Henry VIII

(Henry VIII of England)


Henry VIII is probably the most notorious king in English history. Although he is best known for marrying and then ridding himself of six wives, many of his foreign and domestic policies and activities were much more significant and far-reaching than his marriages. His break with the Catholic church dramatically changed the nature of Church-state relations and his dissolution of the monasteries cemented the loyalty of the nobles to the Protestant faith, since they virtually all received property that was formerly held by the church. He also initiated the English reconquest of Ireland, and permanently annexed Wales to into England.

Henry VIII
Henry's father had left the kingdom in good fiscal condition when he died. Henry was far less conservative in his expenditures, and more grasping. Fortunately his minister Wolsey was a very capable administrator and in the early years of his reign, the kingdom continued in good hands, while leaving Henry time to indulge his interests in women, dice, and foreign affairs. Henry's first marriage was also a happy one, as his wife tolerated his infidelities, their only sadness being related to her string of miscarriages and still-births. In 1527 however, after 18 years of marriage, Henry fell under the influence of Anne Boleyn, who encouraged him to divorce his wife, and impressed upon him the necessity of a male heir. She was a very divisive influence and Henry's court underwent a dramatic transformation. Out went Henry's long time counselors Wolsey and Thomas More. In came Protestant advocates including Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer.

When Henry was unable to get a divorce from the pope he enacted laws that gave the Church of England final say in ecclesiastic matters. This allowed him to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn without consulting Rome. Shortly after, he and Cromwell concocted a plan to dissolve the monasteries and confiscate their property. Having severed his ties with Rome by the Act of Supremacy, he was able to do this, and make several other changes to church governance unhindered.

After the birth of Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn suffered a series of miscarriages. This combined with her increasing imperiousness as Queen, caused Henry to tire of her and take up with Jane Seymour. Anne was soon accused of witchcraft, adultery, and treason, and summarily executed. Within weeks Henry had taken on his third wife, who died shortly after delivering him his long awaited male heir. His minister Cromwell quickly arranged another marriage with a princess of Germany, but Henry's fourth marriage was not pleasing to him. He blamed Cromwell rather than his unfortunate wife, however, and was satisfied to divorce her and execute Cromwell. His fifth marriage, to twenty-year-old Anne Howard, was contracted when he was fifty years old and nearly three hundred pounds. Within two years, she was also was accused of infidelity and executed. His final wife was far more mature than the previous few, and did very much good for his family in the last years of his life. She was on good terms with all members of the royal family and sought to heal divisions. Under her influence, both Mary and Elizabeth were named as heirs after Edward V, and some semblance of normalcy returned to the royal household. Henry preceded her in death by two years, and the throne passed to his young and infirm son Edward.


Key events during the life of Henry VIII of England:

Birth of Henry the Eighth
Death of Elder brother Arthur
Marriage to Catherine of Aragon
Death of Henry Tudor. Henry VIII ascends to the throne.
Waged war on France.
Appointed Wolsey Lord Chancellor.
Martin Luther posts his 95 Theses. Protestant Reformation breaks out.
Field of the Cloth of Gold
Appointment of Thomas Cromwell as Henry's chief minister.
Henry falls under influence of Boleyn. Requests annulment from Catherine.
Dismisses Wolsey, appoints Thomas More as Chancellor.
Marriage of Henry and Anne Boleyn. Birth of Princess Elizabeth.
Act of Supremacy rejects papal authority over Church of England.
Thomas More executed for treason.
Trial and execution of Anne Boleyn, Marriage to Jane Seymour.
Dissolution of monasteries presided over by Henry and Thomas Cromwell.
Marriage and divorce of Anne of Cleves. Marriage of Katherine Howard. Execution of Cromwell.
Trial and execution of Anne Howard.
Marriage of Catherine Parr.
Death of Henry VIII.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Boy Who Objected to Marrying  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles C. Coffin
The Man Who Split the Church  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles C. Coffin
Origin of the English Church  in  Christian Persecutions  by  Asa Craig
The Field of the Cloth of Gold  in  Old Time Tales  by  Lawton B. Evans
Henry VIII. and the Separation from Rome  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
Field of the Cloth of Gold  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor
Henry VIII—The Field of the Cloth of Gold  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Reformation: England and Scandinavia  in  The Story of Europe  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Field of the Cloth of Gold  in  Historical Tales: English  by  Charles Morris
How Henry VIII Changed the Old Order  in  The Tudors and the Stuarts  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Portrait of Henry VIII
 in Queen Elizabeth

The Great Bible
 in Stories From English History, Part Second

Henry VIII. and Cardinal Wolsey
 in  The Story of the English

Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn
 in  The Story of the English

Sir Thomas sat silent.
 in Red Book of Heroes

The Field of the Cloth of Gold
 in The Story of France

Henry sent Wolsey away from court.
 in Our Island Story

Henry the Eighth
 in Historical Tales: English

The Tudor Kings and Queens
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

King Henry VIII, at the Field of the Cloth of Gold
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

Short Biography
Catherine of Aragon First wife of Henry VIII. Mother of Mary I.
Thomas Cromwell Minister under Henry VIII. who encouraged his divorce and helped dissolve the monasteries.
Anne Boleyn Second wife of Henry VIII. Executed when she fell from grace.
Thomas More Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII. Fired and later executed when he opposed Henry's divorce.
Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII. Broke with Rome. Founded Anglican Church.
Catherine Parr Sixth wife of Henry VIII.
Jane Seymour Third wife of Henry VIII. Mother of Edward VI.
Mary Tudor Eldest daughter of Henry VIII. Tried to restore Catholicism to England.
Elizabeth I Led England through tumultuous age of reformation and discovery. Reigned 45 years.
Edward VI Raised as a protestant, Edward's brief reign was controlled largely by his uncles, the Dukes of Somerset and Northumberland.
Thomas Wolsey Rose from humble beginnings to become Chancellor of England. Stalled on Henry VIII's divorce.