He was born on 28 June 1491 at Greenwich Palace. He succeeded to the throne on 21 Apr 1509, after the death of his father Henry VII. He was crowned 23 June 1509. He died at two o’clock in the morning, on 28 Jan 1547 at Whitehall, London. He was buried in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. His tomb was opened and his body was examined in 1813 …. Includes basic facts on his wives and children
A genealogical table, to get the big picture about dynasty and succession:
The dynastic storyline is not complicated. None of Henry VIII’s children produced an heir or heiress.
BASIC FACTS AND STORIES
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.
2. Anne Boleyn
She was born in 1507, the youngest daughter of Thomas Boleyn. Anne and Henry secretly married on 25 Jan 1533, so Henry for a brief period was a bigamist. Anne was crowned Queen Consort 1 June 1533. She was executed on 19 May 1536, for adultery and hence treason. 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.
Sir Thomas Boleyn married above his station, for his wife was the daughter of the earl of Surrey. His main estate was Hever Castle in Kent.
3. Jane Seymour
She was the daughter of John Seymour of Wolf Hall. She was born about 1509. Henry and she married on 30 May 1536 at York Place (later renamed Whitehall) in the Queen’s Closet or Oratory. She died on 24 Oct 1537, from puerile fever. One historian says it was caused by caesarian surgery, but another historian doubts a caesarian was performed on her.
4. Anne of Cleves
She was the daughter of Johann III, Duke of Cleves, and Count of Ravensberg and von der Mark, by Marie, daughter of William, Duke of Juelich and Berg. She was born at Duesseldorf 22 Sep 1515. They were married on 6 Jan 1540. The marriage was annulled on 9 July 1540. She died testate at Chelsea Palace on 16 July 1557 and was buried at Westminster Abbey.
5. Catherine Howard
She was the daughter of (Lord) Edmund Howard. She was born at Lambeth, Surry, about 1509. They married on 28 July 1540, at Hampton Court Palace. She was executed for adultery and hence treason on 13 Feb 1542, at Tower Green. She was buried in St. Peter ad Vincula Chapel in the Tower.
6. Catherine Parr
She was born at Kendal Castle about 1513 and was the daughter of Thomas Parr. She was the widow of Edward Burgh (d. before Apr 1533) and John Neville, 3rd Lord Latimer (d. 2 Mar 1542). Henry and Catherine were married 12 July 1543; she survived him and died 7 Sep 1548. She married Thomas Seymour at mid- or the end of May. She died testate at Sudley Castle, Gloucestershire, 5 Sep 1548 and was buried there in the castle chapel.
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 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.
2. 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.
3. 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, on 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.
4. 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, the baby was 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.
5.. Edward was born 12 Oct 1537 at Hampton Court, delivered of Caesarian section (though one historian doubts this). His mother was Jane Seymour, who died almost two weeks later of puerile fever (no doubt caused by cutting her open, if a caesarian was done). 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.
Personal Life and Health
- Henry was born on 28 June 1491 in the royal palace at Greenwich.
- His nurse—at least the one known—was Anne Luke, to whom he later granted an annual £20 pension, which is very large.
- He received his first office on 5 Apr 1493: Constable of Dover Castle and warden of Cinque Ports.
- Soon after, he became earl marshal of England; on 12 Sep 1494 he was lieutenant of Ireland.
- He is brought from Eltham to Westminster to undergo the ceremony of the Order of Bath as a three-year-old boy, on 30 Oct 1494. Young Henry was carried in the arms of the earl of Shrewsbury; then King Henry VII ordered the duke of Buckingham to place a spur on Henry’s right heel, and then dubbed him and his companions.
- On 31 Oct. 1494, Henry is in full regalia, and he is proclaimed the duke of York, before a large gathering of nobles, prelates (church leaders), and the mayor and aldermen of London.
- In December of the same year, he is proclaimed warden of the Scottish Marches. All the day-to-day duties were of course performed by deputies.
- On 17 May 1495 he received the Garter in the Order of the Garter.
- Then Duke Henry participated in the ceremony of the marriage of his brother Arthur to Catherine, who had newly arrived from Spain. Henry was to head the procession, which led Catherine from Baynard’s Castle to St. Paul’s. In the ten days of festivities that followed, Henry danced with his sister Margaret with grace and ease that delighted his parents.
- After the wedding parties, Arthur and his bride departed to Ludlow to preside over his principality and his council in the Marches of Wales. However, in Apr 1502 Arthur died of consumption (tuberculosis), at mere fifteen years. The disease had longed plagued his body. So, did he consummate the marriage with his new bride? See the discussion in the post Henry VIII, Part 1: Divorce from Catherine of Aragon.
- Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York, died on 11 Feb 1503.
- It was rumored that King Henry VII wanted his second son Henry to join the clergy, but now the death of his firstborn thrust Henry into being heir apparent. On 18 Feb 1503 Henry was created Prince of Wales and earl of Chester: To the throne of England and away from Canterbury (the principal cathedral).
- Poet-laureate John Skelton was Henry’s tutor. He was not a bad student, but he was not bookish, either. But his paternal grandmother Lady Margaret Beaufort had a hand in Henry’s education.
- Also, Henry’s mother selected William Blount, Lord Mountjoy, to be his guide. He was a man of the world, educated, and well rounded.
- Henry was quite a good musician. He composed songs later on. He collected musical instruments, like trumpets, viols, rebecs, sackbuts, fifes, drums, harpsichords, and organs.
- He was sheltered from the hardships of learning to be king—ungroomed. He could not go out of doors except through a private door that led to a park and only in the company of specially trained servants. No one dared approach him or speak to him. Call it “Crowded Isolation.”
- Henry spent day after day at Richmond at his favorite sport—tilting. Despite that, he was kept under rigorous supervision; he did not go to Wales or elsewhere to learn statecraft.
- Dutchman and humanist scholar Desiderius Erasmus visited Henry, but forgot to bring a gift, while his traveling companion brought something in writing. Henry teased the scholar and challenged him to write something. He stayed up all night and wrote Prosopopoeia Britanniae Maioris, which was a ten-page ode in praise of Henry and his family.
- Henry read Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, printed in 1485. He read the French chronicles written by Jean (John) le Bel and Jean (John) Froissart that described Edward III’s victory at Crecy and Henry V’s at Agincourt. Later he set up a big wooden disc known as King Arthur’s Round Table in the castle at Winchester.
- King Henry VII lost five out of eight children, so he didn’t want to lose the next heir to the throne. Did his sheltered and extra-disciplined life explain much about his wild and unpredictable adulthood?
- Now would Henry marry Catherine or her niece—Eleanor, daughter of Philip, the duke of Burgundy? Decision: Catherine, Arthur’s widow (so far).
- Henry VII was also widowed is early 1503, and so young Henry lost his mother, Queen Elizabeth. Did he feel attached to her when he may not have known her as well as he did his tutors and nurses?
- It was briefly proposed that Henry VII, now a widower, might take Arthur’s widow. But that idea was quickly set aside.
- On 23 June 1503 the treaty was signed for the marriage of Prince Henry and Catherine, he almost twelve and she seventeen. The treaty said the ceremony would be solemnized when Henry was fifteen. They needed a papal dispensation because she had been married to Arthur. Catherine and her fiery governess (duenna) Dona Elvira insisted the marriage had never been consummated. So why was a dispensation needed? Nonetheless, it arrived in Apr. 1506.
- Yet, on 27 June 1505 Henry protested to Bishop Fox against his upcoming marriage to Catherine. (Henry VIII would use this protest later on.)
- Henry VII was seriously considering giving his son to Eleanor, daughter of Philip of Castile (same as Eleanor of Burgundy). She was the granddaughter of the Habsburg Emperor. Her aunt Margaret might suit Henry VII. And her brother Charles, the future emperor, might make a match for Mary, the youngest Tudor. Triple marriage alliance.
- Emperor Maximilian I sent an ambassador to hurry things along, and Ferdinand, King of Spain, was busy sealing the original match between Henry and Catherine. Yet, the Spanish ambassador judged it would be best to abandon Henry to an uncertain future because nothing was nailed down.
- Spending seven lonely years in penury at Durham House, Catherine was now twenty three years old. What did she think?
- On 22 Apr 1509 King Henry VII died. His son was at his bedside. On Wednesday 9 May Henry VII’s body was transported by chariot to St. Paul’s, where John Fisher preached the funeral oration. He was buried the next day in Westminster Abbey, next to his queen, in the chapel named for him.
- On 23 Apr 1509 Henry was proclaimed king.
- On 11 June 1509, Henry VIII married Catherine after all, in obedience to his father’s dying wish. But the story of Henry VII’s change may have been invented to pacify the Habsburgs, whose daughter Eleanor had just been jilted. A love match: Clothes embroidered with H and K (Henry and Katherine).
- Their wedding night was spent in a five-story building that housed the royal apartments, which overlooked gardens, orchards and river.
- Catherine employed as one of her ladies-in-waiting Elizabeth Boleyn, mother of Anne. Cue the low, slow dramatic music.
- As king early on: he was rambunctious, cock-sure, loved tilting and jousting, wore rings on every finger, a walnut-sized diamond hung from his chest; cloths of gold, rich silks, sarcenets, satins and highly-colored feathers adorned his person. He threw money around to his courtiers. He wore regality with “splendorous conviction.”
- Henry came from Greenwich to the Tower of London in preparation for his crowning. On 23 June 1509 Henry and his queen proceeded through the City of Westminster. The streets were decorated with tapestries and cloth of gold. He was studded with diamonds, rubies, and other precious stones. He was anointed and crowned by the archbishop of Canterbury. He is now Henry VIII or 8.
- Days of festivities followed. He participated in his first joust as king. He was skilled and won many battles.
- Each 1 May he never missed the festivals. Each month saw celebrations of some king.
- In 1513 during Epiphany, he and eleven others disguised themselves in the manner of an Italian mask, which had not been seen in England before. One report says he and his courtiers masked himself and barged into his queen’s rooms where her ladies-in-waiting were their private business.
- Money flowed in his kingship: £335 to a jeweler; 10s for a midsummer bonfire; thirty marks for a new pair of organs at Richmond; ten marks to the “lord of misrule” at the New Year’s celebrations of 1511; £5 to the keeper of the king’s instruments; £566 for a thousand pearls and other jewels; over several £ for New Year presents; £40 to a friar who gave the king an instrument; £20 to Dr. Fairfax for a “pricksong” book (a book pricked or printed rather than memorized, part-song or accompanied vocal music). These are huge amounts.
- His son Henry was born on New Year’s Day, and celebrations filled the country. Henry rode to Walsingham to give thanks and returned to Westminster to a tournament and pageant. Catherine watched from the gallery her husband play the role of a knight called Sir Loyal Heart.
- Catherine had to be “churched,” an idea laid down by Henry’s grandmother, Margaret Beaufort. She had to go to church and be prayed over. However, soon she was pregnant again, so she flouted the convention by having sex.
- Seven weeks later, however, his son died. Their grief was so great that upper-level courtiers told important visitors not to bring it up, or else Henry would break down in tears.
- Time passed. He lived in a world of extravagant allegory, mythology, and romance, morris dancers, artificial forests, where maidens in distress wandered and had to be rescued. Henry was Heart Loyal.
- In Dec 1513 to early 1514 Henry succumbed to smallpox, but overcame it, though it does lower the immune system.
- When Henry rode to France to do battle, Catherine, while pregnant, rode up north to deal with the Scots. The English crushed them. So of course Catherine was popular.
- In 1521 his wardrobe was estimated at £10,380, which works out to £4 million today. But he was no hoarder, for the royal inventories show he gave away the older fashions to courtiers, which enriched them greatly, as he bought the new fashions.
- He also loved tapestries. By the end of his reign he amassed a collection of more than two thousand. At Hampton Court, there hung 430 of them, and one set, “the Story of Abraham,” was valued at £8,000 (second to the crown jewels).
- In 1521 he had several bouts of malaria, the first of several over his lifetime. He never got tuberculosis as did his father, brother, illegitimate son, and young Edward.
- In March 1524 he was almost killed in a tilting contest. He didn’t put down his visor, and he charged along the barrier and ignored the warning shouts from the crowd. The duke of Norfolk’s lance struck his helmet and shattered and filled the king’s headpiece with splinters. He got up, laughed it off and ran six more courses, though his face was bruised.
- In 1525 he was hawking near Hitchen and tried to leap over a wide ditch with a pole, when it broke and threw him headfirst into the mud. If a footman hadn’t acted quickly and pull him out of the mud in which his head was stuck, he would have drowned.
- The king injured his foot while playing tennis, which was more like racquetball.
- Henry and Catherine experienced several miscarriages or lost their babies shortly after birth. Why? Two modern medical experts speculate that the newborns suffered from hemolytic disease arising from a rare incompatibility of one of Henry’s minor blood group antigens with hers (Guy 28).
- In 1528 Henry was first afflicted with the ulcer on his leg and eventually on both legs. It was probably not syphilis because he did not get the standard treatment for it. It was probably varicose veins. Inadequate treatment and rest caused the veins to clot. Swollen and painful. His untiring activity prevented the leg to heal. Then, later, his obesity, which probably brought on diabetes, prevented healing.
- He probably suffered in his leg from osteomyelitis, septic infection of the bone, which causes splinters to break away and work their way upward through the skin, which was relieved only with a discharge of pus.
- Another theory: He suffered from deep vein thrombosis, resulting from his jousting injury or his love of tight garters below his knee. Immobility and obesity can keep the disease permanent and ulcerous. Doctors ordered the wound to be kept open.
- Henry owned two favorite dogs: one was a Spaniard named Cutte and the other was named Ball. Both had the habit of getting lost. He offered rewards when Cutte disappeared in May 1530 and Feb 1531. The dog wore expensive collars of velvet and cloth of gold, studded with scallop shells, roses and pomegranates and emblazoned with the king’s initials, which helped to find them.
- In January 1536, he was running at the lists or tiltyards and was unhorsed by an opponent and fell to the ground in his heavy armor. His horse, also suited up with armor, fell on him. He was unconscious for two hours. He was overweight by then. Historian J. Scarisbrick says there is no easy way to import this fall to his cruelty. He had already been cruel before then.
- Subsequently and fairly regularly, his ulcer flared up, he got a fever, but he recovered.
- In 1537 his clot seems to have moved to his lungs, and for several days Henry was unable to speak and his face turned black.
- The king ordered to be built the royal kitchens close to his private quarters in the various palaces. His favorites: white broth with almonds, beef olives, leg or mutton with lemons, game pie stuffed with oranges, stewed capons, peacock royal, roasted deer, hog’s liver, and salmon roasted in sauce.
- Bathing in Tudor times: Doctors cautioned against too many because it opened the pores and exposed the king to disease. To mask the odor, the servants inserted spices into the clothing, like rosemary, which was believed to stimulate the brain and sharpen the memory, to boot.
- He hired a “fool” named Will Somers, who had a mental disability. Tudor times had a backward opinion of mentally handicapped. Maybe they were close to God because they were “fools for Christ.” Seriously. Somers was painted in a family portrait.
- During the campaign of 1544 against France, he was corpulent, and his ulcer flared up again, so he had to be carried along indoors on a chair and pulled upstairs with a machine.
- At Whitehall Palace, an inventory taken at his death included two chairs for the king’s majesty to sit in to be carried around in his galleries and chambers. They were covered with tawny velvet all over and quilted with cordaunte of tawny silk.
- His weight prompted his staff to build a sumptuous painted and gilded bed, bedecked with hangings embroidered with the king’s badges.
- It’s hard to believe we can’t attribute some of his cruelty and irascibility and bad, inconsistent temper to this pain. But how much?
HIS PASSING AND SOME CONCLUSIONS
- Henry died on 28 Jan 1547, holding Archbishop Cranmer’s hand, without extreme unction, no last rites, just a hard squeezed hand to affirm faith in Christ.
- Cranmer had arrived in the early hours, held the king’s hand, and the archbishop asked if the king affirmed his faith in Christ. He “did wring his hand in his as hard as he could” (qtd. in Borman 219)
- His last words: His groom Sir Anthony Denny said the king was not likely to live, so he must confess his sins, “as becometh every good Christian man to do.” Rather than indicting him for insubordination and lese-majesty, the king calmly accepted his advice. The groom asked him whether he would like to speak to any learned man. The king replied: “If he had any, it should be Dr. Cranmer, but I will first take a little sleep and then as I feel myself, I will advise upon the matter” (qtd. in Borman 219). Last words. He never fully woke up.
- Henry did not die of tuberculosis, as did his father, his brother Arthur, his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, and Prince Edward (in the near future).
- His death was kept quiet for three days, probably to figure out what to do with the duke of Norfolk, who was in the tower for treason. But on 31 Jan the chancellor rose and announced with great emotion to Parliament that the king was dead. Every parish church in England held a solemn dirge and tolled its bells. The next morning Requiem Mass was offered everywhere for the king’s soul.
- On 14 Feb his embalmed body was taken by chariot towards Windsor in a four-mile-long procession, accompanied by an army of a thousand and 250 mourners and dignitaries of the church and state. It was placed in the castle, and the next day Stephen Gardiner celebrated the funeral Mass and delivered the panegyric in St. George’s Chapel.
- The king’s last will and testament directed that his body should be buried in the Lady Chapel inside the tomb of Jane Seymour, his beloved wife and mother to his heir, his huge coffin set down next to her remains.
- In the following decades, whispers circulated that his very Catholic daughter Mary and Cardinal Pole opened Henry’s tomb and committed to flames the body of this unrepentant schismatic and heretic. They certainly had the motive: He had savaged their entire lives.
- He was fifty-six years old at his death and had reigned thirty-seven years and eight months.
- Henry by far is the most interesting king to study, for his good, bad, and ugly.
- The stock of palaces rose from twelve at the beginning of his reign to fifty-five at his death—more than any one king could use.
- He brought about some level of reform to the church. His reformation was simply to keep Rome out of England’s business and diminish its rule over Henry’s sovereignty. Money no longer flowed from England to Rome, but into the Crown’s coffers. No wonder he could build his own private palaces, though he left the country in debt.
- As Reform took shape, his councilors divided into Progressives (Lutheran leaning) and Conservatives (Catholic-leaning). The Conservatives are the ones who pushed for Cromwell’s execution.
- He allowed the Bible to be translated into English.
- He accumulated and concentrated royal power into his hands, more than any monarch who preceded him and perhaps followed him. So much for the Magna Carta signed by King John in 1215?
- In this concentration of power he pushed aside papal authority from his realm.
- He destroyed hundreds, maybe over a thousand, shrines, churches, monasteries, and so on.
- Kings killed opponents, but his Execution Club reveals a king who killed a large number of people for their theology: See Henry VIII, Part 3: Reformation and National Policies for his Execution Club.
- As a result of the Treason Act of 1534, 308 people were killed (Ackroyd 397). That’s 308 in 14 years. Mary: 300 in five years; Elizabeth: 200 in forty-five years.
- He killed two of his wives and mistreated Catherine of Aragon so badly that he probably hurried along her demise.
- He rebuilt and built palaces (not listed in this post) that still survive today, so his reign is the first to use architecture in a monumental way for “Messaging.” He even repaired the White Tower in the Tower of London.
- He went to war several times, mainly against France and Scotland. Nothing great came of it.
- He plunged his nation in huge debt, mainly from the wars, while his father had kept the nation at peace.
- He inherited seven naval ships from his father, but by building and buying he grew the navy, including the Italian innovation of cannons firing out of the waist of ships through the gun ports.
- In his domestic life, he believed he needed a male heir—he had to have one. This led him to exchange Catherine for Anne.
- Therefore, domestically he comes across as a Cruel Royal Jerk.
- But he was a complicated, multi-faceted human who deployed power in erratic and inconsistent ways.
- Now for his passing.
- Modern medical experts speculate that Henry suffered from McLeod syndrome. It develops at around age forty and is associated with neurological and psychiatric disorders such as muscle weakness and nerve deterioration, especially in the lower limbs, coupled with bouts of depression, paranoia, and irrational personality changes (Guy 99).
- However, a better explanation for his erratic behavior and physical and mental decline is his obesity. Obesity-mediated type 2 diabetes caused peripheral neuropathy with muscle failure and difficulty in walking, worsening his leg ulcers and accompanied erectile dysfunction (as Anne had noted at the cost of her life), and behavioral disturbances. The king drank heavily and had restless sleep and ineffective urination. A high protein diet alone could contribute to constipation.
- It is widely believed that Reginald Pole during Mary Tudor’s reign (Queen Mary I) exhumed his body and burned it to aches. This is false, however. In 1813 in the presence of the Prince Regent, the tomb was opened and Henry’s skeleton was seen to be very much intact. Some beard hair was visible on the chin (Guy 109).
- For Henry’s “Execution Club,” click on Part 3, below.
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
(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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