Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Other Names: Bloody Mary
Reign: July 19th 1553 - November 17th 1558
Born: February 18th 1516
Died: November 17th 1558
Father: Henry VIII, King of England
Mother: Catherine of Aragon
Spouse: Philip II, King of Spain
Royal House: Tudor
Mary I, the one surviving child from the ill-fated marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, was England's first officially recognised female monarch, achieving the position that had eluded the Empress Matilda and Lady Jane Grey. Her life was not a happy one, however, for she was separated from her mother, disowned by her father and ultimately ended up in a deeply unpopular childless marriage with a foreign husband who did not return her love. Throughout her existence she was plagued with depression and illness and as she aged her looks faded. When she died after a tumultuous reign of just five years, few people in England, especially those of the Protestant religion, shed a tear.
Mary is most well-known by far for her devout Catholic faith and subsequently for her efforts to overturn the Protestant Reformation and restore Roman Catholicism as the state religion in England. It is unlikely that she would have been remembered to history as "Bloody Mary" had she succeeded in that goal. She did not succeed but she came very close and was responsible for the burning of over 300 Protestants, all of whom became martyrs to their religious cause and ultimately did Mary's mission more harm than good. Although she is largely villified for her persecutions, such events were not unique to English history. The reign of her half-sister and successor, Elizabeth I would see the execution of almost as many Catholic martyrs.
The Unwanted Daughter
Mary was born at the royal palace of Greenwich in February 1516, almost seven years into the doomed marriage of her parents, Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. She was the only child of that marriage to survive infancy, having been preceeded by a stillborn sister and three short-lived brothers whose arrivals had prompted vast outbursts of premature celebration throughout the kingdom.
Other Names: The Nine Days Queen
Reign (disputed): July 10th 1553 - July 19th 1553
Born: around 1537
Died: February 12th 1554
Father: Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk
Mother: Lady Frances Brandon
Spouse: Lord Guildford Dudley
Royal House: Grey
Known to history as the "Nine Days Queen" because of the short length of her disputed reign, Lady Jane Grey was never originally in the running to rule England. The fact that she got near the throne at all was the result of a desperate and ultimately unsuccessful attempt by the dying Edward VI and his Protector John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland to prevent Edward's Catholic half-sister Mary from becoming Queen and undoing the changes brought about by the Protestant Reformation in England.When that plan ultimately failed, Jane ended up as one of the many victims of the piece, eventually meeting her death on the orders of the woman she had tried to supplant.
Jane was born around October 1537 into a family of good noble stock with a dash of royal blood. Her father was Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset (later Duke of Suffolk) whilst her mother was a daughter of King Henry VIII's younger sister, Mary Tudor. Jane received a sound education from her tutors, acquiring more than a passing knowledge of Greek, Latin, French, Hebrew and Italian. As the Reformation spread across Europe and found its way into England, the Grey family came to embrace the new faith. By the time Henry VIII's son Edward ascended to the throne in January 1547, Lady Jane harboured Protestant beliefs no less zealous than those of the new King.
When Jane was nine years old she went to live in the household of Henry VIII's widow, the dowager Queen Catherine Parr. Whilst there she became a pawn in the plans of Catherine's new husband Thomas Seymour. As Edward VI's uncle and brother to the boy King's regent, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, Thomas Seymour had his own self-advancement in mind. After Catherine died giving birth to his child in 1548, Thomas made Jane his ward and pushed to have her married to Edward. His plans ultimately came to nothing and he was executed by Act of Attainder in March 1549. Later on that same year, after his position was weakened by a succession of popular rebellions against the government's religious and agricultural policies, Protector Somerset was overthrown in a well-planned political coup that brought John Dudley, Earl of Warwick (later Duke of Northumberland) to power.
The Northumberland Plot
The rules for the Tudor succession had been dictated by both the 1544 Act of Succession and Henry VIII's will. If Edward were to die without an heir then the throne would pass to his half-sister Mary, with his other half-sister Elizabeth set to succeed Mary should she beget no heirs. As Edward's health began to fail after 1552, the prospect of Mary becoming Queen became all but certain. This outcome was highly undesirable to the Protestant figures that dominated Edward's regency administration as Mary was a staunch Roman Catholic and threatened to reverse all the religious changes introduced by her father and brother. The Protector Northumberland was particularly aware of the danger, believing that he stood to lose his position and possibly even his head if Mary came to the throne. As a devout Protestant of Tudor descent, Lady Jane Grey found herself to be the preferred alternative candidate for the throne.
In May 1553, as it it became clear that the King's health problems were terminal, Northumberland began making his moves, collaborating with Jane equally-ambitious father, the Duke of Suffolk. On May 21st Jane was married, against her wishes, to one of Northumberland's younger sons, Lord Guildford Dudley. The ailing King was easily persuaded that the throne should pass to his Protestant cousin Jane rather than Mary, leading him to draft an alternative "Divise for the Succession" that named Jane and heir future male heirs as his successors. This was an open and flagrant disregard for the succession law (the monarch could not contravene an Act of Parliament without passing alternate legislation beforehand) but Northumberland was able to pressure the Privy Council into supporting Jane's candidacy.
The Plan Unravels
Edward VI died on July 6th 1553 but Northumberland delayed the announcement in order to give himself time to put his grand plan into motion. On July 9th Lady Jane Grey was brought before the council at Syon House west of London, where she was told that Edward was dead and that she was now Queen. Jane was shocked but accepted her predicament and agreed to go along with it. The following day she was taken by barge down the Thames to the Tower of London, publicly proclaimed as Queen of England and, much to the annoyance of her in-laws, refused to recognise her husband as King. Northumberland had made a serious error of judgement, however, for in his haste to have Jane proclaimed Queen and solidify his power he had neglected the need to deal with Mary, who was away from London and free to challenge this most shocking turn of events.
The news of the virtually unknown Jane's proclamation as Queen did not go down well with the public at large, many of whom were sympathetic towards Mary and regretted the way in which her mother, Catherine of Aragon, had been treated by Henry VIII. Buoyed by overwhelming public support, Mary moved to one of her strongholds, Framlingham Castle in East Anglia, and began gathering the forces necessary to claim her throne. By July 12th she was on her way to London with more than 20,000 loyal supporters. NorthumberlandGuildford Dudley were arrested and remained confined in the Tower, having never left since they arrived on the 10th. Suffolk received a pardon but Northumberland was executed on August 22nd.
Jane and her husband were convicted of high treason but Mary, always reluctant to execute her political opponents, kept them alive at the Tower for several months. Their fate was ultimately sealed as a result of circumstances beyond their control, namely the Protestant rebellion of Thomas Wyatt against Queen Mary in January 1554. Suffolk's involvement in the uprising forced Mary to finally put her signature to his daughter's death warrant. On February 12th 1554 Jane and her husband were executed, with Suffolk's death following on the 23rd.
Monday, 29 August 2011
Reign: January 28th 1547 - July 6th 1553
Born: October 12th 1537
Died: July 6th 1553
Father: Henry VIII, King of England
Mother: Jane Seymour
Royal House: Tudor
The third monarch of the Tudor dynasty, Edward VI came to the throne of England aged just nine and, like his father Henry VIII, was determined to leave his own mark on a rapidly changing kingdom. Because he died after less than seven years on the throne and never reached maturity, his entire reign was dominated by the two men who served as regent: his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset (from 1547 to 1549) and John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland (from 1550 to 1553). Despite his young age and the presence of these powerful men, however, Edward himself proved to be a strong personality in his own right and ensured that he maintained an active role in his government.
The greatest legacy of Edward VI and his regents was their role in establishing Protestantism for the first time as the state religion of England, continuing the process that Henry VIII had begun by splitting the English church from Rome in the 1530s. Edward's devout and prudish Protestant faith, for which John Foxe referred to him as "the godly imp", defined the direction of religious policy and, as his health began to collapse later in his reign, prompted him and his Protestant cohorts to alter the succession in order to prevent Edward's Catholic half-sister Mary from succeeding him and undoing their hard work. They would ultimately fail to prevent Mary's accession but by then, England's Protestant Reformation had passed the point-of-no-return.
The Longed-For Son
Edward was born in October 1537 at Hampton Court Palace, the son of Henry VIII and his third Queen, the timid Catholic Jane Seymour. Henry's joy at the birth of a son, a son that he had divorced one wife, beheaded another and broken away from Rome to acquire, was cut short when Jane died of puerperal fever twelve days after Edward's birth. The Prince's early childhood was a lonely one without his mother or any other children around. That changed with the arrival on the scene of his father's sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr. Catherine got along well with the young Prince and, being Protestant, was probably among the first people to introduce him to the reformed faith. She was also instrumental in reconciling her husband with his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, and restoring them both to the succession behind Edward. Elizabeth was being brought up as a Protestant and subsequently got on fairly well with her half-brother but Edward's relationship with the much older Mary, who had retained the fervent Catholicism of her Spanish mother Catherine of Aragon, was understandably more distant and tense.
Arguably the most significant factor in Edward's moulding as a champion of Protestantism was his education. Henry VIII had taken the major step of removing Papal authority over the English church but he remained theologically conservative. As such, the church under Henry remained more-or-less Catholic in terms of its doctrine and ceremonies, with the commissioning of an English language Bible as the only significant change. Despite his own religious conservatism, Henry so it fit to entrust his heir's education to a group of Protestant humanists such as Richard Cox, Sir John Cheke and Sir Anthony Cooke. Exactly why Henry allowed Edward to be exposed to such radical opinions from a young age is unclear, although it may simply have been due to the fact that he was resigned to greater change taking place after his death. Edward's education was by no means limited to religion, however, and he eventually possessed a solid knowledge of various subjects, including mastery of three foreign languages (Latin, French and Greek) and an interest in reforming the English currency, which had become debased under Henry as a result of his need to fund the wars with France and Scotland in the 1540s.
The Somerset Protectorate
In his will, Henry VIII had arranged for a council of regency, consisting of sixteen nobles, to rule during Edward's minority. There was nothing in the will that allowed for any one person to serve as Protector or regent but ambition and intrigue amongst the senior nobility soon put an end to any efforts to establish rule by council. Towards the end of 1546, before Henry's death, the balance of power on the Privy Council decisively shifted in favour of the reforming faction. Two leading conservative councillors, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk were removed from their positions on the council. Norfolk was accused of treason and would spend the next seven years in the Tower of London, his vast estates being confiscated.
After Henry's death, an ambiguous "unfulfilled gifts" clause in his will allowed for the redistribution of the Norfolk estates amongst the pro-reform nobles on the Privy Council. One of the major beneficiaries was Edward's uncle Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford. As Henry had lay dying in January 1547, Seymour had moved his nephew to the Tower. Three days later the regency council met and agreed to give Seymour sovereign power as Lord Protector of the Realm. With Seymour now in total control of the council and the kingdom, the news of Henry VIII's death was made public. The accession of Edward VI was proclaimed and Seymour rewarded himself with the title Duke of Somerset.
|Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset|
Somerset had the regency council almost totally under his thumb during the first two years of Edward's reign, using his position to exercise almost absolute power with little input from the council. The only serious opposition to begin with came from his younger brother, Thomas Seymour. Thomas demanded a greater share of power for himself and, despite Somerset's best efforts to buy him off with titles and offices, schemed for influence by smuggling pocket money to the impressionable young King and claiming that Somerset was deliberately withholding his allowance from him. Thomas tried to persuade Edward to throw off Somerset as soon as possible and rule in his own right but Edward, having been taught to defer to the council on such important decisions, refused to co-operate. Thomas' next step was to marry his long-term love interest, Catherine Parr, whose household included the Lady Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey, a granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary.
What Thomas Seymour was up to became clear in the Summer of 1548 when a pregnant Catherine caught him embracing Elizabeth. Elizabeth was promptly removed from their household but, following Catherine's death in childbirth, Thomas attempted to resume the controversial courtship, even going so far as planning to marry the teenage Princess. Elizabeth was receptive to the idea but, like her half-brother the King, was unwilling to commit to anything without the say-so of the council. In January 1549 Thomas Seymour was arrested on various charges, including embezzlement, with King Edward personally giving evidence about the secret pocket money payments. As there was not enough evidence to merit a charge of treason, Thomas was instead condemned by Act of Attainder and beheaded on March 20th 1549, some six months before the downfall of his brother Somerset.
War and Religious Reform
Somerset's status at court depended upon his enviable reputation as a soldier. He had proven himself as an able commander during Henry VIII's later wars against the French and the Scots. He had played led the English army in the Scottish campaign of 1544 in which the English had tried to force a political marriage between Edward and the infant Mary, Queen of Scots, a campaign known as "The Rough Wooing". Following Henry's death and Edward's accession, Somerset resolved to continue the pursuit of this goal. His major motive to this end was to acquire a suitable dynastic match for the King as soon as possible in order to produce a Protestant heir and prevent the succession of the Catholic Mary, who had been designated as next-in-line in Henry's will.
Once his Protectorate in England had been established and secured, Somerset was quick to resume hostilities with the Scots. A crushing English victory at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in September 1547 was followed by further successes, with English garrisons being established as for north as Dundee. The English war effort began to lose direction, however, once the Scots called in the services of their traditional allies, the French. As Henry II of France sent reinforcements to bolster Scottish defences, Somerset's dream of uniting Britain by conquest became increasingly unlikely. Hopes of a marriage alliance were also dashed in 1548 when the Scots dispatched their Queen to France for betrothal to the Dauphin Francis. The cost of maintaining the garrisons in Scotland could not be met by the depleted English treasury and, following a French attack on Boulogne in August 1549, Somerset was forced to withdraw back over the border.
In England itself, Somerset's tenure in office marked the beginning of major religious reform. Evidence of Somerset's own religious convictions are sketchy but there is little doubt about the zealousness of King Edward's own faith. Edward's devotion was both passionate and totally observant, some say to the point of bigotry, and his intense Protestantism made further reforms obligatory. The real driving force behind the reforms was the one man who Edward trusted the most, the Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. It was under Cranmer's direction that the English church went from one that was still essentially Catholic to one that was institutionally Protestant.
|Bishop Hugh Latimer preaches to Edward VI at Whitehall.|
Edward's reign had begun with a drive to complete the seizure of church lands and suppression of religious orders that had begun under his father. The Abolition of Chantries Act of 1547 dissolved more than 2000 chantries and guild chapels, including the Order of St Stephen whose cannons had resided in the chapel at the Palace of Westminster. The empty chapel was given over to the House of Commons to use as their debating chamber, completing the transfer of the former royal palace (which had been vacated by Henry VIII in favour of nearby Whitehall) to Parliament and the law courts. The first year of Edward's reign also saw the repeal of his father's Act of the Six Articles which had reaffirmed the old Catholic doctrines on the English church, leaving it open to further reform.
With both the traditionalist reformers and the more radical Protestant zealots in Edward's court pushing for varying levels of reform, the changes kept coming in and soon began to effect church doctrine itself. The Lutheran principle of justification (salvation) by faith alone rather than through the Catholic notion of good works was adopted and communion in both kinds (both bread and wine) was introduced for the laity to participate in as well as the clergy. In an even more significant break with the past, the requirement for clergy to be celibate was abolished as were processions, ashes and palms.
Spurred on by the 1547 injunctions against religious images, Protestant purists encouraged the practice of iconoclasm, leading to the destruction of "Popish" icons, images and monuments in churches throughout the land. Shrines, stained glass and statues were destroyed, bells and crucifixes were taken down, the elaborate vestments traditionally worn by the clergy were prohibited and valuable church plate was melted down or sold off. Archbishop Cranmer, meanwhile, set himself the task of writing a uniform liturgy in English which detailed all the religious services and festivals to be made compulsory under the 1549 Act of Uniformity. The result, first introduced in January 1549, was the first Book of Common Prayer which Cranmer had intended as in initial compromise to suit those on both sides of the religious divide.
Rebellion and Somerset's Downfall
Protector Somerset, great a soldier though he was, had proven to be a less than able politician and administrator, alienating his colleagues on the regency council with his tactlessness and authoritarian exercise of power. By 1549 the debate over the ongoing religious reforms were threatening to spill over into open conflict as opponents of Cranmer's new prayer book voiced their discontent from all levels of society. Hardline Protestants criticised Cranmer's retention of certain Catholic elements such as vestiges of sacrificial rites at communion while Catholics and traditionalists attacked the way in which cherished rituals of the old liturgy were cast off. Those remaining top Catholic clerics who opposed the prayer book, such as Stephen Gardiner and Edmund Bonner, were imprisoned and deprived of their sees.
It was not just those in positions of power who had something to say about the changes. A great deal of discontent came from those who were to be affected most, the common people. There had been considerable social unrest in various parts of England during 1548 as people aired their religious and agrarian grievances. Things went a step further in June 1549 as the Catholics of Devon and Cornwall rose up in armed revolt against the religious reforms, an event known as the "Prayer Book Rebellion". The south west was one of those areas where traditional Catholicism had remained popular and the imposing of the reformed religion led to an explosion of anger and violence. The unrest spread throughout the region and led to several violent confrontation before Somerset's army of German and Italian mercenaries crushed the uprising at Stampford Courteney in August.
|John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland|
Whilst the Prayer Book Rebellion was still going on, a second armed uprising emerged, this time in Norfolk, in which a tradesman named Robert Kett led a campaign against what they perceived to be the illegal encroachment of landlords on common grazing ground. Initial royal attacks on the rebels failed but Kett's rebellion was eventually put down by troops under the command of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, with Kett being found guilty of high treason and hanged from the walls of Norwich Castle as an example to the populace. Both rebellions had reflected badly on Somerset and, despite the role he played in quashing them, the fact that they were allowed to happen at all was seen as a colossal failure of his government, especially in terms of his reluctance to take a more ruthless approach against the rebels and his perceived sympathy for their causes.
By October 1549, Somerset was aware that there was a serious challenge to his power and fled to Windsor Castle with the King. John Dudley orchestrated a coup against Somerset by getting the regency council to acknowledge the mismanagement of Somerset's regime. The Protector was arrested and dragged back to London where he was effectively removed from his post as Protector and imprisoned in the Tower on multiple charges of abuse of power and self-advancement. By February 1550 Dudley had emerged as the dominant figure on the council and was effectively Somerset's successor. Dudley took up the reins of government and had himself created Duke of Northumberland. Somerset was released and restored to the council but he was later accused of conspiring against Northumberland and beheaded in January 1552. King Edward's diary noted the execution of his uncle with his typical brand of cold indifference:
"The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off on Tower Hill between eight and nine o'clock this morning."
Under Northumberland's stewardship and Archbishop Cranmer's influence, Edward VI and his government pursued an even more intense programme of religious reform after 1550. As the precocious Edward grew older and understood more about the workings of government, he took a more active role as Supreme Head of the church and ensured that the programme of change did not defer from his haughty Protestant vision. Northumberland's style of government differed significantly from that of Somerset, however, because Northumberland did not have a blood relationship with the King to rely on and thus was more dependant on the support of the regency council. To ensure the council's backing Northumberland added those from his own faction to its ranks, as well as installing members of his own family in the royal household. Because of his clever management of the government, Northumberland was able to rule effectively without resorting to the authoritarian style of personal government that Somerset had preferred.
When it came to foreign and military policy, Northumberland took a much more cautious approach than Somerset, earning him criticism for apparent weakness despite the obvious fact that the English treasury did not have the money to maintain a state of war. In 1550 he signed a peace treaty with France and agreed to the complete withdrawal of the remaining English garrisons in Scotland. The English were also obliged to evacuate Boulogne under the terms of the treaty. This one again left Calais, a leftover from the Hundred Years War, as their only remaining toehold in continental Europe. On the home front, Northumberland kept loyal servants of the crown permanently stationed out in the rebellious provinces, ensuring that the government was able to stay on top of any further unrest.
Amongst Northumberland's major domestic achievements was the beginning of efforts to restore the kingdom's shattered finances. His first attempt to do so hit the skids after he gave in to the temptations of a quick profit and further debased the coinage. After this disaster Northumberland was obliged to hand over control of fiscal policy to the economics expert Thomas Gresham, leading to a restoration of confidence in the coinage by 1552. The economic recovery would not be complete for several more years but its foundations lay with Northumberland's policies and Gresham's near-miraculous intervention. The regime also earned acclaim from later historians for its efforts to crack down on embezzlement and reform revenue collection practices.
|Archbishop Thomas Cranmer|
Northumberland's religious reforms began with the Ordinal of 1550, which replaced the divine ordination of priests with a government-run appointment system. Progress was sped up significantly when Cranmer revised canon law rewrote the Book of Common Prayer over the Winter of 1551-52, presenting it in less ambiguous reformist terms. He also prepared a comprehensive doctrinal statement known as the Forty-Two Articles which clarified the practices of the reformed church, particularly on the highly divisive issue of the communion service. The new rules effectively abolished the old Catholic mass as they divested the communion service of any notion that Christ was actually present in the bread and wine. Instead the bread and wine was to merely represent the body and blood of Jesus, rejecting outright the core Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (the transformation of the bread and wine into Christ's actual body and blood after being taken). Cranmer's revised prayer book was published in 1552 along with a second Act of Uniformity, which historians such as G.R. Elton have noted as the event which "marked the arrival of the English church at Protestantism". Cranmer would not be able to implement his reforms fully, however, as in 1553 it became clear that King Edward, upon whom the entire English Reformation depended, was dying.
Illness, Death and the Altered Succession
Contrary to the established image of a sickly boy King, Edward VI was in fact a reasonably healthy child for most of his life. In was only in his last year or so that his health began to fail, precipitating a political crisis as he the Protestant establishment did everything in their power to prevent the Catholic Mary, who Edward had done much to antagonise throughout his reign, from succeeding to the throne and returning England to the buxom of Rome. To bar Mary from the throne in favour of another candidate would mean going against the legally-binding will of Henry VIII but this failed to deter either Edward or Northumberland, who resolved to protect the new Protestant state.
Fully aware of the prospect of a Catholic succession, Northumberland had laboured to find a dynastic match for Edward but the King was struck by both measles and smallpox in 1552, making him less of a desirable catch. Edward recovered but in February 1553 he fell ill again with a mysterious coughing illness that became steadily worse. By May, after several recoveries and relapses, Edward was coughing up blood and stinking black mucus, suggesting that he was suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. It was clear to all that the young King was dying and that Mary's accession was only a matter of time.
|Lady Jane Grey|
In a desperate and almost certainly illegal attempt to keep Mary off the throne, Edward drafted a document called "My Divise for the Succession" which passed over the claims of both his half-sisters and settled upon the Protestant Lady Jane Grey, his first cousin once removed. Northumberland stood to benefit from this arrangement as Lady Jane had married his son, Lord Guildford Dudley, on May 21st. It was most likely pressure from the Protector that caused Edward to alter the divise to allow for the succession of Jane herself rather than just for her "heires male". Northumberland and the ailing King spent much of June securing the support of the Privy Council for the altered succession. French diplomats indicated that Henry II was also keen on the idea as the French were uncomfortable with the prospect of England being ruled by Mary, who was a cousin of their continental rival, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
On June 21st Northumberland secured over a hundred signatures from notable peers, councillors, Bishops, Archbishops and sheriffs backing the altered succession. The gravely ill Edward made his final public appearance on July 1st, showing himself at his window in Greenwich Palace and shocking onlookers with his thin and wasted condition. Five days later he finally gave up the fight and died, aged just fifteen. According to John Foxe, the King's last words were: "I am faint. Lord, have mercy upon me and take my spirit."
Edward VI was laid to rest in the Henry VII Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey on August 8th 1553, with Archbishop Cranmer performing the reformed funeral rites. Edward's was the first Protestant royal funeral and it showed just how much the country had changed in his brief reign. By the time the mortal remains of the "godly imp" were interred, however, his grand divise for a Protestant succession was already in tatters and Lady Jane Grey was a prisoner in the Tower of London, kept there at the pleasure of Queen Mary I.
Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Reign: April 21st 1509 - January 28th 1547
Born: June 28th 1491
Died: January 28th 1547
Father: Henry VII, King of England
Mother: Elizabeth of York
Catherine of Aragon (1)
Anne Boleyn (2)
Jane Seymour (3)
Anne of Cleves (4)
Catherine Howard (5)
Catherine Parr (6)
Mary I, Queen of England
Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset (illegitimate)
Elizabeth I, Queen of England
Edward VI, King of England
Royal House: Tudor
Burial: St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle
Henry VIII is almost certainly the most well-known of all English rulers. Although much of this recognition is due to the treatment he meted out towards his wives and the church, he is also known for they way in which he embodied the spirit of the age. He was the archetypal Renaissance Prince, well educated, fluent in three languages and possessing an extensive range of talents. Henry began his reign as a glamorous athletic youth in charge of a wealthy and secure kingdom left to him by his astute father. By the time of his death nearly 38 years later, he had become an aged, temperamental and bloated tyrant who, by splitting the English church from Rome, had left England isolated from most of Europe. In his later years, having got rid of those great men who traditionally made the big decisions for him, Henry developed an ambitious but ultimately unworkable notion of absolute kingship that would come back to haunt the monarchy a century later.
Henry VIII was born in June 1491 at Greenwich Palace. As the second son of the Tudor King Henry VII, Prince Henry, Duke of York was not brought up to rule. That distinction fell upon his older brother Arthur, Prince of Wales. Arthur’s sudden death in 1502 changed everything and the young Henry found himself thrust into the role of his father’s heir. Even at the age of just eleven, Prince Henry was already a striking figure: handsome, flame-haired and almost as tall as his father. As well as enjoying his sporting and athletic pursuits, Henry was also passionate about religion and was an avowed supporter of the Roman Catholic Church. Before becoming heir to the throne, it had been expected that he would go on to a career in the church.
Shortly after Prince Arthur’s death, Henry VII moved to have Prince Henry, by now his only surviving son, betrothed to Arthur’s widow Catherine of Aragon in order to protect England’s recently established alliance with her parents, the illustrious Spanish monarchs Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. Papal dispensation for Catherine’s remarriage was granted but Isabella’s death in 1504, followed by the accession of Catherine’s older sister Joanna and her Habsburg husband Philip of Burgundy, threw the integrity of the Spanish alliance into doubt. This turn of events effectively brought the House of Habsburg to power in Spain and Catherine was no longer a desirable bride. Her marriage to Prince Henry was subsequently postponed and she remained on the sidelines until after Henry VII’s death, which came on April 21st 1509.
The Young King
After his miserly old father had breathed his last, the seventeen-year-old Prince succeeded to the throne of England as King Henry VIII. Considering that the House of Tudor had only taken the crown fairly recently following decades of dynastic conflict, it says much for Henry VII’s efforts to secure political stability that the succession proceeded without incident or opposition. The new King’s grandmother, Margaret Beaufort attempted to establish a regency but it was quickly agreed that no such thing was necessary. Within two months Margaret was dead and the rule of Henry VIII was unchallenged. On June 11th 1509 the King married Catherine of Aragon and the couple were crowned at Westminster Abbey on June 23rd, five days before Henry’s eighteenth birthday.
|A young Henry VIII|
Thanks to his father’s avoidance of war and penny-pinching fiscal policies, Henry VIII was one of the few English monarchs to inherit a kingdom with money in the bank. His attitude to money and power was akin to a child let loose in a sweet shop, blowing his vast inheritance on lavish parties, building projects and jousting tournaments. Henry was particularly fond of palaces, proceeding to build and acquire many more to add to the dozen that he inherited. Although lacking the trademark austerity of his father, Henry was just as ruthless and knew exactly what he needed to do to make himself even more popular and secure. One of his first acts after becoming King was to order the arrest of his father’s hated ministers, Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley. The two men, hated by the populace for their roles in Henry VII’s strict tax-and-fines regime, were charged groundlessly with high treason, sent to the Tower of London and executed. They would not be the last servants of the crown to fall foul of Henry’s ingratitude.
Henry was initially uninterested in the day-to-day affairs of his government, preferring to delegate responsibility to trusted advisers from the church and nobility such as William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey (later Duke of Norfolk) and Bishop Richard Foxe. By 1515 Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the son of an Ipswich butcher, had become Henry’s chief minister and would dominate the court for some fifteen years. Having freed himself from the responsibilities of running the kingdom, Henry was therefore free to indulge in his various hobbies, as the Venetian diplomat Sebastian Giustiani reported in 1519:
“He is very accomplished and a good musician; composes well; is a capital horseman, and a fine jouster; speaks good French, Latin and Spanish; is very religious... He is extremely found of hunting... He is also fond of tennis, at which game it is the prettiest thing to see him play; his fair skin glowing through a shirt of finest texture.”
Henry in Europe
Although he had little interest in domestic matters, there was one aspect of government in which Henry VIII was only too keen to get directly involved. His father’s foreign policy had been impressive in its achievements but was mostly defensive, with the aim of avoiding war in order to secure the Tudor dynasty and, above all, save money. Henry himself, however, was more inclined to throw his weight around in Europe in order to have England, long dismissed by other rulers as an insignificant backwater on the fringes of Europe, recognised as a truly great power.
Henry immediately threw himself into a series of military campaigns in Europe, supported by the full coffers of the crown. He supported his father-in-law Ferdinand of Aragon against the Moors in 1511 and later joined Spain and Venice in Pope Julius II’s Holy League against France. This move did much to antagonise the Scots who, as a long-time ally of France, made it very clear that war could be the only outcome if Henry remained in the Holy League. Henry ignored the warnings and led an expeditionary force to Calais in June 1513, leaving Catherine of Aragon to serve as regent in his absence. He was not entirely dismissive of the Scottish threat, however, and ensured before he left that England was ready to receive her northern neighbour in the "traditional" fashion.
|James IV of Scotland|
Just as Henry had anticipated, his brother-in-law James IV took the opportunity presented by his absence to invade England. In September 1513 he encountered the English army of Thomas Howard, sent by Henry to counter the expected invasion, in Northumberland. The resulting Battle of Flodden was a total victory for the English, with James and much of the Scottish nobility slain. It is not known exactly how James met his demise, although the story of him being blown up by a backfiring cannon is one of the more popular ones. The Scottish King’s blood-stained coat was recovered and sent to Henry by Catherine as a war trophy. As the new King James V was only a year old, his mother, Henry’s older sister Margaret, became regent of Scotland, ensuring that the Scots' relationship with England remained stable for the time-being.
Over in France, Henry was enjoying successes of his own. He led successful sieges as Thérouanne and Tournai whilst his army scored a victory at the Battle of the Spurs, named for the speed at which the French turned and fled. Shortly afterwards, Cardinal Wolsey negotiated a peace treaty with the ailing French King Louis XII, the terms of which included the marriage of Louis to Henry’s younger sister Mary. The marriage took place in August 1514 but Louis died a few months later. Mary then ran off and married Henry’s close friend Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, much to Henry’s annoyance. Mary and Brandon eventually earned a pardon following the payment of a fine and were allowed to stay together. They would subsequently become the grandparents of Lady Jane Grey.
Despite the great military successes, Henry’s efforts to expand his influence through political means were less straightforward. His early diplomatic manoeuvrings were incredibly ambitious and, predictably, met with little success. When Pope Leo X died in 1521, Henry unsuccessfully lobbied for Cardinal Wolsey to be chosen as his successor. Two years earlier, following the death of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, Henry had put himself forward as a candidate for the elected office. Unfortunately for Henry, he totally underestimated the iron grip which the House of Habsburg held over the Imperial throne. Maximilian’s grandson, the young King Charles I of Spain (son of Joanna and Philip and nephew of Catherine of Aragon), was duly chosen by the German Princes and became Emperor Charles V.
|Francis I of France|
With both the Spanish and Holy Roman Empires in his pocket, Charles V bestrode the world like a colossus in the early 16th Century. Henry, on the other hand, was left fuming over his inability to make an impression on Europe. It was probably this desperation to get more involved in European affairs that brought Henry into contact with the new French King, Francis I. Like Henry, Francis was young, athletic, multi-talented and eager to prove himself. Thanks to his skillful diplomatic manoeuvring, Cardinal Wolsey was able to arrange a spectacular summit meeting between the two monarchs, which took place in June 1520 at Guisnes, near Calais. The grandiose occasion became known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold due to the amount of extravagance on display, including a temporary wood and canvas palace, covering an area of 12,000 square yards, which was built to accommodate Henry and his household for the duration of the festivities. Both sides played a constant game of one-upmanship during the event, taking each other on in jousting tournaments and wrestling matches. Henry and Francis even faced each other in the ring, an encounter which Francis won by tripping his English counterpart. Another peace treaty between the two countries was agreed but it too turned out to be short-lived.
The King’s Great Matter
Henry VIII’s European ambitions were matched only by his dynastic ambitions. What he wanted above all was a son so that the Tudor dynasty would remain secure. Catherine of Aragon came from famously fertile Spanish stock so the prospects were good. Catherine did her duty and became pregnant several times. The first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage but on New Year’s Day 1511, Catherine gave birth to a son. The news of Prince Henry’s birth sent the King giddy with unreserved glee and he ordered joyful proclamations to be issued across the land announcing the new arrival. Unfortunately for the royal couple, the celebrations were cut short when the Prince suddenly died after just seven weeks. Henry was utterly devastated by the loss as was Catherine, who sparked fears for her health due to the long periods she spent mournfully kneeling at prayer on the cold stone floor of her chapel.
The next child was also a son, also named Henry and also died soon after birth. The arrival of a healthy child finally came in 1516 but, much to the King’s chagrin, it was a girl. The Princess was christened Mary and her birth went some way towards reassuring Henry that he would someday have a son. In 1519 a healthy son named Henry FitzRoy (“FitzRoy” being French for “son of the King”) was born to Henry but it was his mistress, Elizabeth Blount, and not Catherine who was the mother. FitzRoy was the only illegitimate offspring that Henry recognised as his own, which he did by bestowing upon the boy the old Lancastrian dukedoms of Richmond and Somerset. FitzRoy died in 1536 at the age of seventeen.
|Catherine of Aragon|
As the 1520s wore on, and with only a daughter and an illegitimate son to his name, Henry began to become increasingly anxious over the absence of a proper male heir. Catherine’s unfortunate run of miscarriages continued and, with her being some five years older than Henry, it seemed increasingly unlikely that she would have anymore surviving children. In 1526 Catherine turned forty and Henry was resigned to the fact that there was to be no son by her. The prospect of being succeeded by a girl was unthinkable and Henry soon began to look for a way out of his marriage so that he could try again for a son with someone else. He soon became infatuated with Anne Boleyn, the sister of one of his mistresses. Sensing an opportunity, Anne played the innocent and refused Henry her sexual favours, saying that she would only sleep with him if she were his wife and Queen. This only served to strengthen Henry’s desire for a divorce.
“And if a man shall take his brother's wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother's nakedness; they shall be childless.”
Exactly when Henry came across this particular Bible quote is unclear but it came to form the basis of Henry’s case against the validity of his marriage to Catherine. Henry put forward his argument that Catherine’s first marriage to his older brother Arthur had in fact been consummated and therefore the late Pope Julius II was wrong to grant the dispensation allowing her to marry Henry. Catherine, desperate to safeguard her position and the succession rights of her daughter Mary, argued the contrary; saying that she had not slept with Arthur and that therefore her marriage to Henry was totally legal. The request for an annulment went out to Pope Clement VII in Rome but the process was incredibly slow. At this point the Catholic Church had more important things to worry about.
At the same that Henry was pursuing a solution to his “Great Matter”, the whole of Christian Europe was being torn apart by the whirlwind kick-started in 1517 by a German preacher and scholar named Martin Luther. That year Luther went public with his Ninety-Five Theses, in which he attacked what he perceived as the corruptions and bad practices of the Catholic Church. His teachings quickly developed into an alternative form of Christianity in which people were answerable only to God and not to any earthly authority (i.e. the Pope). The cornerstones of his vision were the salvation of the soul through faith alone, rather than through the various “good works” advocated by the Catholic Church, and the establishment of the Bible as the final authority on theological matters.
Despite the best efforts of the Catholic authorities to silence Luther and other early reformers such as Huldrych Zwingli, this new Christian ideology, known as Protestantism, caught on in northern Europe and soon became a serious threat to Papal dominance. During the 1520s the countries of Scandinavia broke with Rome and established their own state-controlled national churches based on Luther's teachings. Those teachings had an even more monumental impact in Luther's homeland. Several key German Princes embraced the new Protestant faith, dividing the Holy Roman Empire along religious lines and placing Charles V, whose position as Emperor required him to act as the “Secular Sword Arm” of the papacy, in a very awkward situation.
As continental Europe split into two armed camps and looked set to slip into all-out religious conflict, Henry VIII, always a staunch conservative when it came to theological matters, initially remained loyal to the papacy and suppressed any attempts to introduce the reformed religion in England. In 1520 the King, and Bishop John Fisher co-wrote the European bestseller Defence of the Seven Sacraments in which he viciously attacked Martin Luther and his ideas. In recognition of his good work, Pope Leo X awarded Henry with the title Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) in 1521. All subsequent English and British monarchs would continue to use that title, somewhat ironically, right up until the present day.
|Emperor Charles V|
By 1527, Henry’s mission to divorce Catherine was in full-swing and, despite the delays and red tape, was hopeful that he and the similarly anti-Lutheran Pope Clement VII would eventually be able to come to some sort of amicable arrangement. However, news then arrived from Europe which forced Henry to rethink his strategy. That year the Imperial forces of Charles V invaded the Italian peninsula, sacked the city of Rome and placed Clement under house arrest. The Sack of Rome, as it became known, was just one of many actions in the ongoing struggle between Charles and Francis I for dominance over Italy and the papacy but it would turn out to have profound implications in England. With the Pope now firmly under the thumb of Catherine’s nephew, the chances of Henry getting his divorce by normal means were essentially nil.
The affair dragged on for another six years, with both sides deadlocked and refusing to budge an inch. An increasingly weak Pope Clement, intimidated by Charles V and overwhelmed by the Protestant Reformation, did not refuse Henry’s request outright, instead playing for time by setting up a commission to review the case. Cardinal Wolsey became the scapegoat for Henry’s failure to wrest an annulment from Rome and inevitably fell out of favour with the King, losing his coveted position of Lord Chancellor to the humanist scholar Sir Thomas More. In 1530 Henry seized Wolsey’s property for himself. The Cardinal himself died soon afterwards while on his way to London to hear the treason charges which the King had brought against him.
The Break with Rome
Wolsey’s downfall allowed for the rise of Thomas Cromwell, a Lutheran sympathiser, to prominence. It was Cromwell, inspired by the examples set in Scandinavia, who first suggested the idea of separating the English church from Papal authority. Henry was not keen on the idea of leaving his beloved Catholic Church but Cromwell persevered and he eventually managed to convince the King that there was no other way. If Henry were to assume control of the English church he would be able to grant himself the divorce that he sought but to defy the Pope was to risk eternal damnation and a potentially violent response from the Catholic powers of Europe. In 1533 Henry made his decision, one which would have a monumental impact on English history.
Having quickly obtained the submission and obedience of the English clergy, Henry VIII formalised the split from Rome and had himself proclaimed as “Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England, so far as the law of Christ allows”. Refusal to recognise the Royal Supremacy over the church became a treasonable offence punishable by death. Nevertheless there were still those who could not accept the change and met their end as a result. Among them was Henry's former close confidante Bishop John Fisher, who refused to even contemplate a defiance of papal authority. Sir Thomas More was another, for he not only refused to acknowledge the Royal Supremacy but also would not support the King's efforts to divorce Catherine of Aragon. More was removed from the office of Lord Chancellor in 1532 and beheaded on charges of treason three years later, leaving Thomas Cromwell as the dominant force in Henry's regime.
Apart from the change of management, virtually nothing else was altered and the doctrine and ceremonies of the English church under Henry VIII remained essentially Catholic. Despite being himself a stickler for tradition. Henry did make some concessions to the reformist movement, the most obvious of which being the appointment of the Boleyn family’s Protestant chaplain, Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury. The general lack of change was due not only to Henry’s personal religious conservatism but was also due to his desire to make it clear that his problem was with the Pope and not with the church. Henry’s heart may have been set on a future reconciliation with Rome but the decision of Pope Clement’s successor, Paul III to excommunicate the English King made the split all but permanent. In 1539 Henry authorised the publication of the Act of the Six Articles, which reaffirmed the church doctrines inherited from Catholicism.
With the obstacles removed, Henry was able to grant himself a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. In January 1533 he secretly married a now-pregnant Anne Boleyn. Four months later, Archbishop Cranmer pronounced that Henry’s marriage to Catherine null and void, allowing Anne to be publicly acknowledged as Queen. A Papal Bull declaring Henry’s divorce and remarriage illegal was ignored.
Dissolution and Revolt
Henry VIII's assumption of royal control over the English church allowed for one of the most well-known and controversial actions of his reign. The church remained the largest landowner in England due to the vast holdings of its 800 monasteries, nunneries and other religious houses. Thomas Cromwell believed that all this property made the monastic community too powerful and likely to lead any pro-Catholic resistance to change. Henry was not particularly concerned about monastic resistance but his new position as head of the church placed the lucrative monastic lands temptingly within his grasp. In 1535 Henry ordered Cromwell to undertake an investigation into the state of England's religious houses.
Cromwell's findings led to Parliamentary legislation in 1536 that suppressed the smaller religious houses for economic reasons. The closure programme, known to history as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, soon snowballed until there were virtually no institutions left in England by 1540. Across the land monks were turfed out and the great abbey churches were smashed and plundered for building materials, leaving behind the sad ruins that still stand today as a lasting legacy to Henry's blatant opportunism. The monasteries' lands either ended up in the hands of the King or was sold off to local nobles and country gentlemen. The Dissolution marked the biggest change of property ownership in England since William the Conqueror's Norman land-grabs almost 500 years earlier. Even the dead were not safe as the shrines and relics of saints were smashed by Protestant mobs in acts of state-sanctioned iconoclasm. The tomb of Thomas Becket at Canterbury, for centuries England's leading place of pilgrimage, was destroyed in 1538 and the former Archbishop's bones were tossed onto a nearby rubbish tip.
|The ruins of Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire|
The closure of the monasteries and acts of Protestant iconoclasm, along with Henry's religious policy in general, caused considerable friction at a local level. The old ways of Catholicism and monasticism were firmly ingrained in the hearts of average Englishmen and many found the changes difficult to stomach. In October 1536 a popular rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in the north of England, spreading through Lincolnshire and Yorkshire under the command of Robert Aske, a London barrister. The rebels, protesting against the Dissolution and the enclosure of common land, proved to be a massive headache for Henry and showed up significant weaknesses in the power of the state.
After being initially taken aback, Henry's response to the Pilgrimage of Grace was to appear conciliatory. He diffused the rebellion by using the same method which had served his predecessors so well in the past, making concessions to the rebels that he had no intention of honouring. Aske and the other rebel leaders took the bait and the revolt ceased. The King soon went back on his word and launched a merciless crackdown. Robert Aske was hanged in chains from the walls of York whilst more than 200 others were also executed for their parts in the uprising. The punishments effectively crushed resistance to the closure programme in the provinces, allowing Cromwell's commissioners to shut down the remaining monasteries.
Chopping and Changing
Henry’s mood of joy over Anne Boleyn’s pregnancy turned to one of disappointment when she gave birth to a girl in September 1533. The arrival of the future Elizabeth I was followed by two stillborn children, reigniting Henry’s old concerns about the lack of a male heir. This put a strain on the royal marriage and must have undoubtedly been a major source of worry for Anne, who would have known that her position, and potentially even her life, was dependent on giving Henry a son. If she could not do that, there would be nothing to stand in the way of Henry getting rid of her and moving on to another wife.
Anne became pregnant once again in 1535, giving some cause for hope and putting some sparkle back in her uncertain union with Henry. When news reached the couple that Catherine of Aragon had died in early January 1536, the pair of them showed up at court dressed head-to-toe in yellow, the traditional Spanish colour of mourning, in an ironic display of joy at her passing. Disaster struck, however, when Anne's male child was miscarried on January 29th, the day of Catherine's funeral, after the Queen reacted with shock to the news that Henry had been seriously injured in a jousting accident. The King’s fall from his horse left him with a festering ulcer on his leg that refused to properly heal. Although Henry recovered to an extent, his wound prevented him from exercising and thus the accident marked the beginning of the sharp decline in his health and fitness, especially in terms of the excessive weight gain that would come to characterise him in his later years.
Anne’s failure to produce the desired son-and-heir left her dangerously vulnerable. By 1536 Henry had lost all interest in her. Her sharp wit and intelligence, which had done so much to attract Henry to her during their illicit courtship, were not suited to the submissive role expected of a Queen. Her un-ladylike personality, not to mention her Protestant-leaning religious outlook, soon began to grate on her husband, eventually leading him to believe that he had been tricked into the marriage by sorcery. Once a timid lady-in-waiting named Jane Seymour became the subject of Henry’s affections, Anne’s days were numbered. Believing the rumours of his wife’s supposed adultery, incest and witchcraft fed to him by her enemies at court, Henry had Anne and her brother George tried on charges of treason. The verdict was a foregone conclusion and Anne was executed at the Tower of London on May 19th 1536, five days after Archbishop Cranmer announced the dissolution of the royal marriage. Just eleven days after Anne Boleyn’s execution, Henry and Jane Seymour were married.
Jane Seymour was not the most attractive of ladies but her coy and submissive nature made her the perfect wife in Henry’s eyes. This image of perfection was completed when, on October 12th 1537, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. The birth of Prince Edward finally gave Henry the male heir that he had been longing for and Jane’s position as Henry’s wife and Queen seemed totally secure. Unfortunately for Jane she had been left greatly weakened by Edward’s difficult birth and quickly developed complications. She died twelve days later, leaving Henry utterly devastated. As the only one who gave him a son, Jane would remain the favourite of Henry’s wives and would go on to be interred alongside him in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Divorced, Beheaded, Survived
Although Henry now had a son, the Tudor succession was still not fully secure and there was a serious possibility that Prince Edward might not survive infancy. Henry was obliged to marry once again and Thomas Cromwell advised him to look abroad for a bride. The motivation behind the move was also political, as the split from Rome left England facing a possible invasion by either the French or Charles V. Henry needed allies in Europe and the Protestant German states were seen as a good place to start looking for a potential wife. Cromwell’s preferred choice was Anne, the sister of the Protestant Duke of Cleves. Henry’s German-born court painter, Hans Holbein the Younger, was dispatched to Cleves to paint Anne’s portrait, an image which Henry immediately fell in love with.
|Holbein portrait of Anne of Cleves|
Holbein’s portrait of Anne of Cleves may have pushed all the right buttons but a sense of disappointment prevailed at court when she arrived in England in January 1540. After meeting Anne in the flesh for the first time, Henry found her to be unattractive if not utterly repulsive. By then, however, the marriage arrangements had progressed beyond the point of no return and Henry was obliged to go through with it for the sake of securing the vital German alliance. The two were married on January 6th but the wedding bells had barely ceased ringing out when Henry began looking for a way out of his unwanted union with the “Flanders Mare”. The marriage was never consummated and both parties quickly agreed to an annulment. Anne may have been somewhat naive but she had enough common sense to realise that challenging Henry's wishes would only lead to trouble. As a reward for her compliance, Anne was given her own household and remained on good personal terms with the King. Thomas Cromwell was less fortunate and paid the ultimate price for his role in organising the Cleves marriage. He was beheaded on July 28th 1540.
On the same day that Cromwell met his end, the 49-year-old Henry VIII got married for a fifth time. This time the bride was Catherine Howard, a playful teenage cousin of Anne Boleyn and daughter of Lord Edmund Howard, the Duke of Norfolk's brother. Henry delighted in his young wife and she did much to cheer him up during the stage of his life where was becoming increasingly ill, bad-tempered, peevish and self-pitying. The smitten Henry believed Catherine to be a virgin without a history but the truth was that she had a less than chaste past. She soon tired of her much older and much larger husband, returning to former lovers like Francis Dereham and finding new ones such as Thomas Culpeper, one of the several dashing court gentlemen that Henry kept around as a reminder of his own former youth and vitality.
As a niece of the Duke of Norfolk, Catherine and her illicit dalliances soon became the focus of anyone seeking to damage the powerful Catholic Howard family. Archbishop Cranmer was one such person and he soon went to the King with his suspicions. Henry initially refused to believe it but the incoming accusations and confessions soon convinced him to put his signature to yet more death warrants. On December 10th 1541 Catherine’s lovers were executed, with Thomas Culpeper beheaded and Francis Dereham hung, drawn and quartered. Queen Catherine herself was beheaded on February 13th 1542. Several members of the Howard family were imprisoned in the Tower of London and had their property confiscated whilst the Duke of Norfolk himself, the man who had smashed the Scots at Flodden thirty years earlier, barely escaped the ultimate punishment after vigorously denying having had any knowledge of what was going on.
Henry's final marriage was born more out of the desire for companionship in his old age rather than out of lust or dynastic ambition. His choice was a twice-widowed 32-year-old named Catherine Parr, who he married on July 12th 1543. Catherine turned out to be a more than capable companion for the curmudgeonly old monarch, being able to converse with him on a wide range of subjects and keep his temper under control. She played an instrumental role in reuniting the fragmented Tudor royal family by reconciling Henry with his disowned daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. The passage of the 1543 Succession Act ensured the return of Catherine's stepdaughters, who had been disbarred after their respective mothers' downfalls, to the line of succession.
Henry might have been content with his sixth wife but her position was not totally secure. Catherine Parr was very much sympathetic to the reformed Protestant religion and was at often at odds with her conservative husband. Henry soon grew tired of Catherine's lecture-like debates on religion and the anti-reform faction at court sought to turn the King against Catherine, who they saw as a threatening influence. In 1546 an arrest warrant was drawn up for her but it somehow found its way to her before it reached the appropriate authorities. Catherine rushed to make her peace with Henry, managing to convince him that she only debated religion with him in order to take his mind of his painful ulcerous leg. Henry forgave her and, the next day, angrily chastised the armed guards that turned up to arrest Catherine as the royal couple took a garden stroll. It was a truly miraculous escape, and one which ensured that Catherine would remain married to Henry until his death.
Despite the personal turmoil brought about by his marriages, Henry VIII still ensured that he didn't take his eye off either international or domestic matters. The lack of any strong figures at court after the execution of Thomas Cromwell left the King free to pursue his grand vision of kingship almost without restriction or competition. He viewed the British Isles as his own personal empire and, with the typical absolutist gusto evident in the second half of his reign, sought to consolidate it. In 1536 he finished what Edward I had begun 250 years earlier by passing the Wales Act, which legally annexed Wales into England. Henry was unable to do the same thing with Ireland but he nevertheless had himself declared King (rather than Lord) of Ireland in 1542.
On the international scene, Henry kept a close watch on both France and Scotland. Although he attempted to reconcile his views with both James V and Francis I, he was never able to achieve this and relations soon broke down. Henry soon got fed up with the Scots and, with the death of his sister Margaret in 1541, had little reason to continue the peace which had prevailed since the Scottish defeat at Flodden. England and Scotland went to war in 1542, leading to more defeats for the Scots. Henry then forcefully pursued a marriage alliance between his son Edward and James V's infant daughter Mary, a campaign appropriately known as "The Rough Wooing". England concluded a peace treaty in July 1543 which stipulated the future marriage but the Scots never ratified it as James' court was dominated by pro-French nobles who undermined Henry's efforts. As a result, hostilities with the Scots would continue throughout the 1540s.
|Contemporary illustration of Henry VIII's flagship, the Mary Rose|
The last years of Henry's reign also saw further campaigns against the French, albeit with less success than had been enjoyed in his younger days. Henry himself campaigned in France over the Summer of 1544 but achieved nothing. A year later, a French fleet appeared off the Isle of Wight and looked poised to invade England. On July 19th 1545, as Henry watched from his vantage point on the south coast, the English fleet moved into the Solent to engage the French. Suddenly, to everyone's surprise and horror, the English flagship Mary Rose inexplicably rolled over and sank, taking most of her crew down with her. The less-than-glorious loss of the Mary Rose was a blow to the English navy and an embarrassment to Henry but the French got cold feet and their invasion force was ultimately driven off. Henry made peace with France in 1546, having effectively destroyed the English economy with his efforts to fund the conflict.
Henry VIII died on January 28th 1547, prematurely aged at 55. As well as his leg wound and increasingly morbid obesity, he was plagued in his later years by gout, dropsy and possibly even syphilis, all of which contributed to the general decline in his health and judgement. Having left behind a kingdom bankrupted by war and plagued by religious division, he was succeeded to the throne by his nine-year-old son, Prince Edward, who became King Edward VI.