Henry VIII


Henry VIII (born 1491, ruled 1509-1547). The second son of
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York was one of England's
strongest and least popular monarchs. He was born at
Greenwich on June 28, 1491. The first English ruler to be
educated under the influence of the Renaissance, he was a
gifted scholar, linguist, composer, and musician. As a
youth he was gay and handsome, skilled in all manner of
athletic games, but in later life he became coarse and fat.
When his elder brother, Arthur, died (1502), he became heir
apparent. He succeeded his father on the throne in 1509,
and soon thereafter he married Arthur's young widow,
Catherine of Aragon. During the first 20 years of his reign
he left the shaping of policies largely in the hands of his
great counselor, Cardinal Wolsey (See Wolsey, Cardinal). By
1527 Henry had made up his mind to get rid of his wife. The
only one of Catherine's six children who survived infancy
was a sickly girl, the Princess Mary, and it was doubtful
whether a woman could succeed to the English throne. Then
too, Henry had fallen in love with a lady of the court,
Anne Boleyn.
When the pope (Clement VII) would not annul his marriage,
Henry turned against Wolsey, deprived him of his office of
chancellor, and had him arrested on a charge of treason. He
then obtained a divorce through Thomas Cranmer, whom he had
made archbishop of Canterbury, and it was soon announced
that he had married Anne Boleyn.
The pope was thus defied. All ties that bound the English
church to Rome were broken. Appeals to the pope's court
were forbidden, all payments to Rome were stopped, and the
pope's authority in England was abolished. In 1534 the Act
of Supremacy declared Henry himself to be Supreme Head of
the Church of England, and anyone who denied this title was
guilty of an act of treason. Some changes were also made in
the church services, the Bible was translated into English,
and printed copies were placed in the churches. The
monasteries throughout England were dissolved and their
vast lands and goods turned over to the king, who in turn
granted those estates to noblemen who would support his
policies. In the northern part of the kingdom the people
rose in rebellion in behalf of the monks, but the
Pilgrimage of Grace, as it was called, was put down.
Although Henry reformed the government of the church, he
refused to allow any changes to be made in its doctrines.
Before his divorce he had opposed the teachings of Martin
Luther in a book that had gained for him from the pope the
title Defender of the Faith--a title the monarch of England
still bears. After the separation from Rome he persecuted
with equal severity the Catholics who adhered to the
government of Rome and the Protestants who rejected its
Henry was married six times. Anne Boleyn bore the king one
child, who became Elizabeth I. Henry soon tired of Anne and
had her put to death. A few days later he married a third
wife, Jane Seymour. She died in a little more than a year,
after having given birth to the future Edward VI.
A marriage was then contracted with a German princess, Anne
of Cleves, whom the king had been led to believe to be very
beautiful. When he saw her he discovered that he had been
tricked, and he promptly divorced this wife and beheaded
Thomas Cromwell, the minister who had arranged the
marriage. Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was sent to
the block for misconduct. In 1543 he married his sixth
wife, the tactful and pious Catherine Parr. Catherine, who
survived Henry, lived to marry her fourth husband.
During Henry's reign the union of England and Wales was
completed (1536). Ireland was made a kingdom (1541), and
Henry became king of Ireland. His wars with Scotland and
France remained indecisive in spite of some shallow
victories. Although he himself opposed the Reformation, his
creation of a national church marked the real beginning of
the English Reformation. He died on Jan. 28, 1547, and was
buried in St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. 


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