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Henry VIII


Porträt Heinrichs VIII

Porträt Heinrichs VIII. nach Hans Holbein d. J., 1536–1537


"Be not judges yourselves of your own fantastical opinions and vain expositions; and although you be permitted to read Holy Scriptures and to have the Word of God in your mother tongue, you must understand it is licensed so to do only to inform your conscience and inform your children and families, not to make Scripture a railing and taunting stock against priests and preachers. I am very sorry to know and hear how irreverently that precious jewel, the Word of God, is disputed, rimed, sung, and jangled in every alehouse and tavern, contrary to the true meaning and doctrine of the same"
Last speech to parliament, December 24, 1545.
English Church History from the Death of King Henry VII to the Death of Archbishop Parker, Rev. Alfred Plummer, 1905, Edinburg, T. & T. Clark, p. 85.



Coat of Arms of England (1509-1554) - The Tudors


28 June 1491  
Henry VII of England ( 1457 - 1509 )  
Elizabeth of York ( 1466 - 1503 )  
21 April 1509 - 28 January 1547
( 37 years; 282 days )
Catherine of Aragon ( 1509 - 1533 )
Anne Boleyn ( 1533 - 1536 )
Jayne Seymour ( 1536 - 1537 )
Anne of Cleves ( January 1540 - July 1540 )
Catherine Howard ( 1540 - 1542 )
Catherine Parr ( 1543 - 1547 )
Mary I of England
Elizabeth I of England
Edward IV of England
Henry FitzRoy


"We be informed by our judges that we at no time stand so highly in our estate royal as in the time of Parliament, wherein we as head and you as members are conjoined and knit together into one body politic, so as whatsoever offence or injury (during that time) is offered to the meanest member of the House is to be judged as done against our person and the whole Court of Parliament."
Speech to Parliament on parliamentary privilege (March/April 1542)
Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland Volume III (1808), by Raphael Holinshed, p. 824.



The Tudor dynasty


The Tudor Dynasty was of welsh origin and was founded by Henry VII of England. They got their power during the Wars of the Roses between 1455 and 1458 in which they supported the House of Lancaster. Henry VII captured the throne in 1485 and so he founded one of the most influential dynasties of the Renaissance.


Henry's shield as the Duke of York


Tudor monarchs

Henry VII (1485 – 1509 / founder of the dynasty)
Henry VIII (1509 – 1547)
Edward VI (1547 – 1553)
Mary I (1553 . 1558)
Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603 / last Tudor-monarch)


The Love him or hate him no-one could ignore King Henry VIII or what he said. King Henry VIII rules as an absolute monarch his word was law. The King Henry VIII quotes cover different events in the life of this famous Tudor king. The most famous quotes by King Henry VIII are about his wives. These famous quotes provide a real insight into the real King Henry VIII. The King Henry VIII quotes about his six wives sum up the relationships in a few short words. His love, hate, passion and lust are reflected in these famous Henry VIII quotes. Other major events and people are also featured in these quotes. The King Henry VIII quotes relating to his views on religion. His views on the Lincoln uprising and his terrifying threats to would-be traitors. Read these King Henry VIII quotes and start to understand the man behind the king.
Henry VIII


The Tudor Rose; Symbol of the Tudor Dynasty



England in the late 15th and early 16th century


Henry VIII's father, Henry VII, bequeathed him a well consolidated and powerful country after with full treasure chambers and a strong army, ready to defend the areas in northern France against an french attack. Henry VII wiped out most of the nobles, that could be a harm to his reign and so his son had only few enemies in his early years after coronation. He was also good with finances and under his reign new taxes, especially for the nobles, were installed. Henry VII knew that he was an untalented military leader so his major ambitions were not to reconquer the lost territories in northern France, but assemble a stable economy and relative wealth for his country. He even finalized a peace treaty with England's archenemy, France to ensure, that he could turn his full attention on interior policy.
He supported the construction of a strong merchant navy in almost the same manner as he ordered the construction of a strong military fleet to protect the growing English trade on the sea. On the on hand, he ensured peace with France, while on the other hand, he strengthened the alliance with Spain through the marriage between his oldest son Arthur and Catherine of Aragon and with Scotland through the marriage between his daughter Margaret and James IV of Scotland. He even set up an alliance with the Holy Roman Empire, what gave England more importance in European policy, than any war could give.
Henry VII died on 21st April 1509 at Richmond Palace after long infirmity.


Childhood and youth

Henry VIII was born on the 28th of June 1491 at Greenwich Palace as the third child and second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Because of the fact, that his older brother Arthur was heir to the throne, Henry was destined for a life in the church, for which he was prepared by his tutors. Shortly after his birth he was granted the title of “Duke of York and Constable of Dover Castle“ and a few months later he also owned the title of “Earl Marshall of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland”
He was the first English monarch, that was educated under the influence of the Renaissance, which led to his great interest in Renaissance music, art and poetry. Henry even wrote some musical compositions; the best known is “Pastime with Good Company” (written in the first years of 16th century). He also showed much interest in sports like jousting, hunting and tennis and he was also a avid gambler and dice player.
After the death of his brother Arthur in 1502, Henry became the new heir to the throne and was granted the title “Prince of Wales”. Because of his father, who wanted to create a strong alliance between Spain and England, Henry was betrothed to Catherine of Aragon, Arthur's widow, which was only possible, because Catherine swore, that her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated, which means, that she was still a virgin and so Pope Julius II could give his blessings through a Papal bull. Maybe also the fact, that Catherine's mother, Queen Isabella I of Spain, put pressure on the Holy father, helped to accelerate this.
In the years before he was crowned, Henry spent most of his time at glamorous orgies and hunting trips with his childhood friends, especially with Charles Brandon (later granted the title Duke of Suffolk) and William Compton.
In 1505, Henry VII lost interest in an alliance with Spain, so the young Henry VIII declared, that the betrothal between him and Catherine had been arranged without his consent and that he wishes to annul it. This can be seen as a first attempt of Henry to get rid of Catherine, but it's more likely, that his father told him to declare it.
When Henry VII died on the 21st April 1509 his 17 years old son succeeded him on the throne as Henry VIII. The coronation was on 24 June at Westminster Abbey, 13 days after his marriage with Catherine of Aragon.


First years as king and marriage with Catherine of Aragon


Katharina von Aragon als junges Mädchen

Catherine of Aragon; Henry's first wife
Katharina von Aragon als junges Mädchen.


Henry's first official act was his order to arrest some of the most unpopular ministers of his father, Sir Richard Empson (former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) and Edmund Dudley (financial Agent of Henry VII). It's likely, that he did this under the influence of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who wanted to strengthen his position as royal advisor.
In the first years after his coronation, Henry paid much attention on the Royal Fleet, which he enlarged from 5 ships to 50 ships. He knew, that England could only become a major player in Europe, if it could secure its own territory and the correctness of this thoughts appeared in the year 1588, when the Royal Navy defended the British isles against an overwhelming Spanish fleet, today known as the “Spanish Armada”.
In the years 1513 – 1521 Henry led a few campaigns against France to follow the Pope's call to arms, after Julius II proclaimed the “Holy League against France” in 1511, which was formed by the Holy Roman Empire under the reign of Maximilian I and Spain under the reign of Ferdinand II .
Henry followed an English army across the Channel in 1513 and took part in several successful sieges and battles in northern France. In 1514 new rumors about a divorce of Henry and Catherine appeared, triggered by the treachery of Ferdinand II, who deserted the alliance against France. In the same year a peace treaty was signed between England and France, just to be broken again in 1516, because of the antagonism between Henry and the new french king Francis I. Henry and Ferdinand reapproached and the question about a divorce disappeared immediately. In 1516, Catherine gave birth to her first child, Princess Mary (later Mary I).
When the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I died in 1519, Henry started a more or less serious attempt to convince the electors to vote for him, but it was without success and the grandson of Maximilian, Charles, was crowned as Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor and as king of Spain, because also Ferdinand I died. Another important person appeared in the same year, when Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was appointed as Lord High Chancellor and personal advisor of the king. Wolsey was known and hated for his excessive lifestyle, which he financed mostly through the numerous monasteries, he owed in southern England.
In 1521, after the conference of Calais, which was negotiated by Wolsey, English influence reached its zenith, because of the renewed alliance between the Empire and England. This renewed alliance was a mixed blessing, because, on the one hand, it gave England much influence in European politics, but on the other hand it destroyed the fragile balance of power between the European Great Powers. In the following Italian War (1521 - 1526), Francis was defeated by an
Anglo-German-Spanish Alliance and lost his influence in northern Italy, which was, at Renaissance time, more or less the center of the world. After the “Sack of Rome”, in which the Pope was captured by Charles V, Henry switched side and supported a France attempt to regain control in Northern Italy. The peace of Cambrai in 1529 was made without any reference to England's interest and Henry began to depart from the Emperor. Because Henry thought, that the situation was Wolsey's fault, he began to develop more interest in foreign, but also interior policy.


Marriage with Anne Boleyn and break with the Pope


Anne Boleyn


Just a few years earlier, Henry got more and more impatient about the inability of Catherine to give birth to a male child, which Henry needed to ensure his dynasty. It's believed, that Henry first got attentive on his later second wife Anne Boleyn in 1525. She was a women in the Queen's entourage and first she refused his attempts to seduce her, because of her sister Mary Boleyn, who was a mistress of the king, but after her father Thomas Boleyn, the Earl of Wiltshire, and her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, convinced here, that this would be a chance to climb the ladder, Anne let the enamored king proceed, having just one condition: She wanted to be the rightful Queen of England, before she would give him her virginity. In the next years it became one of Henry's primary desire to annul the marriage with Catherine to be able to marry Anne. But this was just one of the reasons for the desired divorce. It's likely, that the main reason was necessity to get a male heir to ensure the survival of the Tudor dynasty.
The Pope, who had to decide if the marriage was rightful or not, was in a difficult position. On the one hand, he was grateful for Henry's support in the last Wars and his support against the Lutheran movement in Europe, but since his defeat at the “Sack of Rome” he was a prisoner of the Emperor and Charles V was Catherine's nephew, so the Pope had just one way to go. Under the pressure of Charles, Clemens VII decided to refuse Henry's appeal for annulment (he assembled a curia to discuss the appeal, but, in fact, it was a refusal). Henry was really upset about the Pope's decision and the person he blamed for this was Cardinal Wolsey. This was the begin of Wolsey's fall and because of the fact, that Anne Boleyn also supported the “Anti-Wolsey” movement in the king's entourage, the Cardinal was displaced from public office in 1529. After that, Wolsey started some treacherous activities with the aim to force Anne into exile (he started to talk with the Pope and Queen Catherine), but all this was quickly discovered and Henry ordered to arrest him. In 1530 Wolsey died of illness and it's believed, that the king would have ordered his execution soon, so it's safe to say, that he was lucky, that he died before that. Wolsey's replacement was Thomas More, a lawyer and philosopher, nowadays famous for his work “Utopia”, in which he described a “perfect state”.
Initially More supported his king's desire for annulment, but after Henry started to deny the Pope's authority, piously More couldn't support this anymore. He was pushed out of office in 1532. Two years later he was ordered to swore an oath to Henry as the new head of the Church of England and after the refused to do this, he was beheaded.
Henry's ambition to reform the English Church had a few reasons and the desire for annulment wasn't that important as somebody might think, anyhow it was the straw that broke the camel's back. Henry was driven by the will to end the corruption and supremacy of the church, but this not so much for the poor people, that suffered from this, but more for his own power and glory. He wasn't a born enemy of the Pope, what was attested his earlier support of Julius and, later, Clemens, but after the Pope refused to fulfill the small wish for annulment (which wasn't really a great deal in Renaissance Europe), he started to develop an advancing repudiation against the supremacy of Rome. It all peaked in Henry's height to the head of the English Church in 1534. Short after that, the new personal advisor of Henry, Thomas Cromwell, the first Earl of Essex, started with his long planned dissolution of the Monasteries and transference of their lands to the crown. This gave Henry enormous power and sanified the royal finances, which were in a bad condition after the expensive armament of the fleet and the Wars waged in the last years. Henry also made some radical changes in the traditional religious practices, for example, many shrines were destroyed and relics were ridiculed as worthless old bones. All this led to a great wave of protests, especially in the circles of the nobles. In the course of the reformation, many people, nobles and common people, were executed for heresy. In 1533 Anne Boleyn was crowned as new Queen of England, after the king, as the head of the English Church, declared, that his marriage with Catherine of Aragon was not rightful, because Catherine were no virgin, when she married him. Anne finally reached the long desired marriage and now she had just one last thing to do. She had to give birth to a male child to fulfill Henry's livelong wish for a heir to the throne. Although it didn't seem to be such a big thing, the first child she gave birth to was a girl called Elizabeth (the later famous Elizabeth I). After this disappointment, Henry started to ignore Anne more and more and started affairs with many young girls at the court. As Anne got knowledge of Henry's several mistresses, she took Henry to task about this.


Execution of Anne Boleyn and marriage with Jayne Seymour


Jayne Seymour


Henry got more and more raging about his wife and this and the fact, that Anne wanted to influence politics, led to his decision to get rid of Anne. He ordered Cromwell to find a way to annul his marriage. First Cromwell couldn't find any reason to get an annulment, but then one of Anne's court ladies told him, that she saw, that Anne would practice incest with her brother. Although this was absolutely nonsense, Anne was brought to a trial, over which her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, presided. Anne was convicted for incest and high treason and the trial ordered to execute her in a way, the king had to decide. Henry allowed her to be beheaded instead of burned and so she was executed on the 19th May 1536.
Just 11 days after Anne's execution, Henry married Jayne Seymour, one of the women, he got attracted, after Anne's failure to give birth to a male child. On 12th October 1537 Henry finally got his heir with Edward (later Edward VI). Henry's happiness was quickly destroyed by the message, that Jayne died a few days after the birth. Today, historians believe, that Henry saw Jayne as his only really wife and after her death he fell in a long depression. He waited three years, before he accepted to get married again.


Consolidation of the Reformation


Clement VII


A few years earlier, in1536 the mutiny about the reformation peaked in the “Pilgrimage of Grace”, led by the lawyer Robert Aske. Because of the military strength of the insurgents (Henry's army was in France), Henry first accepted their demands, but short after the disbandment of the insurgent army, he ordered the execution of Aske and other leaders of the rebellion. Henry legitimated his actions saying that the rebels were traitors and so he had no cause to keep his promise. The execution of the leaders and the lack of a rival candidate for the throne took the wind out of the rebellions sails and Henry was able to continue the Reformation. Foreign intervention was also avoided by a new war between France and the Empire.
In the next years, Henry took some really big steps on the way to finalize the Reformation by authorizing a English version of the bible and an approach to the Lutheran theories in the Ten Articles, elaborated by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry also considered an alliance with the protestant nobles of Germany, but they rejected his political proposals.


Marriage with Anne of Cleve and Catherine Howard


Anne of Cleve


While Henry was still mourning about Jayne's death, Cromwell was again in search of a spouse for Henry, this time to a lesser extent because of children, but to avoid a Holy Crusade of England and the Empire against England, although this was relative unlikely. Cromwell's choice was Anna of Cleve, daughter of a German Noble. To convince Henry, Cromwell ordered Hans Holbein the younger, one of the most famous painters during Renaissance, to portray Anna. It's not sure, if Holbein's portray of Anna is drawn from life, but in reference to Henry's first reaction to Anna's appearance, it seems, that it could be a little bit embellished.
Anyway, after Henry saw the painting, he accepted to marry her and so she traveled to England in Winter 1539. After their first meeting, Henry refused to marry this “horsey faced” women, as he told her, but in reference to the agreement signed by him, he saw no other way than marriage. At least, for now. Short after the marriage, he ordered Cromwell to find a way to annul this unwanted marriage, but when his advisor failed, he ordered to execute him. Thomas Cromwell was executed on 28th July 1540, the marriage with Anna was divorced on the 4th July and Henry had no other way than fulfilling the agreement. Anna received a great amount of money a generous settlement, including Richmond Palace and Hever Castle.


Catherine Howard


Meanwhile, Henry allocated attention on Ireland and Scotland. Ireland had been left by Wolsey to swallow in its own disorder, but Henry wanted to apply English methods in Ireland to regain power. He reached his goal in 1542 when he was made king and supreme head of the Irish church. This was the begin of the long dominance of England over Ireland.
Scotland was a different problem, because the country and its Anti-English king James V were a lasting threat to England's northern border. In 1542, James sent a Scottish army into northern England, but he was defeated at the Battle of Solway Moss in which he also died. After that, Henry tried to secure the Scottish throne for England through marrying his son Edward to Maria Stuart, James' daughter, but this was torn up just a few months later. To prevent french intervention in Scotland, Henry joined the Emperor's war against France, during that Henry captured Boulogne in 1544. The war seemed to be successful for Henry, but in the same year, Charles signed a peace treaty with France. Henry had to face a french invasion of the Isle of Weight and peace between France and England was made in 1546.

Henry's fifth marriage with Catherine Howard, Anne Boleyn's cousin, was the triumph of Bishop Gardiner and the Duke of Norfolk. The marriage was on the same day as Cromwell's execution, on the 28th July 1540.
First Henry was ardent about the young, beautiful girl, but after rumors about the affair of the Queen with one of Henry's servants, Henry realized, that he hadn't the same effect on women, that he had a few years before. After Jayne Seymour's death, Henry fell into a depression, during that he evolved an incredible appetite. Together with the fact, that he wasn't able to sports since he hurt his knee during a hunt, he fattened up more and more. This went so far, that it was necessary to strengthen his bed with iron bars to avoid the breakdown of it.
But back to Henry's reaction on Catherine Howard's adultery. He reacted like he always did, he ordered to execute Catherine for adultery and so she was beheaded on 13th February 1542 in the yard of the Tower of London. She was buried next to her cousin, Anne Boleyn.


Marriage with Catherine Parr and death of Henry


Catherine Parr


Catherine Parr, Henry's sixth wife (from 1543 to 1547), was a convinced protestant and she tried to convince the old king to convert from Catholicism to Protestantism (Henry was still catholic although he founded the Anglican Church) which brought her the enmity of Bishop Stephen Gardiner, the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal. Gardiner tried to convince Henry to set up a trial against Catherine, but she was able to appease the king one last time, although the evidences for her protestant attitude (she even wrote books about protestant faith) were undeniable. It's likely, that Henry just wanted a wife that accompanied him in the last years of his life and so he connived at her protestant thoughts. In the last years of Henry's life, Catherine was less a wife than a nurse for him and it's nearly sure that she really loved Henry.
Henry died on the 28th January 1547 at Whitehall Palace in London in succession of blood poisoning triggered through an infection of his leg he hurt a few years before. Henry would have been ashamed if he could have seen himself the last days before his dead, because he was puffed up and strewn with blains. This wasn't the king of Holbein's portraits, this was a just an old and embittered man, who even wasn't able to give his last confession.


Henry's legacy


Mary I "Bloody Mary" 

Henry's successor was his son Edward. Edward was crowned on the 25th February 1547 at the age of 9. His reign was very much influenced by his personal advisors Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, and John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland. Under his reign an approach to the protestant theories happened, but all this was canceled by his successor Mary. Time of his life he was weak and so he died just six years later of tuberculosis and left the throne to his half-sister Mary, who made history as “Bloody Mary”, because she tried to reinstall the Catholicism in England at all means. During her reign, many protestants and Anglicans were killed or imprisoned. Her actions provoked a few rebellions and so England was at the brink to a civil war till her death in 1557.
In 1558 Anne Boleyn's daughter Elizabeth acceded to the throne starting an era that's today known as the “Elizabethan era”. Under her rule the cornerstone for the naval supremacy of England was placed by defeating the Spanish Armada. Finally the security of the British Isles and the naval supremacy where the preconditions for the later British Empire, the biggest Empire the World has seen till this day.


Elizabeth I

Ein Tyrann ?

Henry VIII – Tyrant or the greatest king of England?


Well, for us, who live more than 450 years after Henry's dead, it's difficult to understand how Henry's character was. We just have the writings of the men and women that were around Henry during his life and, of course, many of these writings show a different picture of Henry.
Today “King Bluebeard”, as Henry is called, is known as a man who loved the women as much as eating, but that's just a prejudice because it's a fact, that Henry was athletic man till an accident during a hunt. Also Henry's love for women can't be denied, but in these times it were normal that a monarch had a few mistresses, just think of Louis XIV of France. If Catherine of Aragon gave birth to a male child Anne Boleyn could have been just Henry's mistress and the break with the Pope maybe would have never happened. Henry's desire for a male heir changed England's and Europe's history more than any War (except World War I and II) did it. The break with the Pope and the Reformation of the English church were Henry's main achievements, although he is known for other things today.
It's likely, that Henry was talented in politics, but his liking of expensive excesses and other amenities took most of his time so he was dependent on advisors, which, most of the time, worked for their own interests. It's true, that Henry was cruel to his enemies and to those he thought they are enemies, but this has to be seen with caution, because many of the death sentences were just signed by him. But that's, of course, no excuse for all the men and women killed under Henry's rule over England.
So finally I think Henry was a “victim” of his advisors, who had the real power over England and Henry was just their mean to an end. So Henry was neither a real tyrant nor the greatest king of England.



- “Henry VIII, Reformer and Tyrant” / Derek Wilson; Constable and Robinson Ltd, 2009 / ISBN 978-1-84529-903-3

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Additional reference:

- “Henry VIII – König. Tyrann. Legende. Mörder.” / TV-serial; 2003 by Granada Television
- “The Tudors” / TV-series; 2007-2010 by Peace Arch Entertainment Group and Showtime Networks

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