Henry VIII of England was a British monarch who served as king for 38 years. He was the second English king to belong to the House of Tudor, an English royal house descended from Wales. His father was Henry VII, who was in charge of the English and Irish Crown for 24 years after his inauguration.
Henry VIII is best known for having married 6 different times. His main objective was to have his first marriage annulled, which caused him to reform English laws himself. With these reforms, he separated the authority of the Church and the State.
He was one of the English kings who made the most changes to the Constitution. He carried out a large number of modifications within the country thanks to the efficient actions of his ministers, and executed without trial anyone who opposed him, accusing them of heresy and treason.
Henry VIII was born in Greenwich on June 28, 1491. He was the second son of King Henry VII, but he was the one in charge of inheriting the crown from his father after the death of his older brother, who died in 1502.
During his youth he was a fairly athletic person and gifted with abundant intelligence. From his childhood he was an arduous believer in the Catholic religion, although throughout his life he had quite a few problems with the Pope and with the Church itself. He was able to speak Spanish, French and Latin; moreover, he was a born hunter.
He was a lover of the traditional arts as few British kings have been; he spent his free time writing books and composing songs.
In fact, he wrote a book that became one of the most purchased of the time. In this he attacked Martin Luther for his discrepancies with the Church and supported the Roman Church. The pope gave him a special title for having made such help to the Church: “Defender of the Faith.”
His brother originally had to come to the English throne after the death of his father in 1509. However, he died in 1502 after having married the daughter of the kings of Spain Fernando II of Aragon and Isabel of Castile. This led to Henry VIII becoming the heir to the throne.
As he was very young when his brother died, he spent a large part of his childhood in the expectation of becoming king. This made him form a fairly firm character, which served him to rule as well as he could after the death of his father. He promised England all the best when he ascended to the throne.
While Henry VIII was a calm-minded monarch, he made a series of firm decisions that earned him the respect of the courts. As soon as he came to the throne, he sought out various ministers to advise him throughout his tenure. These helped him make various decisions and, in turn, execute them.
His father was not highly regarded as king. Henry VIII took advantage of his accession to the throne to eliminate various legal institutions that had been created by him, and also executed those responsible for running some of these institutions.
Although Henry VIII is known to have had six different wives, one of his most significant characteristics that marked his life was his ability to make military decisions. Shortly after coming to the throne, he married Caterina de Aragón, the daughter of the kings of Spain and the widow of his late brother.
This caused that he became the stepson of Fernando II of Aragon. By that time, Spain and France were having a lot of problems as a result of the division of territories in Italy. Henry VIII joined his stepfather in hostility against France, openly supporting the pope.
Although he had a great capacity for military coordination, it was his ministers and counts who carried out his first victories as king. One of his most important advisers was Thomas Wolsey, who was Archbishop of York and a great military strategist.
Wolsey helped Henry VIII in many political affairs, became his friend and one of his most important ministers. In fact, Wolsey was the executor of the king’s decisions, to the point where many people thought his minister was in charge of ruling.
Disagreements with the Church
Wolsey wanted to become pope, and this was openly supported by Henry VIII, as an English pope would greatly benefit his mandate; however, this was highly unlikely to occur.
In any case, the archbishop rose a lot up the British chain of command and became one of the most important political figures of the time.
The big problem that the king had was that he had no heir to his throne. He only had one daughter with his wife, Caterina de Aragón, named María (a woman could not inherit the Crown at this time). For this reason, he wanted to annul his marriage with Caterina so that he could marry another woman and have a child with her.
Henry VIII’s desire to carry out such an action was not welcomed by the pope. The head of the Roman Church refused to annul the marriage to avoid enraging the Roman emperor and Caterina’s nephew, Charles V.
Wolsey was sent to negotiate with the pope a settlement for Henry; however, he failed and was arrested by the king. Wolsey passed away before being tried.
Enrique decided to break relations with the Church, separated from his wife and married another woman in a secret ceremony. This cost him excommunication by the pope, which gave way to the new English reforms.
In 1534 Henry declared himself supreme head of the Church of England. This led to the British Church separating from the traditional Roman Church, officially forming the Church of England.
With this change, the king also established a series of statutes that served to define the power that the king had and that of the Church. Through one of these statutes, the King of England was declared solely responsible for exercising the ecclesiastical power of the Church of England in the kingdom of the living.
These reforms shook the Catholic faith across the country. Priests were ordered not to enact praise of religious images, pilgrimages, relics, or miracles.
In addition, it was ordered that the candles be removed from all Catholic worship centers in the country. In 1545 a catechism was written in which the saints were excluded from religion.
Henry VIII as leader of the Church
After the reforms, Henry VIII became the highest ecclesiastical authority in the English territory. Furthermore, after Wolsey’s death as he was preparing to be tried as a traitor, Henry had to appoint a new minister who was capable of carrying out government duties on his behalf.
The person in charge of obtaining this position was Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell was the king’s advisor throughout the process of separation from the Church of England and Rome. He had a completely anti-church vision and had been one of Archbishop Wolsey’s main opponents.
As leader of the Church of England, Henry VIII dissolved more than 800 monasteries throughout the entire territory of the country. This brought a great amount of economic benefits to England, since a great amount of money no longer had to be paid to maintain these ecclesiastical buildings.
These decisions led to a series of cultural changes within the country. Many of the most important members of the government went on to become Protestants and the Church’s lands were sold to the gentry. However, Henry VIII always remained true to his Catholic faith.
During the last years of his tenure, Henry VIII’s health had clearly begun to decline; Furthermore, he had an insatiable desire to appear to be an all-powerful entity. For this he carried out a large number of military campaigns against France and Scotland, but none of these were successful.
During his last years, he married twice. He finally died on January 28, 1547, and his son Eduardo VI was in charge of succeeding him in the Crown. He was buried in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
The six wives
During the course of his life, Henry VIII married a total of six women. His main objective was to procreate an heir to the throne, but after the birth of his son he also married several additional occasions.
Caterina of Aragon
Caterina was the widow of Enrique’s late brother, who in turn was the daughter of the kings of Spain. Enrique married her when he turned 17 and inherited the Crown; both were proclaimed Kings of England at Westminster Abbey.
They had a daughter named Maria, but Enrique became frustrated with Caterina because she did not have an additional male child. They divorced in 1533, causing the English reform. Their marriage ended after Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s lover, became pregnant with the king’s child (the child, however, was never born).
Anne was the sister of one of the women with whom Henry VIII shared in adultery during his marriage to Caterina de Aragón.
After the two met, they began to see each other in secret. As Caterina was 42 years old and unable to bear another child, Enrique decided to officially abandon her marriage to the woman.
In 1533 Anne became pregnant and the pope refused to acknowledge the divorce between Henry and Caterina. This was the main event that precipitated Henry’s decision to separate the Roman Catholic Church and the English, divorcing Caterina on her own.
Two of her pregnancies resulted in miscarriages, and she was unable to have a male heir to the throne. She was accused of adultery and executed privately in 1536.
Henry VIII married Jane Seymour 11 days after the execution of his ex-wife Anne. This was the first wife of the king not to have been officially crowned and therefore she was not considered queen of England. However, in 1537 she gave birth to a male child: Eduardo.
The pregnancy was complicated, and a few days after giving birth to her son, she died of an infection. Enrique considered her as his only true wife, as she fathered his first male child.
Anne of Cleves
Three years after Jane’s death, Henry VIII decided to marry again. After asking his advisers which women were available, he sent a painter to portray Ana de Cléveris, whom they recommended. They were married in 1540, but the marriage ended the same year because Henry did not like their attitudes in the bedroom.
After divorcing Ana, Enrique married the young teenager Caterina Howard. She was only 19 years old, while the king was 49. Caterina and Enrique had a happy marriage during their first year, but soon after the woman began to seek relationships with other men her age.
She was investigated by the king’s men and tried for adultery in 1542. In February of that same year, Henry VIII ordered her execution.
Enrique married Caterina Parr in 1543. She was an educated, independent and intelligent woman, who had already been a widow twice. She acted as a nurse for Enrique, and cared for him throughout the course of their marriage.
However, the woman tried to pass a decree by means of which books were prohibited in England. This almost caused her to be arrested, but Enrique issued a statement by which he was forgiven for his actions.
- Henry VIII, JS Morrill & GR Elton for Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018. Taken from Britannica.com
- Church of England, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2017. Taken from Britannica.com
- Henry VIII, BBC History, (nd). Taken from bbc.co.uk
- The English Reformation, BBC History, (nd). Taken from bbc.co.uk
- Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547), The Home of the Royal Family, (nd). Taken from royal.uk