King Henry VIII of England

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Part 1: Kings of England

Young King Henry VIII Henry VIII was one of England's most famous monarchs. Known for his larger-than-life personality and his many wives as much as his deeds, he was the architect of his country's break with the Catholic Church and the builder of a sovereign nation that withstood test after test of that sovereignty for hundreds of years.

He was born June 28, 1491 at Greenwich Palace in London. He was the second son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, who had wed to symbolically end the Wars of the Roses after Henry ended it on the battlefield at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

The king and queen's oldest son was Arthur. As the heir apparent, he was married early, to Catherine of Aragon, in an attempt to provide a more solid alliance between England and Spain. They were married in 1501, when they were both 15. Arthur died a few months later, and Henry became the king-in-waiting. He became the king-in-name on April 21, 1509, when his father died. He became the king-for-real on June 24, 1509, his coronation coming when he was 17.

Catherine of Aragon

Henry wanted the same alliance with Spain that his father did, and he wanted to cement this alliance in the same way that his father had, by marriage. Henry wanted to marry his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon. Henry needed permission from Pope Julius II to do this, and he had to apply for a dispensation, which was, in effect, a ruling by the Pope that Catherine's original marriage, to Arthur, was invalid. The Pope granted the dispensation; the young people were officially betrothed in 1503 but were not married until they had to be, when the king had died. Henry and Catherine were married on June 11, 1509; thus, 13 days later, when Henry was crowned king, Catherine was crowned queen.

Henry came to the kingship well educated, in part because he was not intended to be the monarch. As the second son, he was set on a path of education and religious instruction with the goal of becoming a high-ranking church official. He learned from highly regarded tutors and became fluent in French and Latin. Highly athletic and coordinated, he also enjoyed the arts and culture. He enjoyed music and wrote some of his own (including "Pastime with Good Company," which was a hit on the Continent). What he didn't have was training to be a king; he received a truncated period of instruction when his brother died.

Well versed in matters of state or not, Henry knew how to act swiftly. Just two days into his kingship, he arrested two of his father's ministers, who had become very unpopular, and had them executed on charges of high treason. The ministers were charged with extortion, and Henry made a show of giving back to the people some of the money that the ministers were said to have stolen.

Like most monarchs, Henry wanted a son to succeed him on the throne. Catherine gave birth to four children who died either immediately or within a few weeks. Finally, in February 1516, the couple had a healthy baby–a girl, whom they named Mary.

Next page > Battles Foreign and Domestic > Page 1, 2, 3

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