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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Henry VIII of England


Henry Tudor was born June 28, 1491 at Greenwich Palace, the third child and second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. His mother died aged 38, when Henry was 11. The picture below is a detail of illumination in the Vaux Passional thought to depict Henry and his sisters mourning the loss of their mother.

Only three of Henry's six siblings, Arthur (the Prince of Wales), Margaret and Mary, survived infancy. His older brother, Arthur was the heir to the throne, but died of tuberculosis aged 15.

A charming and loveable boy, Henry was bought up at his mother's home, Eltham Palace in South East London.

By the age of 3, Henry was riding a horse from Greenwich to Westminster Palace.

He had his own servants and minstrels, and a fool named John Goose. Henry even had a whipping boy who was punished for the prince when he did something wrong.

Prince Henry enjoyed music from an early age. At the age of 10 he could play many instruments, including the fife, harp, viola and drums.

As a young man Henry wrote masses, motels and anthems in Latin.

Henry was given a first-rate education from leading tutors, becoming fluent in Latin and French, and learning at least some Italian.


His father, Henry VII died on April 21, 1509, and the young Henry succeeded him as king at the age of 18.

Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon were crowned King and Queen of England on June 24, 1509.

Eighteen-year-old Henry VIII after his coronation in 1509

He was the first English king to be addressed as "your majesty". Before then, "Your Highness" or "Your Lord King" was always used.

Henry executed Catholics who refused to acknowledge his supremacy in the church and burned Protestants who felt his reforms did not go far enough. In total he ordered over 17,000 executions during his reign.

Henry VIII met Francis I of France on June 7, 1520 at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais for a fortnight of lavish entertainment. The event was organised by Britain to celebrate peace between France and England as they had been at war for a long time.

The French king was unimpressed by Henry's vulgar English taste. He complained "His idea is to put a lot of gold in everything."

The Field of the Cloth of Gold, oil painting of circa 1545 in the Royal Collection

In 1534  Henry VIII proclaimed himself Head of the Church in England, transferring ecclesiastical jurisdiction and revenues from the pope to himself and creating the Church of England (Episcopal Church) with The Act of Supremacy.

Pope Paul III responded by decreeing slavery for all Englishmen who supported Henry, but despite this the king's countrymen were behind their monarch. He finally excommunicated King Henry VIII on December 17, 1538.

After falling out with the Pope, Henry built 20 forts along the south coast to protect Britain against possible invasion by European Catholic powers.

Between 1536 and 1540, after breaking with the papacy,  Henry VIII and his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, sold off the property and valuables of the 800 monasteries, nunneries and friaries in England.

A big spender partly subsidized by the confiscation of lands from the church, Henry needed plenty of money as his war against France emptied the Royal treasury.

The Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 were were passed during the reign of Henry VIII, who came from the Welsh Tudor dynasty. They were parliamentary measures by which Wales became a full and equal part of the Kingdom of England and the legal system of England was extended to Wales and the norms of English administration introduced. The intention was to create a single state and legal jurisdiction.

Henry assumed the title of King of Ireland in 1541. He succeeded in pacifying the north east of Ireland and appointed himself head of the country's Church of Ireland.

Henry is traditionally cited as responsible for the creation of a permanent navy, with the supporting anchorages and dockyards. He also flirted with designing ships personally –  it is believed that he influenced the design of rowbarges and similar galleys.

Henry watched in horror on July 19, 1545 as his recently built flagship, Mary Rose, keeled over and sunk from a mighty gust of wind with 500 men abroad off Portsmouth.

The Mary Rose as depicted in the Anthony Roll. 

In 1982 the wreck of the Mary Rose was salvaged in one of the most complex and expensive projects in the history of maritime archaeology.


Henry was 6ft 2ins a handsome, athletic bright auburn/redhead with a neatly clipped beard.

Later in life, Henry was grossly overweight, with a waist measurement of 54 inches (137 cm), and his rotting legs were unable to support his vast bulk. The king had to have a cage installed in his palace with a pulley to carry him upstairs.

Henry dressed flamboyantly, he typically wore a stuffed doublet slashed to reveal a fine white shirt underneath. The slashing was interspersed with jewels and embroidery. The tight stockings or hose were tied up to the doublet with laces.

Henry was charming and generous to those who did what he required, if they didn't he despised them.

He was nicknamed "Bluff Henry" due to his bluff manner.

Charles Dickens described Henry VIII as "A most intolerable ruffian, and a blot of blood and grease on the history of England." He also referred to him as "plainly one of the most detestable villains that ever drew breath."


His six wives in order were divorced, beheaded, Died. divorced, beheaded, survived.

Henry's father originally made no marriage plans for the young prince as the plan was for him to become Archbishop of Canterbury. But when Arthur, the heir to the throne died, then Henry VII decided to marry Arthur's widow, Catherine of Aragon.

Catherine of Aragon

Henry's wedding to Catherine was low-key and held in a private ceremony at Greenwich Palace, followed by mass held at the Observant Friars.  It took place on June 11, 1509 a fortnight before his coronation.

Catherine was a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis and she was punctilious in her religious obligations in the Order, integrating without demur her necessary duties as queen with her personal piety.

She bore him one daughter, Princess Mary, and when Catherine finally produced a son, Henry celebrated by arranging a jousting match at Greenwich. The baby died after seven and a half weeks.

Henry regarded his lack of children by Catherine, as God's judgement for having violated the Levitical law against marrying a brother's wife. The king sent her to Ampthill Castle whilst he arranged to divorce her.

In 1535 Catherine was transferred to Kimbolton Castle. There, she confined herself to one room (which she left only to attend Mass), dressed only in the hair shirt of the Order of St. Francis, and fasted continuously.

Catherine died at Kimbolton Castle on January 7, 1536. She was buried in Peterborough Cathedral with the ceremony due to a Dowager Princess of Wales, not a queen. Henry did not attend the funeral and forbade Mary to attend.

Despite failing to get a Papal annulment for his first marriage, Henry VIII secretly married the flirtatious Anne Boleyn. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, pronounced Henry's first marriage invalid. Pope Clement VII responded by excommunicating the English king.

When Anne, just like Catherine, only produced a daughter, Elizabeth, and no sons, Henry blamed her for treason and had her beheaded by a French swordsman.

The day after the death of Anne Boleyn, Henry became engaged to the calm, meek and gentle Jane Seymour, who had been one of the ladies-in-waiting to his first two wives. They were married ten days later on May 30, 1536 at the Palace of Whitehall, in the Queen's closet by Bishop Gardiner.

On October 12, 1537, Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, the future Edward VI.

The birth of Edward was difficult, and the Queen died on October 24, 1537 from an infection and was buried in Windsor.

Hans Holbein the Younger - Jane Seymour, Queen of England - Google Art Project

Jane Seymour was the only one of Henry's wives to receive a queen's funeral, and his only consort to be buried beside him in St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.

Anne of Cleves. (1515-1557), the pudding faced sister of the German protestant leader, the Duke of Cleves, was recommended as a wife by Thomas Cromwell, who felt her German protestant background would make a useful ally in Henry's war against the Holy Roman Emperor and the Francis I of France .

They met at Blackheath Common pageant,  but Henry was not impressed by her looks. She was tanned after her sea voyage, and the English king preferred a fair complexion. "You have sent me a Flanders Mare," Henry hurtfully exclaimed.

Despite Henry's very vocal misgivings, the two were married on January 6, 1540 at the royal Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, London by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

The couple's first night as husband and wife was not a successful one. Henry confided to Cromwell that he had not consummated the marriage, saying, "I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse." He described her as having unpleasant body odor.

Henry quickly pensioned Anne off, giving her several houses including a country home at Ditchling, Sussex, on condition she didn't leave the kingdom. They remained friendly after their divorce and she outlived all his other wives.

Anne of Cleves Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1539. 

Anne died at Chelsea Old Manor on July 16, 1557, eight weeks before her forty-second birthday. The cause of her death was most likely to have been cancer. She was buried at Westminster Abbey.

In the meantime, Henry had noticed a young lady at court, called Catherine Howard, and thought that she might make a good wife. The gay, high spirited and uninhibited Catherine was a cousin of Anne Boleyn.

Henry and Catherine got married on July 28, 1540.  On the same day Thomas Cromwell was executed, in theory for treason, but in practice as a scapegoat for the doomed German marriage.

The couple honeymooned at the Palace of the Duchess of Suffolk, at Ewelme, Buckinghamshire

Catherine was much younger than Henry and by this time, the elderly king was spending much of his time ill in bed, while Catherine surrounded herself with amorous admirers.

After her steamy letter to a lover, Thomas Culpeper, found it's way to the king, she was imprisoned at Syon House in Isleworth. Despite Thomas divulging nothing, even under torture, she was beheaded on the grounds of adultery on February 13, 1542.

Henry's sixth and last wife was Catherine Parr. Well-educated, sensitive, sympathetic, she was a twice widowed woman in her thirties when they married on July 12, 1543 at Hampton Court Palace.

Catherine Parr helped reconcile Henry with his daughters Mary and Elizabeth. In 1543, an Act of Parliament put the two girls back in the line of succession after Edward, Prince of Wales.

Her book Prayers or Meditations became the first book published by an English queen under her own name.

Six months after Henry's death, Catherine married her fourth and final husband, Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley. The marriage was short-lived, as she died on September 5, 1548, probably of complications of childbirth.

Catherine was the most-married-ever English queen, with four husbands.


In 1521, Henry VIII wrote An Assertion of the Seven Sacraments, which defended the Catholic Church's 75 sacraments against Martin Luther. He referred to Luther as a "poisonous serpent" and a "wolf of hell" Because of this apologetic treatise the pope named Henry " Defender of the Faith".

In 1534, Henry passed the Act of Supremacy, which meant that the king, not the pope, was the head of the church in England, thus creating the Church of England.

Henry was interested in theology and did talk to God (he believed he had a hotline to his heavenly Father.) However he couldn't accept justification by faith and personally remained a Catholic though he rejected some Catholic theology such as purgatory.

In 1539 Henry VIII issued the Six Articles, by which he intended to restore the traditional Catholic faith and stem the influence of the Protestants. They defined the position of the English church on six fundamental points and defined heresy. The king claimed they were based on the Bible though in reality it was a mishmash of Catholic and some Protestant doctrine.

Though Henry VIII was an assiduous reader of Scripture, he became concerned that his people were abusing the freedom he granted to them to read God's sacred words for themselves. In a speech to the House of Commons, commenting on the translation of the Bible into English, he declared, "I am very sorry to know and hear how unreverently that most precious jewel, the Word of God, is disputed, rhymed, sung and jangled in every ale-house and tavern, contrary to the true meaning and doctrine of the same".

A law was passed by Parliament on May 12, 1543 restricting the reading of the Bible in the new English translations to churchmen, aristocrats and wealthy merchants. It became illegal for artisans, labourers or servants or women (except noblewomen) to read the Bible for fear the effect it would have on them.

A Roman Catholic to his death, in his last years Henry was quite a reactionary. Anyone who disagreed with his theology were burnt at the stake and leading English religious reformers were forced to flee to the Protestant strongholds on the continent.

Henry did allow his son, Edward, to be educated by convinced Protestant tutors in sympathy to his sixth wife, Catherine Parr's Protestant inclinations. As a result King Edward VI was a staunch Protestant.


The king gave his ladies in waiting a daily allowance of two loaves, and a joint of beef each day for breakfast.

At Henry's court peacocks were cooked then put back into their feathers so guests could see they weren't being hoodwinked with chicken.

The portly king himself ate two huge meals a day, dinner at 10.00 with 600 courtiers and supper at 4.00.

Henry attempted to ban the brewing of continental style beer, as he preferred the stronger "hop-less" English ale. However beer made from hops rather than traditional English ale was the preferred drink for royalty and commoners alike at every meal.

When Henry consumed water rather than ale he preferred the Belgian variety. He sent his physician across the English Channel to Flanders for his drinking water.


Henry's friend and chief adviser Cardinal Wolsey, gave him Hampton Court as a country residence. Henry spent the equivalent of £18 million renovating the Court and building things such as tennis courts and jousting yards. Five of his wives lived there.

Henry created Hyde Park in 1536 when he appropriated land from Westminster Abbey to form a deer park.

Henry was known to have been an avid gambler and dice player. He once gambled away the bells of Saint Paul's church.

Henry gathered a group of 58 musicians. The king himself played the virginals,(a predecessor of the piano), lute and organ and he collected recorders.(he owned 77 of them.)

Henry VIII composed chivalrous love music including the songs "Pastime with Good Company", "Alas what shall I do for love" and "O my Hart" and possibly “Greensleeves.” Generally his compositions were pretty mediocre but no one dared tell the king.

Music accompanied all the recreations of the court apart from one, which required maximum concentration-gambling.

During the fortnight long The Field of the Cloth of Gold festival, Henry VIII challenged his royal colleague, King Francis I  to a wrestling match. It turned sour for Henry when he quickly lost.

When Henry VIII  joined in with the yeomen of the Guard for their annual archery competition it was said of him "His grace shotte as stronge and as greate a length as anie of his garde."

It was in the reign of Henry VIII that foreign race horses started to come into England in significant numbers. Some were received by the king as gifts from overseas rulers. Henry, himself, owned racing stables at Greenwich and Windsor and employed four jockeys.

Another of his favorite sports was hawking. In fact one time, whilst out hawking, Henry tried to leap over a ditch with a pole, but fell into the mud head first and was only just saved from drowning.

Henry favored cockfighting so much that he added a cockpit to his palace at Westminster.

He expressed the view that the acquiring of proper skill in every aspect of coursing was part of the education of a gentleman. In fact an intriguing appointment by the crown under Henry's reign was "Keeper Chaste of the King's Grey Houndes".

As Henry grew older and bigger he played less sport and grew unfit. In his last years he found himself out of breath just walking down the stairs.

Henry VIII slept with a gigantic axe beside him.


He employed a "Groom of the Stool" to clean the monarch's behind with his hand.  The "groom of the stool" reports that at 2.00 one morning, "his Grace rose to go on his stool, which, with the working of the pills and the enema had a very fair siege". The stool was a commode upholstered in velvet and decorated with 2,000 gold pins.

Henry had a jousting accident in 1536, in which he suffered a leg wound. The accident re-opened and aggravated a previous leg wound he had sustained years earlier, to the extent that his doctors found it difficult to treat. The wound festered for the remainder of his life and became ulcerated, thus preventing him from maintaining the level of physical activity he had previously enjoyed.

Henry in 1542

During his last few years, Henry VIII suffered from ulcers and bones sinuses which left him in agony. His ulcerous, swollen, reeking legs, had to be to be dressed several times a day.

Henry's obesity hastened his death at the age of 55, which occurred on January 28, 1547 in the Palace of Whitehall. His last words were: "All is lost! Monks! Monks! Monks!" perhaps in reference to the monks he caused to be evicted during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Henry's coffin lay overnight at Syon Monastery, en route for burial in St George's Chapel, Windsor. It suddenly burst open due to the gases given off by his corpulent corpse and some matter of a bloody color fell from the coffin to the floor..

Twelve years before in 1535 a Franciscan friar named William Peyto had preached before the King at Greenwich Palace "that God's judgements were ready to fall upon his head and that dogs would lick his blood, as they had done to Ahab," whose infamy rests upon 1 Kings 16:33: "And Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him". The prophecy was said to have been fulfilled during that night at Syon.

Henry VIII was interred in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, next to his favorite wife, Jane Seymour.

Henry's on and off friend and foe, Francis I, ordered a Requiem Mass at Notre Dame.The French king passed away two months later.

Sources The Observer, Europress Encyclopedia, Radio Times, Food For Thought by Ed Pearce, A History Of Fashion by J. Anderson Black and Madge Garland

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