The enigma of Henry VIII has disturbed several generations of people all over the world. This man was one of the most literate kings of Europe, a good musician, and a philosopher. However, he was known to the world as “Bluebeard” in the history of England. Fate of his wives was immortalized in the children’s counting rhyme: “Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, and survived”. He was considered to be a tyrant both in terms of his reign and family life.
None of the English kings entered their thrones at a more favorable combination of circumstances than Henry VIII who started to reign the government at the age of 18. Owning to the fact that a terrible 50-thousand army was at his disposal and the war with France was extremely desired for Britain, he decided to lead his army to conquer this country.
Henry VIII Tudor, the King of England since April 22, 1509, was the son and heir of Henry VII and the second English monarch of the Tudor dynasty. With the consent of the Roman Catholic Church, English kings were also kings of Ireland. However, in 1541, at the request of Henry VIII, after being excommunicated from the Catholic Church, the Irish parliament gave him the title “King of Ireland” (UK & Ireland Geneology, 2014).
Educated and gifted, Henry reigned as a representative of the European absolutism; he rigidly pursued his real and imaginary political opponents by the end of his reign. Henry VIII was best known for the English Reformation that made England the Protestant nation in the majority and for the number of marriages unusual for a Christian. The king had 6 wives out of which he divorced two and two were executed on a charge of unfaithfulness. The king wanted a son, an heir for the consolidation of the power of the Tudor dynasty. The divorce of Henry VIII with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, caused the king’s excommunication from the Catholic Church and a number of church reforms in England when the Anglican Church was separated from the Roman Catholic Church. Besides, a continuous change of wives and favorites of the king and church reformation became a serious arena for a political struggle and led to a number of executions of politicians, among which there was, for example, Thomas More.
Having become the head of the Anglican Church, the king acquired the right to define dogma. Moreover, no Catholic doctrines were cancelled. Since that time, the church became a part of the government and all its property belonged to the king. Secularization of monastic lands enriched the king. The secularized monastic lands made 1/4 of all processed lands of England. The reformation carried out by the king was followed by a cruel terror against those who did not want to recognize the super power of the king. Henry VIII was not going to carry out consecutive reformations, all the time emphasizing that he considered himself as Catholic; he was afraid of popular penetration of reformation ideas.
Henry was born on June 28, 1491, in Greenwich. Henry VII was his father and Elizabeth of York was his mother. He was educated by his grandmother Lady Margaret Beaufort. Under her supervision, Henry used to visit up to six masses a day and write a lot of compositions on theological topics. After early death of his brother Arthur, Henry became the main contender for his father’s inheritance and received the title of the Prince of Wales.
Henry VII was the king of England and Ireland (1485 – 1509), the first monarch from the Tudor dynasty. Henry VII’s reign lasting for 24 years appeared to be one of the most peaceful eras in the history of England despite the revolt of the York impostors disturbing the state in the first years of his reign. Henry VII, suspicious and very caring of his own shaky rights for a throne, nevertheless showed generosity to real and potential rivals.
International position of England was strengthened due to marriages of his eldest son Arthur, the Prince of Wales, to the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon and of his daughter Margaret to the king of Scotland James IV. The last step was urged to neutralize hostile relations between two British kingdoms. A century later, this dynastic union gave the English throne and led to the merger of two states under James VI, their great-grandson. After early death of Prince Arthur (1502), Catherine of Aragon married a brother of her dead husband despite the fact that such marriage was considered to be illegal. However, Henry VIII received a special permission from the Pope. It caused divorce of Henry VIII and the rupture of England with the Catholic Church. Henry VII died of tuberculosis. His youngest son Henry VIII inherited the throne.
Elizabeth of York (1466 – 1503) was the oldest daughter of the King of England Edward and Elizabeth Woodville.
As stated by Snell (2014):
Elizabeth is a difficult figure for the historian to study. Little was written about her during her lifetime, and most mentions of her in historical records are in relation to other members of her family – her father, Edward I, and her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, who each negotiated for her marriage; her mysteriously missing brothers; her uncle Richard, who was accused of murdering her brothers; and of course, later, her husband and sons.
On January 18, 1486, she married King Henry VII Tudor. This wedding symbolically put an end to the War of the Roses. In the marriage with the king, she delivered seven children four of whom survived. The eldest son, Arthur, died childless; the other three children reached maturity. Prince Henry VII became the king of England after the death of his father.
Henry VIII was married six times. He had 10 children from the first three marriages. However, only three of them survived. All of them governed subsequently. The last three marriages of Henry VIII were childless. Catherine of Aragon was his first wife. She was the youngest daughter of the founder of the Spanish government, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Catherine of Aragon came to England in 1501. She married crown Prince Arthur when she was 16; however, he died soon after their marriage without having left any successor. Later, she married Henry VIII who was six years younger than her. Thus, Catherine became the queen of England two months after her husband took the throne. The church law forbade such marriages, but the Pope gave a special permission to the English king because Catherine and Arthur did not have sexual relationships like husband and wife. Due to the absence of survived sons, Henry VIII insisted on the divorce after 24 years of matrimony in 1533. This step became one of the causes of the conflict of Henry VIII with the Pope, which led to a gap with the Roman Catholic Church and reformations in England.
The domestic policy of the English government up to 1530 was headed by Cardinal Wolsey (1515-1530). The policy of further strengthening of positions of the absolute sovereign that found the expression in some reorganization of internal management was the most essential feature of this period. The increasing role was given to the royal council, members of which were appointed by the king mainly from officials, but not from representatives of the feudal nobility. The parliament continued to be convoked and gave a strong support to Henry VIII as if subcontracting the whole power to him.
Ann Boleyn was the daughter of one of the king’s dignitaries, Dutch Thomas Boleyn. In 1533, Henry VIII married Anna Boleyn and soon they give birth to daughter Elizabeth. The passion of the king to Ann cost a gap with Rome, elimination of Catholicism and its establishments in the country, and cooling of relations with Spain. His love to Anna Boleyn lasted only for two years. Soon, Ann lost the love of her spouse, was accused of unfaithfulness, and was beheaded in the Tower in 1536. Her daughter Elizabeth was deprived of the right to the inheritance of a throne.
Jane Seymour was the next wife of Henry VIII. She was Anna Boleyn’s maid of honor. Henry VIII married her a week after the execution of his previous wife. She was a complete antithesis to Anna: a blond, pale, and very silent woman. She was the mother of the only son of Henry VIII – Edward VI. However, Jane died of a childbed fever.
Anne of Cleves was the fourth wife of Henry VIII. After the death of Jane Seymour, the king started to search for a new wife. He saw the painting of a woman and immediately fell in love with her. However, when Anne came to the palace, Henry VIII was disappointed because he saw absolutely another woman with big forms and rosy cheeks instead of a pale slim beauty. She was not loved by the king as a woman and Henry VIII gave her an unofficial name of “the King’s Beloved Sister”. Moreover, she took care of his children from previous marriages. Anne came through not only Henry VIII, but also his son Edward.
Catherine Howard became the fifth official wife of Henry VIII. She was the niece of the duke of Norfolk, Anna Boleyn’s cousin. Henry had a passionate love for her. However, soon it was found out that Catherine had a lover before marriage, Francis Darem, and was unfaithful with the king’s personal footboy Thomas Kalpeper. Acknowledged guilty, Catherine was beheaded in 1542 together with her lovers.
Catherine Parr was the last wife of the king. This time, Henry VIII did not look for beauty, but for a quiet woman. A new queen was the woman with independent strong views. She took care of her husband’s health and successfully carried out a role of the yard’s hostess. Unfortunately, she liked religious disputes and she did not hesitate to say her religious views to the king. Henry VIII wanted to behead her, but she implored forgiveness. She was a convinced Protestant and did much for a new turn of Henry VIII to Protestantism. After the king’s death, she married Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane Seymour.
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Later, King Henry VIII turned to the most cruel and tyrannical forms of government. The number of executed political opponents of the king increased and reached 72,000 people. In the last years of life, Henry became incredibly fat. He became so fat that he could not move independently and was carried in a wheelchair. Perhaps, his death in 1547 turned out to be the consequence of his obesity. Eduard, his son from the marriage with Jane Seymour, became Henry’s successor.
McCarthy stated that “What is beyond doubt is that the end of his jousting combined with his leg ulcers to restrict his movement and Henry, who had a large appetite anyway, began to put on weight rapidly.”
Many kings were tyrants because of the opposition or mutiny, owing to the influence of favorites, or expressing interests of some party, but Henry VIII was cruel by his nature. He was cruel in management, in a religious struggle, as well as in his family life. The individuality of Henry VIII evokes a lot of disputes. They say that Henry VIII became the prototype of “Bluebeard”, a hero of Charles Perrault.