Henry VIII Biography

A breif biography of Henry VIII, the man who brought about England's historic split with the Church of Rome - and his six wives.

Henry VIII, the man whose break with the Pope led to the formation of the Anglican Church, was born on June 28, 1491. He was the second son of Tudor King Henry VII. As such he was not counted as significant until his brother Arthur died in 1502. Suddenly young Henry was heir to the throne. He took over his brother's titles of Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall. A treaty between England and Spain in 1503 decreed that Henry would marry Catherine of Aragon, his brother's widow, in the year after his fourteenth birthday. However, the Bible forbade a man to marry his brother's widow. Dispensation was sought of the Pope to allow the marriage to proceed.

Henry's education included learning both Latin and Greek, studying as a musician and a composer. As a young man he was athletic and full of energy. He was also noted for being very handsome. His father died on April 22, 1509 and Henry assumed the throne. Soon thereafter he and Catherine were married. He soon found his nation embroiled in a warfare between Spain and France as a result of his marriage ties. He engaged in war with Scotland and France in 1512-13. A triumph against the Scots at Tournai was enough to bolster his youthful ego. The war, however, saw the ascension of Henry's powerful adviser, Thomas Cardinal Wolsey. From 1515 onwards Wolsey became the key player in both Church and State affairs. Henry was quite happy to follow Wolsey's advice, though he still had the personality to exert his dominance if he saw fit.

Consequently Henry spent the next few years preoccupied with such youthful activities as hunting, music, the games and indulging in mistresses. By about 1527, he had decided to get rid of his wife. He had fallen for one of his Court Ladies, Anne Boleyn. He may also have been haunted by the belief that he had broken divine law by marrying his brother's widow. Regardless of the reasoning, Henry became intent on divorce. He tried to get Wolsey to get the Pope to allow the divorce. The failure of this endeavour led to Wolsey's fall from grace. Frustrated, Henry decided on the radical move of throwing off the Papal rule entirely and instituting a new national church in England. The king himself was to be supreme head of the new Church of England. Henry's own archbishop, Thomas Cromwell, then divorced him from Catherine.

The break from Rome had the undesirable effect of provoking what came to be the great northern uprising. This occurred during the years 1536-37 and was the first and only real threat to Henry's rule. The uprising was quelled, however, with the adoption of the orthodox Act of Six Articles which re-established basic doctrine.

Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn could only produce a daughter for Henry. She was soon executed on the grounds of adultery. In 1536, Jane Seymour became Henry's third wife. Within a year she too was dead. But she had managed to produce the coveted male heir that Henry desired. The child would become King Edward VI. Wife number four was Anne Of Cleves. This was a politically and religiously motivated union and the couple didn't last long. Henry, who despised Anne, divorced her as soon as he could. The next wife was Catherine Howard who lasted only a little longer. She was executed in 1542 for adultery. Henry's last wife was Catherine Parr. This time the union lasted.

Unfortunately, by now Henry's health was declining. The once youthful and athletic King had turned into an overweight Monarch with some serious physical problems. His temper had also worsened. His unenviable marital record and financial debacles had led the country to turn away from Henry somewhat. Yet to many he remained the very embodiment of nationhood and Kingship. He died, an old man at 56, on January 28, 1547.

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