King Henry VIIIHenry VIII (born 1491, ruled 1509-1547). The second son of Henry VIIand Elizabeth of York was one of England’s strongest and least popularmonarchs. He was born at Greenwich on June 28, 1491. The first Englishruler to be educated under the influence of the Renaissance, he was agifted scholar, linguist, composer, and musician. As a youth he was gay andhandsome, skilled in all manner of athletic games, but in later life hebecame coarse and fat.
When his elder brother, Arthur, died (1502), hebecame heir apparent. He succeeded his father on the throne in 1509, andsoon thereafter he married Arthur’s young widow, Catherine of Aragon.During the first 20 years of his reign he left the shaping of policieslargely in the hands of his great counselor, Cardinal Wolsey (See Wolsey,Cardinal). By 1527 Henry had made up his mind to get rid of his wife. Theonly one of Catherine’s six children who survived infancy was a sicklygirl, the Princess Mary, and it was doubtful whether a woman could succeedto the English throne. Then too, Henry had fallen in love with a lady ofthe court, Anne Boleyn.When the pope (Clement VII) would not annul his marriage, Henry turnedagainst Wolsey, deprived him of his office of chancellor, and had himarrested on a charge of treason. He then obtained a divorce through ThomasCranmer, whom he had made archbishop of Canterbury, and it was soonannounced that he had married Anne Boleyn.
The pope was thus defied. All ties that bound the English church toRome were broken. Appeals to the pope’s court were forbidden, all paymentsto Rome were stopped, and the pope’s authority in England was abolished.
In1534 the Act of Supremacy declared Henry himself to be Supreme Head of theChurch of England, and anyone who denied this title was guilty of an act oftreason. Some changes were also made in the church services, the Bible wastranslated into English, and printed copies were placed in the churches.The monasteries throughout England were dissolved and their vast lands andgoods turned over to the king, who in turn granted those estates tonoblemen who would support his policies. In the northern part of thekingdom the people rose in rebellion in behalf of the monks, but thePilgrimage of Grace, as it was called, was put down.Although Henry reformed the government of the church, he refused toallow any changes to be made in its doctrines. Before his divorce he hadopposed the teachings of Martin Luther in a book that had gained for himfrom the pope the title Defender of the Faith–a title the monarch ofEngland still bears. After the separation from Rome he persecuted withequal severity the Catholics who adhered to the government of Rome and theProtestants who rejected its doctrines.
Henry was married six times. Anne Boleyn bore the king one child, whobecame Elizabeth I. Henry soon tired of Anne and had her put to death. Afew days later he married a third wife, Jane Seymour. She died in a littlemore than a year, after having given birth to the future Edward VI.
A marriage was then contracted with a German princess, Anne of Cleves,whom the king had been led to believe to be very beautiful. When he saw herhe discovered that he had been tricked, and he promptly divorced this wifeand beheaded Thomas Cromwell, the minister who had arranged the marriage.Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was sent to the block for misconduct.In 1543 he married his sixth wife, the tactful and pious Catherine Parr.Catherine, who survived Henry, lived to marry her fourth husband.
During Henry’s reign the union of England and Wales was completed(1536). Ireland was made a kingdom (1541), and Henry became king ofIreland. His wars with Scotland and France remained indecisive in spite ofsome shallow victories. Although he himself opposed the Reformation, hiscreation of a national church marked the real beginning of the EnglishReformation.
He died on Jan. 28, 1547, and was buried in St. George’sChapel in Windsor Castle.