Henry VIII, Part 1: Early Life and Divorce from Catherine of Aragon

This area has national, ecclesiastical, and international repercussions, but these areas are still influenced by Henry’s personal desire for a divorce with popular Queen Catherine. Includes basic facts about her and Henry’s children.

Catherine of Aragon and Henry


A genealogical table, to get the big picture about dynasty and succession:

J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII

The dynastic storyline is not complicated. None of Henry VIII’s children produced an heir or heiress.

His First Wife and Child

1. Catherine of Aragon

She was born at Alcala de Henares 15 Dec 1485. She married Arthur at St. Paul’s Cathedral 14 Nov 1501. Arthur died at Ludlow Castle, Shropshire, 2 Apr 1502. Possible causes of death: Bubonic plague, tuberculosis, or testicular cancer. She and Arthur’s younger brother Henry married on 11 June 1509, but their marriage was declared void 10 Apr 1533. She died on 7 Jan 1536 at Kimbolton Castle, Cambridgeshire.

Their Children:

Henry was born 1 Jan 1511. He was the Prince of Wales. Celebrations all around. However, seven weeks later he died, on 22 Feb. Great sadness

Mary was born 18 Feb 1516 at Greenwich Palace. Her mother was Catherine of Aragon, Spain. She was crowned 1 Oct 1553, after her brother Edward VI died. She became Mary I, England’s Catholic queen. She married Philip of Spain (or King Philip II from 1556) on 25 July 1554. They had no children. She died 17 Nov 1558 at St. James’s Palace, London. She was buried at Westminster Abbey.

Princess Mary

His Children with Other Wives

This section does not include the miscarriages or stillbirths—Catherine of Aragon had about six, while Anne Boleyn had one miscarriage.

Here are the bare facts.

1.. Henry Fitzroy was born in 15 June 1519. He was called Fitzroy because fitz means son or daughter, and roy means king. It implies illegitimacy. In any case, his mother was Elizabeth Blount, a lady-in-waiting of Queen Catherine and cousin of Lord Mountjoy. She caught his eye in the New Year Festivities in 1514. Elizabeth married into a family of gentry (a “gentle” family), the Talboys of Lancashire, with a dower of lands in that county and Yorkshire, assigned by act of parliament. Fitzroy was made duke of Richmond and occasionally was assigned political and diplomatic significance (Scarisbrik 147).

Henry VIII was panicky about his successor, so parliament passed a second Act of Succession, giving him the power to appoint whomever he wished. He was possibly about to appoint Richmond, but his illegitimate son died seven weeks later, in 22 or 23 July 1536. His father ordered the duke of Norfolk to take the body, wrapped in lead instead of a splendid royal coffin, hidden under straw in a wagon, to Thetford, where he was quietly buried.

2. Elizabeth was born 7 Sep 1533 at Greenwich. Her mother was Anne Boleyn. She was named after Henry’s mother. He had been alternating between Henry or Edward, but no, a girl. She succeeded 17 Nov 1558 and was crowned 15 Jan 1559. She became Elizabeth I. She never married. She died on 24 Mar 1603 at Richmond and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Princess Elizabeth

3.. Edward was born 12 Oct 1537 at Hampton Court, delivered of Caesarian section. His mother was Jane Seymour, who died almost two weeks later of puerile fever (no doubt caused by cutting her open). He succeeded on 28 Jan 1547. Dying young of tuberculosis on 6 July 1553 (15 years) at Greenwich Palace, he never married. He was buried in Henry VIII’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey.


Family of Henry VIII: Mary on left, Edward, Jane Seymour, Elizabeth (not painted at one sitting)

Personal Life and Health

Let’s get started with the king’s search for an annulment from Catherine of Aragon, daughter of an anointed sovereign. (Anne Boleyn was the daughter of a gentleman, that is, someone from the gentry.

  1. Elizabeth Blount, Bessie, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine and cousin to lord Mountjoy, caught Henry’s eye, during New Year’s festivities in 1514. She bore him a son in 1519. Afterwards she married into a family of gentleman class, the Talboys of Lancashire.
  2. Their son, Henry, whom he named Fitzroy, or “son of the king,” which implies “illegitimate son,” was made duke of Richmond and acquired political and diplomatic significance. Queen Catherine was upset at his promotion because she didn’t give Henry a son.
  3. Mary Boleyn, sister to Anne, was Henry’s mistress, but was married to William Carey since 1521. The liaison was over by 1526. Later, she was to become part of the center of her niece Elizabeth I’s court.
  4. Anne went to France in 1519, about 12 years old, to be educated by Queen Claude, wife of Francis I, who had other girls in her care.
  5. Anne left France at the outbreak of war in 1522. She was to marry James Butler, an Irish chieftain and claimant to the earldom of Ormond. The Butlers were feuding with the Boleyns, who also claimed the earldom. A match would ease the feud. But the Butlers’ price was too high, and Anne remained in England.
  6. Anne’s strength was the game of courtly love: “This was played enthusiastically in the antechambers of Westminster, Richmond, and Greenwich, and the rules were relatively simple. Every male player pretended to be desperately in love with one of the female players; he sent her love letters, poems, and small gifts, professing undying devotion. She responded as the mood took her; now encouraging her lover with small tokens and coy glances, now rebuffing him with disdain. There was no formal scoring system, but skilful players were those who could keep up the pretence longest and most convincingly Those with a gift for penning amorous verses, especially those whose social status was too low to enable them to be players, were much in demand to supply deficiencies of ardent but tongue-tied aristocrats. These jousts were not, or were not supposed to be, genuine sexual encounters, but human nature being what it is—some developed in that direction. It is very difficult for the observer, particularly at such long range, to discover when this was happening. The most important slide from make belief into reality was that which occurred between Anne and the king” (Loades 6)
  7. Sir Thomas Wyatt, poet and cousin to Anne, pursued her. Henry Percy, son of the earl of Northumberland, one of many men of quality in Wolsey’s household, pursued her too. But Percy was already betrothed, and Wolsey refused to allow him to break it, at the king’s demand. Percy resisted the control, so he was carted off up north.
  8. Wyatt flirted with Anne and grabbed a locket of hair hanging from her pocket, which he refused to return. Henry was also paying attention to her and got a ring from her, which he wore on his little finger.
  9. Wyatt and Henry were playing at bowls, and they argued over a point. Henry pointed to his ring and said, “I tell thee it is mine.” Percy got out his locket and measured the distance between the bowls and jack. “And if it may like your majesty to give me leave [permission] that I may measure it, I hope it will be mine.” Henry recognized the trophy and muttered that he was deceived and wandered off.
  10. Some of this playfulness will be used against Anne as evidence for her adultery later on.
  11. Anne held her own. She would eventually let him kiss her breasts, but no more. He wrote that he was gleefully looking forward to kissing them, but he was kept from the “sun,” though “the heat is all the greater” while he had to wait to “go all the way.” She did not want to be cast aside, as her sister Mary was.
  12. Anne had a large Adam’s apple and a sixth “finger” on one of her hands—actually just a second nail growing on the side of one of her fingers. For this reason she wore long gloves, which became fashionable at court.
  13. Catherine had fallen out of favor with her husband, Henry. She bore him no son. In the sixteenth century, women rulers of a lesser variety were common enough, but Henry and the English were conservative, so these women rulers failed to impress them.
  14. Henry found Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21 that says a man was not allowed to marry his brother’s wife, or else they would be childless. For Henry, he was childless of a boy—girls did not count in the succession.
  15. In May 1527 a tribunal was summoned to examine the situation. On 22 June, he approached Catherine and told her they had been living in sin for eighteen years. She burst into tears.
  16. In Jan 1527 Rome had been sacked by imperial troops, and they had taken Pope Clement prisoner.
  17. How would Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, hear about Henry’s plans to divorce? Catherine devised a plot to let one of her servants, Francisco Felipez, to go to Spain on the ruse that Felipez had to visit his sick mother, but Catherine refused to let him go.
  18. Henry saw through the ruse, but let him go, assuring Cardinal Wolsey that “maybe” the servant would be captured by the French. Henry had already planned it and would be innocent and aggrieved that Charles never got the news. But Felipez defeated him by traveling at speed and maybe avoided France, but went by boat. He met Charles by the end of July.
  19. Charles acted swiftly and wrote to her and Henry, begging him to stop and reassuring Catherine of his full support.
  20. Henry worked against his brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, who was in France. Henry sent two letters to the pope. Wolsey discovered one of them, but not the second one. Henry’s marriage was to be declared null and void, and then he could marry anyone he might be related to by a degree affinity.
  21. That is, fornicating made the man related by an unacceptable degree of affinity to the woman, and the pope should release him from his sin. Wolsey didn’t like this plan because it implied that Henry was going to marry Anne, and Wolsey wanted an internationally credible second wife.
  22. Without getting into complications, Deuteronomy 25:5 said a brother was obligated to marry his deceased brother’s wife, so he could carry on his brother’s name. How to reconcile Leviticus and Deuteronomy? Theologians and even some Jews were called on to sort out the two passages. The disputes lasted for months and went international.
  23. Upshot: Deuteronomy won, and Henry’s marriage to Catherine had not been invalid.
  24. In summer 1527, Henry sends an embassy to Rome to get the pope to cut the Gordian knot, but the pope was in captivity. Wolsey was down there trying to take over administration of the church. The pope escaped, and Wolsey’s plan collapsed Henry’s letter said his marriage to Catherine and was invalid and even sinful. Result: A bull from the pope that allowed him to marry Anne, if it could be proven his marriage to Catherine was sinful—if.
  25. As time dragged on Pope Clement refused to move on the issue of Catherine. More embassies were sent, like Stephen Gardiner, in mid-May, 1528.
  26. Around this time, Anne got the sweating fever or sickness that had broken out in London. Henry abandoned her and fled her side, keeping on the move for several weeks. But he wrote her forlorn love letters.
  27. In Rome Gardiner wanted answers now! How about a commission that decides things decisively in England? Lorenzo Campeggio, the pope’s representative, can come! His travels were slow because of his gout, but he arrived in London on 9 Oct 1528. However, whether he could decide things finally was left open and unclear. Wolsey came day after day and said if the divorce was not granted, Henry might throw off his allegiance to Rome.
  28. How about this? Catherine would take up the veil or enter a religious order, which would mean that she died spiritually. Henry would then be free. Campeggio and Wolsey approached her and proposed it, and so did English prelates (church leaders), but each time she firmly but humbly refused. She was called to marriage.
  29. Then a mystery: Another dispensation, oddly dated at the time Henry and Catherine originally sought papal permission to marry in the first place, arrived from Spain. It came to Catherine’s hand in 1528. How did she get it? Was it a forgery? She showed to Campeggio, and it hurt Henry’s case.
  30. By early December 1528 Catherine was sent away from Greenwich to Hampton Court, and Anne Boleyn moved into her room next to Henry’s.
  31. In December 1528 four ambassadors were sent to Rome, with the mission to use force against the sovereign pontiff or at least have it in readiness. Result: Nothing.
  32. News reached England that Pope Clement died in Feb 1529. Then news came that he was not dead. Rollercoaster for Henry.
  33. On 6 Mar 1529 a letter arrived from Catherine asking the pope to take the case out of England and to try it Rome. In April, Charles V’s agents in Rome said it must be referred to the Curia in Rome.
  34. A letter came from Rome, summoning Henry and Catherine to appear before a legatine court, to pass sentence on Henry’s marriage. If Henry accepted it might appear humiliating to obey Rome. But if he refused he might lose his chance, such was his confidence in his belief that the marriage was sinful and invalid.
  35. One day, while Henry and Catherine passed through a gallery joining Bridewell Palace to Blackfriars, a large crowd cheered her. She was popular.
  36. The court opened on 18 June in the Parliament Chamber at Blackfriars. Henry was seated under a canopy of gold cloth. He spoke to the court, telling it of his great scruple and desire for justice and deliverance from doubt.
  37. After he spoke, Catherine arose, circulated in the court, and knelt before Henry to deliver a long plea not to be thrown aside and to be dishonored and not to dishonor their daughter or shove her aside. Only Rome could settle the matter, and to Rome she appealed. She left the chamber. The court crier called her back three times, but she did not listen.
  38. Therefore the court declared Catherine contumacious, that is, willfully rebellious and in contempt of court.
  39. On 28 June, John Fisher fought like a lion, telling the court the marriage was valid, and he was willing to lay down his life as John the Baptist had done, equating Henry with Herod. Witness after witness came in. The dowager duchess of Norfolk, a Howard, brought in evidence that said the marriage between Catherine and Arthur had been consummated.
  40. It didn’t matter, for Rome sent a letter to London, saying the case is to be moved to Rome. He tried to intercept the letter, but it was sent by six different routes and arrived safely. So what Henry wanted most, with all his threats and embassies, failed.
  41. Worse still, Henry was cited or summoned to Rome, a great humiliation and indignity. He didn’t go.
  42. On 1 Sep Henry travelled to Windsor to confer the title of Marquis (not Marchioness because she held the title in her own right) of Pembroke on Anne, lands that gave her £1000 per year (huge). She came in procession, knelt before the king, heard the bishop of Winchester read the patent, and received the mantle and coronet. They rode off to Mass. This is the first public honor he bestowed on her
  43. Henry wanted his ally Francis I to go along with the New Order and with his impending marriage and his rolling back the jurisdictional power of the church. He wanted another Field of Cloth of Gold and a commitment from the French king to espouse the cause.
  44. By 10 Oct 1532, 2000 of the English best and brightest crossed the Channel to Calais. Early next day Henry boarded the Swallow, and four hours later, for the third time in his life, he stepped ashore at Calais.
  45. At the same time Catherine languished at Bugden. She had been constrained to give up much of her jewelry to adorn the new Marquis, who lived like a queen and accompanied Henry everywhere.
  46. In June 1532 Anne was crowned queen.
  47. Sometime in mid-December 1532 Anne conceived a child by Henry. Her pregnancy was discovered in mid-January. Now there was to be no further delay of the divorce because this child had to be legitimate.
  48. On 25 Jan 1533 Henry and Anne Boleyn were secretly married.
  49. Before then, Anne had been confidently calling herself queen. Henry watched people’s faces as she did so and observed disapproval. In London, when the preacher called for prayers for the queen, most of the congregation walked out. The king told the mayor not to let that happen again, though the mayor had nothing to do with it and had no authority to stop it.
  50. In early 1533 the pope allowed Thomas Cranmer to be elevated to Archbishop of Canterbury; now Rome’s cause in England was undone. Cranmer had secretly married the niece of Andreas Osianer, the Lutheran Reformer of Nuremberg, in 1532. He was an eager supported of Henry’s path towards breaking with Rome.
  51. On 11 July the pope strongly condemned Henry separation from Catherine and his marriage to Anne and threatened him with excommunication. It is surprising that Henry was shocked, but apparently he really believed in the justice of his cause.
  52. In 1533 Catherine was moved to remote Kimbolton Castle and was forbidden to see or even communicate with her daughter.
  53. After Cramner was elevated to archbishop of Canterbury, the question became: How to get the divorce? It had to be placed in a bill to go through the Convocation and then through Parliament.
  54. On 5 Apr, the southern Convocation ruled against the pope because the marriage to Catherine violated divine law, which no pope could dispense with. Parliament agreed.
  55. On 23 May 1533 Cranmer, fortified by the universities and the Convocation, declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine was null and void (one historian says 10 Apr). Catherine became the Dowager Queen, because her one and only husband, King Arthur, had died.
  56. Five days later Cranmer also declared Henry’s and Anne’s marriage legitimate ex post facto (after the fact or deed).
  57. In 1534, Rome finally gave its verdict on Catherine’s case, after seven years. After six hours of debate the Consistory found for Catherine, unsurprisingly. But despite Henry’s persistent disobedience, Rome took no immediate action against him.
  58. In parliament, on 23 Mar 1534 an Act of Succession was passed, making Elizabeth their heir apparent, not Mary, since the marriage to her mother was declared null and void, while Anne’s marriage was valid. Consistent.
  59. A certain Elizabeth Barton, the holy maid of Kent, saw visions and spoke prophecies. She boldly proclaimed the king’s marriage to Anne was wrong. The king called her to appear before him.
  60. At first she may have been working on her own, but the conservative clergy, notably Dr. Edward Bocking, a monk at Christ Church, took over and manipulated the situation. She now prophesied that in God’s eyes Henry would not be king one hour after his marriage to Anne and he would die a villain’s death.
  61. Elizabeth was highly regarded as a holy saint and visionary, even by John Fisher and Thomas More (at first, but he later disowned her), the Friars Observant, and the London Carthusians—the leading opponents of the divorce. Catherine refused to allow the nun a visit, so Catherine escaped any guilt.
  62. Elizabeth and her leader Bocking and four others were executed. More was spared because he disowned her. Fisher was charged with misprision of (lesser) treason.
  63. Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Howard, had difficult pregnancies and keeping them. This may indicate how things are about to unfold after Anne Boleyn’s pregnancies after Elizabeth.
  64. On 7 January 1536 Catherine died. Of course the inevitable rumors flew around that she had been poisoned. When she died, Henry and Anne dressed in yellow satin, not black, the traditional color of mourning. They flaunted their glee.
  65. Now on to Part Two!


Henry VII: First Tudor King

Henry VIII, Part 1: Early Life and Divorce from Catherine of Aragon

Henry VIII, Part 2: Marriages after His Divorce

Henry VIII, Part 3: Reformation and National Policies

Henry VIII, Part 4: International Policies

Henry VIII, Part 5: Personal Life, Death, and Conclusions

Edward VI: the Boy King

(Jane Grey, Queen of Nine Days: she was not a Tudor)

Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen

Elizabeth, Part 1: Early Years

Elizabeth, Part 2: Sibling Rivalry with Queen Mary

Elizabeth I, Part 3: The Coronation

Elizabeth I, Part 4: Mary Queen of Scots

Elizabeth I, Part 5: Reformation and International Policies

Elizabeth I, Part 6: Personal Life

Elizabeth I, Part 7: Her Male Favorites

Elizabeth I, Part 8: Summary and Death


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—, Mary I: The Daughter of Time, Penguin Monarch Series (Allen Lane / Penguin, 2016).

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—, ed. Chronicles of the Tudor Kings (Penguin Viking 1990).

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Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 5 vols. (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013).

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David Starkey, Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne (New York: Harper Collins, 2001 [in England in 2000]).

Howard F. Vos, “Six Articles, the (1539),” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).

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