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English king Henry VIII

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Henry (June 28th 1491 in Greenwich - January 28th 1547) became heir to the English throne after his elder brother Arthur's death in 1502. When his father died in 1509 he was crowned king of England. Shortly afterwards he married Catherine of Aragon, Arther's widow. Henry increasingly relied on Thomas Wolsey to rule for him and Wolsey became Lord Chancellor in 1515.

One of Henry's popular pursuits, alongside hunting and dancing, was to wage war. Wolsey organized the first French campaign and proved to be an outstanding minister. The Scots were defeated at Flodden in 1513. However, war with France ultimately proved unsuccessful and expensive.

Wolsey's ascendancy was cut short by Henry's need for a male heir. He was determined to replace Catherine (who had a single child, the daughter Mary) but the Pope refused to grant the divorce. In 1533, Henry went ahead anyway and married his mistress Anne Boleyn, with whom he had a daughter Elizabeth. The Pope excommunicated and this led to his decision to push Parliament for a break with Rome. With the help of Wolsey's replacement, Thomas Cromwell, Henry established himself as head of the Church of England and ordered the dissolution of the monasteries. Other reforms -- including the uniting of England and Wales and the creation of the Council of the North and the Household and Exchequer -- were also instigated during the 1530s. Henry grew tired of Anne Boleyn and she was executed for treason in 1536. Jane Seymour became queen and in 1537 produced an heir, Edward, but died in childbirth.

Henry's personal religious beliefs remained Catholic despite the growing number of people at court and in the nation who had adopted Protestantism. Attempting to establish a Protest alliance with the German princes, Cromwell arranged a marriage between the king and German princess Anne of Cleves. Henry was not impressed with his new wife and divorced her a few months later and turned on Cromwell, who was executed.

The final years of his reign witnessed his physical decline and increasing desperation to appear all-powerful. In 1530 he married Catharine Howard but she was executed for treason within two years. A final marriage to Catharine Howard was more harmonious. But Henry obstinately pursued fruitless and costly wars against Scotland and France.


Winchester City Mill Museum