King Henry VIII


Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 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 untrammelled power of any British monarch. Notable events during his reign included the break with Rome and the subsequent establishment of the independent Church of England (Anglican), the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the union of England and Wales. 

Henry 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 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 January 1, 1511, but he only lived until February 22.

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 reconciled with Ferdinand. In 1516, Queen Catherine gave birth to a girl, Mary, encouraging Henry 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. 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 (This being the original intention of the Pope).

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, the prince-electors settled on Charles. The subsequent rivalry between Francis and Charles allowed Henry to act as a mediator between them.

Henry VIII 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, and Francis I was quickly defeated. Charles' reliance on Henry subsided, as did England's power in Europe.

It is interesting to note that 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." Prior to this, his title had been "inclitissmus," meaning "infamous." The later title was maintained even after his break with Rome, and is still used by the monarch today.

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