A Day in History History

Henry VIII of England

Early Life

Born on 28 June 1491 at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, Henry Tudor was the third child and second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York had seven children but only three, except for Henry, survived infancy (Arthur, Prince of WalesMargaret and Mary).

Henry was baptised by Richard Fox, the Bishop of Exeter, at a church of the Observant Franciscans close to the palace. In 1493 he was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

He was subsequently appointed Earl Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at age three and was made a Knight of the Bath soon after.

The day after the ceremony he was created Duke of York and a month or so later made Warden of the Scottish Marches. In May 1495, he was appointed to the Order of the Garter. The reason for all the appointments to a small child was so his father could keep personal control of lucrative positions and not share them with established families.

Henry was given a first-rate education from leading tutors becoming fluent in Latin and French and learning at least some Italian.

In November 1501, Henry played a considerable part in the ceremonies surrounding his brother’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the youngest surviving child of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile

As Duke of York, Henry used the arms of his father as king, differenced by a label of three points ermine. He was further honoured, on 9 February 1506, by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I who made him a Knight of the Golden Fleece.

In 1502, Arthur died at the age of 15, possibly from the sweating sickness, just 20 weeks after his marriage to CatherineArthur’s death thrust all his duties upon his younger brother, the 10-year-old Henry.

After a little debate, Henry became the new Duke of Cornwall in October 1502 and the new Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester in February 1503. 

Young Henry was strictly supervised and did not appear in public. As a result he ascended the throne “untrained in the exacting art of kingship”.

Henry VII renewed his efforts to seal a marital alliance between England and Spain by offering his second son in marriage to Arthur’s widow Catherine. Both Isabella I and Henry VII were keen on the idea which had arisen shortly after Arthur’s death. On 23 June 1503, a treaty was signed for their marriage and the couple was betrothed two days later. 

A papal dispensation was only needed for the “impediment of public honesty” if the marriage had not been consummated as Catherine and her duenna claimed, but Henry VII and the Spanish ambassador set out instead to obtain a dispensation for “affinity”, which took account of the possibility of consummation.

Cohabitation was not possible because Henry was too young. Isabella’s death in 1504, and the ensuing problems of succession in Castile, complicated matters. Her father preferred her to stay in England, but Henry VII’s relations with Ferdinand had deteriorated.

Catherine was therefore left in limbo for some time, culminating in Prince Henry’s rejection of the marriage as soon he was able, at the age of 14. Ferdinand’s solution was to make his daughter ambassador, allowing her to stay in England indefinitely.

Early Reign

Henry VII died on 21 April 1509 and the 17-year-old Henry succeeded him as king. Soon after his father’s burial Henry suddenly declared that he would indeed marry Catherine, leaving unresolved several issues concerning the papal dispensation and a missing part of the marriage portion. 

Henry’s wedding to Catherine was kept low-key and was held at the friar’s church in Greenwich on 11 June 1509. On 23 June 1509, Henry led Catherine from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey for their coronation, which took place the following day.

It was a grand affair as the king’s passage was lined with tapestries and laid with fine cloth. Following the ceremony, there was a grand banquet in Westminster Hall. As Catherine wrote to her father, “our time is spent in continuous festival”.

Two days after his coronation Henry arrested his father’s two most unpopular ministers, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley. They were charged with high treason and were executed in 1510. Politically motivated executions would remain one of Henry’s primary tactics for dealing with those who stood in his way.

Henry also returned to the public some of the money supposedly extorted by the two ministers. Henry’s view of the House of York’s potential rival claimants for the throne was more moderate than his father’s had been. Several who had been imprisoned by his father, including the Marquess of Dorset, were pardoned. While others (most notably Edmund de la Pole) went unreconciled and subsequently beheaded.

Soon after the marriage took place, Catherine conceived but the child, a girl, was stillborn on 31 January 1510. About four months later, Catherine again became pregnant. On New Year’s Day 1511, the child – Henry – was born.

After the grief of losing their first child, the couple were pleased to have a boy and festivities were held, including a two-day joust known as the Westminster Tournament.

Unfortunatell, the child died seven weeks later. Catherine had two stillborn sons in 1513 and 1515 and in February 1516 gave birth to a girl, Mary. Relations between Henry and Catherine had been strained, but they eased slightly after Mary’s birth.

Although Henry’s marriage to Catherine has since been described as “unusually good”, it is known that Henry took mistresses. It was revealed in 1510 that Henry had been conducting an affair with one of the sisters of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, either Elizabeth or Anne Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon.

The most significant mistress for about three years was Elizabeth Blount. Exactly how many mistressses Henry had is disputed. There is no evidence that Catherine protested and in 1518 she fell pregnant again with another girl, who was also stillborn.

Blount gave birth in June 1519 to Henry’s illegitimate son, Henry FitzRoy. The young boy was made Duke of Richmond in June 1525 in what some thought was one step on the path to his eventual legitimisation.

France and the Habsburg dynasty

In 1510, France along with a fragile alliance with the Holy Roman Empire in the League of Cambrai, was winning a war against Venice. Henry renewed his father’s friendship with Louis XII of France. Certainly war with the combined might of the two powers would have been exceedingly difficult.

Shortly thereafter, Henry also signed a pact with Ferdinand. After Pope Julius II created the anti-French Holy League in October 1511, Henry followed Ferdinand’s lead and brought England into the new League. An initial joint Anglo-Spanish attack was planned for the spring to recover Aquitaine for England, the start of making Henry’s dreams of ruling France a reality.

The attack, following a formal declaration of war in April 1512, was not led by Henry personally and was a considerable failure as Ferdinand used it simply to further his own ends, and it strained the Anglo-Spanish alliance. Nevertheless, the French were pushed out of Italy soon after and the alliance survived, with both parties keen to win further victories over the French.

Henry then pulled off a diplomatic coup by convincing the Emperor to join the Holy League. Remarkably, Henry had also secured the promised title of “Most Christian King of France” from Julius and possibly coronation by the Pope himself in Paris, if only Louis could be defeated.

On 30 June 1513, Henry invaded France and his troops defeated a French army at the Battle of the Spurs – a relatively minor result, but one which was seized on by the English for propaganda purposes. Soon after, the English took Thérouanne and handed it over to Maximillian with Tournai, a more significant settlement, following.

Henry had led the army personally, complete with large entourage. His absence from the country, however, had prompted his brother-in-law, James IV of Scotland, to invade England at the behest of Louis. Nevertheless, the English army overseen by Queen Catherine, decisively defeated the Scots at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513. Among the dead was the Scottish king, thus ending Scotland’s brief involvement in the war. 

These campaigns had given Henry a taste of the military success he so desired. However, despite initial indications, he decided not to pursue a 1514 campaign. He had been supporting Ferdinand and Maximilian financially during the campaign but had received little in return and England’s coffers were now empty.

With the replacement of Julius by Pope Leo X who was inclined to negotiate for peace with France, Henry signed his own treaty with Louis: his sister Mary would become Louis’ wife and peace was secured for eight years, a remarkably long time.

Charles V ascended the thrones of both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire following the deaths of his grandfathers, Ferdinand in 1516 and Maximilian in 1519. Francis I likewise became king of France upon the death of Louis in 1515, leaving three relatively young rulers and an opportunity for a clean slate.

The careful diplomacy of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey had resulted in the Treaty of London in 1518, aimed at uniting the kingdoms of western Europe in the wake of a new Ottoman threat and it seemed that peace might be secured. 

Henry met Francis I on 7 June 1520 at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais for a fortnight of lavish entertainment. Both hoped for friendly relations in place of the wars of the previous decade. The strong air of competition laid to rest any hopes of a renewal of the Treaty of London, and conflict was inevitable. 

Henry had more in common with Charles, whom he met once before and once after Francis. Charles brought the Empire into war with France in 1521 and Henry offered to mediate, but little was achieved and by the end of the year Henry had aligned England with Charles.

He still clung to his previous aim of restoring English lands in France but also sought to secure an alliance with Burgundy, then part of Charles’ realm and the continued support of Charles

A small English attack in the north of France made up little ground. Charles defeated and captured Francis at Pavia and could dictate peace, but he believed he owed Henry nothing.

Sensing this, Henry decided to take England out of the war before his ally, signing the Treaty of the More on 30 August 1525.

Annulment from Catherine of Aragon

During his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry conducted an affair with Mary Boleyn, Catherine’s lady-in-waiting. There has been speculation that Mary’s two children, Henry Carey and Catherine Carey, were fathered by Henry, but this has never been proved.

In 1525, as Henry grew more impatient with Catherine’s inability to produce the male heir he desired, he became enamoured with Boleyn’s sister, Anne Boleyn, a charismatic young woman in the Queen’s entourage. 

Anne resisted his attempts to seduce her and refused to become his mistress as her sister had. It was in this context that Henry considered his three options for finding a dynastic successor and hence resolving what came to be described at court as the King’s “great matter”. These options were legitimising Henry FitzRoy, which would take the intervention of the pope and would be open to challenge, marrying off Mary as soon as possible and hoping for a grandson to inherit directly, or somehow rejecting Catherine and marrying someone else of child-bearing age.

Probably seeing the possibility of marrying Anne, the third was ultimately the most attractive possibility to the 34-year-old Henry, and it soon became the King’s absorbing desire to annul his marriage to the now 40-year-old Catherine. It was a decision that would lead Henry to reject papal authority and initiate the English Reformation.

Henry’s precise motivations and intentions over the coming years are not widely agreed on. Henry himself, at least in the early part of his reign, was a devout and well-informed Catholic to the extent that his 1521 publication Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (“Defence of the Seven Sacraments”) earned him the title of Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) from Pope Leo X. It is not clear exactly when Henry changed his mind on the issue as he grew more intent on a second marriage. Certainly by 1527 he had convinced himself that Catherine had produced no male heir because their union was “blighted in the eyes of God”.

Indeed, in marrying his brother’s wife, he had acted contrary to Leviticus 20:21, an impediment Henry now believed that the Pope never had the authority to dispense with. It was this argument Henry took to Pope Clement VII in 1527 in the hope of having his marriage to Catherine annulled, forgoing at least one less openly defiant line of attack.

 In going public, all hope of tempting Catherine to retire to a nunnery or otherwise stay quiet was lost. Henry sent his secretary, William Knight, to appeal directly to the Holy See by way of a deceptively worded draft papal bull. Knight was unsuccessful asthe Pope could not be misled so easily.

Other missions concentrated on arranging an ecclesiastical court to meet in England with a representative from Clement VII. Though Clement agreed to the creation of such a court, he never had any intention of empowering his legate, Lorenzo Campeggio, to decide in Henry’s favour. This bias was perhaps the result of pressure from Emperor Charles V, Catherine’s nephew, though it is not clear how far this influenced either Campeggio or the Pope.

After less than two months of hearing evidence, Clement called the case back to Rome in July 1529 from which it was clear that it would never re-emerge. With the chance for an annulment lost and England’s place in Europe forfeit, Cardinal Wolsey bore the blame. He was charged with praemunire in October 1529 and his fall from grace was “sudden and total”

After a short period in which Henry took government upon his own shoulders, Sir Thomas More took on the role of Lord Chancellor and chief minister. Intelligent and able, but also a devout Catholic and opponent of the annulment, More initially cooperated with the king’s new policy, denouncing Wolsey in Parliament.

A year later, Catherine was banished from court and her rooms were given to Anne. Anne was an unusually educated and intellectual woman for her time and was keenly absorbed and engaged with the ideas of the Protestant Reformers, though the extent to which she herself was a committed Protestant is much debated.

When Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham died, Anne’s influence and the need to find a trustworthy supporter of the annulment had Thomas Cranmer appointed to the vacant position. This was approved by the Pope, unaware of the King’s nascent plans for the Church.

Henry was married to Catherine for 24 years and heir divorce has been described as a “deeply wounding and isolating” experience for Henry.

Marriage to Anne Boleyn

In the winter of 1532, Henry met with Francis I at Calais and enlisted the support of the French king for his new marriage. Immediately upon returning to Dover in England, Henry, and Anne went through a secret wedding service. She soon became pregnant and there was a second wedding service in London on 25 January 1533.

On 23 May 1533, Cranmer sittting in judgment at a special court convened at Dunstable Priory to rule on the validity of the king’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, declared the marriage of Henry and Catherine null and void. Five days later, on 28 May 1533, Cranmer declared the marriage of Henry and Anne to be valid. 

Catherine was formally stripped of her title as queen, becoming instead “princess dowager” as the widow of Arthur. In her place, Anne was crowned queen consort on 1 June 1533. The queen gave birth to a daughter slightly prematurely on 7 September 1533. The child was christened Elizabeth, in honour of Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York.

Following the marriage there was a period of consolidation, taking the form of a series of statutes of the Reformation Parliament aimed at finding solutions to any remaining issues, whilst protecting the new reforms from challenge, convincing the public of their legitimacy, and exposing and dealing with opponents. Although the canon law was dealt with at length by Cranmer and others, these acts were advanced by Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Audley and the Duke of Norfolk and indeed by Henry himself.

With this process complete, in May 1532, More resigned as Lord Chancellor, leaving Cromwell as Henry’s chief minister. With the Act of Succession 1533, Catherine’s daughter Mary was declared illegitimate and Henry’s marriage to Anne was declared legitimate with Anne’s issue being the next in the line of succession. 

With the Acts of Supremacy in 1534 Parliament also recognised the King’s status as head of the church in England and, with the Act in Restraint of Appeals in 1532, abolished the right of appeal to Rome. It was only then that Pope Clement took the step of excommunicating Henry and Thomas Cranmer, although the excommunication was not made official until some time later.

The king and queen were not pleased with married life. The royal couple enjoyed periods of calm and affection, but Anne refused to play the submissive role expected of her. The vivacity and opinionated intellect that had made her so attractive as an illicit lover made her too independent for the largely ceremonial role of a royal wife and it made her many enemies. For his part, Henry disliked Anne’s constant irritability and violent temper.

After a false pregnancy or miscarriage in 1534, Henry saw her failure to give him a son as a betrayal. As early as Christmas 1534, Henry was discussing with Cranmer and Cromwell the chances of leaving Anne without having to return to Catherine

Opposition to Henry’s religious policies was quickly suppressed in England. A number of dissenting monks, including the first Carthusian Martyrs, were executed and many more pilloried. The most prominent resisters included John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More, both of whom refused to take the oath to the King. 

Neither Henry nor Cromwell sought to have the men executed, they rather hoped that the two might change their minds and save themselves. Fisher openly rejected Henry as the Supreme Head of the Church, but More was careful to avoid openly breaking the Treasons Act of 1534, which (unlike later acts) did not forbid mere silence.

Both men were subsequently convicted of high treason and were duly executed in the summer of 1535.

These suppressions, as well as the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act of 1536, in turn contributed to more general resistance to Henry’s reforms, most notably in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a large uprising in northern England in October 1536. 

Some 20,000 to 40,000 rebels were led by Robert Aske, together with parts of the northern nobility. Henry VIII promised the rebels he would pardon them and thanked them for raising the issues. Aske told the rebels they had been successful and they could disperse and go home. Henry saw the rebels as traitors and did not feel obliged to keep his promises with them, so when further violence occurred after Henry’s offer of a pardon he was quick to break his promise of clemency.

The leaders, including Aske, were arrested and executed for treason. In total, about 200 rebels were executed and the disturbances ended.

Execution of Anne Boleyn

On 8 January 1536, news reached the king and the queen that Catherine of Aragon had died. The following day, Henry dressed all in yellow, with a white feather in his bonnet. The queen was pregnant again and she was aware of the consequences if she failed to give birth to a son. Later that month, the King was unhorsed in a tournament and was badly injured; it seemed for a time that his life was in danger.

When news of this accident reached the queen she was sent into shock and miscarried a male child at about 15 weeks’ gestation, on the day of Catherine’s funeral, 29 January 1536. For most observers, this personal loss was the beginning of the end of this royal marriage.

Although the Boleyn family still held important positions on the Privy Council, Anne had many enemies, including the Duke of Suffolk. Even her own uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, had come to resent her attitude to her power. The Boleyns preferred France over the Emperor as a potential ally, but the King’s favour had swung towards the latter (partly because of Cromwell), damaging the family’s influence.

Also opposed to Anne were supporters of reconciliation with Princess Mary (among them the former supporters of Catherine), who had reached maturity. A second annulment was now a real possibility, although it is commonly believed that it was Cromwell’s anti-Boleyn influence that led opponents to look for a way of having her executed.

Anne’s downfall came shortly after she had recovered from her final miscarriage. Whether it was primarily the result of allegations of conspiracy, adultery, or witchcraft remains a matter of debate among historians. Early signs of a fall from grace included the King’s new mistress, the 28-year-old Jane Seymour, being moved into new quarters and Anne’s brother, George Boleyn, being refused the Order of the Garter, which was instead given to Nicholas Carew.

 Between 30 April and 2 May, five men including Anne’s brother, were arrested on charges of treasonable adultery and accused of having sexual relationships with the queen. Anne was also arrested, accused of treasonous adultery and incest. Although the evidence against them was unconvincing, the accused were found guilty and condemned to death. George Boleyn and the other accused men were executed on 17 May 1536. At 8 am on 19 May 1536, Anne was executed on Tower Green.

Marriage to Jane Seymour

The day after Anne’s execution in 1536 the 45-year-old Henry became engaged to Seymour, who had been one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. They were married ten days later at the Palace of Whitehall, Whitehall, London, in the Queen’s closet by Bishop Gardiner.

On 12 October 1537, Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, the future Edward VI. The birth was difficult and the queen died on 24 October 1537 from an infection and was buried in Windsor. 

The euphoria that had accompanied Edward’s birth became sorrow, but it was only over time that Henry came to long for his wife. At the time, Henry recovered quickly from the shock. Measures were immediately put in place to find another wife for Henry, which, at the insistence of Cromwell and the court, were focused on the European continent.

With Charles V distracted by the internal politics of his many kingdoms and external threats and Henry and Francis on relatively good terms, domestic and not foreign policy issues had been Henry’s priority in the first half of the 1530s.

In 1536, Henry granted his assent to the Laws in Wales Act 1535, which legally annexed Wales, uniting England and Wales into a single nation. This was followed by the Second Succession Act (the Act of Succession 1536), which declared Henry’s children by Jane to be next in the line of succession and declared both Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate, thus excluding them from the throne.

The king was also granted the power to further determine the line of succession in his will, should he have no further issue. However, when Charles and Francis made peace in January 1539, Henry became increasingly paranoid, perhaps as a result of receiving a constant list of threats to the kingdom (real or imaginary, minor or serious) supplied by Cromwell in his role as spymaster.

Enriched by the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry used some of his financial reserves to build a series of coastal defences and set some aside for use in the event of a Franco-German invasion.

Marriage to Anne of Cleves

Cromwell suggested Anne, the 25-year-old sister of the Duke of Cleves, who was seen as an important ally in case of a Roman Catholic attack on England, for the duke fell between Lutheranism and Catholicism. Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to Cleves to paint a portrait of Anne for the king. After seeing Holbein’s portrait and urged on by the complimentary description of Anne given by his courtiers, the 49-year-old king agreed to wed her.

However, it was not long before Henry wished to annul the marriage so he could marry another. Anne did not argue, and confirmed that the marriage had never been consummated. Anne’s previous betrothal to the Duke of Lorraine’s son Francis provided further grounds for the annulment. The marriage was subsequently dissolved and Anne received the title of “The King’s Sister”, two houses and a generous allowance. 

It was soon clear that Henry had fallen for the 17-year-old Catherine Howard, the Duke of Norfolk’s niece, the prospect of which worried Cromwell, for Norfolk was a political opponent.

Shortly after, the religious reformers Robert BarnesWilliam Jerome and Thomas Garret were burned as heretics. Cromwell, meanwhile, fell out of favour although it is unclear exactly why, for there is little evidence of differences of domestic or foreign policy. Despite his role, he was never formally accused of being responsible for Henry’s failed marriage.

Cromwell was now surrounded by enemies at court, with Norfolk also able to draw on his niece’s position. He was charged with treason, selling export licences, granting passports, and drawing up commissions without permission, and may also have been blamed for the failure of the foreign policy that accompanied the attempted marriage to Anne. He was subsequently attainted and beheaded.

Marriage to Catherine Howard

On 28 July 1540 (the same day of Cromwell’s execution), Henry married the young Catherine Howard, who was a first cousin and lady-in-waiting of Anne Boleyn. He was absolutely delighted with his new queen, and awarded her the lands of Cromwell and a vast array of jewellery. Soon after the marriage Queen Catherine had an affair with the courtier Thomas Culpeper. She also employed Francis Dereham, who had previously been informally engaged to her and had an affair with her prior to her marriage, as her secretary.

The court was informed of her affair with Dereham whilst Henry was away so they dispatched Thomas Cranmer to investigate, who brought evidence of Queen Catherine’s previous affair with Dereham to the king’s notice.[129] Though Henry originally refused to believe the allegations, Dereham confessed.

It took another meeting of the council before Henry believed the accusations against Dereham and went into a rage, blaming the council before consoling himself in hunting. 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 Culpeper. Culpeper and Dereham were both executed, and Catherine too was beheaded on 13 February 1542.

Marriage to Catherine Parr

Henry married his last wife, the wealthy widow Catherine Parr, in July 1543. A reformer at heart, she argued with Henry over religion. Henry remained committed to an idiosyncratic mixture of Catholicism and Protestantism; the reactionary mood that had gained ground after Cromwell’s fall had neither eliminated his Protestant streak nor been overcome by it. 

Parr helped reconcile Henry with his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. In 1543, the Third Succession Act put them back in the line of succession after Edward. The same act allowed Henry to determine further succession to the throne in his will.

Second invasion of France and the “Rough Wooing” of Scotland

The 1539 alliance between Francis and Charles had soured, eventually degenerating into renewed war. With Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn dead, relations between Charles and Henry improved considerably and Henry concluded a secret alliance with the Emperor and decided to enter the Italian War in favour of his new ally.

An invasion of France was planned for 1543. In preparation for it, Henry moved to eliminate the potential threat of Scotland under the youthful James V. The Scots were defeated at Battle of Solway Moss on 24 November 1542 and James died on 15 December.

Henry now hoped to unite the crowns of England and Scotland by marrying his son Edward to James’ successor, Mary. The Scottish Regent Lord Arran agreed to the marriage in the Treaty of Greenwich on 1 July 1543, but it was rejected by the Parliament of Scotland on 11 December. The result was eight years of war between England and Scotland. Despite several peace treaties, unrest continued in Scotland until Henry’s death.

Despite the early success with Scotland, Henry hesitated to invade France, annoying Charles. He finally went to France in June 1544 with a two-pronged attack. One force under Norfolk ineffectively besieged Montreuil. The other, under Suffolk, laid siege to Boulogne. Henry later took personal command and Boulogne fell on 18 September 1544.

However, Henry had refused Charles’ request to march against Paris. Charles’ own campaign fizzled, and he made peace with France that same day. Henry was left alone against France, unable to make peace. Francis attempted to invade England in the summer of 1545, but reached only the Isle of Wight before being repulsed in the Battle of the Solent.

Out of money, France and England signed the Treaty of Camp on 7 June 1546. Henry secured Boulogne for eight years. The city was then to be returned to France for 2 million crowns (£750,000). Henry needed the money as the 1544 campaign had cost £650,000, and England was once again bankrupt.

Public Image

Henry cultivated the image of a Renaissance man, and his court was a centre of scholarly and artistic innovation and glamorous excess, epitomised by the Field of the Cloth of Gold. He scouted the country for choirboys, taking some directly from Wolsey’s choir, and introduced Renaissance music into court.

Henry was an avid gambler and dice player, and excelled at sports, especially jousting. He was also known for his strong defence of conventional Christian piety He was involved in the construction and improvement of several significant buildings, including Nonsuch Palace, King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, and Westminster Abbey in London. Many of the existing buildings which he improved were properties confiscated from Wolsey, such as Christ Church, Oxford, Hampton Court Palace, the Palace of Whitehall, and Trinity College, Cambridge.

Henry was an intellectual, the first English king with a modern humanist education. He read and wrote English, French, and Latin, and owned a large library. He annotated many books and published one of his own, and he had numerous pamphlets and lectures prepared to support the reformation of the church (like Richard Sampson’s Oratio (1534). 

Henry’s athletic activities were more than pastimes. They were political devices that served multiple goals, enhancing his image, impressing foreign emissaries and rulers, and conveying his ability to suppress any rebellion. He arranged a jousting tournament at Greenwich in 1517 where he wore gilded armour and gilded horse trappings, and outfits of velvet, satin, and cloth of gold with pearls and jewels. It suitably impressed foreign ambassadors, one of whom wrote home that “the wealth and civilisation of the world are here, and those who call the English barbarians appear to me to render themselves such”. 

Henry finally retired from jousting in 1536 after a heavy fall from his horse left him unconscious for two hours, but he continued to sponsor two lavish tournaments a year.

Physical Decline and Death

Late in life, Henry became obese, with a waist measurement of 54 inches (140 cm) and had to be moved about with the help of mechanical inventions. He was covered with painful, pus-filled boils and possibly suffered from gout. His obesity and other medical problems can be traced to the jousting accident in 1536 in which he suffered a leg wound. The accident reopened and aggravated an injury he had sustained years earlier, to the extent that his doctors found it difficult to treat.

The chronic wound festered for the remainder of his life and became ulcerated, preventing him from maintaining the level of physical activity he had previously enjoyed. The jousting accident is also believed to have caused Henry‘s mood swings, which may have had a dramatic effect on his personality and temperament.

Henry’s obesity hastened his death at the age of 55, on 28 January 1547 in the Palace of Whitehall, on what would have been his father’s 90th birthday. The tomb he had planned (with components taken from the tomb intended for Cardinal Wolsey) was only partly constructed and was never completed. 

Henry was interred in a vault at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, next to Jane Seymour.

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