Monday, 9 April 2012

Henry VIII

Dear Reader,

My A-Z Challenge careens off on another tangent today and lands on Henry VIII. What a card he was! Due to the partly factual nature of this post, there will be a number of hyperlinks, sorry.

Henry's life was dominated by an unhealthy obsession with the creation of a male heir, (unhealthy more for those failed to provide and / or stood in the way of this quest). Although reportedly fit, sporty and and attractive in the early years of his reign he later became morbidly obese, his waistline expanding dramatically in a short number of years. One presumes therefore in latter life he also had an unhealthy obsession with cake and pies. 

To properly understand  the jolly japes of Henry's reign a timeline is required:

1491 - Born.

1502 - The death of his elder brother Prince Arthur who at the time was married to Catherine Of Aragon (more on her shortly) conferred the title of Prince Of Wales to Henry. Not a bad result for a ten year old.

1503 - Henry, Prince Of Wales is offered as a second husband to Catherine Of Aragon by Henry VII in an attempt to keep cozy with the Spanish. Things were moving fast.
Catherine Of Aragon - the first of many.
1505 - Henry VII bored of attempts to get cozy with Spain. Henry, Prince Of Wales declares the proposed marriage to Catherine void on the basis that it had been arranged without his consent.

1509 - Much toing and froing in court continued until the death of Henry VII. And so at the tender age of 17 Henry, Prince Of Wales married Catherine on the 11th June, followed by the two being crowned on the 24th of the same month. 

You would think a marriage and a coronation would be enough activity for one month, but no, two days later Henry VIII arrested his father's two most unpopular advisors. In what was to become a depressingly common feature of his reign (unless you were an executioner), they were charged with treason and executed the following year.

1511 - Queen Catherine bears first child, a son, yippee! At this point my tale may have ended, but sadly, Henry, Duke of Cornwall died within weeks of birth.

1513 - Henry invades France and wins the Battle Of Spurs, much to the relief of fans of Tottenham Football Club. Whilst hell-raising in Northern France James IV of Scotland took the opportunity to invade England. With the King away, Catherine led the army which defeated the Scots at the Battle of Flodden. Beaten by a woman, ouch.

1516 - Queen Catherine gives birth to another child, this one to survive infancy. Is Henry happy? No, it's a girl, Princess Mary.

1519 - One of Henry's illicit affairs outside of marriage, produces a son, oh the irony.

1525 - Henry's continued impatience with Catherine regarding the production of a male heir causes him to look further afield. Within the Queen's entourage was Anne Boleyn, whom he became infatuated with. It is unclear whether it was her intellectual wit or her habit of wearing t-shirts proclaiming "I give birth to boys" that began the infatuation, but Henry soon became obsessed.

Anne Boleyn - soon to be number two.
1526-1530 - Henry attempts to move Heaven and Earth to get the marriage to Catherine annulled and a  position found that would allow a legal marriage to Anne to occur. Initally skirting his closest and most powerful adviser, Cardinal Thomas Wolseley, he sent his secretary to Rome to sue for an annulment. Annoyingly, the Pope was otherwise disposed, in prison, making access difficult. 

Wolsely eventually got involved, arranging an ecclesiastical court to meet in England. The Pope could not get time out for good behaviour, so an envoy was sent instead. Apparently Catherine's performance in court as the wronged but formidable woman was extremely effective. However, it is believed the Pope was never going to grant the annulment anyway. Wolsley bore the blame for the failure. Had he not died of natural causes in 1530, one suspects the executioner would be getting another phone call to check when the good Cardinal could be fitted in.

1531 - Queen Catherine is banished from court and Anne installed in her place.

1532 - Lawyers were also doing well out of all of this. Thomas Cromwell brought before parliament a number of acts which weakened the position of the church to the point a position of Royal Supremacy was legally established. Later that year, having gained the support of the incumbent king of France, Henry married Anne in secret

1533 - The then Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer rules on the marriage of Henry and Catherine finding it to be null and void. Five days later, he finds the marriage of Henry and Anne to be valid. Cranmer had previously received a significant leg-up the religious career path, being previously the Boleyn family chaplain. Anne was consequently crowned queen. Later in the year the first child of the marriage arrives. Is Henry happy? No, it's a girl.

1534 - Anne suffers a false pregnancy / miscarriage. Henry sees the failure to provide a son as a betrayal. after all, she had been wearing that t-shirt. As early as Christmas, Henry is trying to find a way out, that does not involve returning to Catherine.

1536 - Catherine of Aragon dies, putting Anne into a dangerous position. She is pregnant again, and if the boy promised by the t-shirt does not show her position would become untenable and probably fatal. Later in the same month Anne miscarries a son. Whilst Anne was recovering from this final miscarriage Henry declares the marriage had been the product of witchcraft, you gotta love him. Henry's latest squeeze, Jane Seymour is moved in. At eye-watering speed, five men including Anne's own brother are arrested on charges including incest, treason and having sexual relationships with the queen. Within days, Anne is also arrested. Within two weeks all six have been found guilty and executed.

A day later Henry is engaged to Jane Seymour, 10 days after that they are married! Imagine how that scenario would have been received if it had happened today.

Jane Seymour - number three.
Around this time, Wales was also legally annexed and became part of England. 

1537 - Jane gives birth to a son, who survives! Jane, unfortunately doesn't, dying from complications from the birth. In the fickle head that is Henry's, Jane is considered to be his true wife. 

1540 - Henry is in the market again, this time Anne of Cleves is in the frame. A portrait painter from court is sent to capture an image of the lady. Henry finds the picture agreeable, convinced no doubt by the many ladies of court who attested to her wit and beauty. Henry found her "unattractive" when she arrived and wished for the marriage to be annulled. Anne, who was not stupid, did everything she could to assist the annulment, as a result she kept her head and gained a castle.

Anne of Cleves - number four and the luckiest of the six.
In another busy year for Henry, by July he was married again, to Catherine Howard.

Catherine Howard - number five.
Although initially things went well, Catherine, rather foolishly, given Henry's public propensity for cutting people's heads off, had an affair.

1541 - The affair is discovered, and eventually proved.

1542 - Catherine is executed, paving the way for another marriage.

1543 - Not tiring of women named Catherine, enter Catherine Parr, who after initially arguing with Henry over religion, wised up and also kept her head.

1547 - Henry dies, obese at the age of 55. 

So, in an astonishing 38 years of reign, Henry married six times, and divorces twice. On two other occasions he takes the easier option of ringing the executioner for appointments. I say executioner, like there was only one. This was clearly not the case. During the 38 years of his reign, it is estimated that 72,000 enemies of the state were executed, many of them publicly. Some feebly reasoned stats and numbers are required...

375,000,000: Estimated value of the royal purse when Henry ascended to the throne in todays money, (sterling). He and by extension the monarchy, died in debt.
72,000: The number of people allegedly executed during this Henry's reign for getting in his way or saying no, basically.
13,723: The number of days Henry spent on the throne.
54: The number of inches Henry's waist measured near death. 
13: The total number of children Henry sired, (recognising two mistresses, there could be more).
6: The number of wives Henry had.
6: The total number of children Henry sired who survived to adulthood, (again recognising two mistresses, there could be more).
5.25: The number of people executed per day during his reign. This is excluding factors such as Christmas, Bank Holidays and executioners' paid leave which would push the number up.
3: The number of legitimate children Henry sired who survived to adulthood, , (again recognising two mistresses, there could be more).
2: The number of wives Henry had executed.
2: The number of wives that survived him.
2: The number of wives he successfully divorced.
1: The number of (legitmate) children Henry cared about. 
1: The number of churches excommunicated with in England during his reign.
1: The number of churches created during his reign.
1: The number of countries invaded.
1: The number of countries annexed.

You have to ask, where did he get the time? I, and I am sure, you Dear Reader are tiring of history lessons, tomorrow to the letter I. 



  1. As they say "On the head (ED) in the back of the net, easy"

  2. I became very intrigued by Henry the VIII after reading The Other Boleyn Girl. I found his life & obsessions so fascinating. It's hard to believe how f-ed up his family was. I don't know much about his younger years, but boy was there a lot of carnage in his footsteps. But I guess that's how the monarchy worked back then. And then there's Elizabeth, his illegitimate daughter with Anne Boleyn, who ruled like no other before or after her. Surprising!

    It's nice to meet you. I'm a new follower via the A to Z.

    1. Glad you stopped by and enjoyed my precis! I'll be checking out your blog soon

  3. I do love English history. Thanks for the lesson.

    1. More of a desperate to find something beginning with H than a lesson, thanks for the comment.

  4. Great post! I always liked learning about Henry VIII, he's the only one I can ever remember! :)

  5. What a crazy guy. Very interesting, though - nice to see his life laid out like this, thank you!

    - T'Laina (

    1. He sure was a little crazy. Perhaps more than a little. Glad you liked it.