A Royal History of Eng­land: Henry VIII

(1509-1547)

This England - - Contents - Paul James

Prob­a­bly the most recog­nis­able of all English kings, Henry VIII was truly a larger-than-life char­ac­ter. An im­pos­ing fig­ure at over 6' 2" tall, with a girth that in­creased with age, the King was a man with a con­tra­dic­tory im­age. He was con­sid­ered self­ish, despotic and had no qualms about hav­ing those who crossed him ex­e­cuted. “Heads will fly!” was his claim when­ever his au­thor­ity was chal­lenged and Charles Dick­ens con­cluded, “The plain truth is that he was a most in­tol­er­a­ble ruf­fian, a dis­grace to hu­man na­ture, and a blot of blood and grease upon the History of Eng­land.”

Yet Henry was ex­tremely pop­u­lar with the English peo­ple and, af­ter cen­turies of tur­bu­lence, his was a reign that brought largely peace and pros­per­ity to the coun­try.

Henry was born at Green­wich Palace on 28th June 1491, the sec­ond son of King Henry VII and El­iz­a­beth of York. Un­like his re­strained fa­ther, Henry VIII was a show­man. Paint­ings of him, par­tic­u­larly those by Hans Hol­bein, por­tray him as an im­pos­ing fig­ure with vel­vets, furs and jewels aplenty. Even his hats were dec­o­rated with pearls and semi-pre­cious stones. Maybe this en­dur­ing im­age of a pow­er­ful and ma­jes­tic King of Eng­land is what en­deared him most to his peo­ple. Be­fore the reign of Henry VIII, English kings were ad­dressed as “Your Grace” or “Your High­ness”, but sig­nif­i­cantly he adopted the term “Your Majesty”.

As the sec­ond son, Henry was not ex­pected to in­herit the throne and the in­ten­tion was for him to even­tu­ally be­come Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury. King­ship may not have been his an­tic­i­pated path, but Henry was still of royal blood and hon­ours were heaped upon him from a very young age. In Oc­to­ber 1491, when he was a mere four months old, he was made a Knight of the Bath. In 1493 he was ap­pointed Con­sta­ble of Dover Castle and Lord War­den of the Cinque Ports; in 1494 he was cre­ated Duke of York; in 1495 he be­came a Knight of the Garter and by Fe­bru­ary 1504 had been given the ti­tles Prince of Wales and Earl of Ch­ester. The most sig­nif­i­cant ti­tle of all, how­ever, came on 2nd April 1502 fol­low­ing the pre­ma­ture death of his el­der brother, Prince Arthur, when Henry be­came Heir Ap­par­ent. It changed the course of his life.

At the age of just 10 Prince Arthur had mar­ried Cather­ine of Aragon. She was a daugh­ter of King Fer­di­nand V of Aragon and so the mar­riage had formed an al­liance with the pow­er­ful Span­ish em­pire at this time. Two of Henry VII’S daugh­ters mar­ried Kings of Scot­land and France, which also helped se­cure peace for Eng­land. Fol­low­ing Arthur’s death, Henry VII ad­vised his next son and heir to marry Cather­ine — es­sen­tially be­cause he didn’t want to lose her large dowry! — which is how Henry came to be betrothed to his wid­owed sis­ter-in-law.

Henry VII died on 21st April 1509 and his son and name­sake suc­ceeded him to be­come King Henry VIII. In com­pli­ance with his late fa­ther’s wishes, the new King quickly mar­ried Cather­ine at Green­wich Palace on 11th June 1509, and they were crowned jointly on 24th June at the coro­na­tion in Westminster Abbey.

Although we are very used to see­ing the mas­ter­ful, of­ten bloated, im­age of the ma­ture King Henry VIII, when he first came to the throne he was a tall, slim, hand­some youth of 17. Clean shaven, with red­dish brown hair, Henry was aca­dem­i­cally clever and spoke sev­eral lan­guages, in­clud­ing French and Latin. He was a keen sports­man and ex­celled at archery, joust­ing, tilt­ing (a me­dieval sport in which two mounted knights tried to knock each other off their horses with lances), real ten­nis and hunt­ing. At the age of 30 it was said that Henry could still ex­haust eight horses a day. He was a gifted mu­si­cian and could play the lute and vir­ginals, and was a good singer.

Although he is gen­er­ally cred­ited with hav­ing com­posed “Greensleeves” for Anne Bo­leyn when she ini­tially thwarted his ad­vances (“Alas, my love, you do me wrong to cast me off dis­cour­te­ously”), the tune is based on an Ital­ian-style melody that did not reach Eng­land un­til El­iz­a­bethan times and the first printed ver­sion of the lyrics was not pro­duced un­til some 35 years af­ter Henry’s death. But Henry was known to com­pose mu­sic and songs and a man­u­script dat­ing to around 1518 in­cludes 20 songs and 13 in­stru­men­tal pieces as­cribed to “The Kynge H”. One par­tic­u­lar song, “Pastyme With Good Com­pa­nye”, cel­e­brates the joys of princely life such as hunt­ing, singing and danc­ing.

Un­like many of his pre­de­ces­sors Henry VIII ac­ceded un­op­posed, so there was no fam­ily an­tag­o­nism or dy­nas­tic con­flict. His care­ful fa­ther had amassed a for­tune of £1,500,000 and so Henry faced no fi­nan­cial wor­ries when he be­came King. As a young, hand­some and sporty youth, he was in­stantly pop­u­lar through­out Eng­land. One of his first acts was to have two of the most ruth­less tax col­lec­tors, Richard Empsom and Ed­mund Dud­ley, charged with high trea­son and ex­e­cuted, which added to his pop­u­lar­ity. It was a time of peace in Eng­land too, so the coun­try was con­tented with its new monarch.

With great wealth, Henry was able to

dress im­mac­u­lately in the finest clothes, cut­ting the sort of glam­orous fig­ure that the 21st-cen­tury media would go wild to fea­ture. One of Henry’s out­fits was de­scribed by a con­tem­po­rary as be­ing made of white damask en­crusted with di­a­monds and ru­bies.

In the early part of his reign Henry en­joyed his plea­sures and was happy to leave the bur­den of ad­min­is­tra­tion to three peo­ple: Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell, who be­came the most pow­er­ful men in Eng­land and ex­ploited their po­si­tions. Wolsey, for ex­am­ple, was the son of an Ip­swich butcher, but went on to be­come Lord Chan­cel­lor of Eng­land and a Car­di­nal of Rome. He had houses built for him­self that were as mag­nif­i­cent as the King’s, par­tic­u­larly Hamp­ton Court and York Place in White­hall. Af­ter Wolsey’s down­fall, Henry took Hamp­ton Court from him and then had York Place trans­formed into the splen­did White­hall Palace which then cov­ered an area of 24 acres, although to­day only the Ban­quet­ing Hall sur­vives.

Henry built im­pos­ing new palaces too, such as Rich­mond Palace on the River Thames and Non­such Palace in Sur­rey, which no longer ex­ist to­day. St. James’s Palace and Green­wich Palace also be­came im­pres­sive royal res­i­dences at this time. Dur­ing Henry’s reign many cas­tles be­came palaces rather than fortresses. Gun­pow­der now greatly im­proved the use of can­nons, which made Eng­land’s cas­tles largely re­dun­dant as forms of de­fence, as can­nons could blast through walls.

For a coun­try that had been blighted by the Wars of the Roses in ear­lier reigns, Henry’s Eng­land ex­pe­ri­enced a pe­riod free of hos­til­ity or in­va­sion. Henry, nev­er­the­less, was fully pre­pared for war­fare should the sit­u­a­tion arise. He was the first monarch to draw a real dis­tinc­tion be­tween the Army and the Navy and de­vel­oped what would even­tu­ally be­come known as the Royal Navy. He is of­ten called “The Fa­ther of the Royal Navy”. He es­tab­lished Dept­ford and Wool­wich as Royal Dock­yards as they were close to Green­wich Palace and he en­joyed be­ing able to go and watch ships be­ing con­structed; he also ex­panded his fa­ther’s Royal Dockyard at Portsmouth, and in­creased the English fleet from just five ships at the be­gin­ning of his reign to around 60 ships.

Henry had the Great Harry built, then the largest ship that there had ever been at 1,500 tons, and the 600-ton Mary Rose. His war­ships had a com­bined might of over 2,000 can­nons. Henry also cre­ated a great chain of coastal fortresses to de­fend Eng­land against the threat of in­va­sion.

The King was keen to be seen as a mil­i­tary com­man­der. In 1513, some three years into his reign, Henry in­vaded France as a mem­ber of the Holy League — founded by Pope Julius II to de­fend the Pa­pacy from its en­e­mies with mil­i­tary force. Henry led an English army with Aus­trian mer­ce­nar­ies and won cav­alry ac­tion at the so-called Bat­tle of the Spurs. Tak­ing ad­van­tage of Henry’s ab­sence, the Scots in­vaded Eng­land but were de­ci­sively beaten at Flod­den Field. The Earl of Sur­rey killed King James IV of Scot­land at Flod­den, and as many as 12,000 Scots were slain. There­after, there was

peace be­tween Eng­land and Scot­land for al­most three decades.

In Europe, Fran­cis I of France and Charles V (the Hab­s­burg ruler of Ger­many, Aus­tria, Spain, the Nether­lands and parts of Italy) were vy­ing for supremacy. In 1519 Charles was elected Holy Ro­man Em­peror and a year later both he and Fran­cis I tried to form an al­liance with Eng­land. Henry first met the Em­peror at Can­ter­bury, then crossed the Chan­nel to meet Fran­cis at Guines, a sum­mit that was in­tended to es­tab­lish last­ing peace in Europe and which sub­se­quently be­came known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold. The two monar­chs were en­ter­tained lav­ishly at ban­quets and with joust­ing com­pe­ti­tions over a four­week pe­riod, each try­ing to outdo the other in grandeur. It was a hol­low event for Fran­cis, as Henry had al­ready formed an al­le­giance with Em­peror Charles.

Fran­cis I and Charles V were soon at odds and in 1521 France went to war with Italy, a costly con­flict that Eng­land joined in 1522. Peace did not come un­til 1525, mak­ing it known as The Four Years’ War and then only through diplo­matic chan­nels, rather than mil­i­tary suc­cess. In Jan­uary 1528 the ta­bles turned and this time Eng­land and France de­clared war on Charles V as part of Henry VIII’S quest for greater power in Europe. It proved detri­men­tal to Eng­land, as it brought about an end to lu­cra­tive trade with Spain and the Nether­lands.

Wag­ing war in Europe de­pleted Henry VIII’S cof­fers and so he de­cided to de­base the coinage in Eng­land. As funds di­min­ished, he was forced to lower the per­cent­age of sil­ver in coins to the point where they were mostly cop­per with a sil­ver coat­ing. They were also smaller than the coinage that peo­ple had been used to and were not uni­ver­sally pop­u­lar. Once in cir­cu­la­tion, the sil­ver coat­ing grad­u­ally wore away from the re­lief im­age of Henry’s face, start­ing with the nose, re­sult­ing in the nick­name “Cop­per­nose” for the King.

Although Henry VIII had many achieve­ments through­out his reign, there are two ma­jor mat­ters with which he will be for­ever as­so­ci­ated: mar­riage and the Church. In many ways the two is­sues were in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked.

Even if peo­ple know very lit­tle about Henry VIII, ev­ery­one re­mem­bers that he mar­ried six times. Many school­child­ren learn a sim­ple rhyme to re­call the fate of his wives in the cor­rect or­der: Di­vorced, be­headed, died, Di­vorced, be­headed, sur­vived. Unchrono­log­i­cal, a less well-known nurs­ery rhyme dat­ing from around 1750 tells us that:

Bluff Henry the Eighth to six spouses was wed­ded;

One died, one sur­vived, two di­vorced, two be­headed.

Be­cause of his six wives, many have re­garded him as an in­vet­er­ate wom­an­iser. Much as he en­joyed the com­pany of women, at the root of it all Henry was des­per­ate to fa­ther a male child: an heir who would se­cure the Tu­dor line for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. It was this ex­treme anx­i­ety that led to so many mar­riages and caused him to break with the Church of Rome in the process.

In ac­cor­dance with his fa­ther’s wishes, Henry mar­ried his first wife, 24-year-old Cather­ine of Aragon, within six weeks of be­com­ing King. Whether the cou­ple were happy or not, Cather­ine seemed un­able to give him the one thing he craved. Af­ter sev­eral mis­car­riages and still births, a son was fi­nally born on New Year’s Day 1511. There was great re­joic­ing and Henry held a tour­na­ment to

celebrate the ar­rival of his new heir. Named Henry af­ter his fa­ther, sadly the baby Prince died at the age of six weeks. The King was dev­as­tated. Some five more years were to pass be­fore Cather­ine de­liv­ered another child that sur­vived — a daugh­ter, who was named Mary. “By God’s grace, boys will fol­low,” Henry op­ti­misti­cally told an am­bas­sador, but none did and the cou­ple even­tu­ally sep­a­rated.

This sep­a­ra­tion caused Henry’s first great con­flict with the Church and his court, re­sult­ing in his break with the Church of Rome. From 1517 the Ref­or­ma­tion had be­gun in Ger­many. Martin Luther high­lighted the abuses of the Ro­man Catholic Church as a re­sult of what he de­scribed as the “spir­i­tual and moral deprav­ity of the Pope and his Car­di­nals”. Re­form­ers de­nied the spir­i­tual pre-em­i­nence of the Pope, hold­ing up the Bi­ble as the only guide to fol­low.

By 1527 Henry VIII had be­come in­volved. He wrote a pam­phlet against Luther called Asser­tio Septem Sacro­men­to­rum — De­fence of the Seven Sacra­ments. It was a work that Henry later came to re­gret, par­tic­u­larly be­cause of his dec­la­ra­tion that mar­riage was in­dis­sol­u­ble! The book­let did, how­ever, be­come a best-seller in its day and be­cause of the stance he had taken about the Church, Pope Leo X gave him the ti­tle “De­fender of the Faith” — a ti­tle our Queen still bears to this day.

When Henry wanted to di­vorce Cather­ine of Aragon be­cause of her fail­ure to pro­vide him with an heir, he be­gan to con­sider the the­o­log­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions. She had been the widow of his brother and Henry’s mar­riage to her was a union con­demned by the Bi­ble. In Leviti­cus, for ex­am­ple, it says, “If a man mar­ries his brother’s wife, it is an act of im­pu­rity; he has dis­hon­oured his brother. They will be child­less.”

Henry started to ques­tion the le­gal­ity of his mar­riage and con­sid­ered that his lack of an heir may be di­vine judg­ment. He asked Car­di­nal Wolsey to ob­tain a di­vorce for him, but he failed in his quest. Henry dis­missed Wolsey from court in 1529 and charged him with high trea­son. The Car­di­nal died be­fore he could be ex­e­cuted, with his po­si­tion of power gone and his rep­u­ta­tion in ru­ins.

Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s chief ad­viser, took over the is­sue and cam­paigned to se­cure Henry’s supremacy over the Church. When the Pope re­fused to grant a di­vorce and ex­com­mu­ni­cated the King, Henry broke away from the Church of Rome so that Eng­land could head in its own di­rec­tion as a Protes­tant coun­try.

It was a newly ap­pointed Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury, Thomas Cran­mer, who even­tu­ally had Henry’s mar­riage to Cather­ine of Aragon de­clared “in­valid” on 23rd May 1533. Their only liv­ing daugh­ter, Mary, was pro­nounced il­le­git­i­mate and had her ti­tle re­moved. Cather­ine of Aragon died of nat­u­ral causes, pos­si­bly can­cer, on 7th Jan­uary 1536, and was buried in Peterborough Cathe­dral.

On 25th Jan­uary 1533 Henry se­cretly mar­ried Anne Bo­leyn, a for­mer lady-in­wait­ing to Cather­ine of Aragon. Then aged 26, Anne was said to have “al­mond­shaped eyes and raven hair”. Un­usu­ally, she had a sixth fin­ger on her left hand. The mar­riage was made known and de­clared le­gal once Henry’s mar­riage to Cather­ine was of­fi­cially an­nulled. In June 1533 Anne was crowned Queen Con­sort in Westminster Abbey. The Pope de­nounced the mar­riage and Henry VIII was ex­com­mu­ni­cated. Henry’s close ad­viser Thomas More re­fused to recog­nise the di­vorce from Cather­ine or ac­cept Henry as Head of the Church, and so lost his head. On 15th Jan­uary 1534 Henry was recog­nised by Par­lia­ment as the Supreme Head of the Church of Eng­land. He be­gan to ex­ert his au­thor­ity and in 1536 ap­pointed Thomas Cromwell “Vicar Gen­eral of Eng­land” and in­structed him to dis­solve the monas­ter­ies as part of a cam­paign against the Pope for his fail­ure to grant a di­vorce. Some 800 Ro­man Catholic monas­ter­ies, abbeys and con­vents were closed down over a four-year pe­riod. Money, lands and es­tates were con­fis­cated. Shrines were de­mol­ished. With the clo­sure of Waltham Abbey in March 1540, there was not a sin­gle monastery left in Eng­land.

Although Henry VIII was a dog­matic Head of the Church, for ex­am­ple forc­ing Par­lia­ment to pass an Act of Six Ar­ti­cles which im­posed pun­ish­ments, even the death penalty, on any­one who did not fol­low the same Chris­tian doc­trines as the King, there were pos­i­tive as­pects. He cre­ated six new dio­cese: Bristol, Ch­ester, Glouces­ter, Ox­ford, Peterborough and Westminster, and in 1539 Henry de­creed that there should be an English Bi­ble in ev­ery church so that it would be ac­ces­si­ble to all and could be read easily.

A male heir was still very much on Henry’s mind, but in Septem­ber 1533 Anne Bo­leyn gave birth to their only liv­ing child, a daugh­ter (later Queen El­iz­a­beth I). Henry quickly tired of Anne and within three years she was con­victed of high trea­son, incest and in­fi­delity. She was be­headed at the Tower of Lon­don on 19th May 1536 and was buried in the Royal Chapel of St. Peter ad Vin­cula within the Tower.

Par­lia­ment de­clared Henry’s first two mar­riages in­valid. Henry’s en­gage­ment to Jane Seymour (a maid of hon­our or la­dyin-wait­ing to both Cather­ine of Aragon and Anne Bo­leyn) was an­nounced within 24 hours of Anne’s ex­e­cu­tion! They mar­ried less than two weeks later on 30th May 1536 in the Queen’s Chapel,

White­hall. Un­like her pre­de­ces­sors, Jane was never crowned Queen.

Jane Seymour gave birth to Henry’s only sur­viv­ing son, Ed­ward, on 12th Oc­to­ber. She died less than two weeks later at Hamp­ton Court. Henry was com­pletely over­come with grief. She is his only wife to have been buried in St. Ge­orge’s Chapel, Wind­sor, and Henry left in­struc­tions that when he him­self died, he was to be buried next to her. Jane had given him the one thing he had yearned for: a male heir.

Henry re­mained a wi­d­ower for two years, be­fore mar­ry­ing Anne of Cleves on 6th Jan­uary 1540. It was very much a po­lit­i­cal al­liance with Ger­many, en­cour­aged by Thomas Cromwell, rather than a love match and Henry had not even met Anne when he agreed to marry her. She spoke no English and he found her unattrac­tive and not at all like the flat­ter­ing por­trait by Hol­bein that he had been shown. Henry re­ferred to her as the “mare of Flan­ders” and the fol­low­ing year he di­vorced her on the grounds of non-con­sum­ma­tion. For bring­ing about the mar­riage, Thomas Cromwell went to the scaf­fold.

Henry’s health was poor by this time. He had a painful fis­tula on one leg and had put on a great deal of weight. His early ar­mour re­veals that as a young man he had a waist mea­sure­ment of 34 to 36 inches, in­di­cat­ing a weight of about 180 to 200lbs. The fi­nal suit of ar­mour made for him shows a waist mea­sure­ment of 58 to 60 inches, giv­ing an ap­prox­i­mate weight of 300 to 320lbs.

On 28th July 1540 Henry mar­ried Cather­ine Howard, a niece of the Duke of Nor­folk, at Oat­lands Palace in Sur­rey. Like Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, Cather­ine was never crowned. Henry’s health be­gan to im­prove and he went on a royal progress as far as York. Although he had re­ferred to Cather­ine as “a rose with­out a thorn”, on his re­turn he was in­formed that she had been un­faith­ful to him. Cather­ine Howard was found guilty of high trea­son and was be­headed on 13th Fe­bru­ary 1542 for “dis­loy­alty and in­dis­cre­tion”. Henry de­clared that he had been un­lucky in mar­ry­ing “such ill­con­di­tioned wives”.

Henry VIII was 51 when he took his sixth and fi­nal bride, Cather­ine Parr, on 12th July 1543 at Hamp­ton Court. She was 20 years his ju­nior, but had al­ready been wid­owed twice. In 1544 he made her Re­gent. By this time Henry had the male heir he wanted and said he was re­ally only look­ing for some­one who could be a mother to his chil­dren and to care for him in old age. It was not a love match, but they were in­tel­lec­tual equals and en­joyed one another’s com­pany. Cather­ine was to sur­vive him and within months of Henry’s death had mar­ried Thomas Seymour. A year later she was dead her­self, dy­ing in child­birth.

Proud and re­lieved to have an heir in Prince Ed­ward, when King James V of Scot­land fa­thered a daugh­ter, Mary, in 1542, Henry VIII de­cided that she would make an ideal bride for his son, but the Scot­tish par­lia­ment re­fused to ac­cept the pro­posal. As a re­sult, Henry went to war with Scot­land to try and force the Scots to agree to the mar­riage. It was a con­flict that was to go on for some eight years, con­tin­u­ing af­ter Henry’s death, and be­came known as the “Rough Woo­ing” af­ter Ge­orge Gor­don’s re­mark, “We liked not the man­ner of the woo­ing, and we could not stoop to be­ing bul­lied into love.”

Although Mary suc­ceeded as Queen of Scots as an in­fant, she never did marry Henry’s only son. His de­sire to sub­due the Scots and make them loyal

to Eng­land was also doomed to fail­ure.

King Henry VIII died at White­hall Palace on 28th Jan­uary 1547 at the age of 56. His doc­tors had been afraid to tell him that he was dy­ing be­cause the Trea­son Act for­bade any­one from pre­dict­ing the death of the King. Arch­bishop Thomas Cran­mer came to the royal bed­cham­ber at mid­night on 27th Jan­uary. Find­ing the King un­able to speak, Cran­mer asked him to give a sign that he trusted in Je­sus Christ. Henry gripped his hand and died shortly af­ter­wards at 2am. So cor­pu­lent had the King be­come that, rather grue­somely, his body ex­ploded in the lead cof­fin prior to the fu­neral.

In ac­cor­dance with his wishes, Henry was buried at St. Ge­orge’s Chapel, Wind­sor, with his fourth wife Jane Seymour. It took 16 strong Yeomen of the Guard to carry Henry’s cof­fin into the chapel and lower it into the vault in the choir. For a flam­boy­ant monarch, Henry VIII’S tomb is sur­pris­ingly un­os­ten­ta­tious and it was not un­til the early part of the 19th cen­tury that he was given a me­mo­rial slab. Some­what sur­pris­ingly, just over a cen­tury af­ter Henry’s death, Oliver Cromwell had the de­cap­i­tated body of Charles I de­posited in the same vault.

Henry had in­tended to have an elab­o­rate tomb built, hav­ing ap­pro­pri­ated the de­sign and ma­te­ri­als orig­i­nally in­tended for Car­di­nal Wolsey. Work on the tomb was never fin­ished and the black mar­ble sar­coph­a­gus that was go­ing to be used now forms the base of Nel­son’s tomb in St. Paul’s Cathe­dral. In 2015 the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum in Lon­don ac­quired four bronze an­gels that had been made for Car­di­nal Wolsey’s tomb and would have stood at the four corners of Henry’s had it ever been com­pleted. Four gilt-bronze can­dle­sticks that would also have formed part of Henry VIII’S tomb are now at St. Bavo Cathe­dral in Ghent, Bel­gium.

De­spite the many mar­riages, his of­ten tyran­ni­cal be­hav­iour and the ex­e­cu­tions of those that dis­pleased him — which ac­cord­ing to the English chron­i­cler Raphael Holin­shed amounted to some 72,000 — Henry VIII re­mained a well-liked king with his peo­ple and he changed the course of English history by trans­form­ing Eng­land into a Protes­tant coun­try. Leav­ing three chil­dren as heirs, he died know­ing that the Tu­dor dy­nasty was se­cure. The re­cent suc­cess of the BBC tele­vi­sion drama se­ries Wolf Hall proves that the fas­ci­na­tion with Henry and his court con­tin­ues un­abated.

The orig­i­nal score of “Pastyme with Goode Com­pa­nye” now in the Bri­tish Li­brary, and two of the most im­por­tant fig­ures dur­ing Henry’s reign: Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540) and Car­di­nal Wolsey (1473-1530). It was Wolsey who built Hamp­ton Court Palace (be­low).

A 17th-cen­tury paint­ing of Non­such Palace in Sur­rey which stood from 1538 to 1683.

The Field of the Cloth of Gold, which took place from 7th to 24th June 1520.

Green­wich Palace, pic­tured in 1630, was built by Henry VII on the site of to­day’s Old Royal Naval Collge. Right: Work to re­store the Mary Rose, which sank in the So­lent in 1545, con­tin­ues.

A por­trait of Henry VIII by Hans Hol­bein the Younger (1479- 1543). The paint­ing is in Liver­pool’s Walker Art Gallery.

Jane Seymour (1508-1537) was not as well ed­u­cated as her pre­de­ces­sors but was praised for her more prac­ti­cal tal­ents in needle­work and house­hold man­age­ment. She gave Henry the male heir he craved, the fu­ture King Ed­ward VI.

Anne of Cleves (1515-1557). De­spite Henry’s dis­parag­ing com­ments about his fourth wife, when they di­vorced he pro­vided her with a gen­er­ous set­tle­ment which in­cluded Hever Castle and Rich­mond Palace and she was there­after re­ferred to as ”the King’s Beloved

Cather­ine of Aragon (1485-1536) was de­scribed in her life­time as: the most beau­ti­ful crea­ture in the world”. Through­out her life she re­ferred to her­self as Henry’s only law­ful wed­ded wife. She died at Kim­bolton Castle in Hunt­ing­don­shire.

Cather­ine Parr (1512-1548), the first Queen of Eng­land who was also Queen of Ire­land, mar­ried four times, in­clud­ing af­ter Henry’s death, Sir Thomas Seymour. Af­ter giv­ing birth to their daugh­ter, Mary, she died six days later at Sude­ley Castle in Glouceste

Anne Bo­leyn (1501-1536), ad­mired for her grace, wit and style at the King’s court, has fas­ci­nated his­to­ri­ans ever since and pro­voked great de­bate about her char­ac­ter, in­flu­ence and Henry’s treat­ment of her.

Cather­ine Howard (1521-1542). De­scribed by one his­to­rian as “a silly young girl who never un­der­stood the dan­gers of royal re­gard”, she is per­haps the least im­por­tant of all Henry’s wives but also the most tragic.

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