by Rob Cottignies
“Alas, what shall I do for love?
For love, Alas, what shall I do?
Since now so kind, I do you find
To keep you me unto…”
Those darling and romantic words were written by Henry VIII, former king of England, to his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Overall, Henry VIII, or as his friends knew him- Hanky Ocho, has a pretty bad reputation. He’s been called horrible things such as a tyrant, a glutton, a murderer, and worst- a Brit. What many people don’t know is that Hank was also a musician, writer, and quite the self-proclaimed lover. Of course most of the king’s fame comes from having six wives, two of which got their heads prematurely removed. Although Henry VIII has a bad name, he was definitely one of the most influential people in the history of England and the world as a whole.
Born in Greenwich, England, on June 28 of 1491, Henry VIII was the son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. He and his brother, Prince Arthur, were both born into the Tudor Dynasty. Since Arthur was the first born and rightful heir to the throne, Henry was named Duke of York. Not the best but seems like a pretty good deal. When he was fifteen, Arthur married Spain’s Princess Catharine of Aragon. Henry was content with his position as Duke of York since he was highly admired as a tall, handsome, courteous man. He was active in hunting and frequently played tennis. Henry was an extremely religious man, known to have gone to mass up to three times per day. Henry was also admired for his incredible intelligence. Along with English, he was fluent in French, Latin, and Spanish. Henry wrote often, with his most important writing being Defense of the Seven Sacraments. This was in response to Martin Luther and his attack on the Roman Catholic Church. It was this book that made Pope Leo X decide to name Henry ‘Defender of the Faith.’ Had Pope Leo lived to see the rest of Henry’s life, he likely would have regretted that entitlement.
Henry VIII’s life would change drastically in 1502. A few months after his wedding, Prince Arthur died of either tuberculosis or plague. This left Henry as the heir to the throne. From that moment on, he was heavily guarded and allowed to see only a few people. Seven years later, King Henry VIII was announced as Henry VII died from tuberculosis. Since he was just seventeen and not educated properly to be king, he looked to his elders for advice. Thus began the reign of King Henry VIII of England.
Since Catharine of Aragon was now without a husband, and was pretty hot with her red-gold hair, Henry decided to marry her on June 11, 1509. They were then jointly crowned on June 24 of the same year. Catharine was five years older than Henry and involved in politics, so Henry commonly went to her for advice. They were a very happily married couple for over twenty years. Henry [only] had two mistresses during their marriage, which was relatively small based on the time period and his title of King. Catharine was the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, who funded Christopher Columbus’s bogus journey to the New World. This gave Henry more power than he already had, which was tremendous in itself. Some say it would have been politically smarter for Henry to marry a French princess, since ties with Spain were already good, but Henry ignored these suggestions and married his brother’s widow anyway.
Now that Henry had a wife, he needed an heir to his throne. Catharine gave birth to a stillborn child shortly after their marriage. A year later, Catharine gave birth to a son who survived the childbirth. Henry threw a huge celebration for his son, Henry IX. Sadly, fifty-two days after being born, Henry IX died. In 1516, she bore a daughter that survived infancy and childhood named Mary, who would grow up to become the notorious “Bloody” Mary. At this point Henry was faced with a dilemma. He was very happy with all his years of marriage to Catharine of Aragon but still needed a male heir, since he refused to have England be ruled by a woman after his death. Catharine was now well beyond childbearing years and Henry had alternately fallen in love with a woman named Anne Boleyn, who was a sister of one of his mistresses and one of Catharine’s maids of honor. Classy.
Henry was faced with another dilemma- he needed a divorce. In these times, divorces were not legal unless granted by the Pope, so Henry sent his Lord Chancellor Thomas Wolsey to Pope Clement VII in 1527 asking for an official divorce for Henry from Catharine. But the same Pope who gave Henry’s sister Margaret an annulment from James IV declined the king’s request. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V also said no, based on the fact that Catharine of Aragon was his aunt. Henry petitioned the Pope’s decision until he offered to rethink the case. This kept Henry in suspense for seven years, until the Pope responded with another negative response. During this time, Henry was very harsh to Catharine, who would not give in to Henry’s pleas for her to go to a convent, which would make the marriage void. Catharine also wanted to make sure Mary would be the ruler of England upon Henry’s death. He eventually forbade her from seeing Mary at any time. He would appear in Court with Anne Boleyn in the rightful Queen’s chair, while Catharine could only sit in her assigned seat. People started referring to Anne as Queen, and Catharine refused to acknowledge anyone who wouldn’t call her Queen Catharine.
Even though Henry appeared to be married to Anne Boleyn, his marriage with Catharine was still valid. The Archbishop of Canturbury Thomas Cranmer and Secretary of State Thomas Cromwell suggested to the king that he simply get the marriage annulled in England. Since the King of England was able to enact any law he wanted, Henry had Parliament pass the Act in Restraint of Appeals in 1533, which stated that all church cases were to be decided in England instead of Rome, where the Pope was. He then signed for the Act of Supremacy, which made the King of England the head of both church and state. In essence, this made Henry VIII ruler of the Anglicana Ecclesia, or Church of England. With this new power, Henry ordered Thomas Cranmer to annul the marriage. Immediately after, Henry married Anne Boleyn in January of 1533. But Anne was smart. She knew Henry wanted a male heir more than anything, but she didn’t want to be used just for that. She knew she had control over Henry because he was so in love with her. So she refused to have sex with him for the first six years that they knew each other. She had always refused to become his mistress, as her sister Mary was, and was not about to change her ways. Mysteriously, in September of the year they were married, Anne gave birth. Since men were traditionally not allowed to be present at a birth, Henry didn’t know if it was a boy or girl, but was so convinced she had bore him a male that he started throwing celebrations. The celebrations went on until Henry found out he had another daughter, which he named Princess Elizabeth, after his mother. Henry was convinced this was a sign that Anne would next produce a healthy boy. Anne got pregnant a couple more times after Elizabeth, but all those ended in miscarriages, which naturally upset Henry who still sought a male heir. As Anne slowly became unhealthy, Henry’s eye [amongst other parts] began to wander to other women, such as Jane Seymour. So now Anne Boleyn had to be taken out of the picture, which was pretty easy now that Henry was the head of the church and state.
Henry signed the Treason Act in 1534, stating that anyone who denied his power would be tried as a traitor. Being tried as a traitor in those days, you were as good as guilty, which meant execution. Henry used this against Anne, who was accused of adultery after her personal musician had given Henry the names of men she slept with [probably after being tortured], including Anne’s own brother George. He took her acts as a personal shot against him and conveyed that adultery against him was equivalent to treason. He also accused her of incest and plotting to kill him. All the men except one were convicted and sentenced to be hanged. Anne and her brother went on trial at the same time and were convicted. George was hanged with the rest of the men, while it was Henry’s choice to see Anne burned or beheaded, of which he chose the latter. So with his orders, Henry’s wife was beheaded and officially taken out of the picture in 1536. It has been said that the beheading of Anne Boleyn started Henry’s “reign of terror.”
With laws like these and the power Henry had given himself, Pope Paul III excommunicated Henry from the Catholic Church in 1538. Henry was not too impressed by this but retaliated anyway. He made the Church of England strictly Protestant and in 1539 signed the Six Articles Act, which said that his church was to have no Pope.
As if this wasn’t enough, Henry was still mad he didn’t have a son. So, just weeks after Anne Boleyn was beheaded, Henry VIII was married to Jane Seymour, one of Anne’s maids of honor. Classy again. She wasn’t too attractive, artistic, scholarly, or anything Henry normally looked for in a woman, but he still chose her. Henry was smart this time though; he declared he would wait for her to deliver a healthy son before crowning her his Queen. Jane was actually pleased with this, based on what happened to his first two wives. She had little interest in entertainment and such things that Anne Boleyn had a great interest in. She wanted Henry to be with his children- Mary, Elizabeth, and Henry Fitzroy who was Henry VIII’s illegitimate son from an affair. Jane became pregnant in 1537. She was very restricted during her pregnancy for fear that the baby would be harmed in some way. In October of that year, she gave birth to Henry’s long-awaited son, Edward VI. An enormous celebration was ordered by Henry. Sadly on the next day, Jane was stricken with puerperal fever and died twelve days later. Since he mourned her passing for over two years, Jane Seymour is said to be Henry’s most beloved wife, though she was so boring and ghastly.
Then in 1540, Henry was arranged to marry Anne [sometimes called Anna] of Cleves, as set up by Secretary of State Cromwell. Henry was very excited to be married a fourth time until he finally met his bride-to-be. She was said to be fat, ugly, dull, annoying, and just utterly repulsive to Henry. No one has said that Henry didn’t repulse her in a similar way but he was King so it didn’t matter. He wanted the marriage to be called off immediately, but he could not be granted this due to political reasons. On January 6, 1540, they were married. At Henry’s request, the marriage was never consummated. Henry finally decided to have the marriage annulled and Cromwell’s head cut off for arranging the awful alliance. Anne was willing to testify that the marriage had never been consummated and it was annulled. Henry gave her many things when they split up, such as houses and money. She is said to be Henry’s most fortunate wife.
Shortly after this, Hanky Boy married again, this time to Anne of Cleves’s maid of honor Catherine Howard. Once more, classy. Henry was somewhat jealous of Catherine’s youth and beauty, so he went on strict diets and exercised regularly. Catherine was young and beautiful, which made her stray from her overweight and aging royal husband with someone she planned to marry before she had even met Henry. This man was immediately hanged as a traitor and Catherine was taken to the Tower, where she got to choose the dress for her own beheading. After the deed was done, Catherine was buried next to the body of her cousin, Anne Boleyn.
Three years after, in July of 1543, Henry VIII married his sixth and [ultimately and thankfully] final wife, Catharine Parr. She was very concerned with the education of Mary and Elizabeth and did all she could to get them proper tutoring. She was a very pleasant wife for Henry, who was in declining health dating back to when Jane Seymour had died. She knew her job was not to give the king a son, but to nurse him in his final hours, which she did until his death on January 28, 1547. The cause for his death is still uncertain.
Henry VIII was definitely one of the most controversial, feared, unique, yet respected men in all of history. Although most people only know him as a terrible English tyrant who cut all his wives heads off, they are highly mistaken. He enjoyed many of the things people still enjoy today. Henry VIII is not only a very important part of England’s history, but his actions affected the whole world.