidable. Henry had more in common with Charles, who he had met once before and once after meeting Francis. Charles brought the Empire into war with France during 1521 and Henry offered to mediate, but little had been achieved and by the end of the year, Henry had aligned England with Charles. Henry would still hold onto his previous aim of restoring English lands in France, but also sought to secure an alliance with Burgundy, then part of Charles’ realm, and the continued support of Charles. A small attack in the north of France made up little ground. Charles defeated and captured Francis at Pavia and was then able to dictate peace, but he thought that he had owed Henry nothing. When Henry sensed this, he decided to take England out of the war before his ally, signing the Treaty of the More on the 30th of August, 1525.

Henry Leaves Catherine

During Henry’s first marriage to Catherine of Aragon he was conducting an affair with Mary Boleyn who, at

Mary Boleyn
Mary Boleyn

the time, was his wife’s lady-in-waiting. There was speculation that two of Mary’s children, Henry and Catherine Carey, were fathered by Henry, however, this has never been 100% proven. Henry also never acknowledged them as his, but had acknowledged Henry FitzRoy, his son by Elizabeth Blount as his own. In 1525, as Henry had grown impatient with Catherine’s inability to produce the male heir that he so desired, he became enamored with Mary’s sister, Anne. She was a charismatic young woman, then being twenty-five years of age, and was in the Queen’s entourage. Anne, however, resisted his attempts at seducing her and also refused to become his mistress as her sister was. It was in this context that Henry began weighing his three options for finding a dynastic successor and hence resolving what came to be described at court as the King’s “great matter”. These options consisted of legitimizing Henry FitzRoy, which would take the intervention of the pope and would be open to challenge; marrying off his daughter Mary as soon as possible, but she was considered unlikely to conceive before her father’s death; or he could somehow reject Catherine and marry someone else, who was of child-bearing age. Henry probably saw the possibility of marrying Anne, thus ultimately choosing his third option of somehow leaving Catherine. It was a decision that would lead him to reject papal authority and ultimately initiate the English Reformation.

Henry’s exact motivations and intentions over the coming years are not widely agreed upon. Henry was himself, at least in the early part of his reign, a devout and well-informed Catholic to the extent that his 1521 publication “Assertio Septem Sacramentorum” (Defense of the Seven Sacraments), which had earned him the title of Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) from Pope Leo X. This work represented a staunch defense of papal supremacy, albeit one couched in somewhat contingent terms. It’s not absolutely clear when Henry changed his mind on the issue as he grew more intent on a second marriage. It’s pretty certain that by 1527 he had convinced himself that by marrying Catherine, his brother’s wife, he had acted contrary to Leviticus 20:21, an impediment that the Pope had never had (he now believed) the authority to dispense with. It was this argument that Henry took before Pope Clement VII in 1527 with hopes of having his marriage from Catherine annulled, forgoing at least one less openly defiant line of attack. By going public, all hopes of tempting Catherine to retire to a nunnery or otherwise stay quiet were lost. Henry had sent his secretary, William Knight, to appeal directly to the Holy See by way of a deceptively worded draft papal bull. Knight was unsuccessful though and the Pope couldn’t be misled as easily as thought.

Other missions would concentrate on arranging an ecclesiastical court to meet in England with a representative from Clement VII. Though Clement had agreed to the creation of such a court, he never had intentions of empowering his legate, Lorenzo Campeggio, to decide in Henry’s favor. This bias was perhaps the result of pressure from Charles V, Catherine’s nephew, though it’s not clear how far this influenced either Campeggio or the Pope. After less than two months of hearing evidence, Clement called the case back to Rome in July of 1529, from which it was clear that it would never re-emerge. With the chance for an annulment lost and England’s place in Europe forfeit, Cardinal Wolsey bore the blame and was charged with praemunire in October of that year, his fall from grace was “sudden and total”. After being briefly reconciled and officially pardoned by Henry in the first half of 1530, Wolsey was charged once more in November of 1530, this time for treason. While awaiting trial, Wolsey passed away. After a short period of taking the weight of the government on his shoulders, Henry appointed Sir Thomas More to take on the role of Lord Chancellor and chief minister. More was intelligent and able, but also was a devout Catholic and opponent of the annulment, he would initially cooperate with the king’s new policy and denounced Wolsey in Parliament.

A year later, Catherine would be banished from court and her rooms were given to Anne Boleyn. Anne was unusually educated and was an intellectual woman for her time. She had keenly absorbed and engaged with the ideas of the Protestant Reformers, though the extent to which she was a committed Protestant is much debated still today. When Archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham, died, Anne’s influence and need to find a trustworthy supporter of the annulment had Thomas Cranmer appointed to the vacant position. This was approved of by the Pope who was unaware of the King’s nascent plans for the Church.

Henry’s Marriage to Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn

During the winter of 1532, Henry met with Francis I of Calais, enlisting the support of the French king for his new marriage. Immediately after returning to Dover in England, Henry, who was now forty-one years old, and Anne who was now thirty-two, went through a secret wedding service. Anne would quickly become pregnant and there would be a second wedding service in London on the 25th of January 1533. On the 23rd of May, Cranmer, sitting in judgment at a special court that was convened at Dunstable Priory to rule on the validity of the king’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, declared that the marriage of Henry and Catherine be null and void. Just five days after, on the 28th, Cranmer declared that Henry and Anne’s marriage was valid. Catherine was formally stripped of her title as queen, becoming instead “princess dowager” as the widow of Arthur. In her place, Anne was crowned queen consort on the 1st of June. Anne would give birth to a daughter who was slightly premature on the 7th of September of that same year. The child was christened as Elizabeth, in honor of Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York.

Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I

Following their marriage, there was a time of consolidation taking the form of a series of statutes of the Reformation Parliament that was aimed at finding solutions to any remaining issues, while still protecting the new reforms from challenge, convincing the public of their legitimacy and exposing and dealing with opponents. Although canon law was dealt with at length by Cranmer and others, these acts were advanced upon by Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Audley and the Duke of Norfolk, as well as Henry himself. With the process completed in May of 1532, More resigned as Lord Chancellor leaving Cromwell as Henry’s chief minister. With the Act of Succession 1533, Catherine’s daughter Mary was declared illegitimate, his marriage to Anne was declared legitimate and Anne’s issue was decided to be the next in line of succession. With the Acts of Supremacy of 1534, Parliament also recognized that the King’s status as head of the church of England. The Act in Restraint of Appeals of 1532, abolished the right of appeal to Rome. It was only then that Pope Clement began taking the steps of excommunicating Henry and Thomas Cranmer, although excommunication was not made official until some time later.

Henry and Anne were not pleased with being married to one another. The royal couple enjoyed periods of calm and affection, but Anne refused to play the submissive role that Henry expected of her. The vivacity and opinionated intellect that had made Anne so attractive as the illicit love to Henry, now made her too independent for the largely ceremonial role of a royal wife, and also made her many enemies. Henry also disliked Anne’s constant irritability and violent temper. After a false pregnancy or miscarriage in 1534, Henry saw her failure to give him a son as a betrayal. In as early as Christmas of 1534, Henry was discussing with Cranmer and Cromwell the chances of him leaving Anne without having to return to Catherine. He was traditionally believed to have had an affair with Margaret (“Madge”) Shelton in 1535, although the historian Antonia Fraser argues Henry had in fact had an affair with her sister Mary Shelton.

Opposition to Henry’s religious policies was quickly suppressed in England. A number of dissenting monks, including the Carthusian Martyrs, were all executed and many more pilloried. The most prominent resisters had included John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester and Sir Thomas More, both of whom had refused to take the oath to the king. Neither Henry or Cromwell sought to have the men executed, rather, they had hoped that the two might change their minds and save themselves. Fisher would openly reject Henry as the supreme head of the Church, but Thomas More was careful to avoid openly breaking the Treason Act, which unlike later acts, didn’t forbid mere silence. Both of these men were subsequently convicted of high treason, but More was convicted of it on evidence of a single conversation that he had with Richard Rich, the Solicitor General. The men were both executed in the summer of 1535.

These suppressions, as well as the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act of 1536, would contribute to the more general resistance of Henry’s reforms, most notably in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a large uprising in northern England in October of 1536. Some twenty thousand to forty thousand rebels that were led by Robert Aske with parts of the northern nobility were involved. Henry VIII promised the rebels that he would pardon them and also thanked them for raising the issues. Aske told the rebels that they had been successful and that they could disperse and go home. He had seen the rebels as traitors and didn’t feel like he needed to keep his promise to them. Therefore, when further violence occurred after Henry’s offer of a pardon he was quick to break the promise of clemency. The leaders, including Aske, were arrested and executed for treason. In total, about two hundred rebels were executed, and the disturbances ended.

Execution of Anne Boleyn

On the 8th of January 1536, the news had reached the king and queen that Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had died. Henry had called for public displays of joy regarding her death and Queen Anne was pregnant again, but was aware of the consequences if she would fail to give birth to a son. Later on in January, Henry was unhorsed in a tournament and was badly injured to the point that it seemed as though his life was in danger. When the news of the accident had reached Queen Anne she was shocked and ended up miscarrying a male child that was about fifteen weeks old. This occurred on the same day as Catherine’s funeral, the 29th of January 1536. For most observers of the birth this was a personal loss as they believed it was the beginning of the end of Henry and Anne’s marriage. Given the king’s desperate desire for a son, the sequence of Anne’s pregnancies has attracted a lot of interest. An author, Mike Ashley speculates that Anne had two stillborn children after Elizabeth’s birth and before the birth of the male child Anne had miscarried in 1536. Most sources attest only to the birth of Elizabeth in September of 1533, a possible miscarriage in the summer of 1534 and the miscarriage of the male child, of almost four months gestation in January of 1536.

Although Anne’s family still held important positions on the Privy Council, Anne had a great deal of enemies, including the Duke of Suffolk. Her own uncle, the Duke of Norfolk had come to resent her attitude towards her power as well. The Boleyns preferred France over the Emperor as a potential ally, but King Henry’s favor had swung towards the latter, partially because of Cromwell, damaging the family’s influence. The supporters of the reconciliation of the now mature, Princess Mary and King Henry, among these the former supporters of Catherine as well, were also opposed to Queen Anne. A second annulment was now a real possibility, even though it’s commonly believed that it was Cromwell’s anti-Boleyn influence that had led her opponents to look for a way of having her executed.

Anne’s downfall came shortly after she had recovered from her final miscarriage. Whether it was primarily the result of the allegations of conspiracy, adultery, or witchcraft remains a matter of much debate among historians. The early signs of Anne’s fall from grace, included the King’s new mistress, the twenty-eight year old Jane Seymour, being moved into new quarters and Anne’s brother, George Boleyn, being refused the Order of the Garter, which was instead given to Nicholas Carew. Sometime between the 30th of April and the 2nd of May, five men, including Anne’s brother, were arrested on charges of treasonable adultery. They were also accused of having sexual relationships with the queen. Anne was also arrested and accused of treasonous adultery and incest. Although the evidence against all of them was unconvincing, the accused were found guilty and condemned to death. The accused men were executed on the 17th of May of 1536, and Anne at 8am on the 19th of May 1536. Anne was just thirty-six years old and was executed on Tower Green at the Tower of London.

Memorial at Tower of London
The memorial that stands today in the Tower of London where many were put to death

Henry’s Marriage to Jane Seymour and Domestic and Foreign Affairs

Jane Seymour
Jane Seymour

The day after Anne was executed, forty-five year old Henry became engaged to Jane Seymour who had been one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. They were married ten days later. On the 12th of October 1537, Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, the future Edward VI. The birth was difficult and Jane died on the 24th of October 1537 from an infection and was buried in Windsor Castle. The euphoria that had accompanied Edward’s birth became sorrow, but it was only over time that Henry had came to long for his wife. At the time, Henry had recovered quickly from the shock and measures were immediately put into place to find another wife for him, which, at the insistence of Cromwell and the court, were focused on the European continent.

With Charles V distracted by internal politics of his many kingdoms and external threats, and Henry and Francis on relatively good terms, domestic and foreign policy issues had been Henry’s priority in the first half of the 1530s. In 1536, for example, Henry had granted his assent to the Laws in Wales Act of 1535, which legally annexed Wales, uniting England and Wales into a single nation. This would be followed by the Second Succession Act (the Act of Succession 1536), which declared Henry’s children by Jane to be the next in line of succession and declared both Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate, thus excluding them from the throne. The king

Edward VI
Edward VI

was also given the power to further determine the line of succession in his will if he had no further issue. However, when Charles and Francis made peace in January of 1539, Henry became increasingly paranoid, possibly as a result of receiving a constant list of threats to the kingdom, real or imaginary, minor or serious they were supplied by Cromwell in his role as spymaster. Enriched by the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry used some of his financial reserves to build a series of coastal defenses and set it aside for use in the event of a Franco-German invasion.

Henry’s Marriage to Anne of Cleves

Having considered the matter of Henry wanting a new wife, Cromwell, now the Earl of Essex, suggested Anne of Cleves, the twenty-five year old sister of the Duke of Cleves, who was seen as an important ally in the case of a Roman Catholic attack on England, for the duke fell between Lutheranism and Catholicism. Hans Holbein the Younger was sent to Cleves to paint a portrait of Anne for King Henry. Despite

Anne of Cleves
Anne of Cleves

the speculation that Holbein painted her in an overly flattering light, it’s more likely that the portrait was accurate. Holbein still remained in favor at court though. After seeing Holbein’s portrait, and urged on by the complimentary description of Anne given by his courtiers, now forty-nine year old Henry agreed to wed Anne. However, it wasn’t long before Henry had wished to annul the marriage so that he could marry another. Anne didn’t argue and confirmed that the marriage had never been consummated. Anne was previously betrothed to the Duke of Lorraine’s son Francis, which would provide further grounds for their annulment. The marriage was subsequently dissolved and Anne received the title of “The King’s Sister”, along with two houses and a generous allowance. It was soon clear that King Henry had fallen for a seventeen-year-old by the name of Catherine Howard, the Duke of Norfolk’s niece. The politics around all of this worried Cromwell, for Norfolk was a political opponent of Cromwell’s.

Not long after the annulment, the religious reformers Robert Barnes, William Jerome and Thomas Garret, who were also proteges of Cromwell, were all burned as heretics. In the meantime, Cromwell fell out of favor as well, although it’s unclear why. Despite his role, he was never formally accused of being responsible for Henry’s failed marriage. With Norfolk also able to draw on his niece’s position, Cromwell was now surrounded by enemies at court. He was charged with treason, selling export licenses, granting passports, and drawing up commissions without permission, and might have also been blamed for the failure of foreign policy that had accompanied the attempted marriage to Anne. He was subsequently attained and beheaded.

Henry Marries Catherine Howard

On the same day that Cromwell was executed, the 28th of July 1540, Henry married the young Catherine Howard. She was a first cousin and lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn. He was absolutely delighted with his new queen and awarded her the lands of Cromwell and a vast array of jewelry. Soon after they were married though, Queen Catherine had an affair with courtier Thomas Culpeper. She also employed Francis Dereham, who had previously been informally engaged to her and had an affair with her before she was married to Henry, as her secretary. The court was informed of their affair while Henry was away and they dispatched Thomas Cranmer to investigate the situation. He’d bring evidence of the Queen’s previous affair with

Catherine Howard born 1523
Catherine Howard

Dereham to the king’s notice. Henry originally refused to believe the allegations, but Dereham soon confessed. It took another meeting of the council though before Henry had believed the accusations against Dereham. At that point Henry flew into a rage and blamed the council before he went off hunting. When questioned, Queen Catherine could have admitted a prior contract to marry Dereham, which would have made her subsequent marriage to Henry invalid, but instead she claimed that Dereham had forced her to enter into the adulterous relationship. In the meantime, Dereham exposed Catherine’s relationship with Culpeper. Both of the men were executed and Catherine was left to be beheaded on the 13th of February 1542, she would have been only about eighteen or nineteen years of age.

Shrines Destroyed and Monasteries Dissolved

In 1538, the chief minister, Thomas Cromwell pursued an extensive campaign against what was termed “idolatry” by the old religion’s followers. The campaign began in September with the dismantling of the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury. As a consequence, King Henry was excommunicated by Pope Paul III on the 17th of December of that year. Two years later, Henry sanctioned a complete destruction of the shrines of saints. Two years after that, England’s remaining monasteries were all dissolved and their property transferred to the Crown. The abbots and priors had lost their seats in the House of Lords, only the Archbishops and bishops still remained. Consequently, the Lords Spiritual, as members of the clergy with seats in the House of Lords were known and were, for the first time outnumbered by the Lords Temporal.

The Second Invasion of France and the “Rough Wooing” of Scotland

A year after Thomas Cromwell had set out to pursue his campaign, an alliance between Francis and Charles had soured. Eventually their relationship deteriorated so much that the war between them was renewed. With Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn both dead, relations between Charles and Henry started to greatly improve. Henry concluded a secret alliance with the Emperor and decided to enter the Italian War in the favor of his new ally. An invasion of France was planned for 1543. While preparing for the invasion, Henry moved to eliminate the potential threat of Scotland under the youthful James V. The Scots would be defeated at the Battle of Solway Moss on the 24th of November of 1542. James would die on the 15th of December. Henry was now hoping that he could unite the crowns of England and Scotland by marrying his son Edward to James’ successor, Mary. The Scottish Regent Lord Arran had agreed to the marriage in the Treaty of Greenwich on the 1st of July of 1543, but it was rejected by the Parliament of Scotland, this campaign was later dubbed as “the Rough Wooing”. Despite several peace treaties, the unrest would continue in Scotland until Henry’s death.

Even though Scotland had early been successful early on in the campaign, Henry hesitated to invade France, which annoyed Charles. He would finally go to France in June of 1544 with a two-pronged attack. One force under Norfolk had besieged Montreuil, but they were ineffective. The other force, under Suffolk, would lay siege to Boulogne. Henry later took personal command of Suffolk’s forces, and Boulogne would fall on the 18th of September of 1544. However, Henry would refuse Charles’ request to march against Paris and Charles’ own campaign fizzled out, and he reached a peace agreement with France on the same day. Henry was left alone in going up against France as he was unable to make peace with them. Francis tried to invade England in the summer of 1545 and would reach the Isle of Wight before he was stopped. With both sides being financially broke, France and England signed the Treaty of Camp on the 7th of June of 1546. Henry secured Boulogne for eight years, then the city was returned to France for two million crowns (750,000 pounds), of which Henry had really needed this money. In his 1544 campaign he had lost 650,000 pounds and England was then, once again, bankrupt.

Henry’s Marriage to Catherine Parr

Katheryn Parr
Catherine Parr

Henry married his final wife, the wealthy widow Catherine Parr, in July of 1543. She was a reformer at heart and argued with Henry a lot over religion. Ultimately though, Henry remained committed to an idiosyncratic mixture of Catholicism and Protestantism. This reactionary mood after the fall of Cromwell, gained him ground, but neither eliminated his Protestant streak nor was overcome by it. Catherine Parr helped to reconcile Henry with his daughters Mary and Elizabeth. In 1543, by an Act of Parliament, the girls were put back in the line of succession after their brother, Edward. This same act had allowed Henry to determine further succession to the throne in his will.

Henry’s Physical Decline and Death

In Henry’s later life he had become obese and had a waist measuring fifty-four inches. He had to be assisted by mechanical inventions to move around. The king was covered with painful, pus-filled boils and had possibly suffered from gout as well. His obesity and other medical conditions can be traced from his jousting accident in 1536. The accident had re-opened and aggravated a previous injury he had sustained years earlier to the extent that his doctors had found it difficult to treat. The wound festered for the remainder of his life and became ulcerated which prevented him from maintaining the level of physical activity that he had previously enjoyed. The jousting accident also is believed to have caused Henry to have mood swings, which may have had a great effect on his personality and temperament.

Many historians have dismissed the theory that Henry suffered from syphilis. The historian Susan Maclean Kybett attributes his demise to scurvy, which is caused by a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. Alternatively, Henry’s wives’ pattern of pregnancies and his mental deterioration have led some to suggest that Henry may have been Kell positive and had suffered from McLeod Syndrome. When I read about this I did not know what either of these were. When one is Kell positive, a group of antigens on the human red blood cell surface which is important in determining blood type and are targets for autoimmune or allo-immune diseases which destroy the red blood cells. McLeod Syndrome is an X-linked recessive genetic disorder that may affect the blood, brain, peripheral nerves, muscles and heart. It is caused by a variety of repressively inherited mutations in the XK gene on the X chromosome. The gene is responsible for producing the Kx protein, a secondary supportive protein for the Kell antigen on the red blood cell surface. According to another study, Henry’s history and body morphology may have been the result of a traumatic brain injury after the 1536 jousting accident, which in turn led to a neuro-endocrine cause of his obesity. The analysis identifies a growth hormone deficiency (GHD) as the source for his increased adiposity, but also is significant to his behavioral changes that were noted in his later years, including his multiple marriages.

Henry’s obesity hastened his death at the age of fifty-five, which had occurred on the 28th of January 1547 in the Palace of Whitehall on what would have been his father’s 90th birthday. Allegedly, Henry’s last words were “Monks! Monks! Monks!” which possibly was in reference to the monks that he caused to be evicted during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Henry was interred in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle next to his wife, Jane Seymour. Over a hundred years later, King Charles I was also buried in Henry’s vault.

Henrys Tomb
The marker over where Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, King Charles I and an infant son of Anne Boleyn are buried


When Henry passed away, he was succeeded by his son Edward VI. However, since Edward was only nine years old when his father died, he couldn’t rule directly. Instead, Henry’s will designated sixteen executors to serve on a council of regency until Edward had reached eighteen years of age. The executors chose Edward Seymour, the 1st Earl of Hertford and Jane Seymour’s elder brother, to be the Lord Protector of the Realm. If Edward was to die without having children, the throne would then pass down to Mary, Henry’s daughter with Catherine of Aragon, and her heirs. If Mary’s issue failed, the crown was to go to Elizabeth, Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn, and her heirs. If Elizabeth’s line became extinct, the crown was to be inherited by the descendants of Henry’s deceased younger sister, Mary, the Greys. The descendants of Henry’s sister Margaret, the Stuarts who were rulers of Scotland, were thereby excluded from succession. The final provision would fail when James VI of Scotland became King of England in 1603.

Henry’s Public Image

Henry’s image was that of a Renaissance man and his court was a center of scholarly and artistic innovation and glamorous excess, epitomized by the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Henry would search the country for choirboys, taking some directly from Wolsey’s choir and introduced Renaissance music into his court. Musicians at Henry’s court would include Benedict de Opitiis, Richard Sampson, Ambrose Lupo and the Venetian organist Dionisio Memo.

Henry had kept a considerable collection of instruments himself and was skilled in playing the lute, the organ and was also a talented player of the virginals. He was also able to sight read music and sang quite well. He was an accomplished musician, author and poet as well, his best known piece of music is “Pastime with Good Company”. Henry is quite often reported to have written “Greensleeves” but this is probably wrong.

He had also enjoyed gambling and was a dice player, and as a young man excelled at sports, especially jousting, hunting and real tennis. Henry was known for his strong defense of conventional Christian piety and was involved in the original construction and improvement of several significant buildings, including Nonsuch Palace, King’s College Chapel, Cambridge and Westminster Abbey in London. Many of the existing buildings that Henry had improved were the properties that he confiscated from Wolsey, including Christ Church, Oxford; Hampton Court Palace; the Palace of Whitehall and Trinity College in Cambridge.

Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace as it is today

King Henry was considered to have been an intellectual, the first English king with a modern humanist education. He read and wrote in English, French and Latin and was also at home in his well-stocked library. He had personally annotated many books and wrote and published one of his own as well. To promote the public support for the reformation of the church, Henry had numerous pamphlets and lectures prepared as well. For example, Richad Sampson’s “Oratio” (1534) was an argument for the absolute obedience to the monarchy and had claimed that the English church had always been independent from Rome. At the popular level, the theatre and minstrel troupes that were funded by the crown would travel around the lands to promote the new religious practices. Both the pope and the Catholic priests and monks were mocked as foreign devils, while the glorious king was hailed as a brave and heroic defender of the true faith. Henry would work hard to present an image of unchallenging authority and irresistible power.

Standing at six feet and with a strong and broad body, Henry was considered a well-built athlete. He excelled at jousting and hunting, but everything he participated in was more than a beloved pastime, but were political devices that would serve multiple goals, from enhancing his athletic royal image to impressing foreign emissaries and rulers, to conveying his ability to suppress any rebellion. Henry had arranged a jousting tournament at Greenwich in 1517, where he wore gilded armor, gilded horse trappings and outfits of velvet, satin and cloths of gold dripping with pearls and jewels. It suitable impressed foreign ambassadors, one of which wrote home that “The wealth and civilisation of the world are here, and those who call the English barbarians appear to me to render themselves such”. Henry would finally retire from jousting in 1536 after a heavy fall from his horse that left him unresponsive for two hours, but he would continue to sponsor two lavish tournaments per year. He then started to add on weight and lost his trim, athletic figure that had made him so handsome. Henry’s courtiers started to dress in heavily padded clothing to emulate and flatter their increasingly stout monarch. As I stated earlier, towards the end of Henry’s life his health quickly declined.

Henry’s Government

The power of the Tudor monarchs, including Henry, was ‘whole’ and ‘entire’. They ruled, as they claimed, by the grace of God alone. The crown could rely on the exclusive use of those functions that constituted the royal prerogative, including the acts of diplomacy (including royal marriages), declaration of war, management of the coinage, the issue of royal pardons and the power to summon and dissolve parliament as and when it was required. Nonetheless, as was evident during Henry’s break with Rome, the monarch worked within established limits, whether legal or financial, that forced him to work closely with both the nobility and parliament, representing the gentry.

In practice, the Tudor monarchs used patronage to keep up the royal court that included formal institutions like the Privy Council and more informal advisers and confidants. Both the rise and fall of court nobles could be swift. The quoted figure, during just Henry’s reign, of 72,000 is inflated. There’s no doubt that Henry did execute at will, burning and beheading two of his wives, twenty peers, four leading public servants, six close attendants and friends, one cardinal and numerous abbots. Among those that were in favor of Henry at any given point, one could usually be identified as a chief minister, though a continuing debate in historiography of the time has been the extent to which those chief masters controlled Henry rather than vice versa. In particular, the historian G. R. Elton has argued that one minister, Thomas Cromwell, led a “Tudor revolution in government” quite independent of the king. Elton presents Cromwell as an opportunistic, essentially lazy participant in the nitty-gritty of politics. When Henry did intervene personally in the running of the country, Elton argues, that he mostly did so to it’s detriment. The prominence and influence of faction in Henry’s court is similarly discussed in the context of at least five episodes of Henry’s reign, including the downfall of Anne Boleyn.

From 1514 until 1529, Thomas Wolsey, a cardinal of the established church, had overseen the domestic and

Thomas Wolsey
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey

foreign policy for the young king from his position as Lord Chancellor. Cardinal Wolsey had centralized the national government and extended his jurisdiction of the conciliar courts, in particular the Star Chamber. The Star Chamber’s overall structure remained unchanged, but Wolsey used it to provide for the much-needed reform of criminal law. The power of the court itself didn’t outlive Wolsey though as no serious administrative reform was undertaken and its role was eventually devolved to the localities. Wolsey had also helped to fill the gap that was left by Henry’s declining participation in the government, in particular in comparison to his father, but mostly did so by imposing himself in the King’s place. Wolsey’s use of these courts in pursuing his personal grievances, and in particular to treat delinquents as if they were mere examples of a whole class worthy of punishment, angered the rich, who were annoyed as well by his enormous wealth and ostentatious living. Following his downfall , Henry took full control of his government, although at court the numerous complex factions continued to try to ruin and destroy one another.

Thomas Cromwell
Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell also defined Henry’s government. After returning to England from mainland Europe in 1514 or 1515, Cromwell had soon entered Wolsey’s service. He turned to law and also picked up knowledge of the Bible, and was admitted to Gray’s Inn in 1524, becoming Wolsey’s “man of all work”. Cromwell was driven in part by his religious beliefs and attempted to reform the political body of the English government through discussion and consent, as well as through vehicle continuity and not outward change. Thomas Cromwell was seen by many people as the man who they wanted to bring about their shared goals, including Thomas Audley. By 1531, Cromwell and those that were associated with him were already responsible for drafting a lot of legislation. His first office was that of master of the king’s jewels in 1532, from which he started to invigorate the government’s finances. By this point, Cromwell’s power as an efficient administrator in a council full of politicians exceeded what Wolsey had achieved in his time.

Cromwell did a lot of work through his many offices to remove tasks of the government from the Royal Household and ideologically from the personal body of the king and into a public state. He had done this in a haphazard fashion that would leave several remnants, not lease because he needed to retain Henry’s support, his own power and the possibility of actually achieving the plan he set out. He’d make various income streams that were placed by Henry VII more formal and also assigned largely autonomous bodies for their administration. The role of the King’s Council was transferred to a reformed Privy Council that was much smaller and more efficient than what the previous council had been. A difference emerged between the financial health of the king and that of the country, though Cromwell’s fall undermined much of his bureaucracy, which required his hand to keep order among the many new bodies and prevented profligate spending that had strained relations as well as finances. Cromwell’s reforms came to a stop in 1539, his initiative lost, and he had failed to secure passage of an enabling act, the Proclamation by the Crown Act of 1539. He would also be executed on the 28th of July 1540.


Henry inherited a vast fortune and prosperous economy from his father Henry VII. His father had been frugal and careful with his money and the fortune was estimated to 1,250,000 pounds, today that would be equivalent to 375 million pounds. By comparison, however, Henry VIII’s reign was a near-disaster in terms of financials. Although he had further augmented his royal treasury through the seizure of church lands, Henry’s heavy spending and long periods of mismanagement damaged the economy.

Much of Henry’s wealth had been spent on the maintenance of his court and household, including the many building works that he undertook on his other royal palaces. Henry hung two thousand tapestries in his palaces, by comparison, James V of Scotland hung just two hundred. Henry also took pride in showing off his weapons collection, including exotic archery equipment, 2,250 pieces of land ordnance and 6,500 handguns. The Tudors had to fund all the expenses of government out of their own income, which came from the Crown lands that Henry had owned, as well as from customs duties like tonnage and poundage granted by parliament to King Henry for life. During Henry’s reign the revenues of the Crown had remained constant at around 100,000 pounds, but were eroded by inflation and the rising prices that were brought about by war. Indeed, war and Henry’s dynastic ambitions in Europe exhausted the surplus that he had inherited from his father by the mid-1520s.

Henry’s father had not involved Parliament in his affairs very much, but Henry had to turn to Parliament during his reign for money, in particular for grants of subsidies to fund his wars. The Dissolution of the Monasteries provided a means to replenish the treasury and because of this the Crown took possession of monastic lands that were worth 120,000 pounds per year, today being 36 million pounds. The Crown would profit a small amount in 1526 when Wolsey put England onto a gold, rather than silver, standard and had debased the currency slightly. Cromwell debased the currency more significantly, starting in Ireland in 1540. The English pound halved in value against the Flemish pound between 1540 and 1551 as a result. The normal profit made was significant, helping to bring income and expenditure together, but it had a catastrophic effect on the overall economy of the country. In part, it had helped bring about a time of very high inflation from 1544 on.


Henry Tudor is generally credited with initiating the English Reformation, the process of transforming England from a Catholic country to a Protestant one, though his progress at the elite and mass levels is disputed and the precise narrative not widely agreed. However, it is certain that in 1527, Henry was an observant and well-informed Catholic, appealed to the Pope for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine. No annulment was immediately forthcoming, which resulted in part of Charles V’s control of the Papacy. The traditional narrative gives this refusal as a trigger for Henry rejecting papal supremacy, which he had previously defended. Historian A. F. Pollard has however, argued, even if Henry hadn’t needed an annulment, he might have come to reject papal control over the governance of England, just for political reasons.

In any case, from 1532 to 1537, Henry would institute a number of statutes that would deal with the relationship between the king and the pope, hence the structure of the Church of England. These statutes would include the Statute in Restraint of Appeal that was passed in 1533, which would extend the charge of praemunire against all that introduced papal bulls into England, potentially exposing them to the death penalty if they were found guilty. Other acts included the Supplication Against the Ordinaries and the Submission of the Clergy which would recognize Royal Supremacy over the church. The Ecclesiastical Appointments Act of 1534 would require that the clergy elect bishops that were nominated by the Sovereign. Then the Act of Supremacy of 1534 had declared the King was “the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England” and the Treasons Act of 1534 made it high treason that was punishable by death if one refused the Oath of Supremacy that had acknowledged the King as such. Similarly, following the Act of Succession of 1533, all adults of the Kingdom were required to acknowledge the Act’s provisions (declaring that Henry’s marriage to Anne was legitimate and his marriage to Catherine was not) by oath. Those that refused to take the oath were subject to imprisonment for the remainder of their life and any publisher or printer of any literature alleging that the marriage to Anne was invalid was subject to the death penalty. Finally, the Peter’s Pence Act was passed and it reiterated that England had “no superior under God, but only your Grace” and that Henry’s “imperial crown” had been diminished by “the unreasonable and uncharitable usurpations and exactions” of the Pope. The King had great support from the Church when under Cranmer.

To Thomas Cromwell’s annoyance, Henry had insisted on parliamentary time to discuss questions of faith, which he had achieved through the Duke of Norfolk. This would lead to the passing of the Act of Six Articles, of which six major questions were all answered by the asserting religious orthodoxy, thus restraining the reform movement in England. This act was followed by the start of a reformed liturgy and of the Book of Common Prayer, which would take until 1549 to complete. The victory that was won by religious conservatives didn’t convert into much change in personnel however, and Cranmer remained in his position. Overall, the rest of Henry’s reign would see a subtle movement away from religious orthodoxy that was helped in part by the deaths of prominent figures from before the break with Rome, especially the execution of Thomas More and John Fisher in 1535 for refusing to renounce papal authority. Henry would establish a new political theology of obedience to the crown that would continue for the next decade. It would reflect Martin Luther’s new interpretation of the fourth commandment stating “Honour thy father and mother”, that was brought to England by William Tyndale. The founding of the royal authority on the Ten Commandments was another important change. Reformers within the Church would use the Commandments’ emphasis on faith and the word of God, while conservatives emphasized the need for dedication to God and doing good things. The reformers’ efforts laid behind the publication of the Great Bible in 1539 in English. Protestant Reformers still faced persecution, particularly over their objections to Henry’s annulment. Many would flee abroad, including the influential Tyndale, who was eventually executed and his body burned on Henry’s order.

Taxes that were once payable to Rome were transferred to the Crown under these new laws. Cromwell saw the need to assess the taxable value of the Church’s extensive holdings as they stood in 1535. In September of that year, Cromwell commissioned a more general visitation of religious institutions to be undertaken by four appointee visitors. The visitation had focused almost exclusively on the country’s religious houses, with largely negative conclusions. In addition to reporting back to Cromwell, the visitors made the lives of monks more difficult by enforcing strict behavioral standards, the result was to encourage self-dissolution. In any case, the evidence gathered by Cromwell led quickly to the start of state-enforced dissolution of the monasteries, with all religious houses worth less than two hundred pounds vested by the Statute in Crown in January of 1536. After a short break, the surviving religious houses were transferred one by one to the Crown and onto new owners, and the dissolution was confirmed by a further statute in 1539. By January of 1540, no such houses remained, some eight hundred had been dissolved. The process had been efficient, with only minimal resistance and brought the crown around 90,000 pounds a year. The extent to which dissolution of all houses was planned from the start is still debated by historians and there is no evidence that major houses were originally intended only to be reformed. Cromwell’s actions had transferred a fifth of England’s landed wealth to new hands. The program was designed primarily to create a landed gentry beholden to the crown, which would use the lands much more efficiently. Although only little opposition to supremacy could be found in England’s religious houses, they had links to the international church and were an obstacle to any further religious reform.

The responses to reforms was mixed. Religious houses had been the only support of the impoverished and the reforms alienated a lot of the population outside of London, helping to provoke the great northern rising of 1536-1537, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. In other areas, the changes were accepted and welcomed, and those who clung to Catholic rites kept quiet or moved in secrecy. They would only re-emerge during the reign of Henry’s daughter Mary.


Apart from permanent garrisons at Berwick, Calais, and Carlisle, England’s standing army numbered only a few hundred men. This number would be increased only slightly by King Henry. His invading force of 1513 numbered around 30,000 men and was composed of billmen and longbow men, at a time when other European nations were moving to hand guns and pikemen. The difference in the capability was, at this stage, not significant though, as Henry’s men had new armor and weaponry. They were also supported by a battlefield artillery and the war wagon, relatively new innovations of the time. They were also backed by several large and expensive siege guns. The invading forces of 1544 were similarly well-equipped and organized, although command on the battlefield laid with the dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk, which in the case of latter produced disastrous results at Montreuil.

Henry is traditionally cited as one of the founders of the Royal Navy. Technologically, Henry invested in large cannons for his warships, an idea that had taken hold in other countries to replace smaller serpentines that were in use previously. He had also flirted with the designing of ships personally, although his contribution to larger vessels, if any, is not known. It is believed that Henry had influenced the design of row-barges and similar galleys. Henry was also responsible for creating a permanent navy, with the support of anchorages and dockyards. Tactically, Henry’s reign would see the navy move away from boarding tactics to employ gunnery instead. The navy was enlarged by up to fifty ships (the Mary Rose as one of them), and Henry was responsible for establishing the “council for marine causes” to specifically oversee all maintenance and operation of the Navy, becoming the basis for later Admiralty.

A threat of a large-scale French or Spanish invasion would take place when Henry broke away from Rome. To guard against this threat, in 1538, Henry started to build a chain of expensive, state-of-the-art defenses along Britain’s southern and eastern coasts from Kent to Cornwall. These new ships were built of materials that were gained from the demolition of the monasteries. These were known as Henry VIII’s Device Forts. He’d also strengthen the existing coastal defense fortresses such as Dover Castle and, at Dover, Moat Bulwark and Archcliffe Fort, which Henry personally visited for a few months to supervise. Wolsey had many years before conducting the censuses that were required for an overhaul of the system of militia, but no reform would take place. From 1538-1539, Cromwell overhauled the shire musters, but his work mainly served to demonstrate how inadequate they were in organization. The building works, including at Berwick, along with the reform of the militias and musters, were eventually finished under Queen Mary.

At the start of Henry’s reign, Ireland was effectively divided into three zones. The Pale was where the English rule remained unchallenged. Leinster and Munster was the so-called “obedient land” of Anglo-Irish peers. The Gaelic Connaught and Ulster only had nominal English rule. Until 1513, Henry continued the policy of his father to allow the Irish lords to rule in the king’s name and accept steep divisions between the communities. However, upon the death of the 8th Earl of Kildare and governor of Ireland, fractious Irish politics combined. When Thomas Bulter, the 7th Earl of Ormond passed away, Henry recognized one successor for Ormond’s English, Welsh and Scottish lands, while in Ireland another took control. Kildare’s successor, the 9th Earl, was replaced as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland by Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey in 1520. Surrey’s ambitious aims were costly, but they were ineffective. English rule became trapped between winning the Irish lords over with diplomacy as favored by Henry and Wolsey and a sweeping military occupation as proposed by Surrey. Surrey had been recalled in 1521 along with Piers Butler, one of the claimants to the Earldom of Ormond, and was appointed in his place. Butler proved unable to control the opposition, including that of Kildare. Kildare was appointed chief governor in 1524, resuming his dispute with Butler, which before this was in a lull. Meanwhile, the Earl of Desmond, an Anglo-Irish peer, had turned his support to Richard de la Pole as pretender to the English throne. In 1528, Kildare failed to take suitable actions against him and Kildare would once again be removed from his post.

The Desmond situation had been resolved upon his death in 1529, which was then followed by a period of uncertainty. This effectively ended with the appointment of Henry FitzRoy, the Duke of Richmond and the king’s son, as Lord Lieutenant. FitzRoy had never visited Ireland and his appointment was a break from past policy. For a time, it had looked as though peace might have been restored with the return of Kildare to Ireland to manage the tribes, but his effect was limited and Irish parliament was soon rendered ineffective. Ireland began to receive attention from Cromwell, who had supporters of Ormond and Desmond promoted. Kildare, on the other hand, was summoned to London, after some hesitation, he departed for London in 1534 where he’d face charges of treason. Kildare’s son, Thomas, Lord Offaly, was more forthright, denouncing the king and leading a “Catholic crusade” against the king, why by this time was mired in marital problems. Offaly and the Archbishop of Dublin murdered and besieged Dublin. He led a mixture of Pale gentry and Irish tribes, although he failed to secure the support of Lord Darcy, a sympathizer, or Charles the V. What effectively became a civil war was ended with the intervention of 2,000 English troops, a large army by Irish standards, and the execution of Offaly, his father already dead, and his uncles.

Even though the Offaly revolt was followed by the determination to rule Ireland more closely, Henry was wary of a drawn-out conflict with the tribes of Ireland, and a royal commission would recommend that the only way they could have a relationship with the tribes was to promise them peace and that their lands were protected from English expansion. The man that lead this effort was Sir Antony St. Leger as Lord Deputy of Ireland, who would remain in the post until after Henry’s death. Until the break with Rome, it was widely thought that Ireland was a Papal possession that was granted as a mere fiefdom to the English king, so in 1541 Henry asserted England’s claim to the Kingdom of Ireland free from Papal overlordship. This change, however, also allowed for a policy of peaceful reconciliation and expansion, the Lords of Ireland would grant their lands to the king before they were returned as fiefdoms. The incentive to comply with Henry’s request was an accompanying barony, and thus a right to sit in the Irish House of Lords, which was to run in parallel with England’s. Irish law of the tribes would not suit such an arrangement, since the chieftain didn’t have the required rights this made the progress tortuous and the plan would be abandoned in 1543, not to be replaced.

More on Henry’s Medical Problems

Henry’s known for his development of health problems in the middle of his life and the series of miscarriages that two of his wives endured. He is also known for a long list of possible personality conditions and his historical drama. According to a new study and as I wrote about a little before, researches propose that he had a X-linked genetic disorder and a rare blood type that could have explained many of his problems.

The study that suggested that his biological problems were a cause for many of the significant historical events that occurred in his lifetime and offers up new ways of thinking about Henry’s infamous life according to Catarina Whitley. Whitley is a bioarchaeologist who completed her research while at Southern Methodist University, and is now with the Museum of New Mexico. “What really made us look at Henry was that he had more than one wife that had obstetrical problems and a bad obstetrical history”, Whitley says. “We got to thinking: Could it be him?”

Many historians have written about his many health problems. As a young man, Henry was fit and healthy, but by the time of his death he weighed nearly 400 pounds. He also had leg ulcers, suffered from muscle weakness, and, according to some accounts, a significant personality shift in his middle age years to more paranoia, anxiety, depression and mental deterioration.

Among other theories, experts have also proposed that he had suffered from Type II diabetes, syphilis, and an endocrine problem known as Cushing’s Syndrome, or Myxedema, which is a byproduct of hypothyroidism. All of these theories have flaws though, according to Whitley, and none address his reproductive issues as well as his wives miscarriages. Whitley and her colleague Kyra Kramer, suggest that in order to explain those patterns one should look at their theory that the king may have belonged to a rare blood group, that are Kell positive. Only about nine percent of the Caucasian population belongs to this group.

When a Kell positive man impregnates a Kell negative woman, there is a fifty percent chance of his specimen provoking an immune response in the woman’s body that attacks her developing fetus. The first baby of a Kell positive father and Kell negative mother is usually fine, but some of the baby’s blood will inevitably get into it’s mother’s body, either during development or at birth, which can lead her to produce antibodies against the baby’s Kell antigens. As a result, in future pregnancies, the mother’s babies may suffer from extra fluid in their tissues, anemia, jaundice, enlarged spleens, or heart failure, which often times lead to a miscarriage between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy.

Anne Boleyn is a classic example of this pattern, says Whitley. According to some accounts, Elizabeth, Anne’s first daughter with Henry, was born health and without complications. There is still a lot of dispute about the details, including how many pregnancies there actually were among Henry and Anne, but their second and third pregnancies were miscarriages at about the sixth or seventh months. Queen Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, carried as many as six pregnancies, only her fifth led to a healthy and living daughter, by the name of Mary.

In addition to Henry’s rare blood type, researchers propose that he also had a rare genetic disorder called McLeod syndrome. This is carried on the X-chromosome and generally only affects men, and usually sets in around the age of forty. Symptoms of this syndrome include heart disease, movement disorders and major psychological symptoms, including paranoia and mental decline. Which could explain many of Henry’s physical ailments. It could also explain why he may have become more despotic as he grew older and also why he shifted from supporting Anne Boleyn to having her beheaded. “This gives us an alternative way of interpreting Henry and understanding his life,” states Whitley, “It gives us a new way to look at the reasons he changed”.

Without any genetic evidence though, there is no way to know for sure whether these new theories are correct, according to Retha Warnicke. Warnicke is a historian at Arizona State University and author of “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII”. Retha explains how there are other conditions that could explain his wives’ miscarriages. Until the late 19th century, midwives didn’t wash their hands and in Henry’s time, up to half of all children would end up passing away before the age of fifteen.

As for Henry’s woes, dementia could explain his personality shifts as well. His lack of exercise, after having an active youth, along with his hearty appetite could have led to his obesity and related ailments. “Could” is the big word”, states Warnicke. “It’s an interesting theory and it’s possibly true, but it can’t be proven without some clinical evidence, and there is none”.

Fran Jablway has an Master of Sciences degree in counseling psychology wrote a Tudor Novel regarding Henry VIII investigating if the king was bipolar or if he suffered from a brain injury. “Already he was a skillful horseman and jouster…and was popular with his subjects for his common touch was how Henry VIII was described at the age sixteen,” states Jablway. “…He had aged beyond his years…He was frequently irascible, quick to burst out in temper, and given to bouts of black depression as the years advanced,” is how he was described at fifty years old.

What had happened in between these years? Henry often wondered himself what in the world happened to him. Back then, a person unburdened themselves to the clergy or to a court fool and would have leeches remove excessive humors that caused their black moods. A look at those years through today’s eyes would provide a better picture and a more concrete basis for treating the depression and mood swings. One of the tools at a modern practitioner’s disposal is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. It provides criteria for diagnosis of mental health issues through a four axis system. Axis I deals with the problems that are presenting themselves, or what made the client seek out help in the first place. For King Henry, that would be his moods and how they had impacted his interpersonal relationships.

After a quick look at his history, one may think he suffered from bipolar disorder, of which symptoms occur in a person’s late teens or early twenties. Henry was well into his 40s when his erratic behavior began, while possible triggers are not known, but research shows a genetic component. Jablway found no evidence of such in her research. In some forms, the swings occur clinically, such as with the seasons, a possible suspect, but a few more factors need to be considered.

Axis III looks at the underlying medical conditions that contribute to the presenting symptoms. The National Geographic documentary, “Inside the Body of Henry VIII” performed a virtual autopsy based on physician records and other historical documentations. Medically, two red flags stick out. Flag one shows that Henry more than likely had uncontrolled diabetes, based on his weight gain and on the ulcer on his leg that never healed. Historian Lucy Worsley took viewers on a trip to the supermarket to show them what King Henry typically ate. Mostly meat filled Worsley’s cart, along with white bread and higher glycemic fruits. He also drank up to ten pints a day of ale and red wine on top of that, of which he would add additional sugar to. Vegetables and whole grain bread was for peasants, as Worsley reminds us. On another note, Henry also suffered from chronic constipation. Flag two involves his two serious closed head injuries. Henry’s first head injury occurred in 1524 when he forgot to lower the visor on his helmet during a jousting match and caught the tip of his opponent’s lance just above his right eye. The king didn’t lose consciousness, but he did complain of frequent migraines afterwards. Henry’s second head injury occurred in 1536. He was thrown from a horse, who in turn fell on top of him, causing him a two hour loss of consciousness. Based on the changes in his personality and his depression and paranoia after the incident it would be logical to assume that damage to his frontal lobes had occurred. This is the region of the brain the processes impulse control, external cues from others’ actions and social and sexual disorders. Henry also started to comfort eat around this time, above and beyond his usual lusty appetite. Most people today have heard of someone who has suffered from a stroke and just wasn’t “right” or “him/herself” afterwards, it’s the same thing in the instance of the king. On top of this, he had chronic pain from all the old injuries that resulted in getting banged around in his younger, more athletic years and the leg wound as well as gout, which did him no favors either. This along with blood sugar levels constantly spiking and crashing, one has a formula for being a very unhappy person, brain injury or not.

Finally, Axis IV looks at environmental factors, including external stressors and social conditions. Henry felt that he dearly and desperately needed sons to ensure his line of succession, which played into his impatience with his wives. He was the ruler of a world power and supreme head of church, and anyone in Europe at the time was subjected to the threat of rather nasty illnesses. His fear of germs didn’t help him either. This is all a lot for a person to carry, no matter what sort of shape physically that they are in. If this chain of events had happened today, Henry would have been referred to a physician that was experienced in treating traumatic brain injuries and a treatment plan detailing medications for depression, getting his blood sugar under control and therapy for stress control and relationship issues.

Despite all of this, Henry would die a respected and popular monarch. His reign continues to inspire books and films, evolving his image from that of a cruel tyrant into a complex human being. Though his behavior after his head injuries cannot be excused, perhaps it can be better understood through the eyes of history and compassion.


21 thoughts on “Henry Tudor VIII (1491-1547)”

  1. Because of his creation of the Church of England, those six wives, and all the scandals at court, Henry Vlll is probably the best-known and most widely covered King from our history. As always, your informative article and well-researched details have managed to sum up his complicated life so well. If you have never seen it, I recommend this book, and the TV series made of it. Superb stuff!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have always liked learning about Henry VIII. I feel like I understand him a little. I think that he had dealt with depression and probably a bipolar disorder too, I have depression as well and when I read about Henry or have watched shows where actors portray him, such as in The Tudors, I can kind of relate or understand him as I’ve dealt with the same emotions at times in my life. Many look at him as a really heartless guy but for some reason I think he was tough but still loved and enjoyed life the best he could with the problems he dealt with internally as well as externally. I don’t condone him killing people, but just feel that he did have a softer side, and is still a bit misunderstood because we don’t exactly know what medical problems he was suffering from. I think that’s the key to understanding the man and why he was who he was. I really like reading things about him though and watching shows about him too cause it helps to understand him so much more. I will check out your links here shortly.thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We also have to consider that he spent most of his life with an unhealed infected would, sustained during a joust. He may well have had blood poisoning, and personal issues about being left with an unpleasant festering sore on his leg. It is highly possible that the same wound eventually caused his death of course.
        Best wishes, Pete.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I agree. To have such a sore would cause anyone to be quite moody because of the pain it must have caused him. I’m watching the show you referred me to right now, so far I like it and already found out more about wolsey and Cromwell that I didn’t know.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. In that case, I could recommend a lot more, though perhaps not Coronation Street! 🙂 If you like such things as cop dramas, then both ‘Line of Duty’ and ‘Happy Valley’ are excellent, and have won awards too.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I do like cop shows. I think I’ve heard of line of duty. I like investigative shows like trying to find out who did a crime too. I like history shows also like on discovery channel and history channel, there was a show I watched when I was there that was like border patrol or something like that, and another showing rescuers saving people but I don’t remember what it was called, might have been on a military channel, I don’t remember.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Most of mine are +1, (one hour later) or news and repeat channels. We do get 3 good film channels though, which show films on a loop. Then three BBC channels, plus BBC 24 hour news. I watch BBC most of the time.
        There are also free shopping channels, some unwanted soft porn, and many food and lifestyle channels, that I never watch either.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Casualty has been running for decades, and refers to many previous story-lines, so you may have to go back a long way to make sense of it. It is pretty much a medical soap opera with the lives and loves of medics and surgeons interwoven with dramatic incidents. It is known for featuring well-known stars in minor roles and cameos as patients. Because I was an EMT for 22 years, I tend not to watch fictional shows about the emergency services.
        I would recommend ‘The Last Kingdom’. Two series so far about King Alfred of Wessex and his fight to make England united against the Danes. Try to watch series 1 first. Nice historical drama. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0344rr3
        Also this, which was superb on the BBC. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taboo_(2017_TV_series)
        Best wishes, Pete.

        Liked by 1 person

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