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Henry VIII
King of England

Other Titles and Honours

'King of France', 1542-47†
'King of Ireland', 1542-47†
Prince of Wales, 1503
Duke of York, 1494-1509
Duke of Cornwall, 1502
Earl of Chester, 1503-09
Defender of the Faith, 1521-47† (Papal)
Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece
, 1506 (Austria)[39B]
Knight of the Bath, 1494 (England)
Knight of the Garter, 1495 (England)

Positions Held

Earl Marshal of England, 1495[8B]
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, 1494[8B]
Constable of Dover Castle, 1493[8B]
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, 1493[8B]

Main Events

By the death of his brother Arthur, in 1502, he became heir-apparent of the crown, and assumed the title of Prince of Wales. The next year he was, against his will, obliged by his father to affiance himself to his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon. His accession at the death of his father, in 1509, was the occasion of great rejoicing among the people, who were prepossessed in his favour by his personal advantages and other popular qualities. He appears to have been in early life one of the most exemplary and most accomplished princes in Europe. His marriage with Catherine, who was his senior by six years, was solemnized a few months after his accession. In 1512 he was induced to join the pope, the King of Spain, and the emperor in a league against the King of France, and sent 10,000 men to invade Guienne; but the expedition was a total failure. The next year he invaded France in person, and defeated the French at Guinegaste. In 1514 a treaty of peace was made, the chief condition of which was that Louis XII should marry Henry’s sister Mary.[Q35A]

In 1513, James IV. of Scotland, the ally of France, having marched across the border, was defeated and slain, at the great battle of Flodden, by the English under the Earl of Surrey. In the beginning of this reign the chief competitors for favour and influence at court were Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, who was treasurer, and Fox, Bishop of Winchester, who held the office of secretary. The latter introduced to the king Thomas Wolsey, who soon supplanted them both by his insinuating arts and became the prime favourite and sole minister. For about fifteen years he directed the affairs of state with almost absolute authority. In 1515 he was made Archbishop of York, and soon after a cardinal. In the long contest for supremacy between Charles V. and Francis I., Henry, whose friendship was courted by both, might have derived great advantage from his position; but, guided rather by impulse than policy, his actual influence was inconsiderable. Charles having secured Wolsey’s influence by promising to concur in his election to the papacy, Henry in 1522 declared war against France, which was invaded by an English army the next year. But the cardinal had become estranged from Charles after the election of Pope Adrian, and in 1525 he concluded a treaty of peace with Francis.[Q35A]

In 1526 Henry was declared protector of the 'Holy League' formed by the pope against Charles V; but after this period the foreign transactions of his reign are unimportant and overshadowed by the domestic events. The impression made on the king by the beauty of Anne Boleyn, and the scruples which he felt or feigned respecting the lawfulness of his former marriage, induced him in 1527 to apply to the pope for a divorce. This question of divorce was rendered more exciting and momentous by its bearing on the Reformation, which about that time began to agitate the Church, Anne Boleyn favouring the Protestants, and Catherine being a zealous Catholic. The pope gave him specious promises, but interposed the delay of a legal process for several years. In 1529 Wolsey was disgraced, and Cranmer, a Protestant, became Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry, whose passions and interest inclined him to favour the Reformers, as his quarrel with the pope increased both his power and revenue, was declared in 1531 supreme head of the Church. After the Convocations of York and Canterbury had pronounced the marriage with Catherine invalid, Henry, without the pope’s permission, married Anne Boleyn, in 1533. Queen Catherine died in 1536. By acts of Parliament, the English church and people were declared independent of the court of Rome, and many innovations were made in religion. The monasteries, six hundred and forty-five in number, were gradually abolished, under the direction of Thomas Cromwell, secretary of state and vicar-general, and a new translation of the Bible was made by royal authority.[Q35A]

In 1536, Queen Anne, having lost the favour of the king, became the victim of his jealousy, which has generally been supposed to have had no other ground on her part than slight indiscretions and levity of manner. But the historian Froude takes a different view, which he supports by many forcible arguments. But, whatever opinion we may form of the guilt or innocence of the queen, it is impossible to justify the conduct of Henry, who married his new favourite, the beautiful Jane Seymour, the next day after the execution of Anne. Queen Jane died in 1537, on giving birth to a son, afterwards Edward VI. In 1540 Henry married a Flemish princess, Anne of Cleves, who was divorced about six months afterwards. The same year he married, as his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. In 1538 the pope published a bull against Henry, and formally delivered his soul to the devil. The king, however, maintained several of the Catholic dogmas, (among which was that of the real presence,) and many Protestants, refusing to conform, fell victims to his arbitrary power. In 1542 Queen Catherine was beheaded, on a charge of infidelity to her marriage-vow, and the next year her place was supplied by Catherine Parr.[Q35A]

Notwithstanding his cruelty and excesses, Henry seems to have retained the affection of his subjects in general to the close of his life. 'He possessed,' says Hume, 'great vigour of mind, courage, vigilance, and inflexibility.' But the catalogue of his vices, it must be confessed, includes some of the worst qualities of human nature.[Q35A]

Place of birth: Greenwich Palace, Kent[71]
Place of first marriage: Greenwich Palace, Kent[71]
Place of second marriage: York Place, London[71]
Place of third marriage: Whitehall Palace, London[71]
Place of fourth marriage: Greenwich Palace, Kent[71]
Place of fifth marriage: Oatlands Palace, Surrey[71]
Place of sixth marriage: Hampton Court Palace[71]
Place of death: Whitehall Palace, London[71]
Place of burial: St George's Chapel, Windsor[71]


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