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Henry VIII

(1491—1547) king of England and Ireland


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Catherine of Aragon (1485—1536) queen of England, first consort of Henry VIII.

Thomas Wolsey (1472—1530) royal minister, archbishop of York, and cardinal

Thomas Cromwell (c. 1485—1540) royal minister

Anne Boleyn (1507—1536) queen of England, second consort of Henry VIII.

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(1491–1547),

king of England (1509–47). Henry was born on 23 June 1491 at Greenwich, the third child and second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. On the death of his elder brother Arthur in April 1502 he became heir apparent; a few days after the death of his unpopular father, he was proclaimed king on 23 April 1509. Despite being only 17, Henry acted as king in his own right at once. Shortly after his accession he solemnized his fateful marriage to Catherine, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and widow of his brother Arthur. However, apart from sacrificing Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, his father's two most detested servants, he made few changes among his leading advisers. He began to play the European game of military alliances almost at once: a disastrous campaign in the Pyrenees in 1512 was followed in 1513 by the more successful seizure of Tournai and Thérouanne and the earl of Surrey's demolition of the Scottish aristocracy at Flodden. Peace was made in 1514.

The political scene was transformed by Thomas Wolsey, who used his position as royal chaplain and almoner to build up a formidable collection of church and government posts, becoming lord chancellor in 1515 and papal cardinal‐legate a latere in 1518. With the accession of Francis I of France (1515–47) Henry found a rival whom he both disliked and imitated. For several years he manœuvred in the diplomatic game, until in 1518 he and Wolsey stage‐managed the great European peace treaty of London (1518). The next year another charismatic leader, Charles V of Austria, Burgundy, and Spain, became Holy Roman emperor, and Henry began meddling in the endless duel between Charles and Francis. He attacked France in 1522–3, but withdrew from the alliance just too soon to profit from Francis's defeat and capture at Pavia (1525).

During the 1520s Henry's marriage to Catherine had deteriorated. After bearing a princess (the future Mary I) in 1516, the queen had suffered a series of miscarriages and still‐births which reawakened Henry's early misgivings about the marriage. By early 1527 an annulment of the marriage was openly discussed. However, in that year Charles V's troops sacked Rome and forced Pope Clement VII to seek protection from Charles V. While in the emperor's hands, the pope would not shame his captor's aunt by annulling her marriage. Wolsey tried unsuccessfully to persuade the pope to allow him to resolve the issue in England. When the final failure of this effort became apparent, Wolsey was stripped of his offices; he only escaped treason charges by his own death (1530).

The king's belief in his status as God's representative now became a potent political factor. It was exploited by a group of political theorists managed by the new rising minister, a former client of Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell (1485–1540). In the Act in Restraint of Appeals (24 Hen. VIII c. 12, 1533), the preamble enunciated Henry's claim to ‘imperial’ authority, without earthly superior, over clergy and laity alike. Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn in January 1533, and was formally separated from Catherine the following May. Having then been excommunicated by the pope, however, Henry's regime enacted further statutes up to 1536, which cut all fiscal, legal, and spiritual ties to Rome and left the English church in schism.

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Subjects: British History.


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