List of entries |  Feedback 
  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Henry VIII

King of England from 1509; son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York; married Catherine of Aragon (1509), Anne Boleyn (1533), Jane Seymour (1536), Anne of Cleves (1540), Catherine Howard (1540) and Catherine Parr (1543).

Henry became the heir apparent at the age of 11, in 1502, when his elder brother Arthur died. Arthur's 17-year-old widow, *Catherine of Aragon, was too valuable a potential queen to lose in the chess game of international diplomacy (she was daughter of the king of Spain), so she was soon betrothed to her dead husband's brother. He married her on his accession to the throne, when he was 18. Her failure to provide him with a male heir (in spite of the birth of three infant sons) was to have a profound influence on events.

For most of Henry's reign the balance of power in Europe was between *Francis I (the king of France) and *Charles V (the Holy Roman Emperor, ruling Austria, Spain and much of the Netherlands and Italy). Henry's political power was as the third force, alliance with whom could tip the balance. He played this card most notably in 1520, feasting with Francis at the *Field of Cloth of Gold and then deliberating with Charles more discreetly in Kent.

The rival spheres of influence also affected Henry's divorce from Catherine, which he had determined upon in the hope of a male heir. That she had been the widow of his brother gave possible theological grounds for annulling the marriage. Unfortunately annulment depended on the pope; and the pope was reluctant to offend *Charles V, who was Catherine's nephew and would not welcome his aunt being divorced in order to keep his cousin (Catherine's daughter, the future *Mary I) off the English throne. But if the pope was unhelpful, could Henry not become head of the church of England and through the archbishop of Canterbury grant his own divorce? In the turmoil of the *Reformation anything seemed possible (it was now some 15 years since *Luther had made public at Wittenberg his *95 Theses).

The drift of events was political rather than religious (Henry had in 1521 written a pamphlet against Luther, earning from the pope the title of Defender of the Faith), and the developing scenario brought profound political consequences. One was a change in the chief ministers to the crown, who had always been clerics and now became laymen (*Wolsey being followed by Thomas *More and Thomas *Cromwell). Another was the *dissolution of the monasteries, bringing huge wealth into the royal coffers and contributing to the strong centralization of power which was an essential feature of Tudor rule.

The political impetus in turn shaped much of England's religious development. The Act of *Supremacy of 1534 gave the country the anomaly, still surviving today, of a monarch who is head of a church (it also gave the Catholics two notable martyrs in Thomas *More and John *Fisher, who refused to swear acceptance of this act). The early example of *Cranmer, Henry's wise but compromising archbishop, set the future tone for the *Church of England.

Henry married *Anne Boleyn in 1533. Her first child was a girl (the future Elizabeth I) and this disappointment was followed by a miscarriage. His next wife, *Jane Seymour, died after giving birth to the longed-for male heir, the future Edward VI. Marriage to the 'Flanders mare', *Anne of Cleves, was a diplomatic alliance which foundered on aesthetics, followed by an unconsidered reflex in the immediate embrace of *Catherine Howard. Only *Catherine Parr seems to have been chosen for the comforts of matrimony, which lasted until Henry's death (making her the survivor in the mnemonic which begins *'divorced beheaded died').

With a constant stream of high officials, petty felons, bystanders, wives and relations going to the block or gallows (see Cardinal *Pole for an example), Henry's reign was undeniably one of terror. But he left England strong and united after the previous century, that of the *Wars of the Roses. And his passionate interest in the navy, as witnessed by the *Great Harry or the *Mary Rose, later stood the country in good stead against the Armada. It was religious differences, often inflamed by foreign interests, which remained the underlying problem – to be fought over and resolved in the successive reigns of his three children (see the *royal house).
The resolutely four-square image by which the king is known to posterity is the work of *Holbein.

A  B-BL  BO-BX  C-CH  CI-CX  D  E  F  G  H  IJK  L  M  NO  P  QR  S-SL  SM-SX  T  UV  WXYZ