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  Henry VIII

Henry VIII

  • (1491-1547), king of England (1509-1547), and founder of the Church of England. The son of King Henry VII, he greatly influenced the character of the English monarchy.
  • Henry was born in London. On the death of his father in 1509, he succeeded to the throne. He then married his brother's widow Catherine of Aragón. This union was the first of Henry's six marriages.
  • At the beginning of his reign, Henry's good looks and hearty personality, his fondness for sport and the hunt, and his military prowess endeared him to his subjects. He reigned during a period of renewed interest in the arts and learning, he entertained numerous scholars and artists, including the German painter Hans Holbein the Younger, who painted several famous portraits of the king and members of his court.

A Question of Divorce

  • In 1527 Henry announced his desire to divorce his wife, on the grounds that the papal dispensation making the marriage possible was invalid. The chief reason for the divorce, however, was that Catherine had failed to produce a male heir. Her only surviving child was Mary, later Mary I of England. In addition, Henry was in love with Anne Boleyn, a young and beautiful lady-in-waiting of the queen.
  • Several obstacles, however, stood in the way of the divorce. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Catherine's nephew, strongly opposed the divorce, and Pope Clement VII, whom Charles had made a prisoner, could not invalidate the marriage without displeasing his captor.
  • In 1528 the pope was persuaded to appoint the English cardinal and statesman Thomas Wolsey and Lorenzo Campeggio, a papal legate, to try the case in an English court. In 1529, the pope summoned the case to Rome. When the prospect of securing a divorce seemed hopeless, Henry dismissed Wolsey and appointed Sir Thomas More. The latter, however, was reluctant to support the divorce.

The Break with the Papacy

  • Henry now proceeded to dissolve one by one the ties to the papacy. With the aid of parliamentary legislation, he first secured control of the clergy, making them in 1532 to acknowledge him as head of the English church. In the following year Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn, who was crowned queen after Henry's obedient archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, declared the marriage with Catherine void and that with Anne valid. An act of succession affirmed the declaration of the archbishop and established Anne's children as heirs to the throne. Anne's only surviving child, Elizabeth, later Elizabeth I, was born in 1533.
  • In 1534 Henry made himself the supreme ecclesiastical authority in England. The English people were required to swear under oath Henry's supremacy and the act of succession. Sir Thomas More and the English cardinal John Fisher were executed for refusing to accept the religious supremacy of the English monarch.
  • Henry dissolved the monasteries and gave much of their property to the nobles in exchange for their support.
  • In 1536, after charging Anne Boleyn with incest and adultery, Henry had her executed. A few days after Anne's death, Henry married Jane Seymour, who died in 1537 after bearing Henry's only legitimate son, Edward, later Edward VI. A marriage was arranged in 1540 with Anne of Cleves in order to form a tie between England and the Protestant princes of Germany. Because Anne was unattractive and because Henry found the political alliance no longer to his advantage, he divorced her after several months and married Catherine Howard in the same year. She was executed summarily in 1542 for allegedly having been unchaste prior to marriage and having committed adultery. In the following year Henry married his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, who survived him.
  • Between 1542 and 1546 Henry was involved in war with Scotland and France. His troops defeated the Scots at Solway Moss in 1542. They captured Boulogne-sur-Mer from the French in 1544, and when peace was made in 1546 Henry received an indemnity from France. He died in London on January 28, 1547. Henry was succeeded by his son, Edward VI.

Effects of Henry's Reign

  • Although he altered the church, Henry did not wish to introduce Protestant doctrine. Those who refused to accept Church of England teachings as well as those who rejected Henry's authority over the church were executed. The licensing of an English translation of the Bible, and the translation into English of certain parts of the traditional service were the only important religious changes made during Henry's reign.
  • In terms of the monarchy, he intensified the authoritarian elements characteristic of the Tudor dynasty to which he belonged. He developed a strong government that was used powerfully in the reign of Elizabeth I.

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