Henry Tudor was born on June 28, 1491 at Greenwich Palace, London to King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York. Henry was the second surviving son, with an older brother named Arthur, who was Prince of Wales. At age three, Henry was made Duke of York. In his early years, Henry was prepared for life in the Church, as his brother was expected to inherit the throne. However, in 1502, Arthur died suddenly of the mysterious sweating sickness, and Henry became heir to the throne.
With Arthur's sudden death, and Henry being the only remaining son, his father King Henry VII took every precaution to protect his son. Henry moved into new quarters near his father, where his chambers could only be accessed through his father's chambers.
Henry was betrothed to Arthur's short term widow, Princess Katherine of Aragon. However, the two were kept apart and the marriage did not take place until after Henry VII's death in 1509. Many debate why Henry VII did not allow the marriage to take place. Some say it is because he was keeping his options open for a better marriage for his son, while others think it was because of disagreements with Katherine's father King Ferdinand of Spain.
Henry VIII was a Renaissance Prince. He clothed himself in the finest fabrics and jewels, and expected those around him to do the same. He also thirst for war and glory against France, but, with the great persuasion of his ministers, chose peace. He met Francois I at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 where a peace trety was signed. The summit was filled with excess and extravagance where both men gave costly jewels and other finery to each other in "brotherly love." However, no sooner was Henry back in France before the treaty was broken followed by war and several failed invasions of France.
In 1525, Henry fell in love with a young lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. Unlike Henry's other amours, Anne refused to consummate the relationship, leaving Henry, for the first time in his life, rejected. This caused Henry's passion to burn even brighter. By this time, Katherine was unable to bear anymore children and had only left Henry with a daughter. Henry knew he must have a son, thus decided to annul his marriage and marry Anne Boleyn, who was young and could bear children.
|A Young Henry|
This began the long process of the King's "Great Matter." Henry appealed to the Pope, but recieved only delays and excuses for not ruling. The reason for this was that the Pope was under the thumb of Katherine's nephew, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Until the Pope was free, Henry could not hope to receive a "fair" ruling.
Tired of waiting, Henry decided to listen to the advice of his new advisors, Thomas Cromwell and Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer. They urged him to break with the Catholic Church. They told the king of the corruption, epitomized in his inability to get a "fair" ruling from the Pope. If Henry were to break from the Catholic Church, he could become Head of the Church of England and have the power to decide the case himself. Henry liked this idea.
Between 1530-1534 , Henry was granted the title "Head of the Church of England" by Parliament, and England finally broke with Rome. Henry secretly married Anne, and she soon became pregnant. Archbishop Cranmer declared Henry's marriage to Katherine null and void, their daughter Mary a bastard, and his marriage to Anne Boleyn good. Katherine was banished to the Moor where she died in 1536, declaring herself the true Queen of England until her death. Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen of England in 1533 in a grand coronation.
|Coronation of Henry and Katherine of Aragon|
On Sept. 7, 1533, Anne gave birth to her and Henry's only child, Elizabeth. She was not the heir Henry had been promised. However, he upheld her as his heir in the 1534 Act of Succession. All must accept Henry as Head of the Church of England, and his marriage to Anne lawful. Though the people were unhappy, most complied with the new laws, swearing allegiance. However, some, like Sir Thomas More, could not break with the Catholic Church. Though More was a close friend and mentor, Henry had him executed in 1535.
|Field of Cloth of Gold|
Unable to give Henry the desired heir, Anne soon followed in 1536. Henry gave her the decency of a private execution by a master French swordsman, but became betrothed to her rival, Jane Seymour, the next day.
Henry was now 45 years old and no closer to gaining his desired heir. Henry embarked on his third marriage, this time to a quiet and submissive woman named Jane Seymour. A year later she bore him his longed for son, but died only 12 days after. Henry mourned her and saw her as his one, true wife, for she had given him a son.
|Middle Aged Henry|
Henry remained single for the next few years. He was in mourning for Jane, and had probably had enough of marriage (considering his first two). He had his heir and had no reason to rush into another union. However, Henry's world was far from perfect. The Pope was unhappy with Henry's break with Rome and was coaxing the other Catholic nations in Europe to invade England. Also, Henry remembered that he was a second son, and his dynasty would only be truely safe if he had "spare" heirs. Thus he decided to venture into the marriage market once more.
This time, however, Henry was not entering marriage because he was in love. The first three marriages had been one's of passion. This new marriage was purely for political gain. Listening to the advice of his minister, Thomas Cromwell, Henry entered into a marriage alliance with the Duke of Cleves, a powerful Protestant Kingdom.
Anne of Cleves, sister of the Duke, was sent to England in 1540. Henry was unimpressed upon her arrival, even calling Anne a "Flander's Mare." However, he went on with the marriage. SIn June of the same year, Henry had the marriage annulled on grounds of "non-consummation." Poor Anne was more than happy to relinquish her place as Henry's wife and was greatly rewarded with money and land. She was also given the title "The King's Good Sister."
The King was again in love, this time with a young girl named Kathryn Howard, niece of the Duke of Norfolk and cousin to Anne Boleyn. She and the King were married on July 28, 1540, the same day as Thomas Cromwell's execution. Henry had become displeased with his minister after the failed marriage with Cleves. His enemies jumped on the opportunity and Cromwell was arrested and later beheaded.
No one was safe at the court of Henry VIII. In his old age, he suffered from gout and a reoccurring ulcer(s) on his leg from a jousting accident several years before. He was prone to violent mood swings and had become extremely obese because of lack of exercise due to his leg.
However, with his marriage to Kathryn Howard, the king seemed to have gained a new wind. He was feeling better, getting exercise, and looking better. His happiness was short lived. In Nov. of 1541, Thomas Cranmer brought the new Queen's secret conduct to the knowledge of the King. Kathryn had been carrying on an affair with a courtier, Thomas Culpepper, and had lied to the King about her pre-marital relationships with Henry Mannox and Francis Durham. When Henry found out, he had Kathryn arrested and tried. She was found guilty and beheaded on Feb. 13, 1541.
|Tomb of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour|
Henry returned to his old ways, suffering from obesity, lack of exercise, and his reoccurring ulcers. By the end of 1541, the last remaining monasteries were dissolved. In Henry entered into another union in 1543 with a widow, Catherine Parr. She was far more radical in her religious views than Henry, and was almost arrested, but pleaded with Henry shortly before and was saved. Catherine Parr was kind to all of Henry's children. She convinced Henry to return Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession, which he did with the Third Succession Act of 1543.
As Henry grew older, his health worsened and more and more people fell under his wrath. However, on Jan. 28, 1547, Henry VIII died at the age of 55. He was buried next to his third wife, Jane Seymour, at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Henry was survived by three children: his heir Edward (VI), Mary (later the I), and Elizabeth (later the I).
Excerpt from a Love Letter of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn
"Mine own sweetheart, these shall be to advertise you of the great loneliness that I find here since your departing, for I ensure you methinketh the time longer since your departing now last than I was wont to do a whole fortnight: I think your kindness and my fervents of love causeth it, for otherwise I would not have thought it possible that for so little a while it should have grieved me, but now that I am coming toward you methinketh my pains been half released.... Wishing myself (specially an evening) in my sweetheart's arms, whose pretty dukkys I trust shortly to kiss. Written with the hand of him that was, is, and shall be yours by his will.