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Who Is Henry VIII?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Henry VIII was king of England from 1509 until his death in 1547. During his reign, Henry VIII triggered the Protestant Reformation in England, with long lasting repercussions for England and Europe in general. He also contributed a number of other things to British history. However, he is better known for his marital habits; the six wives of King Henry are a topic of great interest for his biographers.

At the time of Henry's birth, he had an older brother, Arthur, who was destined to become King. It was assumed that Henry would go into the church, and he was provided with an excellent education. His contemporaries described him as an accomplished, intelligent, highly athletic man who was also a skilled musician. His brother married Catherine of Aragon, in an attempt to improve relations between England and Spain. In 1502, Arthur died, placing Henry next in line for the throne.

Henry ended up marrying Catherine of Aragon, after a papal dispensation was acquired. The two were crowned on 21 April, 1509. In 1533, Henry VIII grew dissatisfied with his first wife, and he demanded an annulment of their marriage. The Pope refused, and Henry initiated a break with Rome which ultimately triggered major religious reforms in England. Under Henry, the King became the head of the church in England, and the power of the church was greatly eroded. This breach between Rome and England led to numerous things, including the establishment of the Church of England and a break in cordial relations between England and Spain.

The rule of Henry VIII is marked by an increased interest in discovery and innovation. The monarch was born as the New World was being discovered, and he realized the value of building up the navy and promoting innovation in Britain. In some senses, Henry was quite the radical, working to unify England and Wales, create a separate British church, and to establish England as a major power. He was often compared with a lion, especially in later years when he became quite heavy and somewhat vicious, according to some accounts.

In his older years, Henry VIII became much more tyrannical, and almost paranoid in some senses. Some historians suspect that he may have suffered from syphilis, which would certainly explain much of his behavior, along with medical problems endured by his children. His numerous wives indicate one facet of his restless personality, but he was also responsible for numerous executions and other brutal acts. On his death, Henry was succeeded by his son, Edward VI. His son never made it to adulthood, and was followed by Lady Jane Grey, who ruled for only nine days before being replaced by Henry's daughter Mary. Upon Mary's death, Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch, acceded to the throne.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By olphrt — On Sep 08, 2008

Henry's claim to the throne was fragile and he desperately needed a male heir to help solidify it. Not to minimize his admittedly bad behavior or the chromosomal facts, that need is another valid explanation for his frequent marriages.

By breadcrumbs51 — On Aug 06, 2008

Of course, we now know that if having daughters is anyone's "fault," it is the man, who contributes the Y chromosome. Seems like he should have been mad at himself!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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