The Essential Guide To King Henry VIII

King Henry VIII is one of British history's most famous and controversial monarchs. He ruled England form 1509 until his passing in 1547. Henry is best known for having six wives, breaking away from the Catholic Church establishing himself as the head of the Church of England, and significantly expanding the power of the monarchy.

Early Life & First Marriage

Henry VIII was born in 1491 and was the second son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. His older brother Arthur was the heir apparent but died in 1502, making Henry next in line to the throne. Henry became king in 1509 at age 17 after his father's death. Shortly after ascending the throne, Henry married Catherine of Aragon, the widow of his brother Arthur.

Catherine was the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The marriage formed an important alliance between England and Spain. She was popular with the people for her compassion and charity work with the poor. However, the marriage soon faced problems as Catherine suffered several miscarriages and failed to produce a male heir. Their only surviving child was a daughter named Mary, who was born in 1516.


The King's Great Matter

By 1525, Henry VIII had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn, a lady-in-waiting at court. He became desperate to end his marriage to Catherine so he could marry Anne and father a legitimate son. Henry began seeking annulment of his marriage, claiming that it had been invalid because Catherine had previously been married to his brother.

Henry's actions led to a seven-year struggle with the papacy in Rome, known as "The King's Great Matter." The pope refused to grant an annulment, reluctant to admit the previous papal dispensation permitting the marriage had been wrong. Frustrated by the pope's refusal, Henry enacted laws declaring himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England in 1534. This established the English Reformation and severed papal authority in England. That same year, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, annulled Henry's marriage to Catherine and he married Anne.



Wives Two to Six

Anne Boleyn gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1533. But she failed to produce a male heir, leading to her downfall. Henry had Anne investigated for high treason and executed in 1536. Just days after Anne's execution, Henry became engaged to Jane Seymour. They married soon after and she finally gave birth to a son in 1537 named Edward. However, Jane died soon after from complications of childbirth.

Henry proceeded to marry three more times after Jane Seymour's death. Anne of Cleves was next in 1540, arranged for political reasons but quickly annulled. Catherine Howard became Henry's fifth wife in 1540 but was beheaded in 1542 for adultery. His sixth and final marriage to Catherine Parr in 1543 lasted until Henry's death in 1547.

Governmental & Religious Changes

Beyond his marital affairs, Henry VIII significantly altered England by forming the Church of England. England was transformed into a Protestant nation under the monarch's rule as supreme governor. Henry dissolved England's monasteries and confiscated their wealth and lands. His reign also marked an expansion of royal authority through acts of Parliament. The military was strengthened, finances reformed, and the role of nobility diminished.

Henry VIII died in 1547 at age 55 after an eventful 38-year reign. He was succeeded by his nine-year old son, Edward VI. Though a controversial figure, Henry VIII presided over momentous religious, political and social changes that shaped British history. His six marriages and desperate quest for a male heir have made him a legendary if notorious, English monarch.

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