King of England

His Reign, Wives, and Military Battles

Born: 28 Jun 1491, Greenwich Palace, London, England

Acceded: 24 Jun 1509, Westminster Abbey, London, England

Died: 28 Jan 1547, Whitehall Palace, London, England

Buried: St. George's Chapel, Windor Castle, England

Notes: Burke says he married Catalina 3 Jun 1509. Was given the title Fidei Defensor by Pope Leo X. The Complete Peerage v.XIIpII,p.914.

Father: HENRY VII TUDOR (King of England)

Mother: Elizabeth PLANTAGENET (Queen of England)

Married 1: Catalina De ARAGON 11 Jun 1509, Grey Friars Church, Greenwich, England ANNULMENT 1533


1. Dau. TUDOR (b. 31 Jan 1510)

2. Henry TUDOR (D. Cornwall)

3. Henry TUDOR (D. Cornwall) (b. Nov 1513)

4. Son TUDOR (b. Dec 1514)

5. MARY I TUDOR (Queen of England)

6. Dau. TUDOR (b. 10 Nov 1518)

Associated with: Elizabeth STAFFORD (C. Sussex) / Catherine STAFFORD (C. Huntingdon)

Associated with: Elizabeth BRYAN

Associated with: Elizabeth BLOUNT (B. Talboys of Kyme/B. Clinton of Marstoke)


7. Henry FITZROY (D. Richmond)

Associated with: Mary BOLEYN

Associated with: Joan (DINGLEY) DOBSON


8. Ethelreda (Audrey) TUDOR

Associated with: Mary BERKELEY


9. Thomas STUKELY

10. John PERROT (Capt. Sir Knight)

Married 2: Anne BOLEYN (M. Pembroke/Queen of England) 25 Jan 1533, London, England ANNULMENT 1536


11. ELIZABETH I TUDOR (Queen of England)

12. Henry TUDOR (D. Cornwall) (b. Jul 1534)

13. Son TUDOR (b. 29 Jan 1536)

Married 3: Jane SEYMOUR (Queen of England) 20 May 1536, York Place, England


14. EDWARD VI TUDOR (King of England)

Married 4: Anne of CLEVES (Queen of England) 6 Jan 1540, Greenwich, England ANNULMENT 1540

Married 5: Catherine HOWARD (Queen of England) 28 Jul 1540, Oatlands Palace/ Hampton Court Palace, Richmond, England

Married 6: Catherine PARR (Queen of England) 12 Jul 1543, Hampton Court Palace, Richmond, England

HenryVIII12.jpg (123466 bytes)

Henry VIII attributed to Hans Eworth c. 1545
Bridgeman Art Library, London

See him at The King Gallery


Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, were loving parents, although they saw little of their children. Henry, their second son, was styled the Duke of York. He had his own servants and minstrels, and a fool named John Goose. He even had a whipping boy who was punished when Henry did something wrong.

Henry VII loved entertainers, and the court attracted acrobats, jesters, magicians and musicians. Prince Henry enjoyed music and grew up to be an accomplished musician (although he did not write "Greensleeves," as legend suggests). At the age of 10 he could play many instruments, including the fife, harp, viola and drums.

Henry's older brother Arthur married a Spanish princess, Catalina De Aragon, when he was fifteen. Prince Arthur danced at his wedding and seemed to be in good health, but within a few months he was dead. Some historians think Arthur had tuberculosis. Or he may have had plague or sweating sickness.

Young Henry was now heir to the throne. While his father was alive he was watched so closely that he might have been a girl., because the King feared for the safety of his only remaining male heir.  He could go out only through a private door, and then he was under the supervision of specially appointed people.  No one could speak to him.  He spent most of his time in his room, which could only be entered via the King's chamber.  He never spoke in public unless it was to answer a question from his father. Henry was a very tall, athletic, handsome teenager. He kept his exuberant personality under control on public occasions because he feared his father's temper. He received little training for his future role as King, and would rely heavily on his counselors in the early years of his reign. In 1509 Henry VII died of tuberculosis and his son became King Henry VIII. He was 17. The first ten weeks of the reign, his grand mother, lady Margaret, acted as a regent, until he came on age. Twenty six Knights of the Bath were made on 22 Jun, and Henry and his wife were crowned on Sunday 24, the day of St. John, at Westminster Abbey.Henry VIII ascended a throne which his father had made remarkably secure, he inherited a fortune which probably no English King had ever been bequeathed, he came to a kingdom which was the best governed and most obedient in Christendom.

Although most people today think of Henry VIII as a fat tyrant, in his youth he was admired for his intelligence, good looks, good nature and athletic ability. One of his contemporaries wrote that he was "one of the goodliest men that lived in his time, in manners more than a man, most amiable, courteous and benign in gesture unto all persons".

But of course, Henry is remembered today for just one thing - well, six things. Six wives, to be exact. The first was: Catalina De Aragon.

It may surprise you to learn that Henry VIII was married to his first wife for over 20 years, and for a long time they were happy together. Catalina, daughter of Fernando and Isabel of Spain, was five years older and much more sedate than the King. She was interested in politics and Henry often turned to her for advice. In 1513 she ruled as regent while Henry was campaigning in France.

Although Catalina was pregnant many times, only one of her children, Princess Mary, survived. Henry was a doting father and didn't seem to blame Catalina for her failure to bear healthy sons. Henry is only known to have had two mistresses during his marriage to Catalina, which made him a reasonably faithful husband by the standards of the time. Catalina knew of his affairs but kept silent.

On 28 May 1510, Luis Caroz, Spanish Ambassador, wrote an account, which seems to derive from court gossip. Is the only one to refer to this incident. He reported that two sisters of the Duke of Buckingham, both married, lived in the palace; one of them is the favourite of the Queen, and the other, it is said, is much liked by the King, who went after her. Another version is that the love intrigues were not of the King, but of a young man, his favourite, William Compton, who carried on the love intrigue for the King.

Buckingham had two sisters: Anne, wife of Sir George Hastings, later Earl of Huntingdon, and Elizabeth, wife of Robert Ratcliffe, Lord FitzWalter, were both ladies-in-waiting to Queen Catalina. It is not clear from this account which of them was the object of the King's affections and which the informer, but Compton is known to have lived for a time in an adulterous relationship with Lady Hastings, and at Compton he later founded a chantry where prayers were said daily for her soul and those of his family members, so it is reasonable to suppose that it was she who was at the centre of this scandal. According to Caroz's account, though, it sounds very much as if Compton at this stage was acting as a go-between for the King and the lady. Caroz thought so, and had this not been the case, the Queen would surely not have reacted so angrily, even though she would naturally have been upset at a close attendant being so publicly disgraced, since it reflected upon her own honour and reputation. The fact that her ladies were going about the court spying on the King suggests that Catalina had already had her suspicions.

The Stafford affair taught Catalina a humiliating lesson, that it was useless to remonstrate with her husband in such cases. Like many men of his time, Henry regarded it as his prerogative to pursue other ladies, while at the same time expecting his wife to stay chaste, and she soon realised that, in order to preserve her dignity and avoid mortifying public rows, she should shut her eyes to his extramarital affairs and be grateful that he did not shame her by flaunting them.

That there were affairs we cannot doubt. Although the pieces of evidence are fractional, taken as a whole they are overwhelming. In 1515 Giustinian described Henry as being "free from every vice", yet in that same year a French Ambassador in Rome stated that the King was "a youngling [who] cares for nothing but girls and hunting and wastes his father's patrimony" --much to the distress of the English Ambassador at the Vatican, who thought such words disrespectful to his sovereign. About this time, a Venetian Ambassador wrote a description of Henry VIII.

George Wyatt, the grandson of Sir Thomas Wyatt, Henry's court poet, refers to the King abandoning his pursuit of a lady when his friend Sir Francis Bryan revealed an interest in her. Henry may also have enjoyed the favours of Bryan's gorgeous sister Elizabeth, who was married to an-other favoured courtier, Sir Nicholas Carew; the King gave her "many beautiful diamonds and pearls and innumerable jewels" that were, strictly speaking, the property of the Queen.48 When, sometime before 1528, the King had an affair with the volatile Mrs. Amadas, wife of Robert Amadas, the Master of his Jewel House, that lady, who was given to tantrums and strange visions, made no secret of the fact that William Compton had made his house in Thames Street available for their trysts -a circumstance that gives credence to Caroz's assertion that Compton had acted for Henry in the Stafford affair.

It is important to remember that during Henry's reign, at least half of his subjects were under the age of eighteen. Henry's court swarmed with young people - pages, scullery maids, and the like. English culture celebrated youth; tournaments, hunts, glorious warfare - these were all the province of the young and strong. And while Henry was young, he joined these events with a gusto sadly lacking in his father or son. But time does not stop, not even for a despotic monarch determined to have his way in all things. During his 'great matter', Henry was in his thirties and changing from 'Bluff King Hal' into an overweight and balding hypochondriac. He had rid himself of Rome to gain wealth and a son. He did both and, once he had, continually toyed with the idea of making peace with the Pope. He didn't relish being excommunicated and it is likely that he persuaded himself that he wasn't disobeying Christ's vicar but, rather, the Emperor's puppet.

But still young, athletic and handsome in 1518, he looked at a young maid of honour of his Queen, pretty Elizabeth Blount, daughter of a minor branch of the house of Lord Mountjoy. All the evidence suggests that this was not an affair of any duration, only a short liaison with an unexpectedly pleasant result.

Elizabeth fell pregnant and gave the King a baby, his first boy, born around Jun of 1519 at the Priory of St. Lawrence at Blackmore, near Chelmsford in Essex. The child was baptized Henry, and he was given the surname of Fitzroy (King son)

It is thought that Elizabeth Blount had been replaced in the king´s bed by "mistress Parker". That could be Arabella Parker, the wife of a city merchant, or Margery Parker, who had been part of Princes Mary´s household since 1516.

After these came Mary Boleyn. The affair was brief, ending in mid-1525 (probably Jul). On 4 Mar 1526, Mary gave birth to a son, called Henry. He was widely assumed to be the king's son. He physically resembled the King, a fact often remarked upon. In 1535, for example, a man called 'young Master Carey' the king's son.  If Henry Carey was also his son, why didn't Henry do the same for him as for Henry Fitzroy? The answer lies in his determination to divorce Catalina de Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, the child's aunt. It is likely that even Henry VIII would have been too embarrassed to recognize his bastard son by his fiancee's younger sister. 

Bewitched by Anne's sparkling black eyes, long dark hair and vivacious personality, the King began scheming to end his marriage to Catalina. He claimed that it had never really been a marriage because she had been his brother's wife. Catalina insisted that her first marriage didn't count because it hadn't been consummated, and church authorities agreed. For years Henry struggled unsuccessfully to have his marriage annulled. In the end, determined to have his way, he broke free of the Catholic Church, established the Church of England, banished Catalina from court, had his first marriage declared invalid, and married Anne Boleyn.

In terms of the practical effect the reformation had on everyday Englishmen, the situation is more difficult to gauge. Unlike the wealthy noblemen, they couldn't bid on the seized monastic properties. And in many towns and villages, the parish church was the community center, where births, weddings, and deaths were officiated over by a priest. But they undoubtedly enjoyed not paying their tax to Rome. Once again, a paradox emerged - an excommunicated nation which found itself torn between loyalty to the sovereign and loyalty to the papacy. Also, since Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn could only be recognized if one accepted his annulment from Catalina - which in itself meant a rejection of papal authority - and it was treason to not recognize his marriage to Anne, then many people were swayed by the threat of execution. In other words, accept Henry's decisions or die.

There was opposition to the reformation which probably had more to do with the attendant loss of independence in north England. In 1536, a northern uprising which came to be called the Pilgrimage of Grace, gathered over 40,000 men and marched through England. It eventually destroyed itself by internal division and lack of clear purpose but one of the rebels' demands was a warning for Cromwell - they want their King to be advised by noble councilors who understand the people's wishes, not common men like Cromwell. Henry was angry at their presumption - how dare his ignorant subjects rebel and then tell him how to run the country! - but he was persuaded to show mercy and pardon those involved. And he continued to listen to Cromwell.

The Pilgrimage was largely motivated not by religious concerns but by Cromwell's determination to dissolve the monasteries and improve the royal tax collecting methods. With no standing military force, taxes were greatly needed for military loans to pay the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk to respond to the rebel threat. For example, the movement began in Louth, in Lincolnshire, and began with the murder of two tax collectors, one of whom was hanged and the other sewn into a sack and thrown to a pack of hungry dogs!

So the common people might grumble somewhat but they were ultimately more influenced by practical matters. Had Henry's excommunication been followed by a terrible harvest or bad weather, it may have been otherwise. During his daughter Mary's reign, such signs were taken to mean God was angry with her for attempting to reinstate Catholicism. But not only did Henry have good weather, he had a brilliant servant. Cromwell was the one who gave force to Henry's grand declarations. The King declared that Rome had no authority in England and Cromwell instituted the reforms which would make it so. The King declared that all monastic lands were forfeit and Cromwell set out to close the monasteries, assess their value, and sell them to the highest bidder. For a decade, this partnership worked marvelously.

Also, Henry and Cromwell both recognized a fundamental truth of the English people - don't upset their traditional religious views. Certainly Henry did not upset his own. They omitted the name of the Pope in their prayers but not much else. Henry's break with Rome was really a legal reformation rather than one of real religious content. England practiced Catholicism without a Pope and, in his place, was their King. This situation suited Cromwell. Like many, he recognized that the Church had lost its way, remaining a ponderous medieval institution concerned with wealth and influence. But Europe was no longer medieval - countries were becoming nation-states, patriotic and immune to the cultural unity which Rome promoted. The Pope envisioned a collection of nations joined beneath the cloak of Christendom with him at its head; but, particularly in xenophobic England, there were mutterings that the church was dominated by other nations. Also, the church claimed authority over its subjects; no priest or cleric could be tried by their sovereign nation. They would answer only to Rome. This problem had angered Henry II centuries before and resulted in Thomas Becket's murder. In Henry's time, it had grown worse. Also, as King, he believed himself ruler of all his subjects, priest and commoner alike.

One must also mention the corruption of the church, sadly evident to everyone. Certainly there were Godly men who struggled to enforce the tenets of their faith. But there were also bishops and cardinals more interested in business and finance than theology. The church preached that the surest path to heaven was through good works, particularly at a monastery or abbey; but every Englishmen knew that only the wealthy could afford to endow or board at them. Furthermore, an increasing number of churchmen were absent from their posts. Cardinal Wolsey embodied this avaricious streak; he was Bishop, Archbishop, abbot, and cardinal yet the affairs of state kept him from his duties. Instead of tending to his flock, he tended to his purse. He sired illegitimate children and collected nearly 50,000 pds a year from his vast holdings.

Wolsey represented the church as it had become; certainly such abuses may not have turned most Englishmen from their faith. But when confronted with the forces of Protestantism, the church found precious few willing to die for their beliefs. After all, why would anyone die for a faith they didn't respect? When the King styled himself head of the church, many were perhaps relieved. Henry made no claim to a holy life, not like the churchman Wolsey; he also was shrewd enough to endow his monarchy with papal apparatus. From the 1530s on, the Tudor dynasty was even more divine and the machinery of state could enforce its divinity.

Queen Anne was crowned in Jun 1533. Later that year she gave birth to her only surviving child, Elizabeth. The years of waiting had been hard on Anne. She was in her thirties now, moody and sharp tongued, and Henry was falling out of love with her. She had friends at court, but also many enemies. She had brought about the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey, who died in 1530, and she also plotted against Catalina of Aragon and her daughter Mary.

Catalina died on 7 Jan 1536, and Anne rejoiced. She was pregnant again, and if she gave birth to a healthy son her position as Queen would be secure. But on the day of Catalina's funeral Anne found the King with one of her maids of honor, Jane Seymour, sitting on his knee.

She became hysterical and had a miscarriage. "She has miscarried of her savior," the Spanish Ambassador wrote.

In May Anne was arrested and charged with having affairs with five men, including her own brother George. The charges were false, but Anne and all of the men were convicted and sentenced to death. On 19 May 1536, Anne Boleyn was beheaded. And on 30 May Henry VIII married his third wife: Jane Seymour.

After their marriage Jane remained quietly obedient to Henry. Once she fell on her knees in public and begged the King to change one of his policies. This did not go over well with the King, and Jane never tried it again.

In Oct 1537 Jane gave birth to a son, Edward. Twelve days later she died. Henry grieved for her, but he also began looking for a new wife. This time he wanted to make a politically advantageous marriage. 

Cromwell's rise to power was directly connected to the fall of Catholicism in England and he wanted to keep England on the path of Protestantism. Therefore, he sought a Protestant ally for Henry VIII. Naturally, his gaze turned to the Protestant states of Germany, birthplace of the Lutheran revolution. Meanwhile, Henry VIII was concerned with more aesthetic matters, sending artists (namely, Hans Holbein the Younger) to France and Milan to paint potential brides. Among those painted was Christina, duchess of Milan (niece of the Holy Roman Emperor); she famously remarked that she would be happy to marry Henry - if she had two heads! Henry also considered Marie de Guise, a widowed cousin of the French King; Marie, however, chose to marry Henry's nephew, James V of Scotland, thus creating a French-Scottish alliance along Henry's troublesome northern border. (Their only child is famous in history as the tragic Mary Queen of Scots).

Cromwell was well aware that - as seemed likely - if France and the Holy Roman Empire ended hostilities, England would be left out in the cold. So he was quite happy when the French and Imperial marriage negotiations fell apart. But as the search wound on, Henry became increasingly desperate for a wife. No doubt he was lonely; also, his court needed a Queen to be complete. A King was not meant to be a bachelor, as every European monarch knew. Finally, Cromwell found a Protestant ally with two available sisters - the Duke of Cleves, whose lands were strategically located and wealthy. He had two sisters not yet wed - Anne and Amelia. As the eldest, Anne was chosen as the possible bride - and Holbein immediately went to Cleves to paint her portrait. This painting would become of paramount importance in the coming year. Henry was determined to have a beautiful wife and specifically asked his various Ambassadors probing questions - does Marie de Guise have wide hips for childbearing? is Christina of Milan pock-marked? does Anne of Cleves play the lute? Holbein's famous portrait of Anne cannot be adequately judged in our time - after all, standards of beauty have changed. However, it is amusing to note that she (rumored to be the ugliest of Henry's wives) is the most attractive by twentieth-century standards.

The royal women of Europe were understandably reluctant to marry him, and it was two years before Henry VIII became betrothed to his fourth wife: Anne of Cleves.

Henry approved of her portrait, so in 1539 a marriage treaty was signed and Anne set sail for England. When she arrived Henry was so eager to see her that he raced to where she was staying and burst in upon her unannounced. Anne didn't speak English, didn't know who this fat stranger was, and was busy watching something out the window, so she more or less ignored Henry. The king's pride was wounded. "I like her not!" he told all and sundry. He found her ugly - downright repulsive - and the last thing he wanted to do was marry her.

But Henry couldn't wriggle out of his treaty with Cleves. The wedding took place on 6 Jan 1540 with the groom protesting every step of the way.

Poor Anne of Cleves - barely able to speak English, in a foreign land, and despised by her intended husband! The confused woman was led to a private marriage ceremony at Greenwich and, then, to her equally humiliating marriage-bed. The union was not consummated, a subject which Henry was firm upon - he spoke openly of how disgusted he was ('struck to the heart' by distaste, he 'left her as good a maid as he found her'.) They lay together for the entire length of their marriage but were never physically intimate. At first Anne had no idea that her husband was displeased with her. She told her ladies, "Why, when he comes to bed he kisseth me, and taketh me by the hand, and biddeth me 'Good night, sweetheart.'" Her ladies had to tell her that this wasn't enough to cause a pregnancy.After a few months had passed, the French-Imperial alliance showed signs of cooling and Henry's natural boldness had returned. He wanted out of this fourth marriage - and told Cromwell to arrange it.

Eventually Anne learned that her husband wished to be rid of her. She was shrewd enough to realize that her life was in danger. To Henry's amazement, she cooperated with his desire to have the marriage annulled. Relieved, he gave her money and property and treated her very well. Anne remained in England, and never remarried. Henry called her his sister and often invited her to court. She outlived Henry and was certainly the most fortunate of his wives.

Less than twenty days after his marriage to Anne of Cleves ended, Henry married his fifth wife: Catherine Howard.

Henry saw her as perfect and unspoiled, a "rose without a thorn". But Catherine had secrets. Several years earlier she'd had an affair with a man named Francis Dereham and promised to marry him. She had also been involved with her music teacher, Thomas Culpepper, and as Queen she resumed her relationship with him. In time, of course, her infidelity was discovered and she was arrested.

In Dec 1541 Dereham and Culpepper were executed. Catherine Howard was beheaded in Feb 1542. Henry was horrified and heartbroken, but he had not given up on matrimony. The following year he married his sixth and final wife: Catherine Parr.

Henry was old and ill now, and Catherine was as much a nurse to him as a wife. She was good to his children and helped him reconcile with Catalina de Aragon's daughter Mary. But Catherine's keen intellect and radical religious views placed her in danger. She argued with Henry about religion and he angrily ordered her arrest. Learning of this, Catherine took to her bed crying, which so distressed Henry that he cancelled the arrest warrant. After that Catherine took care not to dispute with the King.

Henry VIII died on 28 Jan 1547. His coffin, lying at Syon on its way to Windsor for burial, burst open during the night and in the morning dogs were found licking up the remains. This was regarded as a divine judgement for his desecration of the abbey.


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