gigatos | February 22, 2022
Henry VIII Tudor († January 28, 1547 at Whitehall Palace, London) was King of England from 1509 to 1547, Lord of the Lordship of Ireland from 1509, and King of Ireland from 1541. The younger son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, he became heir to the throne after the unexpected death of his elder brother Arthur in 1502. His coronation in June 1509 was the first peaceful accession to the throne in nearly 100 years after the English Wars of the Roses. The first English king with a Renaissance education, Henry spoke several languages, composed poetry and music, and showed great interest in religious subjects. In his youth he was an athletic, charismatic man, but in later years he was obese and chronically ill.
Since his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon did not produce a male heir to the throne, Henry sought an annulment of his marriage by Pope Clement VII in the 1520s, but the latter refused. Henry subsequently led his country into the English Reformation: he renounced England from the Roman Catholic Church and founded the Church of England, of which he elevated himself to head. Finally, he expropriated the English monasteries and dissolved them. As a result, he was excommunicated by Pope Paul III. Although Henry”s religious beliefs remained Catholic at heart to the end, he paved the way for the Protestant Reformation in England by rejecting the authority of the pope and printing a state-authorized English Bible. After his death, the crown fell first to his nine-year-old son Edward, after his early death to his eldest daughter Mary, and finally to his daughter Elizabeth, with whose death the reign of the House of Tudor ended in 1603.
In popular culture, Henry VIII is best known for his total of six marriages, two of which ended in annulment (Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves), two of which ended in the execution of their respective wives (Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard), one of which ended in death in childbirth (Jane Seymour), and one of which ended in his death (Catherine Parr).
Henry was born as the third child and the second eldest son of the English King Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York. He was baptized by Richard Fox, Bishop of Exeter, with the usual great pomp for royal children with heralds and trumpets. However, since his parents already had an heir to the throne, Prince Arthur, Henry was of no great dynastic importance at the time of his birth. Even his grandmother Margaret Beaufort, who had conscientiously recorded the births of his two older siblings with exact time and place in her book of hours, recorded Henry in it rather casually.
Henry”s early childhood was marked by the aftermath of the Wars of the Roses, the bloody battles between the houses of Lancaster and York that lasted for decades. Since Henry VII had won the crown on the battlefield in 1485, pretenders to the throne repeatedly emerged to dispute his rule. In 1494, a young man named Perkin Warbeck pretended to be Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the two missing princes in the Tower. He laid claim to the English throne and quickly gained support both in England and on the mainland. As a measure against Warbeck, the king struck his second son as Knight of the Bath in a large-scale ceremony in 1494 and subsequently elevated him to Duke of York, the traditional title of the king”s second-born son. Henry, who was only three years old and would later become a tall, strong man and an enthusiastic horseman, rode into London accompanied by many noblemen “sitting alone on a horse” and was taken by one of the spectators to be already “four years old or similar” probably because of his size. In 1495, his father also admitted him to the Order of the Garter.
In 1496, when an uprising of Cornish rebels broke out in favor of Warbeck and marched unhindered on London, five-year-old Henry was forced to flee to the Tower with his mother. At the same time, Warbeck invaded England from Scotland. The king first rode north with his troops and later returned in time to defeat the rebels just outside London. Possibly these early experiences were one reason why Henry later defended his dynasty”s claim to rule so uncompromisingly and, in places, cruelly.
While Crown Prince Arthur lived in his own household at Ludlow in Wales, Henry was brought up with his sister Margaret at Eltham Palace, where they were soon joined by siblings Elizabeth, Mary and Edmund. Of the children, only Henry, Margaret and Mary reached adulthood. It is disputed among historians whether Henry was intended for a career in the church. Historian Edward Herbert wrote in the 17th century that Henry was “destined to be Archbishop of Canterbury during the lifetime of his elder brother Prince Arthur.” Against this speaks Henry”s elevation to the secular title of Duke of York, which came with considerable landholdings, and his training at arms.
His first teacher, from about 1496, was the court poet John Skelton, from whom he received the typical Renaissance education of the time, with special attention to Latin, history and ancient authors in addition to music and poetry. Later, Henry continued his education with another teacher, William Hone, who was joined by the French teacher Giles Duwes and a music and arms teacher. With this education, the young prince later became England”s first king with a comprehensive humanistic education, fluent in Latin and French, composing music and writing poetry.
When in 1499 the famous humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam visited his friend Thomas More in England and the latter took him on a surprise visit to Eltham Palace, where “all the royal children are educated, Arthur alone excepted, the eldest son,” the scholar was impressed by Henry”s skill. He wrote: “When we entered the hall, all the retinue was assembled . In the center stood Henry, nine years old, already endowed with a certain regal bearing, I mean of a greatness of mind, combined with astonishing courtesy. On his right was Margaret, about eleven years old, who later married Jacob, King of Scotland. To his left played Mary, a child of four. Edmund was a baby in the arms of his nurse.” Morus, as was customary, presented the prince with a written dedication, which embarrassed Erasmus since he had brought nothing with him. Later at dinner, Henry also sent him a note “to tempt something from my pen,” whereupon the scholar wrote a panegyric for him within three days. Heinrich was still in regular Latin correspondence with Erasmus years later.
The beginning of the 16th century brought a revolutionary change in Henry”s life. In 1501, when his 15-year-old brother Arthur married the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon of the same age, the young prince walked the bride down the aisle. Only a few months later, Arthur died completely unexpectedly and the ten-year-old Henry became heir to the throne. After it became clear that Catherine of Aragon was not pregnant with a possible heir to Arthur”s throne, Henry was officially elevated to the ninth Prince of Wales by Act of Parliament on January 15, 1504, while he was stripped of the title Duke of York. Barely a year after Arthur”s death, Henry”s mother also died in childbirth. In a letter to Erasmus a few years later, he described the news “of the death of my dear mother” as “hated news”.
From then on, Henry resided at court alongside his father, who now began to prepare him to take over the government. In a letter to Catherine of Aragon”s mother, Queen Isabella, in 1504, the Duke of Estrada remarks: “The Prince of Wales accompanies the King. In the past, the King avoided taking the Prince of Wales with him because he did not want to interrupt his studies. It is quite wonderful how fond the king is of the prince. He also has good reason to do so, because the prince deserves all the love. But it is not only out of love that the king takes the prince; he wants to teach him. Surely there can be no better school in the world than the company of such a father as Henry VII. No doubt the prince has an excellent educator and instructor in his father.”
In order to maintain the alliance with Spain, Henry VII now intended to marry Arthur”s widow to his second son. However, canon law forbade a man to marry his brother”s widow, and a papal dispensation from Julius II therefore had to be obtained to allow the marriage to take place anyway. In the mind of the time, man and woman literally became one flesh through coitus. This would have made Catherine Henry”s 1st degree relative, which would have made a marriage between them invalid. Julius II issued the dispensation in 1504, but wrote to Catherine”s mother Isabella that the marriage between Catherine and Arthur had been consummated. Thereupon Isabella protested and Julius relented to insert the word perhaps. Possibly purely political considerations played a role here. If the marriage had been consummated, Henry VII was allowed to keep Catherine”s dowry, which had already been paid proportionately. If it had not been consummated, Isabella and Ferdinand could insist on repayment of the dowry. Nevertheless, this ambiguity was to get Catherine into great trouble years later.
The marriage was to take place as soon as Heinrich reached the age of 14. By this time, however, the political situation had changed. Due to the death of her mother, the Queen of Castile in her own right, Catherine was no longer as good a match as before, and a dispute broke out between her father Ferdinand of Aragon and Henry VII over the payment of her dowry. To keep all options open, Henry VII had his son, who at 14 was now considered of legal age, deny the marriage vow on the grounds that it had been made without his consent. Although this took place in the presence of witnesses, it was not made public, so that, depending on the political situation, the marriage could still have been arranged. No decision was made until the death of Henry VII. Catherine lived in England from 1502 to 1509 as Henry”s fiancée, but still in uncertainty.
It is doubtful that Henry himself had any say in all these decisions. “He was in complete submission to his father and grandmother and never opened his mouth in public except to answer a question from one of them . He was not allowed to leave the palace, except for sport, through a private door that led into the park,” wrote the Spanish ambassador Fuensalida in the spring of 1508.
However, the young prince pursued sports with passion. The Spanish ambassador De Puebla wrote enthusiastically about the 16-year-old: “There is no more excellent youth than the Prince of Wales. He is already taller than his father, and his limbs are of giant-like proportions.” Henry, who later reached a height of over six feet, unusual for the time, practiced wrestling, tennis and archery, and Richard Grey, the 3rd Earl of Kent, once even broke his arm “fighting with the Prince.” But above all, Henry admired the men who competed in tournaments in chivalric jousting, the supreme discipline of the sports of his day. He enthusiastically attended tournaments and liked to spend time in the company of the jousters.
In early 1508, he practiced daily with his comrades in arms, and on June 15, he participated for the first time in a tournament that had “a very large attendance because of the excellence of the young prince in arms.” The following month, at another tournament attended by his father, “many men fought with him, but he was superior to them all.” Historian David Starkey suspects that Henry only participated in the harmless ring riding rather than jousting, as there were always casualties in the process, while most other historians assume no such restriction. What is certain is that Henry was an enthusiastic and brilliant jousting enthusiast after his accession to the throne. Jousting and hunting were considered practice for war and skill therein a highly desirable quality for a ruler and commander.
Henry VII died on April 21, 1509, ten weeks before his son”s eighteenth birthday. His death was kept secret for two days, and Henry continued to be addressed in public as Prince until the 23rd. It was not until April 24 that he was proclaimed king in London. Behind the scenes, a political power struggle was taking place that led to the overthrow of the old king”s two most important and unpopular ministers, Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley. They were imprisoned and executed as the culprits for his tyrannical financial policies. Henry”s justification for this was that Empson and Dudley had ruled the king and his council against their will. He then granted a general amnesty to all of his father”s debtors.
His accession as Henry VIII was the first in nearly 100 years to take place peacefully. There were euphoric reactions among the English population; many saw a new golden age dawning. Unlike his father, whose financial policies had made him unpopular in recent years, the young, handsome Henry was extremely popular. Ruler panegyric also flourished: Thomas More wrote a volume of poetry in which he describes Henry as a messiah who “will wipe away the tears from everyone”s eyes and bring joy in place of our long mourning.” Lord Mountjoy wrote to Erasmus of Rotterdam, “The heavens laugh, the earth is exalted, and all is full of milk, full of honey and nectar. Greed is banished from the land, liberality distributes wealth with a generous hand. Our king desires not gold or jewels or precious metals, but virtue, glory and immortality.”
Less than two months after his accession, shortly before his 18th birthday, Henry married Catherine of Aragon on June 11, 1509, officially claiming to be fulfilling his father”s last will and testament, but he was also attracted to her. To his father-in-law he wrote after the wedding, “Even if we were still free, it is she whom we would choose as our consort above all others.” He is also described as kissing and embracing Catherine “in an affectionate manner” in public. The joint coronation with Henry took place barely two weeks later and was of such magnificence that the chronicler Edward Hall wrote about it:
Although it was a love match, there were also pragmatic reasons for the quick marriage. Henry had experienced early on, through Perkin Warbeck”s rebellion and Arthur”s death, how fragile the young Tudor dynasty was. To ensure succession, it was essential to produce sons as quickly as possible. But the young king was equally interested in an alliance with Spain. Unlike his father, Henry strove for glory on the battlefield, and with the help of Catherine”s father Ferdinand, he was able to wage war against France. Only a few days after his coronation, Henry”s grandmother Margaret Beaufort died.
The first months of Henry”s reign were spent in entertainment. Tournaments and banquets were organized, hunts were held, and from August to September the royal tour took place, during which Henry and Catherine visited various parts of the country. Henry liked to surround himself with sporty, shrewd young men who shared his interests, but he also appreciated philosophical disputes with educated men. Close friends of his youth included Charles Brandon, William Compton, and Francis Bryan, although Henry also accepted simple-born men into his circle. On January 12, 1510, the king ventured into a joust himself for the first time, without the knowledge and against the will of his council. Together with Compton he took part in the tournament in disguise and distinguished himself as an able lancer. He also rode joust with enthusiasm in the following years.
At the same time, Henry was working on reconciliation with the House of York. Under his father, his relatives William Courtenay and Thomas Grey had been disgraced on suspicion of conspiracy and imprisoned for years. Henry restored Courtenay”s title, and when he died unexpectedly, he transferred Courtenay”s lands to his widow, his aunt Katherine of York. To Margaret Pole, a widowed cousin of his mother, he signed over an annuity of £100 on August 4, 1509. His motivation can be explained, on the one hand, by his strong sense of family and, on the other, by the need to distance himself from his father. At the same time, however, Henry also kept a record of which nobles had benefited from his generosity, “by which they are especially bound to us and should therefore serve us truly and faithfully when and as often as circumstances require.”
Unlike his distrustful father, Henry was happy to leave the business of government to his Privy Council. Thomas Wolsey, in particular, was quickly to become an influential friend and advisor. By November 1509, the shrewd, charismatic Wolsey had already become Henry”s almoner and participated in the activities of the king and his friends. Unlike the other ministers, Wolsey encouraged Henry to leave politics to others and devote himself to his pleasures. In fact, Henry was so unwilling to take extra time to read his correspondence that he did it during evening mass.
Since the young king rarely attended council meetings, Wolsey was able to act as a mediator and messenger. The noble councilors found this activity beneath their dignity, which the almoner cleverly used to become Henry”s deputy. In often informal meetings with the king, he submitted governmental matters to him along with proposed solutions and then informed the council of the decision. In this way, Henry was involved in all important decisions without having to adhere to the council”s guidelines, and Wolsey could rely on the king”s approval of his policies. Barely two years after his accession, Wolsey had firmly established himself as an influential first minister whom Henry valued more than anyone else.
Henry”s European policy in his first years of reign was mainly characterized by the conflicts of the Italian Wars. England was initially allied with Spain through Henry”s marriage to Catherine, but dissolved this alliance after repeated breaches of promise by Ferdinand of Aragón. This was followed by changing alliances with the respective king of France and the Holy Roman Emperor. Since France and Spain or the Holy Roman Empire were about equally strong, English support for one side could tip the scales, which is why England helped the highest bidder several times.
While his Privy Council urged Henry to renew his father”s old peace treaties, the king was eager to win glory on the battlefield against France, like his forefather Henry V. His father-in-law, Ferdinand of Aragon, encouraged him in these dreams in order to win him over to his war against France. On top of that, Henry”s religious feelings were hurt when the French king Louis XII threatened to depose Pope Julius II. He therefore joined the Holy League in November 1511, whose goal was to drive the French out of Italy. If he defeated the French, Julius promised Henry the rule of France.
In September, a dispute had arisen between Henry and his brother-in-law James IV of Scotland when the Scottish privateer Andrew Barton was apprehended in English waters and killed by Admiral Edward Howard, son of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Jacob”s protest was shot down by Henry. On top of that, in January 1512, the English Parliament declared the supremacy of the English Crown over Scotland. Enraged, Jacob then renewed the Auld Alliance with France, in which both countries pledged mutual aid in the event of an attack. In April 1512, English troops under the command of Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset landed in Guyenne, where they were to join Ferdinand”s forces. But instead Ferdinand invaded Navarre, leaving the English troops stranded in Hondarribia and mutinying against Dorset until he brought them back to England.
Ferdinand”s underhanded behavior caused initial tensions between him and Henry, but they continued the war in 1513. On June 30, Henry personally crossed the Channel with his troops and marched on Thérouanne, where he met Emperor Maximilian I on August 12. On August 16, both armies defeated the French defenders in the second Battle of the Spurs. A valuable prisoner taken by Henry was Louis, Duke of Longueville. At the same time, Catherine, as Henry”s regent, was preparing England for an attack by the Scots. On August 22, James IV crossed the English border, and on September 9, 1513, his army was crushed at the Battle of Flodden Field. James himself fell in battle.
In March 1514, Ferdinand and Maximilian concluded a new alliance with Louis XII behind Henry”s back, although they had previously signed a treaty with Henry to attack France again. Incensed by his father-in-law”s renewed betrayal, Henry gave Wolsey free rein to secretly negotiate a peace with France himself. Wolsey suggested to Henry that he marry his younger sister Mary Tudor to Louis. The French king was already 52 years old, sickly, and had no sons. While Henry was militarily unable to conquer France, new opportunities arose with his sister as queen. Should she have a son, given Louis” short remaining life expectancy, France faced a regency where Henry could exert political influence through Mary.
Through the mediation of Louis of Longueville, a treaty was quickly reached and in August both peace with France was proclaimed and Mary”s marriage was performed by proxy. On October 5, Henry took his sister to Dover, from where she was to sail for France. Before she left, however, Mary made a promise to Henry. If she survived Louis XII, she would be allowed to choose her own next husband. Henry probably knew that Mary already had feelings for his friend Charles Brandon. Brandon was not a match worthy of a royal princess, so it is unlikely that Henry intended to allow this marriage. Nevertheless, he agreed, possibly to appease his reluctant sister.
During Mary”s time in France, the Auld Alliance was severely weakened. Indirectly, Henry managed to help his sister Margaret, who had lost her guardianship of her sons to John Stewart, 2nd Duke of Albany by her second marriage. The latter was staying in France at the time and Louis kept him there out of loyalty to Mary”s family. However, Louis died just eleven weeks after the marriage and Henry dispatched Charles Brandon to France to negotiate the return of Mary”s dowry. In doing so, he made Brandon promise not to marry his sister in France. Mary, however, promptly created facts and married her lover on May 13, 1515, with the support of the new king, Francis I. Although Henry was beside himself with anger at Brandon”s breach of promise, he still cared about maintaining the alliance with France and eventually forgave the two on the condition that they repay the dowry out of their own pockets.
With Francis I, a king of almost the same age had appeared on the political scene who was similarly ambitious and educated as Henry. A lifelong rivalry was to develop between the two kings, and it was already beginning to show. Thus Henry asked the Venetian ambassador questions such as “The king of France, is he as tall as I am?” and “What kind of legs does he have?” Francis”s spectacular victory against the Swiss, and thus the recapture of Milan, eclipsed Henry”s own military successes. When Francis sent a delegation of his closest favorites to England in 1518, for whom he had created the new rank of gentilhomme de le chambre, Henry responded by founding the Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber. Henry achieved a temporary triumph over Francis when he sold Thérouanne back to France and, with Wolsey”s help and the support of Pope Leo X, had the European rulers sign a Treaty of Universal Peace to act as an alliance against the Ottoman Empire. However, Emperor Maximilian I died only a year later and his successor Charles V did not renew the treaty.
In order to contain Charles” growing influence, Henry and Francis I met for negotiations in Balinghem near Calais in June 1520. The meeting was to go down in history as Field of the Cloth of Gold (French: Le Camp du Drap d”Or). For this meeting of princes, a temporary palace was erected and a hill was cleared so that neither ruler would have to look up at the other as they rode toward each other in greeting. It lasted for eighteen days and turned into a demonstration of power and extravagance. Both kings assured each other in the warmest tones of their mutual affection, but nevertheless continuously tried to outdo each other. Although care had been taken not to pit the two kings against each other in the athletic contests, Henry eventually challenged Francis to a wrestling match, which he lost, much to his chagrin. On the last day of the meeting, the kings heard mass together and swore eternal friendship.
Shortly before crossing to meet Francis, Henry had arranged a meeting with Charles V in Dover. As the son of her older sister Joan, Charles was Catherine”s nephew, so she hoped for a renewal of the anti-French alliance. Her hope was fulfilled in May 1521 at a meeting of Henry and Charles at Calais, when both discussed renewed war against France. The emperor needed English support to secure his Spanish inheritance and made various promises to Henry, including that he would marry the latter”s daughter Princess Mary, give most of France to Henry himself, and support Wolsey – by then a cardinal and lord chancellor – as a candidate for pope. In the fall of 1523, therefore, Henry sent an army under his brother-in-law Charles Brandon to Calais to march on Paris, while Charles”s troops from the southwest aimed for Guyenne. Barely 130 kilometers from Paris, however, Brandon had to turn back, partly because of a change in the weather and partly because Charles did not cross the border but recaptured Hondarribia.
Once again, Henry had been taken advantage of by Catherine”s relatives and complained in such strong terms about his financial losses that the queen secretly sent her confessor to Charles” ambassador to warn him of her husband”s wrath. Consequently, Henry sent no troops to France in 1524, whereupon Francis personally led his army into Italy to retake Milan. However, he met greater resistance than he expected, which Henry gloatingly commented, “It will be very difficult for him to get there.” Nevertheless, he continued to refuse to send Charles new support.
On February 24, 1525, Charles crushed the French at the Battle of Pavia and captured Francis. To Henry”s delight, among the dead of the French army was Richard de la Pole, one of the last claimants of the House of York to the throne. He hastened to send Charles congratulations as well as proposals for dividing France between them. By now, however, Charles no longer needed him as an ally, since the war had swallowed up vast sums and a peace with France was more useful to him than a future marriage to Princess Mary. In order to deter Henry, Charles made prohibitive demands for an invasion of France, such as the immediate surrender of Princess Mary along with her dowry and an equally large loan. Henry and Wolsey refused in unison, which sealed the end of the alliance.
In November 1509, Henry proudly announced Catherine”s first pregnancy to his father-in-law, but on January 31, 1510, the queen had her first miscarriage, a daughter. To Henry”s relief, Catherine quickly became pregnant again and gave birth to Crown Prince Henry on New Year”s Day 1511, though the baby died just 52 days later on February 23. Henry and Catherine were devastated and it was forbidden to console them, lest they inflict more pain. Nevertheless, the king tried to comfort his wife by saying that it had been God”s will and that she should not rebel against it. More miscarriages followed, one during 1513, one at the end of 1514.
In February 1516, at Placentia Palace in Greenwich, Catherine finally gave birth to a surviving daughter, Mary, and for a time Henry was cautiously optimistic. “We are both young. May it be a daughter this time, God willing, sons will follow.” Despite his affection for his daughter, this did not solve the problem of succession. Daughters were allowed to inherit the throne under English law, but were subject to their husbands after their marriage. If Mary were to marry a foreign prince and become traditionally subordinate to him as a wife, there was a danger that England would become a mere satellite state. Marrying into an English noble family, in turn, could arouse the envy of the other powerful families and attract pretenders to the throne. In addition, there was prejudice against a female ruler, since the last queen in her own right, Matilda, had plunged the country into civil war.
The only solution Henry saw to all these problems was a son whose claim to the throne could not be doubted by anyone. Instead, Catherine gave birth to another daughter in 1518, who died shortly after birth. Due to her pregnancies and the grief in her life, the queen had lost her good looks and was hardly an attractive partner for Henry. Instead, Henry”s mistress Bessie Blount bore him a healthy son, Henry Fitzroy, in 1519. As an illegitimate child, he was not entitled to inherit, but he gave Henry the certainty that he could father sons.
In 1521, therefore, the only legitimate sons descended from the House of Tudor were Henry”s nephews: the minor King James V of Scotland, son of Margaret Tudor, and Henry Brandon, son of Mary Tudor, born in 1516. Faced with an uncertain succession to the throne, Henry became suspicious of members of the old nobility who were also of royal descent. Therefore, in April 1521, Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, who had fallen out with Wolsey, was sentenced to death in a show trial for treason for allegedly bringing about Henry”s death. In addition, Henry elevated Henry Fitzroy to Duke of Richmond and Somerset on June 18, 1525, prompting rumors that the king would name his bastard as his heir.
Henry had been brought up in the traditional Catholic faith and showed a great interest in religious matters throughout his life. In 1515, he proudly declared that he was “the good son of the Pope and will always stand by His Holiness and the Church, which I will never leave.” For his pamphlet defending the right Catholic faith against Martin Luther”s Reformation, Pope Leo X awarded him the title Defender of the Faith in October 1521. He also tried to find comfort in his faith in God”s will after the death of his son. In view of Catherine”s miscarriages, Henry began to search for a religious explanation over the years. Since in those days strokes of fate were often explained by God”s wrath, Heinrich feared that his marriage to Katharina was cursed. He believed to find confirmation of this in the Book of Leviticus, which states that a man who takes his brother”s widow as his wife will remain childless.
Already on April 24, 1509, before the marriage was negotiated, the Spanish ambassador Fuensalida had reported, “a member of the king”s council said it was very unlikely, because as far as they knew Henry, it would weigh on his conscience to marry his brother”s widow.” It is therefore quite possible that Henry was plagued by religious doubts from the beginning, but ignored them in his youth because of his love for Catherine and the papal dispensation. Now, on the other hand, Henry was convinced that Catherine”s marriage to Arthur had been consummated and that his marriage to her was not lawful, which is why he was now being punished by God. However, he studiously ignored the fact that, according to Deuteronomy, it was perfectly permissible to marry his brother”s widow as long as he remained childless.
Henry”s preferred solution was to annul his marriage to Catherine and marry again. Probably as early as 1526, he had fallen in love with Catherine”s lady-in-waiting Anne Boleyn, who was about 20 years younger than the queen. Since the king himself did not announce his desire for an annulment to his confidant Wolsey until early 1527, his infatuation with Anne probably played the decisive role. He wrote her love letters that appeared in the Vatican Library in the late 17th century and spoiled her with gifts. Unlike her sister Mary Boleyn, however, Anne did not become his mistress. Traditionally, it is believed that she kept Henry”s interest alive by telling him that she loved him but could not hear him out until they were married. Anne”s biographer George W. Bernard, on the other hand, thinks it more likely that Henry voluntarily refrained from sexual relations until his marriage to Catherine was annulled so that children with Anne would be incontestably legitimate. His feelings for her took on obsessive traits over time, as Alexander Alesius later reported:
Confident that he could separate from Catherine, now over 40 years old, Henry promised Anne marriage on New Year”s Day 1527. Thereupon, on May 17, 1527, Cardinal Wolsey convened a court at his own palace, York Place, consisting of himself as judge and the Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham as assessor, to investigate the legality of the king”s marriage. In the process, Henry, with his consent, fell into the role of defendant, unlawfully cohabiting with his brother”s widow. Bishop John Fisher, however, argued the position of Deuteronomy and the right of the pope to pass judgment. Wolsey, himself no friend of Anne Boleyn, then declared the case too difficult to resolve himself. Nevertheless, Henry had reason to be confident. His former brother-in-law Louis XII had been able to annul his childless marriage to Jeanne de Valois, and Henry was on good terms with the pope. As late as 1515, he had proclaimed, “I think I have enough influence with the pope to hope that he will stand by the side I choose.” If Henry still thought so, he was very quickly proved wrong.
Barely two days later, on June 2, 1527, word reached England that Charles V, Catherine”s nephew, had, after the Sacco di Roma, seized Pope Clement VII at Castel Sant”Angelo. Although it was unlikely that Clement would now rule in Henry”s favor, the king notified the horrified Catherine of his intention on June 22 and in July sent Wolsey to Avignon, where the cardinals were to debate his “great matter.” Henry presumably hoped that Wolsey would receive authority from the assembly of cardinals to annul his marriage during the pope”s inability to act. At the same time, without Wolsey”s knowledge, he dispatched his secretary William Knight to Rome to obtain papal permission to marry Anne. Knight, however, was not even allowed to see the pope. On top of that, Clement forbade the cardinals to attend the Avignon summit, and Wolsey returned empty-handed. In February 1528, Stephen Gardiner and Edward Fox, provost of King”s College, traveled to Rome to negotiate with the pope. Although the pope granted Henry a dispensation to marry Anne Boleyn despite his previous relationship with her sister Mary. He still refused to grant him an annulment, however, and used the phrase Non possumus, which became famous as a result, in his refusal.
The pope finally managed to escape after six months, and he sent Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggi to England to rule on the legality of the royal marriage. In doing so, however, he had imposed so many restrictions on him that Campeggi hardly had the authority to pass judgment. Finally, on June 21, 1529, the royal couple was heard in person at the Dominican monastery of Blackfriars, where Catherine threw herself at Henry”s feet and begged him for justice, since her honor and that of his daughter were at stake. The pope, still under pressure from Charles V, finally granted Catherine”s request to hear the case in Rome. The failure was blamed on Wolsey, who subsequently fell from grace. In October he was placed under house arrest and lost all his offices. After an attempt to secretly contact Rome, Francis I, and Charles V, which was construed as treason, Wolsey died on his way to London. As his successor as Lord Chancellor, Henry chose Thomas More, who, unlike Wolsey, kept him informed in detail about matters of state.
At Anne Boleyn”s suggestion, Henry consulted not only Bishop Edward Fox but also the theology professor Thomas Cranmer, who advised him in 1529 to seek the opinion of the theologians at the European universities and in this way obtain spiritual approval for the annulment. To this end, the theologians were to be presented with the question, among others, of whether the pope had the authority to override divine laws. To this end, Cranmer was sent to Italy in 1530 and Fox to France. Another ally became Henry”s minister Thomas Cromwell, a studied jurist and former servant of Cardinal Wolsey who, like Cranmer, sympathized with the Reformation. Disillusioned with Rome”s delaying tactics, Henry angrily declared in Catherine”s presence on November 30, 1529, that if the pope did not “declare their marriage null and void, he would denounce the pope as a heretic and marry whom he pleased.” In fact, the influential universities of Padua, Pavia, Ferrara, and Bologna ruled in Henry”s favor. The College of Sorbonne followed suit on July 2, 1530, as soon as the sons of Francis I were released from their hostage-taking by Charles V.
In August 1530, Henry sent a messenger to the pope to inform him that it was “the custom in England that no one should be obliged to apply to the law outside the kingdom” and that “this custom and privilege stand on firm and solid arguments and have true and just foundations.” Henry invoked the fact that no one could rule over a land that was not subject to him. In September 1530, Fox and Cranmer presented a dossier to the king in which they referred to the pope as the “bishop of Rome” and the king as “God”s vicar on earth.” According to their conclusions, Henry was the unrestricted ruler of his country, to whom the clergy was also subject, while he himself was accountable only to God. Accordingly, he was the highest spiritual authority in matters of faith and could officially commission the Archbishop of Canterbury to investigate his doubts about the marriage to Catherine.
The historical model for this radical redefinition of kingship was William the Conqueror, who had appointed bishops and instigated church reforms. With this dossier, the pope was officially accused of usurpation, since he had illegally usurped the power of a king in Henry”s own realm. As a result, in January 1531, Henry demanded a fee of 118,000 (nowadays over 1 million) pounds sterling from the clergy as compensation for alleged abuse of office. Furthermore, he demanded recognition as head and sole protector of the English Church. The clergy obeyed, but changed the title to head of the English Church, as far as the law of Christ allows.
In the spring of 1532, at Henry”s insistence, Parliament passed a law that stopped payment of the annates to the pope if he continued to refuse to cancel them and instead diverted the funds to the royal treasury. Furthermore, in March of the same year, Cromwell exposed the corruption and abuses of office by the clergy. Outraged, Henry accused the clergy in Parliament on May 11, 1532:
Well aware that Henry was subliminally accusing them of treason with these words, the clergy reluctantly signed the so-called Submission of the Clergy on May 15, which stated that church laws required the king”s approval just as secular laws did. Also, Henry was appointed head of the English Church without the previous restrictions, which was a direct violation of Magna Carta, which stated the independence of the Church from the Crown. As a result, Thomas More resigned as Lord Chancellor just one day later.
In October 1532, Henry made a trip to Calais with Anne to sign a new treaty with Francis I and gain France”s support in Rome and against Charles V. In all likelihood, Anne heard the king during this trip and slept with him. Despite still being married to Catherine and without papal permission, Henry married Anne, who was already pregnant, on January 25, 1533, in secrecy. So that the legitimacy of the child could not be doubted, the marriage to Catherine had to be dissolved immediately. For this reason, he urged the pope to appoint Thomas Cranmer as the new archbishop of Canterbury. Clement, hoping to appease Henry by a friendly gesture, granted him this wish and sent the appropriate bulls to England. On March 30, 1533, four days after their arrival, Cranmer was consecrated archbishop.
Henry had already removed Catherine from court in August 1531, and on Easter Sunday, April 12, 1533, Anne Boleyn made her first official appearance as queen. Cranmer now officially asked Henry for permission to legally examine his marriage to Catherine, declaring it null and void on May 23. Parliament also passed the Act in Restraint of Appeals, a law requiring ecclesiastical legal proceedings to take place in England and prohibiting any appeal to a Roman court. Anne was crowned queen on June 1 and gave birth to her only daughter, Elizabeth, on September 7, 1533.
On May 23, 1534, the pope declared Henry”s marriage to Catherine valid and threatened him with excommunication if he did not return to her. On November 3, 1534, Henry then pushed through the Act of Supremacy in Parliament, recognizing the king as the “supreme head of the Church of England on earth” and thus finally breaking England away from the Roman Church. It was the birth of the Church of England.
Already on July 5, 1533, a proclamation had been issued that Catherine, as Arthur”s widow, could no longer be referred to as Queen, but only as Dowager Princess. A few months later, Princess Mary”s household was dissolved and all contact with her mother was forbidden. She herself was sent to Elizabeth as a lady-in-waiting on December 17, 1533. Since, according to the law of primogeniture, she had the higher rank as the firstborn, it was a deliberate humiliation to make her the servant of her younger sister. With the 1st Succession to the Throne Act, Mary was declared a royal bastard by an Act of Parliament on March 23, 1534, while the descendants of Anne and Henry were now first in line to the throne.
Any attempt to reinstate Mary in the succession was now to be punished by death. The English people had to acknowledge under oath Henry”s supremacy over both the church and the law of succession and swear obedience to him. Mary”s bastardization nevertheless met with displeasure, since it would have been possible to preserve her legitimacy despite the annulment of her parents” marriage. Henry”s sister Margaret Tudor had at the time obtained an annulment of her second marriage, but at the same time secured the legitimacy of her daughter Margaret Douglas by pleading that the marriage had been contracted in good faith. It is possible that Henry would have made use of this if Princess Elizabeth had been a boy, since he would have had the right to the throne before his sister. But since there were now two princesses, a clear differentiation was necessary.
In addition to the Act of Succession to the Throne, a new Act of Treason had been passed that made any disparagement of Henry, Anne, and Elizabeth, as well as an attack on Henry”s authority as head of the church, treason. It now found use against all who resisted Henry. Among the few who refused to swear the oath were the Carthusians, Thomas More, and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, advocate of Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary. They were all imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1535 and executed in May, June, and July respectively, the monks by hanging, disemboweling, and quartering, Fisher and More by beheading. According to the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys, Anne urged Henry to make examples of Catherine and Mary as well, since they “deserve death more than all those who were executed and who are the cause of all this.”
Like her mother, Mary refused to accept the deprivation of her title and referred to Elizabeth only as a sister, not as Princess of England. Anne Boleyn called her “a cursed bastard” who “should be slapped in the face,” which is why Chapuys, among others, blamed her for Mary”s poor treatment. However, this continued after Anne”s death and is thus undoubtedly attributable to Henry. The latter demanded unconditional obedience from his daughter and explained to the French ambassador that her Spanish blood made her so defiant. However, when the latter mentioned Mary”s good upbringing, Henry, moved to tears, praised his daughter”s merits. His paternal pride in her was still present, but he tolerated no opposition to his authority as head of the Church.
Although it is sometimes claimed that Henry ultimately appointed himself head of the English Church out of lasciviousness, he had already declared in his younger years that he felt responsible for the spiritual welfare of his subjects. As he wrote to Erasmus in 1527, before he even thought of breaking with the pope: “Our breast, no doubt inflamed by the Holy Spirit, burns with passion to restore the faith and religion of Christ to their original dignity, so that the word of God may flow freely and purely.” Since the Pope had refused him an annulment for reasons that were manifestly political and not religious, Henry felt justified throughout his life in breaking with Rome and shaping the English Church according to his own interpretation of the Bible.
In January 1535, Henry granted Thomas Cromwell the office of Vicegerent-in-Spiritual, which made him the authorized deputy of the head of the Church and allowed him to inspect monasteries and give them new statutes in consultation with the king. In this way, Henry obtained direct influence on the daily life of the orders and even on the prayers they were allowed to say. Thus, the abbots were given the duty of taking the oath of supremacy and the law of succession to the throne from their brothers in the order, thus nullifying the alleged usurpation of the pope. In addition, they were ordered to pray daily at Mass for Henry and his “noble and lawful wife Queen Anne.”
Furthermore, Henry put a stop to the use of alleged miracle-working relics and images, with which the monks made lucrative business. Pilgrims were asked to give donations to the poor rather than to any images. Monks were forbidden to leave the monastery grounds and to have contact with women. Both in terms of food and clothing, they were urged to lead a simple life. At the same time, it was already becoming apparent that the king considered monastic life superfluous, since true religion for him meant “purity of spirit, purity of lifestyle, unadulterated faith of Christ, and fraternal charity,” for which orders and monasteries were not necessary. Since the monks were no longer allowed to leave their monasteries, they could neither collect rents nor sell their produce, which would lead to bankruptcies and starvation in the near future.
In March 1536, the Act of Suppression of the Lesser Monasteries came into force, which resulted in the dissolution of the small monasteries. The buildings were demolished and the order”s assets of about 2.5 million (today more than 1 billion) English pounds went into the crown treasury. Henry”s quarrel with his distant relative Reginald Pole probably played a role in this. After Henry asked Pole, a deacon living in Italy, in 1535 to tell him his true views on annulment and the break with Rome, Pole sent an unvarnished, scathing reply in 1536 that enraged Henry and possibly drove him to take tougher action against the monasteries. With the dispossession of Italian bishops who held dioceses in England and the deaths of Thomas Fisher and Charles Booth, Rochester, Hereford, Salisbury, and Worcester needed new bishops. Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell took an active part in the appointment of Reformation bishops, and Henry confirmed the appointment on July 8, 1535. Nevertheless, the king was by no means willing to tolerate what he saw as heretical Lutheran teachings. Although Henry had initially been quite willing to form an alliance with the Schmalkaldic League, the differences between his claim as head of the church and the beliefs of the German Protestant princes proved too great.
As early as 1530, Henry had declared his intention to promote an English translation of the New Testament. The first English translation was the Coverdale Bible, made by Miles Coverdale. However, it was based in part on William Tyndale”s translation of the Bible, which was banned in England, and thus was not authorized by Henry. In 1537, the Matthew Bible appeared, combining translations of Tyndale, Coverdale, and John Rogers. However, because of some Protestant elements, especially in Tyndale”s partial translations, it was considered problematic, so Coverdale revised it again. In 1539 it was finally published as the Great Bible and made compulsory in all churches. Years later, Henry would explain that he had agreed to the Bible translation so that the nobles of his realm could “train their own consciences and instruct their families and children.” Under no circumstances did he want God”s word to be “discussed, rhymed, sung, and jangled in every tavern and inn.”
In August 1536, the Ten Articles appeared. They recognized the Holy Scriptures as the norm of faith and limited the sacraments to baptism, penance, and the Lord”s Supper. Henry, however, took these views too far, so in 1537 he ordered the Ten Articles to be replaced by the Institution of a Christian Man, with the aim of removing “certain differences of opinion” concerning “the Christian religion and faith, not only in this kingdom, but among all peoples throughout the world.” Ironically, Henry referred exclusively to Scripture, much as Luther did, but rejected core Protestant doctrines.
Beginning in 1538, Henry had all English monasteries dissolved and confiscated their properties. Monks who cooperated with him received generous pensions. Those who resisted, such as the abbots of Reading, Glastonbury and Colchester, were arrested as traitors and hanged. In addition, in 1539 Parliament passed the Act for the Abolishing of Diversity in Opinion, also known as the Act of Six Articles. In them, the doctrine of transubstantiation, concomitance, the prohibition of priestly marriage, celibacy, Mass for the dead, and confession were confirmed. These points represented a setback for the faction of reformers, which included Cranmer and Cromwell, especially since violations were punished as heresy under the most severe penalties. Catholics who adhered to the Roman Church, as well as Protestants, were persecuted, imprisoned, and executed as a result, sometimes on the same day. In 1544, Cranmer published his Exhortation and Litany, which added English sermons, litanies, and prayers for processions to the still Latin Mass.
Henry”s belief that he had acted in God”s will was put to the test, however, when Anne Boleyn also failed to bear him a son. Instead, she probably miscarried in 1534 and did not become pregnant again until the fall of 1535. Added to this were Henry”s occasional problems with erectile dysfunction, possibly due to health reasons. Also, the king expected Anne to behave submissively as an obedient wife after marriage. However, since she did not silently tolerate Henry”s flirtations with other women, unlike Catherine, there were some exchanges between them. Chapuys, for example, reported how Henry finally gruffly replied to Anne “that she had to close her eyes and endure it, as better ones had done before her” and that she “should know that it was in his power to humiliate her more in a moment than he had lifted her up.” Historians often see these words as evidence that Henry”s love for Anne quickly faded after the marriage and that he toyed early on with the idea of disowning her again. However, by April 1536, the king was making efforts to get Charles V to recognize and respect Anne as his consort. During the court”s tour in the summer of 1535, Anne succeeded in gaining more popular approval, but Catholic foreign countries still refused to consider her a queen.
On January 7, 1536, Catherine of Aragon died, presumably of cancer. Henry”s first reaction to her death was relief that the threat of invasion by Charles V was now averted. The next day, a Sunday, Henry dressed entirely in yellow and visited Anne in her chambers, where he embraced and kissed her. Still, further tensions between him and Anne loomed. Henry”s cousin Henry Courtenay, 1st Marquess of Exeter and his wife Gertrude reported to Chapuys that the king had said he had entered into the marriage “by witchcraft and for this reason he considered it void.” The reason he gave was that God still did not grant him a son “and he believed he could take another wife.” It was also said that Anne felt insecure. If Henry also had their marriage annulled, he would have had to return to Catherine during her lifetime, while now the way was clear for him to repudiate Anne. Chapuys himself did not believe the rumor, especially since Anne was pregnant and the king still hoped for a son.
On January 24, Heinrich was knocked from his horse while jousting and buried under the animal. According to Borman, the claim that Henry was unconscious for two hours comes from the report of a man who was miles away from the court at the time. Chapuys himself wrote in a letter only that the king fell and that his survival bordered on a miracle. A little later, Henry admitted to having trouble with a leg ulcer. Henry had already suffered from a leg ulcer in 1528, but it was cured by a doctor in Canterbury at the time. The cause was thought to be varicose veins or chronic inflammation of the bone marrow. Only five days later, on the day of Catherine”s funeral, Anne Boleyn had another miscarriage, this time a son. According to Chapuys, Henry barely spoke to her except to say that “it did not please God to give him male offspring.” Also, in the same letter, Chapuys mentioned for the first time Jane Seymour, whom the king had recently been showering with gifts.
Contrary to all legends, Henry actually met Jane only around New Year”s Day 1536. Unlike Catherine and Anne, she was neither beautiful nor particularly intelligent. However, she behaved gently and obediently toward the king, which was in stark contrast to Anne”s sharp-tonguedness. After the tiring battles Henry had fought to marry Anne, he had little patience for vociferous arguments and challenges, especially as it became increasingly clear how many of his friends had turned away from him because of Anne. It is possible that Jane had initially been nothing more than a flirtation for Heinrich. However, when he sent her a purse and a letter, he received both back from her unopened with the modest request that he not give her a gift of money until it pleased God to send her a good match. Impressed by her virtue, Heinrich saw her only in the presence of her relatives. The conservative faction at court, especially Sir Nicholas Carew, eagerly supported Jane, and even Anne”s former ally Thomas Cromwell, who had fallen out with the queen, let Jane have his chambers at court, which were connected to Henry”s by secret passages.
Henry”s new love was the opportunity Anne”s opponents had been waiting for. Shortly after the king got Chapuys to pay his respects to Anne as queen on April 18, Cromwell used arguments between Anne, the musician Mark Smeaton, and Henry Norris, Henry”s Groom of the Stool, to plot against the queen. Arguments with both men were turned into adultery in order to accuse Anne of treason. Anne had accused Norris, among others, of being interested in her should anything happen to the king. Historians disagree about the extent to which Henry was involved in the intrigue. Eric Ives considers Cromwell an instigator and Henry clueless, precisely because the king was still pressuring Charles V to recognize Anne as queen until April 30. Tracy Borman, on the other hand, considers it possible that Henry agreed to Cromwell”s intrigue and deliberately played the role of cuckold in order to get rid of Anne. As evidence for this, she cites the fact that Henry gave Cromwell a new, fully furnished manor house in the same month, possibly as a reward.
At least it is certain that Henry knew about Anne”s quarrel with Norris. According to current law, even the prediction of the monarch”s possible death was treason, especially since Anne had literally forced herself on Norris according to common moral standards. Henry angrily confronted her. Alexander Alesius observed the scene, but only from a distance. “I did not quite know what had happened, but the faces and gestures of the speakers clearly showed that the king was enraged, although he was masterful at concealing his anger.” The next day, May 1, 1536, Henry learned during a tournament that Mark Smeaton had confessed to committing adultery with Anne. Ives suspects that after this news, Henry saw Anne”s quarrel with Henry Norris in a completely new light, namely that Norris had also been her lover. Fleeing from the tournament, the king rode with Henry Norris to Whitehall. On the way, he cross-examined him and offered him complete forgiveness if he admitted to adultery with the queen. Norris, however, refused to make a false confession and was imprisoned in the Tower. Anne was also arrested, as were her brother George and courtiers Francis Weston and William Brereton.
Heinrich himself shut himself off from the outside world during these days and was often seen in the garden or at night in his boat. His mental state seemed worrisome. The evening after Anne”s arrest, when his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy came to him, the king embraced him and sobbed that Fitzroy and his half-sister Mary “owe it to God to have escaped from the hands of that accursed whore who tried to poison them both.” Although there is no evidence that Anne intended to poison Henry”s children, possibly her efforts to have Catherine and Mary executed now appeared to him in a different light. He also declared that Anne had had more than a hundred lovers, and Chapuys even claimed that the king, feeling sorry for himself, had written a tragedy, which he carried with him and forced the courtiers to read.
After her conviction as an adulteress, the king had his marriage to Anne annulled on May 17. Since the papers were lost, the official reason is no longer known, only that there were “certain just, true, and lawful impediments, previously unknown,” to this marriage. Chapuys reports that a previously existing betrothal to Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland may have been taken up, however Northumberland once again emphatically denied it. Instead, Ives thinks it more likely that Henry”s sexual relationship with Mary Boleyn was given as the reason. Although the king would have known at the time of his marriage to Anne that it was against divine right to marry his brother”s widow, he would have been unaware that marriage to the sister of a former mistress was also unlawful. As justification for this argument, Ives states that the 2nd Act of Succession officially declared such unions illegal only a few months later. However, since an annulment meant that Anne had never been Henry”s true wife, strictly speaking she could not have been convicted of adultery. For some historians, this makes the charge absurd. Two days after the annulment, Anne was executed on the grounds of the Tower of London on May 19, 1536, just one day after the men who had also been convicted.
On May 30, 1536, Henry married Jane Seymour, to the general delight of the conservative faction at court. Sir John Russell wrote of the marriage to Jane, as compared to that to Anne, that “the king went from hell to heaven by kindness in this and abomination and misery in the other.” Many felt that Henry had merely been seduced by Anne into breaking with Rome and that now, with a conservative queen at his side, he would reverse the unpopular reforms. Henry”s participation in the procession on the occasion of Corpus Christi, a thoroughly Catholic holiday, fit in with this. Stephen Gardiner hoped for a reconciliation with Rome, Nicholas Carew for the readmission of Princess Mary to the throne.
Pope Paul III actually proposed a reconciliation to Henry, along with participation in the General Church Council in Mantua. His condition was that England return to the bosom of the Church and receive absolution. Charles V was also willing to reconcile with Henry now that both his aunt and Anne Boleyn were dead. Henry, however, regarded his status as head of the Church as God-given. Through his envoys, he pressured Mary to recognize him as head of the church and his marriage to Catherine as invalid. Jane Seymour tried to influence him to reinstate his daughter in the line of succession, whereupon the king snapped at her that “she was a fool,” since she should “work for the advancement of the children they would have together, not for that of others.”
Only when Maria officially submitted to him in writing on June 22, 1536 did he reconcile with her. On July 6, father and daughter met again for the first time in five years. Henry behaved affectionately and gave her gifts. Only a short time later, she was summoned to court and only had to give way to the queen. In this way, the conservative faction was deprived of the basis for resistance. On June 30, Parliament passed the 2nd Act of Succession, which bastardized both Mary and Elizabeth and made only Jane”s descendants – or those of a future wife – legitimate heirs to the throne. Since this child did not yet exist, the act gave Henry the unprecedented power to determine his successor by will. It is conceivable that Henry kept open the possibility of naming his bastard son Henry Fitzroy as heir. However, the boy died only two months after Anne Boleyn.
In response to the closure of the monasteries and Mary”s bastardization, the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in October 1536 under the leadership of the jurist Robert Aske. It became the greatest crisis during Henry”s reign and called for the restoration of the monasteries and Mary”s status. Both Mary and Elizabeth were subsequently summoned to court and treated with royal honors. Queen Jane herself begged Henry on her knees for mercy for the rebels. His reply was curt and threatening. “He ordered her, calmly enough, to stand up and that he had told her several times not to interfere in his affairs, referring to the last queen. It was enough to frighten a woman who didn”t feel very safe.”
Since Henry was militarily outnumbered by the insurgents, he had to negotiate and dispatched Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk to Doncaster, where the insurgents had gathered between 30,000 and 40,000 men. Norfolk asked Henry to at least make a mock concession to the rebels” demands and was given the authority to make a general pardon. Henry initially acquiesced, but explicitly excluded the ringleaders. As early as November, Chapuys feared that Henry merely wanted to lull the rebels into a sense of security so that he could take revenge later. Borman also suspects that by sending both Norfolk and the equally conservative Sir Francis Bryan into the field against the rebels, Henry wanted to test their loyalty.
On December 8, the rebel army was officially disbanded and at Christmas 1536 Henry invited Robert Aske to court. In doing so, he promised him a parliamentary session in York on the Pilgrims” demands and reaffirmed his general pardon. As soon as Aske departed, Henry sent Norfolk north again to take the Pilgrims” oath to accept Henry as head of the church, the changed succession to the throne, and the dissolution of the monasteries. Those who refused to take the oath were to be treated as traitors. In doing so, the pilgrims would have renounced everything they had fought for. When revolts broke out again in February 1537, Henry no longer felt bound by his promises. This time he found broader support among the population and the local nobility, who helped him to put down the uprising with bloodshed. The leaders, including Robert Aske and Thomas Darcy, were executed as traitors.
On May 23, 1537, it was announced at court that Jane Seymour was pregnant and a solemn mass was held on May 29. Pregnancies were not made official until the queen felt fetal movements, and Henry used her condition as an excuse to avoid traveling north, as he had promised Aske at Christmas. He wrote to Norfolk that if he were so far away from her and in such a troubled land, she would likely become frightened, which could have disastrous consequences given her pregnancy. As was customary for queens, Jane retired to the maternity chamber at Hampton Court on September 16, where she gave birth to the long-awaited Crown Prince Edward on October 12.
Henry”s joy over his son was marred, however, when Jane fell ill with childbed fever only a short time later. Henry”s reaction to her illness seems strange, for he told Russell to visit his manor at Esher on October 25 in any case. “If she recovers, he will go. If she does not recover, he told me today, he cannot bring himself to linger.” Jane died on the night of October 24. Whether Henry was with her is uncertain, but what is known is that he did not marry for a long time after her death. Even later he would say that of all his wives he had loved Jane the most, possibly because she gave him the longed-for heir to the throne. Moreover, Henry had so far fallen in love mainly when he had grown tired of a wife. During his marriage to Jane, he had complimented pretty ladies, but until Jane”s death, there was no new contender for the royal favor. Nevertheless, Henry seemed inclined to marry again, for he took care of the temporary accommodation of her ladies-in-waiting and arranged pleasure trips for them at his own expense, rather than dissolving Jane”s household.
Henry devoted all the more care to the accommodation and care of little Prince Edward. He had his own living quarters built for him at Hampton Court, where the boy was safe from the diseases of London. To avoid contagion, he had the kitchen built close to Edward”s chambers and his food was checked by a taster. To prevent his clothes from being poisoned, they had to be checked before being put on, and new clothes were thoroughly washed and perfumed before first use. From March 1539, Henry also issued orders that the walls, ceilings and floors in the prince”s chambers were to be scrubbed several times a day to protect him from germs. Also, the members of his household were only allowed to be near him as long as they did not show any symptoms of illness.
However, personal visits by the king were rare. His children grew up in their own households and were summoned to the court at Christmas and Easter. In May 1538, however, a visit by Henry is vouchsafed, during which he “jested with his son in his arms for a long time with much gaiety and joy, and held him to the window for the sight and comfort of the people.” Nevertheless, it is possible that Henry felt an underlying resentment toward Edward, for the boy later lamented, “How unhappy I have made mine by killing my mother at my birth.”
After the Pilgrimage of Grace, Henry”s distrust of conservative forces in the country grew. In particular, his cousin Henry Courtenay, 1st Marquess of Exeter, and the Pole family, which included the renegade Cardinal Reginald Pole, could provide an alternative to Henry for malcontents because of their descent from the royal House of York. Henry”s attempts to kidnap Pole or have him assassinated had so far failed. Since the influential, conservative nobility was also a thorn in Cromwell”s side, it was not difficult for him to convince Henry with inflated circumstantial evidence that Courtenay and the Poles were plotting against him with foreign powers. In the course of the so-called Exeter Conspiracy, royal cousins Henry Courtenay and Henry Pole, 1st Baron Montagu, and Henry”s close friends Sir Edward Neville and Sir Nicholas Carew were accused of high treason and beheaded.
It is unclear whether Henry was convinced of the accusations or acted out of political calculation. Despite Neville”s condemnation as a traitor, Henry continued to show affection for his eighteen-year-old son Henry Neville, his own godson. Beginning in October 1539, he granted him an annual pension, sent him on a diplomatic trip to France, and, supreme sign of his confidence, made him Groom of the Privy Chamber. Courtenay”s son Edward, on the other hand, remained in the Tower during both Henry”s and Edward”s reigns. Reginald Pole”s mother Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury also remained in custody and was executed two years later. Eustace Chapuys suspected that the primary purpose was to eliminate Princess Mary”s advocate.
Barely a month after the birth of Prince Edward, Francis I and Charles V concluded an armistice, which was later extended to ten years by Pope Paul III. Thus two of the great Catholic empires stood allied against the Reformation countries. In order not to become completely isolated politically, Henry again sought to talk with the Schmalkaldic League, and in May 1538 a German delegation visited England. To demonstrate England”s Reformation zeal, Henry had Cromwell”s men destroy shrines and saintly cults, including the magnificent shrine of Thomas Becket. The pope had already completed the excommunication bull on August 30, 1535, but it had not been executed because Rome hoped it could still win Henry back. After the desecration of Thomas Becket”s tomb, however, Paul III renewed the bull in December 1538 and sought to persuade Charles V and Francis I to invade England.
As a result, Henry put England on alert. He personally inspected Dover”s fortifications, had troops raised and ordered the modernization and enlargement of the navy. The three older ships Mary Rose, Peter Pomegranate and Great Harry were completely rebuilt and equipped with guns. In the years between 1539 and 1544 he ordered the construction of nine new ships and bought four more. In building the fleet, Henry”s attention was focused on having several large warships accompanied by smaller craft that were also used on patrol and as escorts for fishing boats.
Unlike his father, Henry additionally set up an administration that regularly took care of ship maintenance, had new dry docks built and expanded the existing ports. In addition, the Royal Gun Foundries were founded, which were responsible for the production of cannons. The border with Scotland was also refortified and a whole chain of new forts was built on the south coast. Overall, it was the largest military construction project between the Norman Conquest and the Napoleonic Wars.
In order to find allies in foreign policy, Henry was prepared to enter into a new marriage. As early as 1538, Cromwell had proposed a marriage to a sister of William V, Duke of Cleves. However, in March 1538, Henry was still toying with the idea of marrying Christina of Denmark and therefore sent Hans Holbein to paint her. It is said that she mockingly replied that if she had two heads, she would gladly put one of them at the disposal of the King of England. Holbein painted a total of five more candidates, but their portraits have not survived. Since all these marriage negotiations were unsuccessful, Heinrich finally sent Holbein to Cleves in 1539 to paint Anne of Cleves” portrait. Cromwell, who approved of the marriage, showed Henry the portraits, whereupon the king agreed to the marriage. However, to nip any expectations of the religious reformers in the bud, he firmly declared that it was a purely political marriage, for which Cromwell alone was responsible.
How much Heinrich actually wanted to marry Anna is assessed differently by his biographers. Borman, referring to Heinrich”s friendly overtures to the French, states that Heinrich”s enthusiasm for the marriage quickly cooled. According to Starkey, however, Heinrich was already determined to marry one of the Cleves sisters in July 1539. As evidence, he cites that Henry”s envoys insisted on seeing the faces of Anna and Amalia because “one of them would be their queen” and only then was Anna”s portrait painted. Instead, Starkey believes Henry fell in love with an idea eagerly nurtured by Cromwell and his supporters. On October 4, the marriage contract was signed. Anna left Düsseldorf in November, but due to bad weather was unable to travel from Calais to Dover until December 27.
Already at a first clandestine meeting in Rochester, Heinrich was disappointed. Anna did not recognize him as her future husband, since he arrived without announcement and in disguise. Here Heinrich played out a motif of chivalric romance popular at the English court, where the lover is always recognized by his lady of the heart even in disguise. Anna, on the other hand, knew nothing of this courtly game and therefore behaved reservedly toward the stranger, who kissed her abruptly, which Heinrich took as a humiliation. Only when he returned in his royal robes did she pay her respects, but the damage had already been done.
Whether out of wounded pride or actual disappointment, Heinrich felt repulsed by Anna. He somberly informed his companion, “I see nothing in this woman that other men report of her. And it amazes me that wise men would make such reports.” In response to Thomas Cromwell”s question about how Anna had pleased him, Henry replied unkindly, “Not so well as was spoken of her,” and declared that if he had known about her beforehand, she would not have come to his kingdom. He urged Cromwell to find a solution so that he would not have to marry Anna, but no official reason for refusing to marry her could be found. Her earlier engagement to Francis I, son and heir of the Duke of Lorraine had been duly dissolved. Henry complained bitterly of this injustice. “If I did not fear to create a storm in the world – namely, to be the cause of driving her brother into the hands of the emperor – I would never marry her.”
The wedding took place on January 6, 1540. The morning after the wedding night, Henry appeared in a very bad mood, claiming that in view of her breasts and belly she could not be a virgin and that he would not have been able to consummate the marriage, although he firmly denied any doubts about his potency. Anna herself told her ladies-in-waiting that the king would merely kiss her and wish her good night or good morning. The marriage was annulled as early as July 1540, to the regret of the people, with whom the new queen was very popular. Since Anna was cooperative, the king adopted her as his “good sister” and gave her several castles, estates and properties, as well as a pension of about 3000 pounds for life. She was further declared the highest lady of the land behind the Queen and Henry”s daughters.
While still married to Anne, Henry had fallen passionately in love with Anne”s lady-in-waiting Catherine Howard, a cousin of Anne Boleyn. The conservative faction at court, especially Catherine”s uncle Norfolk, favored this relationship in order to overthrow Thomas Cromwell. The latter had already been discredited because of the Cleves marriage and was fighting for his political survival. Since Henry was back on more familiar terms with Norfolk through his relationship with Catherine, the latter, according to the Spanish Chronicles, along with Edward Seymour, told the king that Cromwell had been paid by the Duke of Cleves for the marriage and was planning a revolt. This meeting is not attested in any other source and is therefore probably based on rumors at court. Nevertheless, the conflict between reformers and conservatives could no longer be ignored. Cromwell had acted several times in favor of Protestants, allowing them to preach, remitting prison sentences, and corresponding with Lutherans. Faced with this evidence that his first minister sympathized with Protestants, Henry took drastic measures.
On July 10, 1540, Cromwell was arrested for treason and heresy. Nevertheless, Henry took many of Cromwell”s former servants into his own service to save them from poverty. He also secretly sent Cromwell money to the Tower and asked him how he was being treated. Possibly, however, the latter was done out of self-interest, for the king sought the annulment of the Cleves marriage and required Cromwell to give written testimony. Probably in return for this cooperation, Henry transferred some of Cromwell”s confiscated lands to his son Gregory and appointed him Baron Cromwell on December 18. Thomas Cromwell himself was sentenced to death by an Act of Attainder and executed on July 28, 1540.
Although Henry, by his own account, later regretted the death sentence, he never again gave a minister comparable power to Cromwell. Instead, he no longer allowed his power to be limited, leading the French envoy Charles de Marillac to say, “Although before everyone complied with his wishes, there was still a kind of justice, but now there is only the king”s pleasure” and that he was no longer just “a king to be obeyed, but an idol to be worshipped.” According to Eric Ives, in addition to obeying the king, it was now required to think just like the king. From Philip Melanchthon comes the term “English Nero.” However, Henry still used Parliament to have his decisions legalized and therefore adapted laws to his needs rather than outright breaking them.
The new marriage with Catherine Howard was contracted in the month of the annulment of the Cleves marriage and on the day of Cromwell”s execution. Although Henry was obviously very fond of the young woman and showered her with gifts, it is very likely that Catherine was less fond of him. The king had put on a lot of weight over the years and was over thirty years older than she was. Nevertheless, she behaved with dignity on public occasions and established a good relationship with Henry”s children. A letter from the council said that the king had “now found a jewel in his old days, after many troubles of conscience that had happened to him through marriages.”
Together with her and Princess Mary, the king undertook a journey in the summer of 1541 to the north, where the Pilgrimage of Grace had broken out years earlier. He showed himself to be a gracious ruler, ready to reconcile, accepting the submission of his previously rebellious subjects and even offering compensation in some cases. On this trip, Catherine Howard began an affair with the valet Thomas Culpeper, her first cousin, which was supported by her lady-in-waiting Jane Boleyn and was to be her undoing.
On November 2, the king received a letter from Thomas Cranmer, who had learned explosive details from Catherine”s past. Among other things, there was an old marriage promise of Catherine to Francis Dereham, which according to this had been consummated by coitus. According to current law, Catherine would thus have been an already married woman at the time of her marriage to Henry. Upon closer investigation, the queen”s current affair with Culpeper came to light, who, on top of that, was a personal servant of Henry. The king was shocked and wept before the council. Dereham and Culpeper were executed for treason, Catherine was charged with adultery and beheaded together with Jane Boleyn on February 13, 1542.
Hostilities broke out between England and Scotland as early as the summer of 1542. Henry”s nephew James V had refused to break away from the pope as well and instead renewed the Auld Alliance with France. Added to this was his last-minute refusal to meet Henry in York. As a result, Henry sent troops to the north and eventually the Battle of Solway Moss took place on November 24, during which the Scottish army was crushed. Jacob, who had not taken part himself, died of illness only two weeks later.
Henry now hoped for a marriage between his son Edward and Jacob”s newborn daughter Mary Stuart to finally bring Scotland under English sovereignty. To this end, he courted Scottish nobles with sympathies for England, including Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, to whom he gave his niece Margaret Douglas in marriage. He then sent them back to Scotland to enforce his terms. When the Scottish Parliament rejected his demands in December 1543, Henry ordered the grinding of Edinburgh. In May 1544, his fleet, under the command of Edward Seymour, sailed north to support the English against the Scots. In the Firth of Forth, it hindered Scottish trade and was instrumental in the burning of Leith.
As early as June 1543, Henry had once again allied himself with Charles V against Francis I, who had sent his troops into imperial territory, and thus entered the war against Francis I of France. The plan was for Charles to attack from the east and Henry from Calais once Scotland had been rendered harmless. Since Charles would personally lead his army, Henry decided to do the same, even though his health had deteriorated in recent years. In July 1544, Henry and his army sailed for Calais and attacked the town of Boulogne. After the English blew up the castle, the city surrendered and the king marched in triumph. This action, however, had not been coordinated with Charles V, who, irritated by Henry”s high-handedness, eventually concluded the Peace of Crépy with Francis while sabotaging Henry”s peace negotiations.
Francis then sent reinforcements to Scotland by sea. In February 1545, the English fell into a Scottish ambush at the Battle of Ancrum Moor and were soundly defeated. On July 19, the French fleet appeared in the Solent and attacked the English fleet in the naval battle of Portsmouth. Henry, who was on the Great Harry at the time, was rowed ashore and launched his fleet. However, the flagship, the Mary Rose, sank before Henry”s eyes along with her crew of about 700 men and the commander, Sir George Carew. It was not until June 1546 that Henry and Francis reached an agreement and the English army was withdrawn from France. Although the war afforded the king a final triumph as a victorious general, it had swallowed up vast sums, which made itself felt in England through increased taxation and repeated devaluations of money.
Shortly after the conclusion of the treaty with Charles V, Henry had married his sixth and last wife on July 12, 1543, Catherine Parr, who was barely 30 years old and twice widowed. Like most of his marriages, this one was a love match on Henry”s part. He called Catherine Sweetheart and wrote in her prayer book the verse:
Catherine herself at this time loved Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Queen Jane Seymour. However, she considered it her duty to marry Henry and thus support the Reformation. Shortly after the wedding, Henry went with her on the summer tour, which was extended into November by the plague. During these months, Catherine Parr established a cordial relationship with Henry”s children, who for the first time lived together at court for extended periods of time. On January 16, 1544, the king finally summoned Parliament for the 3rd Act of Succession, in which Mary and Elizabeth were restored to the succession should their brother Edward die childless. However, neither was legitimized. Under current law, however, bastards were not allowed to inherit, which would complicate Mary and Elizabeth”s succession to the throne for years to come. In addition, they were to lose their place in the line of succession if they married without the consent of the Crown Council. Should Mary and Elizabeth die childless, Henry appointed the descendants of his nieces Frances Brandon and Eleanor Brandon as successors. In doing so, he ignored the claim of Mary Stuart, the granddaughter of his eldest sister Margaret Tudor, who, according to the law of primogeniture, was still ahead of the Brandons in the line of succession.
When Henry went to war against France barely a year after the wedding, he appointed Catherine Parr as regent and let her run the affairs of state. The fact that he entrusted his kingdom to her after this short time is interpreted by historians as a sign of his respect and appreciation for her abilities. She was also appointed guardian of the three children and watched over their upbringing. During this time, she began to compose prayers in English and publish books. Henry tolerated her religious interests at first, but became visibly suspicious when she discussed them both publicly and with him. “A fine hearing it is when women become such clergymen,” he complained to Stephen Gardiner after one such conversation, “and a great comfort to be instructed by my consort in my old age.”
Gardiner then tried to convince Henry to put the queen on trial as a heretic. The king agreed, but subsequently informed one of his personal physicians of his decision. It is uncertain whether he wanted to inform Catherine of the imminent arrest or warn her because of remorse. Henry”s biographer Lucy Wooding believes it is possible that the king wanted to teach both his wife and the council a lesson, that he would not be influenced by anyone and was himself the final authority on religious matters. In any case, Catherine received word from the personal physician, who advised her to submit completely to the king”s will.
When Catherine saw Henry again, she declared her God-given inferiority to him, whereupon he reproached her, “You became a doctor, Kate, to instruct us as we see it, not to be instructed and guided by us.” Catherine defended herself by saying that she had merely debated with him to distract him from his pain and to profit from his answers. Mollified, Henry replied, “Is it really so, darling? And did your arguments aim at nothing else? Then you and I will be true friends again as before.” The next day, when Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton arrived with guards to arrest Catherine, he was berated by the angry king as a rogue, a brute, and a fool. The marriage thus lasted until Henry”s death.
Henry”s last years were marked by poor, steadily declining health. Since the jousting accident in 1536, he had gained a lot of weight, so that his hip circumference was now almost 133 and his chest circumference a good 147 cm. According to a contemporary, three strong men could fit into his doublet. On top of that, he suffered from severe constipation, for which his ultimate lack of exercise is also cited as the cause. Furthermore, an excessive consumption of meat is said to have been present. His kitchen bills show that for over thirty years he ate more than a dozen portions of meat or fish for both lunch and dinner, along with puddings and fried pastries for dessert. Shortly before his death, he weighed over 160 kilograms and his bed had to be reinforced with wooden beams to support the weight.
His leg wound had worsened and was causing him chronic pain. He also had a painful ulcer on his left leg by now and could hardly stand. It can be assumed that his obesity did not contribute to the improvement of this condition. If the wound closed up, it had to be reopened, cleaned and bandaged by his personal physician, so that Henry sometimes suffered from severe pain for days. In 1538, it was reported that the ulcers had closed. “The juices, which had no outlet, almost suffocated him, so that for some time he was speechless, black in the face, and in danger of his life.” Based on this description, it is believed that Henry suffered from thrombosis and at that time had a blood clot in his brain, which he survived only by luck. Especially in his last years, the king had to resort to aids such as walking sticks and portable chairs. Henry”s eyesight also deteriorated so badly from 1544 that he ordered ten pairs of glasses from Germany.
Based on the surviving symptoms, we can only speculate what disease the king was suffering from. According to his biographer John Guy, a disease of type 2 diabetes mellitus is a possibility, which if left untreated causes neuropathy, muscle failure and difficulty walking, along with erectile dysfunction. This is matched by Henry”s heavy drinking, mostly red wine and ale, his problems urinating, and his poor sleep. Robert Hutchinson mentions Cushing”s syndrome as another possibility, whose symptoms include obesity, poor wound healing, severe headaches, and paranoia. Since he hardly ate any fruits and vegetables, scurvy is sometimes suspected. In addition, Sabine Appel considers osteomyelitis to be another possible clinical picture, since in the case of a chronic course the wound also breaks open from time to time and drains the pus. There is no historical evidence for the assumption of some historians that the king suffered from syphilis. It was common to treat the disease with mercury, although no written evidence of such treatment has been found. The medicines listed on Henry”s medical bill were all intended to aid his digestion.
Succession and death
In December 1546, the king spent Christmas at Winchester Castle separated from Catherine Parr, which historians sometimes interpret as a premonition of death. On the evening of December 26, he summoned his council to him, along with a copy of his 1544 will, and made some changes. Whereas in 1544 he had appointed Catherine Parr as regent until his son Edward came of age, now, after his death, 16 council members were to assume this office. Under no circumstances did he want to give a single person undivided power over Edward. It was striking that among these 16 men were both reformers and conservatives. Also, the will was not signed by him but stamped, which is why it is sometimes claimed that his Last Will was a forgery. Historians, however, assume the authenticity of the document. The king gave the will to his former brother-in-law Edward Seymour for safekeeping.
After the appointment of the councilors, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey let it be known that by right his father Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk should be given the office of Lord Protector. Since Surrey had added Edward the Confessor”s royal arms to his own, Henry suspected that Surrey would want to grab the crown himself after his death. Underpinning this suspicion was the fact that Surrey had urged his sister Mary Howard, widow of Henry Fitzroy and thus Henry”s daughter-in-law, to become the king”s mistress “to rule here better than others.” Although Surrey protested during his trial that his family had held the right to bear that coat of arms for 500 years, he was executed for treason on January 19, 1547. It was the last death sentence carried out during Henry”s lifetime.
Although it became apparent that Henry would not live much longer, no one dared to say it openly, since it was treason to predict the king”s death. Finally, on January 27, Anthony Denny, the current Groom of the Stool, informed his master that he did not have much time left and asked if he wished to make confession. Henry then asked for Thomas Cranmer, explaining that he wanted to sleep first. “And then, when I feel like it, I will let you know about it.” They were his last words. By the time the archbishop arrived, Henry could no longer speak. On January 28, 1547, the king died between midnight and 1 a.m. in the presence of Thomas Cranmer, whose hand he squeezed tightly just before his end. The writer John Foxe was later to claim that with this handshake Henry had answered Cranmer”s question as to whether he placed all his trust in Christ. However, since Henry still rejected the Protestant approach of salvation by faith alone, his biographer Lucy Wooding believes it is more likely that the Catholic rites of Communion at death were performed at his deathbed.
His death was initially kept secret for three days to ensure a peaceful transfer of power to his son Edward. Only as soon as Edward arrived in London and had traditionally taken up quarters in the Tower was Henry”s death officially announced before Parliament. As was customary for kings, Henry”s body was embalmed and transferred to Windsor Castle on February 14. On the coffin was a crowned statue of Henry in royal robes. The funeral oration was delivered by Stephen Gardiner. On February 16, Henry was buried in St George”s Chapel in the same vault as Jane Seymour. During his lifetime he had planned a triumphal arch with a statue of himself on horseback on his grave and on the top a representation of God holding Henry”s soul. To this end, Henry had confiscated parts of Wolsey”s planned tomb after his death, including a black marble sarcophagus. On this, bronze effigies of him and Jane were to lie sleeping, similar to the tomb of his parents Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Henry”s effigy had been made around 1543, however, the war with France turned out to be so expensive that the tomb was unfinished at his death.
Even under his successors the tomb was never completed. Under Edward, a dispute arose with the Italian sculptor in 1551, and Mary balked at completing the tomb for someone who had fallen out with Rome. Elizabeth initially sought a less expensive way to finish the tomb, but after the death of William Paulet, who had taken care of it, construction was again abandoned. In April 1646, Henry”s bronze effigy was sold because the government was in desperate need of money. In 1649 the tomb was opened so that the remains of the executed King Charles I could be buried in a royal tomb. In the process, Henry”s coffin was opened by a foot soldier and a bone was stolen. The black marble sarcophagus, together with the pedestal, was used in 1808 for the fallen Admiral Nelson. When the tomb was opened on April 1, 1813, in the presence of the future King George IV, all that was left of Henry”s body was the skeleton and some beard on the chin. The coffin itself was badly damaged, although it could no longer be determined when and by what means it happened. Today, only a floor stone slab with an inscription marks Henry”s final resting place.
At his death, Henry left his son Edward 55 palaces and seats, over 2000 tapestries, at least 150 panel paintings, 2028 pieces of gold and silverware, and 1780 books. A passionate collector of works of art, his possessions amounted to hundreds of portraits and religious paintings, as well as 300 instruments. In addition, he had a modernized navy with over 70 ships, described by Ives as the best navy in the Atlantic, and a modern arsenal of weapons. At the same time, he had emptied the state coffers with ultimately useless wars, and was responsible for several inflations. Between 1544 and 1547, the English pound lost nearly 13 percent of its international value, which had a disastrous effect on the economy and trade.
During Henry”s reign, kingship was elevated and glorified, as the monarch was beholden only to God and no longer to the pope. As a result, Henry exercised more personal authority than his predecessors and successors, marking his reign as the pinnacle of kingship. According to some sources, over 70,000 executions were carried out during his reign, although this includes the death sentences for everyday, non-political crimes that were common at the time. Nevertheless, at his instigation, twelve new laws were passed between 1531 and 1544 defining crimes as high treason (including criticism of the king”s marriages and refusal to swear an oath of royal supremacy), which, according to Eric Ives, played a major role in the number of death sentences.
The break with Rome additionally meant a political and religious isolation of England. Henry”s moderate Reformation appealed neither to the Catholic nations nor to the newly emerging Protestants. The dissolution of the monasteries had also begun to impoverish the English rural population, since former pasture land and social assistance from the monasteries were no longer freely available. In addition, monks and nuns became homeless. Nevertheless, the break with Rome laid the foundation for a national identity that developed detached from Western Christianity. Moreover, the move from ecclesiastical to state welfare continued, as Henry replaced the many individual religious houses with schools and churches under the auspices of the unified dioceses he created.
Henry”s interference with intestate succession left his daughters in a difficult position, since as officially illegitimate children they were not allowed to inherit. He thus gave their respective opponents the means to support Jane Grey and Mary Stuart as legitimate queens of England. On top of that, he had set the precedent of a king choosing his own successor instead of acting according to the law of primogeniture, which resulted in, among other things, the nine-day reign of his great-niece Lady Jane Grey. Also, especially during Elizabeth”s reign, almost all of Margaret and Mary Tudor”s descendants made hopes for the throne, which deeply unsettled Elizabeth and gave her the feeling of “already having my shroud before my eyes during my lifetime.”
Henry is considered the prototype of the Renaissance ruler. He was educated, interested in astronomy and corresponded with humanists such as Erasmus of Rotterdam. In addition to his native English, he was proficient in French, Latin, Italian and some Spanish, which he had learned from Catherine of Aragon. Under his reign, English experienced a new flowering as the language of the court, as original Latin texts were translated for the first time and editions of Geoffrey Chaucer”s works were produced.
He was also an art connoisseur who brought painters such as Susanna and Lucas Horenbout, Hans Holbein and Levina Teerlinc to the court. He was passionate about making music on the lute or recorder and composed songs, instrumental pieces, masses and a motet. The claim that the English folk song Greensleeves was composed by Henry VIII for his second wife Anne Boleyn is much quoted, but it probably dates from Elizabethan times. In contrast, the song Pastyme with good companye was penned by Henry.
He excelled in dancing, wrestling, hunting and various weapons training, as well as in the original form of tennis. Throughout his life, the king was an avid gambler who liked, among other things, games of dice and cards. However, he was a bad loser and once threw out Italian bankers after they beat him at dice. He also found great pleasure in masquerades, especially when he could mingle with courtiers seemingly undetected and then reveal himself dramatically.
Throughout his life, Henry showed a keen interest in medicine. He sometimes spent hours in the company of apothecaries and physicians and was always eager to prepare medicines for himself and his court. In fact, Henry mixed himself a supposed prophylactic against the plague, consisting of rubus, elder leaves, ginger, and white wine. Cardinal Wolsey also turned to the king for advice when his secretary, Sir Bryan Tuke, had a kidney ailment. However, Henry misunderstood the complaint and in his next audience gave Tuke a medicine instead that was supposed to help against testicular tumors. At the same time, he was always anxiously concerned about his health, which is why he is sometimes said by historians to have hypochondria.
His willingness to associate with low-born men is often taken as a sign of insecurity. The Tudor dynasty was young and its claim to the throne was often questioned. There were several families in the nobility who were descended from kings and therefore viewed the Tudors as upstarts. It could be a reason why he felt more comfortable with people who did not have any class arrogance towards him. Also, simple-borns made fewer demands on him than the nobility, whose members constantly besieged him for offices and dignities. At the same time, their dependence on his favor gave him the opportunity to let them rise and advance at court as he saw fit, only to destroy them just as unexpectedly. Borman points out, however, that Wolsey and Cromwell in particular had remarkable skills and experience that they had acquired through hard work. By deliberately breaking with the royal tradition of awarding high office exclusively to nobles, Henry introduced a meritocracy at his court.
Henry earned a dubious reputation through his total of six marriages. While he had a thoroughly dynastic reason for doing so – securing the succession to the throne through sons – Henry was known to fall in love tempestuously and to show his affection openly. Only one of his six marriages was for political reasons, all the others were love marriages. On top of that, four wives were his subjects, which was almost unheard of for a king. His unusual behavior caused astonishment and irritation both in England and at the European courts. At the same time, he was very sentimental and known to be quickly moved to tears. It was a sore point for him not to be able to father a legitimate son for decades. When the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys, who always defended Catherine and her daughter Mary, pointed out to him that even a new wife was no guarantee of children, the king cried out three times, “Am I not a man, a man like any other?”
In the course of time, Henry became notorious for his temper and capriciousness. He had little patience in matters that bored or disturbed him and sometimes changed his mind very suddenly. The imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys, who lived in England for decades, resignedly declared that he could not estimate Henry “considering the changeableness of this king.” After the break with Rome, his mood swings became more pronounced, making him increasingly unpredictable even to his old friends. Borman believes Henry used them purposefully to keep his subjects from feeling overconfident. By giving contradictory orders even though he knew exactly what he wanted, he made it clear that he alone wielded power. Yet Heinrich seemed to shy away from personal confrontations. Throughout his life, he refused to see people again once he had inwardly renounced them.
One question that still preoccupies historians is why Henry went from being a popular prince to a tyrant. Medical explanations are sometimes invoked, such as a fall from a horse in 1536 or diabetes that could not be treated at the time. However, Starkey points out that Henry already had an aversion to being patronized by others when he ascended the throne. First it was his father who denied him what he wanted, then his crown council, and finally his father-in-law Ferdinand. Then, for a good ten years, Cardinal Wolsey took over the task of implementing Henry”s impulsive desires as successful, royal policy, which spoiled the king and gave him illusions of his own grandeur. Thomas More once confided to Thomas Cromwell regarding the king”s character, “You ought, when you advise his Grace, always to tell him what he ought to do, but never what he might do. For when the lion knows his own power, it would be hard for any man to rule him.”
A first turning point was the execution of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham. Without an heir to the throne, Henry began to suspect all nobles who were also of royal descent. Moreover, during the “great affair” many of his friends and servants secretly sided with Catherine of Aragon, passing information to her and smuggling messages to the continent. Not knowing who was deceiving him, Henry gradually developed almost paranoid traits. During this time, he told the Venetian ambassador that he would not allow anyone to give him orders. After the break with Rome, his distrust of anyone who disagreed with him deepened, as he regularly feared a Catholic invasion. In particular, the execution of the Carthusians, the elderly Bishop Fisher, and Margaret Pole, who was over seventy years old, testified to his growing brutality. The longer he was king, the more he expected to get his way and reacted with increasing ruthlessness when he felt betrayed. Anne of Cleves” treatment, however, also shows that Henry could be generous and kind when people complied with him.
Although Henry made morally questionable and cruel decisions by modern standards, he enjoyed enduring popularity among his subjects. He embodied the pomp and munificence expected of a monarch and gave out daily alms to the poor, although the Venetian ambassador”s claim that he spent ten thousand ducats a year in this way seems exaggerated. He had military successes to show, even if they were of little use to England in the long run. At the same time, he knew how to inspire and lead people. With the flourishing of book printing and the distribution of English Bibles emblazoned with his portrait, Henry was almost certainly the first English king whose face was recognized by his subjects, which contributed to greater identification with him nationwide than with his predecessors.
Unlike his rival Francis I, Henry exercised discretion in all his extramarital affairs. For his time, he was considered an extremely faithful, loving husband who only had mistresses when his wife was pregnant and thus, according to the view of the time, sexually untouchable. Although there were rumors of various affairs, historically only two can be clearly proven. The first known mistress of the king was Elizabeth Blount, who became Catherine of Aragon”s lady-in-waiting around 1517. On June 15, 1519, she gave birth to Henry”s son Henry Fitzroy. Since Henry was not married to Elizabeth, this son had no claim to the throne, but was recognized by the king.
Around 1520, he fell in love with Mary Boleyn, who had served his sister Mary Tudor during her time as Queen of France. By now she was married to William Carey, Henry”s distant relative, who tacitly tolerated the affair. This love affair ended at an unspecified date around 1525, becoming known only because Henry, during his courtship of Anne Boleyn, sought a papal dispensation to marry the sister of a former mistress. He also responded to the accusation that he had slept with Anne”s sister and her mother by saying, “Never with the mother!”
Although there is no clear evidence of actual further love affairs, contemporary rumors are documented. In 1510, Henry was rumored to have had a secret relationship with Anne Hastings, sister of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham. However, his loyal friend William Compton, who acted as an intermediary, claimed that he had courted Anne not on behalf of the king but for himself. A letter dated January 17, 1514, could be an indication of Henry”s flirtation with Etiennette de la Baume while he was in Lille to sign the treaty. The lady reminds him of how he gave her a pet name and told her of many beautiful things, including marriage. Since at that time Henry promised her a gift of money in the event of their marriage, Etiennette asks him in her letter to keep his promise.
In 1534, Henry became interested in a lady whose name is not known and who refused to pay her respects to Anne. According to Chapuys, she tried to support Princess Mary. It may have been the same woman who removed Anne from court with the help of her sister-in-law Jane Boleyn, much to the king”s anger. In February of the following year, Chapuys reported that Anne Boleyn”s cousin Mary Shelton had cut out the unknown woman and now enjoyed the king”s favor. Contemporaries thought they saw a resemblance between Shelton and the later Queen Anne of Cleves.
Since Henry needed a dispensation from Thomas Cranmer for his marriage to Jane Seymour, David Starkey suspects that one of the king”s mistresses was related to Jane. After Jane”s death, the king took an interest in Anne Bassett, a recent court lady and stepdaughter of his uncle Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle. He gave her a horse and saddle and arranged for her to be placed first in the home of a relative and later in Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard”s, and Catherine Parr”s retinue. According to Chapuys, Anne”s influence was to thank for her stepfather”s pardon. Although it is speculated that she was his mistress, it may also have been attention paid by Henry to a distant relative.
(Married from 11 June 1509 until the marriage was annulled on 23 May 1533):
Since all that is known about Catherine”s pregnancy in 1513 is that she made a pilgrimage to Walsingham out of gratitude for it, neither the sex nor the month of birth of the child are known.
(Married from January 25, 1533 until the marriage was annulled on May 17, 1536):
Since Anne”s second and third pregnancies ended in miscarriages, no names for these children have survived historically. Likewise, the gender of the second child is unknown.
(Married from 20 May 1536 until Jane”s death on 24 October 1537):
The paternity of other illegitimate children besides Henry Fitzroy was never officially recognized. There is nevertheless a possibility in time that Mary Boleyn”s children Catherine and Henry Carey were fathered by Henry, since the affair lasted from about 1522 to 1525. However, when Thomas Skydmore of Syon Abbey was investigated for treason in 1535, his claim that Henry Carey was “the son of our Lord the King by the Queen”s sister” was explicitly listed as evidence against Skydmore. The paternity of Mary Boleyn”s children is therefore unresolved.
In his collection Nugæ Antiquæ, John Harington referred to his father”s first wife, Etheldreda (also Audrey) Malte, as “Henry”s illegitimate daughter.” The king”s state papers show that his tailor John Malte had an illegitimate daughter named Etheldreda with Joan Dingley. In September 1546, Henry generously bequeathed her lands and manors, which could be interpreted as providing for an illegitimate daughter in the care of a foster father. Nevertheless, there is no contemporary source proving Henry”s paternity.
Henry”s life has been a frequent subject of popular historical accounts for centuries.
In the years 1612
In the ballad King Henry”s Hunt, Josef Viktor Widmann treats Henry”s loss of his wife Jane Seymour.
In 1998, Margaret George published the historical novel The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers (German title: Ich, Heinrich VIII.). During Mary”s reign, Henry”s former court jester Will Somers sends Catherine Carey, who is living in exile, the king”s diary, which covers his entire life.
Widely known is an English counting rhyme that names the fate of Henry”s six successive wives. It is considered a standard example of a universally known rhyme in several treatises:
Film and television
Many films and television series were made about Henry and his court, including The Private Life of Henry VIII in 1933 with Charles Laughton, who would play the role again in 1953 in the film The Heir to the Throne.
Ernst Lubitsch made the silent film Anna Boleyn in 1920 with Emil Jannings as Henry VIII in the leading male role. It depicts the period between Henry”s first meeting with Anne until her execution. The costumes were based on contemporary illustrations.
In the 1953 film A Princess Falls in Love, which focuses on Mary Tudor”s secret love for Charles Brandon, James Robertson Justice played the role of her brother Henry.
In the Oscar-winning film A Man of All Seasons (1966) by Fred Zinnemann, Robert Shaw plays the King and Paul Scofield plays Thomas More.
In 1969, Charles Jarrott filmed Queen for a Thousand Days, not quite historically accurate, the love story and marriage between Henry VIII. (Richard Burton) and Anne Boleyn (Geneviève Bujold). The film won four Golden Globes in 1970 and was nominated for ten Oscars.
The BBC filmed The Six Wives of Henry VIII with Keith Michell in 1970. A cinema version of it was released in 1972.
Also in 1970, Gerald Thomas made the film Carry On Henry (German title: Heinrichs Bettgeschichten oder Wie der Knoblauch nach England kam), in which the story of Henry and his wives was parodied.
In 2003, Henry”s life story was remade at great expense as Henry VIII. Ray Winstone played Henry. Other well-known actors are Helena Bonham Carter as Anne Boleyn and Sean Bean as Robert Aske.
The 2004 Simpsons episode History Lesson with Marge focuses on Henry VIII”s life from his divorce from Catherine of Aragon to his death and deals with his separation from the Catholic Church. As usual in such episodes, the roles of the historical figures are taken by the regular Simpson characters. Thus, Homer Simpson is Henry VIII and Policeman Wiggum is the executioner. In the end, Homer”s Henry is murdered by Marge with the pillow.
In 2008, Eric Bana portrayed the English king in the literary adaptation The Queen”s Sister. Natalie Portman played Anne and Scarlett Johansson played her sister Mary Boleyn.
In the television series The Tudors from 2007 to 2010, Henry”s life is fictionalized from the 1520s until shortly before his death. The role of the king was played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, other actors were Natalie Dormer, Annabelle Wallis, Maria Doyle Kennedy and Henry Cavill.
In 2015, the television series Wolves was broadcast, which fictionalized the rise of Thomas Cromwell. Henry was portrayed here by Damian Lewis, Cromwell by Mark Rylance and Anne Boleyn by Claire Foy.
In the 2019 television series The Spanish Princess, which fictionalized Catherine of Aragón”s early years in England, Ruari O”Connor played the role of young Henry.
The Donizetti opera Anna Bolena deals with the fate of Henry”s second wife Anne Boleyn in a romantic, historically untenable plot. In his opera Henry VIII, Camille Saint-Saëns dealt with Henry”s marriage to Anne Boleyn and the church schism.
In 1965, the beat group Herman”s Hermits charted the song I”m Henry the Eighth, I Am (
Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman released a concept album about Henry and his wives in 1973, titled The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
Premiered in 2017, the musical Six has Henry VIII”s six wives compete to see which one suffered the most at Henry”s hands.