Henry VIII dressed in robes of state with a sword is surrounded by nobles.
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History Bytes: Henry VIII of England

In this series, I’ll be sharing some quick facts about some of history’s famous, infamous, and not-so-famous characters and places. Sometimes the chosen historical figures or locales relate to a book I’m reading; sometimes I write about them because they’re quite simply interesting. Either way, I’ve tried to add a bit of humor to the facts, but keep in mind that history always has two sides to every tale, and it’s important to think critically about and question history as a whole. Check out Resources for more information on your favorites!


Portrait of King Henry VIII of England as a young man. He is looking towards the left off the painting. He wears a black hat with a golden square-shaped jewel with a ruby at the center surrounded by pearls. Hw also dons elegant brown clothing with red sleeves, a golden chain across his shoulders, and jeweled rings on his hands. It was painted around 1520.
King Henry VIII by an unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist, oil on panel, c. 1520 | ¬©National Portrait Gallery, NPG 4690/Creative Commons License

Summary

Love them or hate them, the Tudor dynasty remains one of England’s most enduring historical families. The Tudor monarchy spawned larger-than-life characters such as Henry VIII and Elizabeth I as well as the more notorious Mary I, who bears the unsavory moniker of “Bloody Mary.”

The marriage of Henry VIII’s parents, Henry Tudor (the founder of the dynasty) and Elizabeth of York (daughter of the deposed King Edward IV), effectively ended the long-running War of the Roses. This conflict pitted two branches of the royal Plantagenet family against each other – the white rose, representing the Yorks, and the red, representing the Lancastrians. Henry and Elizabeth had four surviving children: Arthur, Margaret, Henry, and Mary.

Henry, a handsome and accomplished prince, inherited the title of Prince of Wales after Arthur’s death in 1502. He also effectively inherited his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon. The pair wed soon after Henry ascended the throne in 1509. Catherine bore no surviving sons, much to Henry’s chagrin. The Tudor dynasty needed sons to remain stable, and this desire drove Henry’s marital and other actions throughout his life.

In 1532, he separated from the Catholic Church in an effort to annul his marriage to Catherine. Eventually, he married Anne Boleyn, who bore a daughter Elizabeth, before beheading her in 1536. His third wife, Jane Seymour, gave him his heir, but she died of puerperal fever less than two weeks later. Henry’s last three wives did not have children, and it was just as well – in his middle years, he grew obese and sickly, plagued by an old jousting injury on his leg. He died in 1547 and was succeeded by his son Edward.

There’s more to his story, of course. But Henry’s marital history and socioreligious upheaval particularly continue to fascinate people to this day.

Basic Biographical Details of Henry VIII

Full Name: Henry Tudor

Also Known As: King Henry VIII, Defender of the Faith, Supreme Head of the Church of England

Born: June 28, 1491, Palace of Placentia, Greenwich, England

Died: January 28, 1541, Palace of Whitehall, Westminster, England

Reigned: April 22, 1509 to January 28, 1547

Spouse(s): Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, Katherine Parr

Children: Mary I; Elizabeth I; Edward VI; and at least one illegitimate child, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset1It’s thought he had several more children with various mistresses. Read Philippa Jones’s The Other Tudors for a more detailed look at this particular topic.

Known For: Investing in the English navy; maintaining a “brenemy” relationship with the French king Francis I (i.e. brothers-but-also-enemies); the English Reformation; presiding over the dissolution of hundreds of monasteries and other religious houses; beheading his best buddies like Sir Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell; and having a propensity for marriage ceremonies. Also maintains a killer Twitter account.

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