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the King who "divorced" England from the Catholic Church over the Church's refusal to grant him a divorce
Henry was born at Greenwich Palace on June 28, 1491. The second son and third child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, he became heir apparent when his older brother, Arthur, died in April 1502. He became king upon the death of his father, on April 22, 1509.
When Arthur died he was married to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Soon after Arthur's death, King Henry VII signed an agreement with Spain that would allow Prince Henry to marry Catherine. Several years would pass before the agreement was finalized however, during which time the king sought a papal dispensation that would allow the prince to marry his brother's widow, a practice that was technically forbidden by the Catholic Church. The arranged marriage of Henry and Catherine finally took place after he ascended to the throne, on June 11, 1509. The union would ultimately produce five children, but only Mary (later Queen Mary I), born in 1516, lived to adulthood.
War with France
In 1512, King Henry joined King Ferdinand of Spain, Pope Julius II, and the Venetians in forming a "Holy League" against the King of France. While Spain and the other "allies" delayed action, Henry collected ships and soldiers for an attack on France. Although England enjoyed one major victory at Guinegate, the invasion was unsuccessful, and Henry ultimately made peace with King Louis XII, who, in 1514, married Henry's sister, Mary.
In 1513, while Henry's forces were occupied in France, Scotland invaded England. The invasion was thwarted at Flodden, during which battle King James IV of Scotland was killed.
The war with France gave Henry his first great minister, Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, who starting in 1515, held all the strings of power in England. Although Henry never lost ultimate control of affairs, he was more interested in hunting, music, mistresses, food, and other pasttimes than government, and he was more than happy to let Wolsey handle the drudgery of managing England's affairs.
By the 1530's Catherine was in her forties and had failed to produce a son for Henry. As only the second of the Tudors to rule England, Henry was concerned that the lack of a male heir would compromise the line of succession and potentially lead to the Tudors losing the throne of England. Wanting a son, Henry secretly turned his attentions to Anne Boleyn, a young and pretty maid of honor in the court. As Henry became more and more enamored by Anne, he charged Wolsey with the task of convincing Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage to Catherine. When Wolsey's efforts failed, Henry had him arrested (1529). Henry then went through a series of equally unsuccessful ministers before Thomas Cromwell declared that the Pope had no authority in England and then created a national church in England under the supreme headship of the king himself.. Henry then had the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, declare his marriage to Catherine null and void, leaving him free to marry the already pregnant Anne. The pope responded by excommunicating Henry. In September 1533, Anne gave birth to Elizabeth, who would later become Queen Elizabeth.
In 1534, Parliament passed two acts that made England's break with the Roman Catholic Church official. One declared that the pope had no authority in England; the other, called the Act of Supremacy, made the Church of England a separate institution and established the king as its supreme head. By 1536 all ecclesiastical and government officials were required to publicly approve of the break with Rome and take an oath of loyalty to the Church of England. In addition, all Catholic monasteries in England were disbanded, and their lands and revenues were divided amongst the crown and the nobility.
Although Anne Boleyn was still young and pretty, she failed to give Henry the son he desperately wanted. Henry had Anne charged with infidelity, and she was beheaded on May 19, 1536.
In May 1536, just days after the execution of Anne, Henry married Jane Seymour. This marriage would result in Henry finally gaining a son, but at a cost. Not only did Jane die soon after the birth of Edward, in October 1537, the son was feeble and sickly. Although Edward would succeed his father in 1547, he died in 1553, having not yet reached the official age of majority.
In late 1539, Cromwell, seeking to increase England's presence in continental Europe, arranged a marriage between Henry and Anne of Cleves, a German princess. Knowing Henry's penchant for younger women, Cromwell had a special portrait done by Hans Holbein, which portrayed Anne as a young, demure, and quite pretty woman. Once Henry saw the portrait he was convinced that Cromwell had made an excellent choice, and a marriage was arranged for early 1540. Unfortunately for Cromwell, Henry found his new bride to be quite homely and almost crude, and the marriage was never consummated. Henry quickly divorced Anne, and Cromwell's position in the English court was seriously compromised.
Fifth and Sixth Marriages
The debacle of Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves cost Cromwell his life, and left Henry without a capable minister. Overconfident in his abilities as a leader, Henry led England into wars against Scotland and continental powers (1542-1546) that not only drained the country's treasury but also failed to gain England any territory or standing. The only real accomplishment to come out of the last years of Henry's reign was reconstruction of the British Navy.
King Henry VIII died in London on January 28, 1547. He was succeeded by his only son, who became King Edward VI.
This page was last updated on January 17, 2017.