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British kings and queens

Henry VIII

King Henry VIIIKing Henry VIII Henry VIII (1509–1547) was the second Tudor monarch. He is well known for having six wives: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr. Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, bore him only a daughter and not the son he had hoped for. Henry therefore tried to annul, or cancel, the marriage, and marry his mistress Anne Boleyn instead. But the Pope refused to agree to the annulment. So, on the advice of his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, Henry declared himself Supreme Head of the English Church in 1534 and broke off all relations with Rome so he could marry Anne. During what was known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Cromwell closed and demolished hundreds of abbeys, monasteries, friaries and nunneries across the land. Henry VIII’s break with the Pope established the Church of England and began the English Protestant Reformation, an event of crucial importance for the later history of England and the monarchy.


Bust of Henry VIII as a boyBust of Henry VIII as a boy

Early life

Henry was born at Greenwich in 1491, the second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. When his elder brother Arthur died in 1502, he became heir to the throne and succeeded in 1509, aged only 18. An athletic, highly intelligent young man, fond of hunting and dancing, Henry was a popular figure. His scholarly interests included writing both books and music, and he spoke several languages. In the first years of his reign, Henry relied on Thomas Wolsey to rule for him. In 1515 Henry gave Wolsey the highest role in government: Lord Chancellor. Wolsey was also appointed Cardinal in 1515, effectively enabling him to “govern” the Church in England as well.

Later in life, Henry VIII became obese, with a waist measurement of about 140 cm (54 inches). He had to be wheeled about with the help of mechanical devices. His skin was covered with pus-filled boils and he possibly suffered from gout.

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