Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. Henry was the second Tudor monarch, succeeding his father, Henry VII. Henry is best known for his six marriages with Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Parr, Catherine Howard, and, in particular, his efforts to have his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, annulled. His disagreement with the Pope on the question of such an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority and appointing himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Despite his resulting excommunication, Henry remained a believer in core Catholic theological teachings.
Born 28 June 1491 at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, Kent, Henry Tudor was the third child and second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Of the young Henry’s six siblings, only three – Arthur, Prince of Wales; Margaret; and Mary – survived infancy. Henry VII died on 21 April 1509, and the 17-year-old Henry succeeded him as king. Soon after his father’s burial on 10 May, Henry suddenly declared that he would indeed marry Catherine, leaving unresolved several issues concerning the papal dispensation and a missing part of the marriage portion. Domestically, Henry is known for his radical changes to the English Constitution, ushering in the theory of the divine right of kings to England.
Besides asserting the sovereign’s supremacy over the Church of England, he greatly expanded royal power during his reign. Charges of treason and heresy were commonly used to quash dissent, and those accused were often executed without a formal trial, by means of bills of attainder. He achieved many of his political aims through the work of his chief ministers, some of whom were banished or executed when they fell out of his favor. Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Richard Rich, and Thomas Cranmer all figured prominently in Henry’s administration. He was an extravagant spender and used the proceeds from the Dissolution of the Monasteries and acts of the Reformation Parliament to convert into royal revenue the money that was formerly paid to Rome.
Despite the influx of money from these sources, Henry was continually on the verge of financial ruin due to his personal extravagance as well as his numerous costly continental wars, particularly with Francis I of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, as he sought to enforce his claim to the Kingdom of France. At home, he oversaw the legal union of England and Wales with the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 and following the Crown of Ireland Act 1542 he was the first English monarch to rule as King of Ireland. His contemporaries considered Henry in his prime to be an attractive, educated and accomplished king. He has been described as “one of the most charismatic rulers to sit on the English throne”. He was an author and composer. As he aged, Henry became severely obese and his health suffered, contributing to his death in 1547. He is frequently characterised in his later life as a lustful, egotistical, harsh, and insecure king. He was succeeded by his son Edward VI.