Henry VIII of England

King Henry VIII
Reign 22 April 1509 - 28 January 1547
Predecessor Henry VII
Successor Edward VI
Spouses Catherine of Aragon
Anne Boleyn
Jane Seymour
Anne of Cleves
Catherine Howard
Catherine Parr
Issue Mary I
Elizabeth I
Edward VI
Royal House Tudor
Father Henry VII
Mother Elizabeth of York
Born 28 June 1491
Died 28 January 1547
English Royalty
House of Tudor

Henry VII
   Arthur, Prince of Wales
   Henry VIII
   Edmund, Duke of Somerset
Henry VIII
   Henry, Duke of Cornwall
   Mary I
   Elizabeth I
   Edward VI
Edward VI
Mary I
Elizabeth I

Henry VIII (28 June 149128 January 1547) was King of England and Lord of Ireland (later King of Ireland) from 22 April 1509 until his death. He was the second monarch of the Tudor dynasty, succeeding his father, Henry VII. He is famous for having been married six times and for wielding the most untrammeled power of any English monarch. Notable events during his reign included the break with Rome and the subsequent establishment of the independent Church of England, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the union of England and Wales.

Several significant pieces of legislation were enacted during Henry VIII's reign. They included the several Acts which severed the English Church from the Roman Catholic Church and established Henry as the supreme head of the Church in England, the Laws in Wales Acts 1535-1542 (which united England and Wales into one nation), the Buggery Act 1533, the first anti-sodomy enactment in England; and the Witchcraft Act 1542, which punished 'invoking or conjuring an evil spirit' with death.

Henry VIII is known to have been an avid gambler and dice player. In his youth, he excelled at sport, especially jousting, hunting, and royal tennis. He was also an accomplished musician, author, and poet; his best known piece of music is Pastyme With Good Company (The Kynges Ballade). Henry VIII was also involved in the construction-from-scratch and improvement of several significant buildings, including Nonsuch Palace, King's College Chapel in Cambridge and Westminster Abbey in London - the existing buildings improved were often properties confiscated from Wolsey (such as Christ Church, Oxford, Hampton Court Palace, palace of Whitehall) and Trinity College, Cambridge.

Early life

The future Henry VIII was born at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich in 1491
The future Henry VIII was born at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich in 1491

Born at the Palace of Placentia at Greenwich, Henry VIII was the third child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Only three of Henry VIII's six siblings: Arthur (the Prince of Wales), Margaret and Mary, survived infancy. His Lancastrian father acquired the throne by right of conquest, his army defeating and killing the last Plantagenet King Richard III, but further solidified his hold by marrying Elizabeth, the daughter of the Yorkist King Edward IV. In 1493, the young Henry was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. In 1494, he was created Duke of York. He was subsequently appointed Earl Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, though still a child.

In 1501 he attended the wedding of his elder brother Arthur and Catherine of Aragon, who were at the time only about fifteen and sixteen years old, respectively. The two were sent to spend time in Wales, as was customary for the heir-apparent and his wife, but Arthur caught an infection and died. Consequently, at the age of eleven, Henry, Duke of York, found himself heir-apparent to the Throne. Soon thereafter, he was created Prince of Wales.

Henry VII was still eager to maintain the marital alliance between England and Spain through a marriage between Henry, Prince of Wales, and Catherine. Since the Prince of Wales sought to marry his brother's widow, he first had to obtain a dispensation from the Pope from the impediment of affinity. Catherine maintained that her first marriage was never consummated; if she were correct, no papal dispensation would have been necessary, but merely a dissolution of ratified marriage. Nonetheless, both the English and Spanish parties agreed on the necessity of a papal dispensation for the removal of all doubts regarding the legitimacy of the marriage. Due to the impatience of Catherine's mother, Queen Isabella, the Pope hastily granted his dispensation in a Papal Bull. Thus, fourteen months after her husband's death, Catherine found herself engaged to his brother, the Prince of Wales. By 1505, however, Henry VII lost interest in an alliance with Spain, and the young Prince of Wales was forced to declare that his betrothal had been arranged without his assent.

Early reign

Henry VIII ascended the throne in 1509 upon his father's death. Catherine's father, the Aragonese King Ferdinand II, sought to control England through his daughter, and consequently insisted on her marriage to the new English king. Henry VIII wed Catherine of Aragon about nine weeks after his accession on June 11, 1509 at Greenwich, despite the concerns of Pope Julius II and William Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, regarding the marriage's validity. They were both crowned at Westminster Abbey on 24 June 1509. Queen Catherine's first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage in 1510. She gave birth to a son, Henry, on 1 January 1511, but he only lived until February 22.

Monarchical Styles of
King Henry VIII of England
Reference style: His Majesty (first English king to use Majesty)
Spoken style: Your Majesty
Alternative style: Sir

Upon his accession, Henry was faced with the problematic issues posed by Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, two nobles of Henry VII's reign who imposed heavy arbitrary taxes on the nobility. In one of the many ways in which he tried to separate himself from the principles of his father's reign, he had them imprisoned in the Tower of London and later beheaded. Henry's constant willingness for war would prove to be another way in which he undertook to distance himself from Henry VII's reign; his predecessor favouring peace.

Anonymous portrait of Henry VIII c. 1509
Anonymous portrait of Henry VIII c. 1509

For two years after Henry's accession, Richard Fox, the Bishop of Winchester and Lord Privy Seal, and William Warham controlled matters of state. From 1511 onwards, however, power was held by the ecclesiastic Thomas Wolsey. In 1511, Henry joined the Holy League, a body of European rulers opposed to the French King Louis XII. The League also included such European rulers as Pope Julius II, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and Ferdinand II, with whom Henry also signed the Treaty of Westminster. Henry personally joined the English Army as they crossed the English Channel into France, and took part in sieges and battles. In 1514, however, Ferdinand left the alliance, and the other parties made peace with the French. Irritation towards Spain led to discussion of a divorce with Queen Catherine. However, upon the accession of the French King Francis I in 1515, England and France grew antagonistic, and Henry became reconciled with Ferdinand. In 1516 Queen Catherine gave birth to a girl, Mary, encouraging Henry in the belief that he could still have a male heir despite his wife's previous failed pregnancies (one stillbirth, one miscarriage, and two short-lived infants). Ferdinand died in 1516, to be succeeded by his grandson (Queen Catherine's nephew) Charles V. By October 1518 Wolsey had engineered the Papacy-led Treaty of London to resemble an English triumph of foreign diplomacy, placing England at the centre of a new European alliance with the ostensible aim of repelling Moorish invasions through Spain, which was the Pope's original aim. In 1519, when Maximilian also died, Wolsey, who was by that time a Cardinal, secretly proposed Henry as a candidate for the post of Holy Roman Emperor, though supporting the French King Francis in public. In the end, however, Charles was chosen by the prince-electors. The subsequent rivalry between Francis and Charles allowed Henry to act as a mediator between them. Henry came to hold the balance of power in Europe. Both Francis and Charles sought Henry's favour, the former in a dazzling and spectacular manner at the Field of Cloth of Gold, and the latter more solemnly at Kent. After 1521, however, England's influence in Europe began to wane. Henry entered into an alliance with Charles V through the Treaty of Bruges, and Francis I was defeated by Charles' imperial armies at the Battle of Pavia in February 1525. Charles' reliance on Henry subsided, as did England's power in Europe, and Henry was refused help to acquire the Fleur-de-Lys, despite Charles' guarantees. This lead to the Treaty of Westminster in 1527. Henry's interest in European affairs extended to the attack on Luther's German revolution. In 1521, he dedicated his Defence of the Seven Sacraments, which earned him the title of "Defender of the Faith" (Defensor Fidei). Prior to this, his title had been "inclitissimus", meaning "most illustrious". The later title was maintained even after his break with Rome, and it is still used by the British monarch today.

The King's Great Matter

Henry VIII's accession was the first peaceful one England had witnessed in many years; however, the new Tudor dynasty's legitimacy could yet be tested. The English people seemed distrustful of female rulers, and Henry felt that only a male heir could secure the throne. Although Queen Catherine had been pregnant at least seven times (for the last time in 1518), only one child, the Princess Mary, had survived beyond infancy. Henry had previously been happy with mistresses, including Mary Boleyn and Elizabeth Blount, with whom he had had an illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. In 1526, when it became clear that Queen Catherine could have no further children, he began to pursue Mary Boleyn's sister, Anne. Although it was almost certainly Henry's desire for a male heir that made him determined to divorce Catherine, he was very infatuated with Anne, despite her child-bearing inexperience and famously plain looks.

The Six Wives of
King Henry VIII
Catherine of Aragon
Anne Boleyn
Jane Seymour
Anne of Cleves
Catherine Howard
Catherine Parr

Henry's long and arduous attempt to end his marriage to Queen Catherine became known as "The King's Great Matter". Cardinal Wolsey and William Warham quietly began an inquiry into the validity of her marriage to Henry. Queen Catherine, however, testified that her marriage to Arthur, Prince of Wales had never been consummated, and that there was therefore no impediment to her subsequent marriage to Henry. The inquiry could proceed no further, and was dropped.

Without informing Cardinal Wolsey, Henry directly appealed to the Holy See. He sent his secretary William Knight to Rome to argue that Julius II's Bull was obtained by trickery, and consequently void. In addition, he requested Pope Clement VII (1523–34) to grant a dispensation allowing him to marry any woman, even in the first degree of affinity; such a dispensation was necessary because Henry had previously had intercourse with Anne Boleyn's sister Mary. Knight found that Pope Clement VII was practically the prisoner of the Emperor Charles V. He had difficulty gaining access to the Pope, and when he finally did, he could accomplish little. Clement VII did not agree to annul the marriage, but he did grant the desired dispensation, probably presuming that the dispensation would be of no effect as long as Henry remained married to Catherine.

Being advised of the King's predicament, Cardinal Wolsey sent Stephen Gardiner and Edward Fox to Rome. Perhaps fearing Queen Catherine's nephew, Charles V, Pope Clement VII initially demurred. Fox was sent back with a commission authorising the commencement of proceedings, but the restrictions imposed made it practically meaningless. Gardiner strove for a "decretal commission", which decided the points of law beforehand, and left only questions of fact to be decided. Clement VII was persuaded to accept Gardiner's proposal, and permitted Cardinal Wolsey and Lorenzo Cardinal Campeggio to try the case jointly. His decretal commission was issued in secret; it was not to be shown to anybody, and was to always remain in Cardinal Campeggio's possession. Points of law were already settled in the commission; the Papal Bull authorising Henry's marriage to Catherine was to be declared void if the grounds alleged therein were false. For instance, the Bull would be void if it falsely asserted that the marriage was absolutely necessary to maintain the Anglo-Spanish alliance.

Cardinal Campeggio arrived in England in 1528. Proceedings, however, were brought to a halt when the Spanish produced a second document allegedly granting the necessary dispensation. It was asserted that, a few months before he had granted papal dispensation in a public Bull, Pope Julius II had secretly granted the same in a private Brief sent to Spain. The decretal commission, however, only made mention of the Bull; it did not authorise Cardinal Campeggio and Cardinal Wolsey to determine the validity of the Brief and for eight months, the parties wrangled over its authenticity. During the spring of 1529, Henry's legal team assembled the libelus (the summary of Henry's royal arguments, including Lev: 2021) that was presented before the papal legates, where the following may be observed: 18 June, 1529 'The Queen was summoned to the great hall of the Black Friar's convent in London. The King, on a raised platform, sat at the upper end. Some distance away Catherine was given her place. The Cardinals, sitting lower than the King, flanked the royal presence, and near them the Archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops were given position. Doctor Richard Sampson, afterwards Bishop of Chichester, and Doctor John Bell, afterwards Bishop of Worcester, led those who pleaded for the King. Representing the Queen was John Fisher Bishop of Rochester, and Doctor Standish, a Gray Friar and Bishop of St. Asaph.' Following a series of deliberations, the matter was appealed to Rome, primarily after Catherine's nephew, Charles V, pressured the Pope into recalling Cardinal Campeggio and Catherine was then placed in the care of Sir Edmund Bedingfield at Kimbolton Castle.

Angered with Cardinal Wolsey for the delay, Henry stripped him of his wealth and power. He was charged with præmunire — undermining the King's authority by agreeing to represent the Pope — but died on his way to trial. With Cardinal Wolsey fell other powerful ecclesiastics in England; laymen were appointed to offices such as those of Lord Chancellor and Lord Privy Seal, which were formerly confined to clergymen.

Power then passed to Sir Thomas More (the new Lord Chancellor), Thomas Cranmer (the Archbishop of Canterbury), and Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex (the Secretary of State). On 25 January 1533, Cranmer participated in the wedding of Henry and Anne Boleyn. In May, Cranmer pronounced Henry's marriage to Catherine void, and shortly thereafter declared the marriage to Anne valid. The Princess Mary was deemed illegitimate, and was replaced as heiress-presumptive by Queen Anne's new daughter, the Princess Elizabeth. Catherine lost the title "Queen", and became the Dowager Princess of Wales; Mary was no longer a "Princess", but a mere "Lady". The Dowager Princess of Wales would die of cancer in 1536.

Sir Thomas More, who had left office in 1532, accepted that Parliament could make Anne queen, but refused to acknowledge its religious authority. Instead, he held that the Pope remained the head of the Church. As a result, he was charged with high treason, and beheaded in 1535. Judging him to be a martyr, the Catholic Church later made him a saint.

Religious upheaval

Part of the series on
Anglican Communion

Protestant Reformation
Apostolic Succession
Roman Catholicism
Episcopal structure

Thomas Cranmer
Henry VIII
Richard Hooker
Elizabeth I

"Instruments of Unity"
Archbishop of Canterbury
Lambeth Conferences
Anglican Consultative Council
Primates' Meeting

Liturgy and Worship
Book of Common Prayer
High Church · Low Church
Broad Church
Oxford Movement
Thirty-Nine Articles
Calendar of saints (Anglican)

The Pope responded to these events by excommunicating Henry in July 1533. Considerable religious upheaval followed. Urged by Thomas Cromwell, Parliament passed several Acts that sealed the breach with Rome in the spring of 1534. The Statute in Restraint of Appeals prohibited appeals from English ecclesiastical courts to the Pope. It also prevented the Church from making any regulations without the King's consent. The Ecclesiastical Appointments Act 1534 required the clergy to elect Bishops nominated by the Sovereign. The Act of Supremacy 1534 declared that the King was "the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England"; the Treasons Act 1534 made it high treason, punishable by death, to refuse to acknowledge the King as such. The Pope was denied sources of revenue such as Peter's Pence.

Rejecting the decisions of the Pope, Parliament validated the marriage between Henry and Anne with the Act of Succession 1534. Catherine's daughter, the Lady Mary, was declared illegitimate, and Anne's issue were declared next in the line of succession. All adults were required to acknowledge the Act's provisions; those who refused to do so were liable to imprisonment for life. The publisher or printer of any literature alleging that Henry's marriage to Anne was invalid was automatically guilty of high treason, and could be punished by death.

Opposition to Henry's religious policies was quickly suppressed. Several dissenting monks were tortured and executed. Cromwell, for whom was created the post of "Vicegerent in Spirituals", was authorised to visit monasteries, ostensibly to ensure that they followed royal instructions, but in reality to assess their wealth. In 1536, an Act of Parliament allowed Henry to seize the possessions of the lesser monasteries (those with annual incomes of £200 or less).

In 1536, Queen Anne began to lose Henry's favour. After the Princess Elizabeth's birth, Queen Anne had two pregnancies that ended in either miscarriage or stillbirth. Henry VIII, meanwhile, had begun to turn his attentions to another lady of his court, Jane Seymour. Perhaps encouraged by Thomas Cromwell, Henry had Anne arrested on charges of using witchcraft to trap Henry into marrying her, of having adulterous relationships with five other men, of incest with her brother George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, of injuring the King and of conspiring to kill him, which amounted to treason; the charges were most likely fabricated. The court trying the case was presided over by Anne's own uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. In May 1536, the Court condemned Anne and her brother to death, either by burning at the stake or by decapitation, whichever the King pleased. The other four men Queen Anne had allegedly been involved with were to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Lord Rochford was beheaded soon after the trial ended; the four others implicated had their sentences commuted from hanging, drawing and quartering to decapitation. Anne was also beheaded soon thereafter.

Birth of a Prince

Only days after Anne's execution in 1536, Henry married Jane Seymour. The Act of Succession 1536 declared Henry's children by Queen Jane to be next in the line of succession, and declared both the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth illegitimate, thus excluding them. The King was granted the power to further determine the line of succession in his will. Jane gave birth to a son, the Prince Edward, in 1537, and died two weeks thereafter. After Jane's death, the entire court mourned with Henry for some time. Henry also considered her to be his only "true" wife, being the only one who had given him the male heir he so desperately sought.

Major Acts

At about the same time as his marriage to Jane Seymour, Henry granted his assent to the Laws in Wales Act 1535, which legally annexed Wales, uniting England and Wales into one nation. The Act provided for the sole use of English in official proceedings in Wales, inconveniencing the numerous speakers of the Welsh language.

Henry continued with his persecution of his religious opponents. In 1536, an uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in Northern England. To appease the rebellious Roman Catholics, Henry agreed to allow Parliament to address their concerns. Furthermore, he agreed to grant a general pardon to all those involved. He kept neither promise, and a second uprising occurred in 1537. As a result, the leaders of the rebellion were convicted of treason and executed. In 1538, Henry sanctioned the destruction of shrines to Roman Catholic Saints. In 1539, England's remaining monasteries were all dissolved, and their property transferred to the Crown. As a reward for his role, Thomas Cromwell was created Earl of Essex. Abbots and priors lost their seats in the House of Lords; only archbishops and bishops came to comprise the ecclesiastical element of the body. The Lords Spiritual, as members of the clergy with seats in the House of Lords were known, were for the first time outnumbered by the Lords Temporal.

Later years

Henry was shown the above picture of Anne of Cleves.
Henry was shown the above picture of Anne of Cleves.

Henry's only surviving son, the Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall, was not a healthy child. Therefore, Henry desired to marry once again to ensure that a male could succeed him. Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex suggested Anne, the sister of the Protestant Duke of Cleves, who was seen as an important ally in case of a Roman Catholic attack on England. Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to Cleves to paint a portrait of Anne for the King. After regarding Holbein's flattering portrayal, and urged by the complimentary description of Anne given by his courtiers, Henry agreed to wed Anne. On Anne's arrival in England, Henry is said to have found her utterly unattractive, privately calling her a "Flanders Mare". She was painted totally without any signs of her pockmarked face. Nevertheless, he married her on 6 January 1540.

Soon thereafter, however, Henry desired to end the marriage, not only because of his personal feelings but also because of political considerations. The Duke of Cleves had become engaged in a dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor, with whom Henry had no desire to quarrel. Queen Anne was intelligent enough not to impede Henry's quest for an annulment. She testified that her marriage was never consummated. Henry was said to have come into the room each night and merely kissed his new bride on the forehead before sleeping. The marriage was subsequently annulled on the grounds that Anne had previously been contracted to marry another European nobleman. She received the title of "The King's Sister", and was granted Hever Castle, the former residence of Anne Boleyn's family. The Earl of Essex, meanwhile, fell out of favour for his role in arranging the marriage, and was subsequently attainted and beheaded. The office of Vicegerent in Spirituals, which had been specifically created for him, was not filled, and still remains vacant.

On 28 July 1540 (the same day Lord Essex was executed) Henry married the young Catherine Howard, Anne Boleyn's first cousin. Soon after her marriage, however, Queen Catherine may have had an affair with the courtier, Thomas Culpeper. She also employed Francis Dereham, who was previously informally engaged to her and had an affair with her prior to her marriage, as her secretary. Thomas Cranmer, who was opposed to the powerful Catholic Howard family, brought evidence of Queen Catherine's activities to the King's notice. Though Henry originally refused to believe the allegations, he allowed Cranmer to conduct an investigation, which resulted in Queen Catherine's implication. When questioned, the Queen could have admitted a prior contract to marry Dereham, which would have made her subsequent marriage to Henry invalid, but she instead claimed that Dereham had forced her to enter into an adulterous relationship. Dereham, meanwhile, exposed Queen Catherine's relationship with Thomas Culpeper.

In December 1541, Culpeper and Dereham were executed. Catherine was condemned not by a trial, but by an Act of Attainder passed by Parliament. The Act recited the evidence against the Queen, and Henry would have been obliged to listen to the entire text before granting the Royal Assent. Because "the repetition of so grievous a Story and the recital of so infamous a crime" in the King's presence "might reopen a Wound already closing in the Royal Bosom", a special clause permitting Commissioners to grant the Royal Assent on the King's behalf was inserted in the Act. This method of granting the Royal Assent had never been used before, but, in later reigns, it came to replace the traditional personal appearance of the Sovereign in Parliament.

Catherine's marriage was annulled shortly before her execution. As was the case with Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard could not have technically been guilty of adultery, as the marriage was officially null and void from the beginning. Again, this point was ignored, and Catherine was executed on 13 February 1542. She was only about eighteen years old at the time.

Henry married his last wife, the wealthy widow Catherine Parr, in 1543. She argued with Henry over religion; she was a Protestant, but Henry remained a Catholic. This behaviour almost led to her undoing, but she saved herself by a show of submissiveness. She helped reconcile Henry with his first two daughters, the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth. In 1544, an Act of Parliament put them back in the line of succession after the Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall, though they were still deemed illegitimate. The same Act allowed Henry to determine further succession to the throne in his will.

A mnemonic for the fates of Henry's wives is "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived". An alternative version is "King Henry the Eighth, to six wives he was wedded: One died, one survived, two divorced, two beheaded". The doggerel, however, may be misleading. Firstly, Henry was never divorced from any of his wives; rather, his marriages to them were annulled. Secondly, four marriages — not two — ended in annulments. The marriages to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were annulled shortly before their executions.

Death and succession

King Henry VIII died in the Palace of Whitehall in 1547
King Henry VIII died in the Palace of Whitehall in 1547

Later in life, Henry was grossly overweight, with a waist measurement of 54 inches (137 cm), and possibly suffered from gout. The well known theory that he suffered from syphilis was first promoted approximately 100 years after his death. More recent support for this idea has come from a greater understanding of the disease and has led to the suggestion that Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I all displayed symptoms characteristic of congenital syphilis. Henry's increased size dates from a jousting accident in 1536. He suffered a thigh wound which not only prevented him from taking exercise, but also gradually became ulcerated and may have indirectly led to his death, which occurred on 28 January 1547 at the Palace of Whitehall. He died on what would have been his father's 90th birthday. Henry VIII was buried in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, next to his wife Jane Seymour. Almost a hundred years later Charles I would also be buried in his grave. Within a little more than a decade after his death, all three of his children sat on the English throne.

Under the Act of Succession 1544, Henry's only surviving son, Edward, inherited the Crown, becoming Edward VI. Edward was the first Protestant monarch to rule England. Since Edward was only nine years old at the time, he could not exercise actual power. Henry's will designated sixteen executors to serve on a council of regency until Edward reached the age of eighteen. The executors chose Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, Jane Seymour's elder brother, to be Lord Protector of the Realm. In the event of a death without children, Edward was to be succeeded (in default of his issue) by Henry VIII's daughter by Catherine of Aragon, the Lady Mary. If the Lady Mary did not have children, she was to be succeeded by his daughter by Anne Boleyn, the Lady Elizabeth. Finally, if the Lady Elizabeth also did not have children, she was to be followed by the descendants of Henry VIII's deceased sister, Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk.


Along with Alfred the Great, Henry is traditionally called one of the founders of the Royal Navy. There are good reasons for this - his reign featured some naval warfare and, more significantly, large royal investment in shipbuilding (including a few spectacular 'great ships' such as the Mary Rose), dockyards (such as HMNB Portsmouth) and naval innovations (eg the use of cannon onboard ship - although archers were still deployed on medieval-style forecastles and bowcastles as the ship's primary armament on large ships, or co-armament where cannon were used). However, it is a misnomer since Henry did not bequeath to his immediate successors a 'navy' in the sense of a formalised organisation with structures, ranks, formalised munitioning structures etc, but only in the sense of a set of ships (albeit some spectacular ones). Elizabeth I still had to cobble together a set of privately-owned ships to fight off the Spanish Armada and in the former, formal sense the modern British navy, the Royal Navy, is largely a product of the Anglo-Dutch naval rivalry of the seventeenth century.

By his break with Rome, Henry incurred the threat of a large-scale French or Spanish invasion. To guard against this he strengthened existing coastal defence fortresses (such as Dover Castle and, also at Dover, Moat Bulwark and Archcliffe Fort - he personally visited for a few months to supervise, as is commemorated in the modern exhibition in Dover Castle's keep there). He also built a chain of new 'castles' (in fact, large bastioned and garrisoned gun batteries) along Britain's southern coast from East Anglia to Cornwall, largely built of material gained from the demolition of monasteries. Also known as Henry VIII's Device Forts

In popular culture

Stage drama

Henry VIII was the subject of William Shakespeare's historical play, Henry VIII: All Is True, written once it was safe to do so (once his daughter Elizabeth I had died). The play, however, has never been one of Shakespeare's more popular plays. Henry VIII was playing on June 29, 1613 when the Globe Theatre burnt down. Ironically, in another Renaissance play in which Henry might be expected to appear - the Elizabethan play Sir Thomas More, he is always an offstage presence, mentioned but never seen.

The most notable modern example is Robert Bolt's play and film A Man for All Seasons (see also 'Cinematic films', below).


Henry VIII was also the subject of a best-selling fictional autobiography written by Margaret George.


There have been many films about Henry and his court. Two that bear mention are The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), starring Charles Laughton, whose performance earned him an Academy Award, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1972), starring Keith Michell. Richard Burton and Genevieve Bujold were nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Actress for their roles as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969). Henry, played by Robert Shaw, also appears as one of the main characters in the multiple-Oscar-winning movie about Thomas More, A Man for All Seasons (1966), based upon Robert Bolt's play of the same name.

Sid James played Henry in the movie Carry On Henry (1970), which portrayed the relationship between the King and two fictitious wives ("Marie of Normandy" and "Bettina", a mistress).

TV – fiction

He has also been a TV stalwart, both in drama and documentary, and in America and the UK. In drama, one notable example is the 1970 BBC series 'the Six Wives of Henry VIII', made up of six television plays, one per wife, each by a different author. Another is the 2003 ITV feature-length Henry VIII, with Ray Winstone as Henry VIII, critically panned for Henry as an East End gangster, spoken in Winstone's usual Cockney tones, surrounded entirely by a court speaking in Received Pronunciation, such as David Suchet as Wolsey.

An episode of the 1960s American sitcom Bewitched had Samantha Stevens staving off a lustful Henry's intentions to make her his next wife. Henry's life was the subject of the famous but inaccurate Simpsons television episode named "Margical History Tour" in 2004, in which Homer Simpson played the King.

In Homecoming: A Shot in D'Arc, an episode of Clone High, a dolphin impersonated Henry VIII to play on the basketball team. The writers chose Henry VIII because they viewed him as someone recognizable as a real historical figure yet someone that most North Americans know almost nothing about.

TV – documentary

In documentary, the leading academic on Henry, David Starkey leads the field, with Channel 4 series entitled 'Henry VIII' and 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII' - the latter gave one episode each to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, one jointly to Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, and another jointly to Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr. Henry also has an episode to himself in his more recent series 'Monarchy' (Monarchy TV series).

In 2002, Henry VIII placed 40th in a BBC-sponsored poll on the 100 Greatest Britons.

Music – music hall

Henry was almost certainly the inspiration for the title of the popular song "I'm Henry the Eighth, I Am" (1911), recorded by Harry Champion and later by Herman's Hermits; the actual song, however, is about a man named Henry whose wife has been married to seven different individuals, all named Henry.

Music – Other

In 1973, Rick Wakeman released a rock concept album on The Six Wives of Henry VIII, his first solo album after splitting from Yes.

Style and arms

Henry VIII was the first English monarch to regularly use the style "Majesty", though the alternatives "Highness" and "Grace" were also used from time to time.

Several changes were made to the royal style during his reign. Henry originally used the style "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England, France and Lord of Ireland". In 1521, pursuant to a grant from Pope Leo X rewarding a book by Henry attacking Martin Luther and defending Catholicism, the royal style became "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England and France, Defender of the Faith and Lord of Ireland". After the breach with Rome, Pope Paul III rescinded the grant of the title "Defender of the Faith", but an Act of Parliament declared that it remained valid.

In 1535, Henry added the "supremacy phrase" to the royal style, which became "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England and France, Defender of the Faith, Lord of Ireland and of the Church of England in Earth Supreme Head". In 1536, the phrase "of the Church of England" changed to "of the Church of England and also of Ireland".

In 1541, Henry had the Irish Parliament change the title "Lord of Ireland" to "King of Ireland" after being advised that many Irish people regarded the Pope as the true head of their country, with the Lord acting as a mere representative. The reason the Irish regarded the pope as their overlord was because Ireland had originally been given to the English King Henry II by Pope Adrian IV in the twelfth century as a feudal territory under papal overlordship. The meeting of Irish Parliament that proclaimed Henry VIII King of Ireland was the first meeting attended by the Gaelic Irish chieftains as well as the Anglo-Irish aristocrats. The style "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith and of the Church of England and also of Ireland in Earth Supreme Head" remained in use until the end of Henry's reign.

Henry's motto was Coeur Loyal (true heart) and he had this embroidered on his clothes in the form of a heart symbol and with the word 'loyall'. His emblem was the Tudor rose and the Beaufort portcullis.

Henry VIII's arms were the same as those used by his predecessors since Henry IV: Quarterly, Azure three fleurs-de-lys Or (for France) and Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England).


Name Birth Death Notes
By Catherine of Aragon (married June 11, 1509 annulled 1533; she died January 6, 1536)
Miscarried daughter January 31, 1510 January 31, 1510  
Henry, Duke of Cornwall 1 January 1511 22 February 1511  
Unnamed son November 1513 November 1513  
Henry, Duke of Cornwall December 1514 December 1514  
Queen Mary I 18 February 1516 13 September 1558 married 1554, Philip II of Spain; no issue
Unnamed child November 10, 1518 November 10, 1518  
By Anne Boleyn (married January 25, 1533 annulled 1536; she was executed May 19, 1536)
Queen Elizabeth I 7 September 1533 24 March 1603   never married, no issue
"Henry Tudor" 1534 1534 Historians are uncertain if the child was born and died shortly after birth, or if it was a miscarriage. The affair was hushed up and we cannot even be certain of the child's sex.
"Edward Tudor" 29 January 1536 29 January 1536  
By Jane Seymour (married May 20, 1536; she died October 25, 1537)
King Edward VI 12 October 1537 6 July 1553  
By Anne of Cleves (married January 6, 1540 annulled 1540; she died July 17, 1557)
no issue
By Catherine Howard (married July 28, 1540 annulled 1541; she was executed February 13, 1542)
no issue
By Catherine Parr (married July 12, 1543; he died January 28, 1547; she remarried and died September 5, 1548)
no issue
By Elizabeth Blount
Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset 15 June 1519 18 June 1536 illegitimate; married 1533, the Lady Mary Howard; no issue
By The Lady Mary Boleyn (most historians now reject the legend that the following two children were fathered by Henry VIII)
Catherine Carey c. 1524 15 January 1568 reputed illegitimate; married Sir Francis Knollys; had issue
Henry Carey, Baron Hunsdon 4 March 1526 23 July 1596 reputed illegitimate; married 1545, Ann Morgan; had issue
By Mary Berkeley
Sir Thomas Stucley c. 1525 August 4, 1578 reputed illegitimate; married Anne Curtis; had issue
Sir John Perrot c. 1527 September 1592 reputed illegitimate; married (1) Ann Cheyney and (2) Jane Pruet; had issue
By Joan Dyngley
Etheldreda Malte c. 1529 aft. 1555 reputed illegitimate; married 1546–1548 to John Harrington; no known issue

* Note: Of Henry VIII's reputedly illegitimate children, only the Duke of Richmond and Somerset was formally acknowledged by the King. The paternity of his other alleged illegitimate children is not fully established. There may also have been other illegitimate children born to short-term unidentified mistresses.



  • Bowle, John. Henry VIII: A Study of Power in Action Little, Brown, 1964.
  • Bryant, M. Private Lives. Cassell, 2001.
  • Eakins, L. E. (2004). "The Six Wives of Henry VIII".
  • Farrow, John V. The Story of Thomas More. Collins, 1956.
  • "Henry VIII". (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed. London: Cambridge University Press.
  • Jokinen, A. (2004). "Henry VIII (1491–1547)".
  • Moorhouse, Geoffrey. Great Harry's Navy: How Henry VIII Gave England Seapower
  • Public Broadcasting Service. (2003). "The Six Wives of Henry VIII".
  • Thurston, H. (1910). "Henry VIII". The Catholic Encyclopedia. (Vol. VII). New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  • Vallieres, S. (1999). "Tudor Succession Problems"
  • Wagner, John A. (2003). "Bosworth Field to Bloody Mary: An Encyclopedia of the Early Tudors." (Greenwood). ISBN 1-57356-540-7.
  • Weir, Alison. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Bodley Head, 1991.

Further reading

  • Weir, Alison. Henry VIII: The King and His Court. Ballantine Books, 2001.
  • Williams, Neville. Henry VIII and His Court. Macmillan, 1971.

House of Tudor
Born: June 28 1491; Died: January 28 1547
Regnal Titles
Preceded by:
Henry VII
King of England
April 22, 1509January 28, 1547
Succeeded by:
Edward VI
Lord of Ireland
Declared king by an act
of the Irish Parliament
Title last held by
Edward Bruce
King of Ireland
Succeeded by:
Edward VI
Titles of Nobility
Peerage of England
New Title Duke of York
Merged in crown
Preceded by:
Prince of Wales
Title next held by
Political Offices
Preceded by:
Sir William Scott
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by:
Sir Edward Poyning

Monarchs of England
Alfred | Edward the Elder | Ethelweard | Athelstan | Edmund I | Edred | Edwy | Edgar I | Edward the Martyr | Ethelred | Sweyn I*† | Edmund II | Canute*† | Harthacanute* | Harold I | Edward the Confessor | Harold II | Edgar II | William I | William II | Henry I | Stephen | Matilda | Henry II | Richard I | John | Henry III | Edward I | Edward II | Edward III | Richard II | Henry IV | Henry V | Henry VI | Edward IV | Edward V | Richard III | Henry VII | Henry VIII‡ | Edward VI‡ | Jane‡ | Mary I‡ | Elizabeth I‡ | James I‡§ | Charles I‡§ | Interregnum | Charles II‡§ | James II‡§ | William III‡§¶ and Mary II‡§ | Anne‡§
* Also Monarch of Denmark | † Also Monarch of Norway | ‡Also Monarch of Ireland | § Also Monarch of Scotland | ¶ Also Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Overijssel and Drenthe

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