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The Birth of King Henry VIII of England: A Man Never Meant to be King

Updated on February 12, 2014
Henry VIII was never destined to be King of England
Henry VIII was never destined to be King of England

King Henry VIII was born on June 28, 1491. He was the second son and third surviving child of King Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York. Never destined for the throne, Prince Henry Tudor was raised for a career in the clergy but all that changed on a fateful night in 1502 when his brother, Prince Arthur Tudor, the Prince of Wales, died. Henry VIII is known for two major things: having six wives and causing England to break away from Rome.

The Early Years of Henry VIII of England

When Henry VIII was born, there was much celebration but Henry VII had already had one son – Arthur Tudor. While Henry was the second heir to the throne, he was never raised to be King. He did gain a lot of responsibilities from a young age though. At the age of two he was made the Constable of Dover and then a year later the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Earl Marshal of England and Duke of York.

He was a very smart young boy, learning French and Latin to become fluent in them and some Italian. Apart from the appointments he gained, very little is known about Henry as a young boy. One story that was told was how Henry Tudor threw a tantrum shortly after his older sister marriage James IV of Scotland as she held a higher position than he.

When Arthur Tudor and Catherine of Aragon married in November 1501, Henry Tudor played an important role. He escorted Catherine down the aisle, since her father, Ferdinand II of Aragon, was unable to make the ceremony.

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Prince Henry Tudor Becomes First In Line to the Throne

In April 1502, Henry’s brother died. Arthur was just 15 at the time and it was heartbreaking for King Henry VII and his wife. It also caused problems for the Tudor monarch. The first task was to prepare Prince Henry for the role of King, which was not quite successful. Henry was made the Duke of Cornwall six months later and then the Earl of Chester and Prince of Wales in February of 1503. He was not allowed out in public and was under strict supervision, although did have some tasks; it was this that stopped him from being fully prepared for the role.

Now it was up to Henry VII to think quickly about how to maintain the marital alliance between Spain and England. The best way to do that was for Catherine of Aragon to marry Henry VIII. With King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella I of Castile in agreement, a treaty for the marriage was signed on June 23, 1503, and Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon were betrothed.

The two did not marry until Henry VII of England died in 1509. It was the death of Isabella in 1504 that stopped it, when Henry VII and Ferdinand II’s relationship deteriorated. The young Prince Henry rejected Catherine but it is possible that this was because of his father’s wish. The first thing that Henry VIII did after his father’s death was marry Catherine.

Henry VII ruled differently to his son
Henry VII ruled differently to his son

King Henry VIII Executes Two Men

King Henry VIII of England started his pattern of executions early. Just two days after his coronation, two of the more unpopular ministers of his father, Edmund Dudley and Richard Empson, were arrested and executed just a year later for high treason. It was a show of power for the young King and the way that Henry dealt with the majority of those who stood in his way. Some of the executions included those who possible had a strong claim to the throne than he, and those executions carried on until his dying day.

However, his view over the House of York was not as harsh as Henry VII. This is possibly out of his mother’s memory more than anything else, who was a Princess of York. The Marquess of Dorset and others were pardoned and released from the Tower, while others, such as Edmund de la Pole, were executed.

He also differed from his father when it came to finances and war. Henry VII had come from a time of war -- the War of the Roses. Henry VIII had never known that. When Henry VII took the throne, the country was close to poverty and had seen enough battles. He raised taxes for the rich and brought in more revenue, while staying away from as many battles as possible. On the other hand, Henry VIII loved to splash out when it came to finances and went to war with France on at least two occasions, and ended up in battles against Scotland. By the end of Henry VIII of England's reign, the country was back in some financial difficulties.

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Henry VIII’s Attempts for an Heir

Henry VIII needed an heir to his throne. He did not want his father’s attempts to die with him. Catherine of Aragon became pregnant very early into the marriage and by January 1510 she had given birth to a baby girl. Unfortunately for the couple, this baby was stillborn. While upset for the loss, Henry knew that there was still time for an heir and did not worry. On January 1, 1511, a boy was born! Prince Henry Tudor, named after his father, was the heir to the throne and there was much to celebrate.

Henry VIII did not have much luck though. The baby died at seven weeks old. This was not uncommon in the 16th century, which is why there was a need for such big families. Catherine continued to either miscarry, have stillborn or children who died early until 1516, when Princess Mary Tudor was born.

Henry soon realised that Catherine could not have any more children and that became part of the reason for Henry to seek a divorce and marry Anne Boleyn. In the end, Henry VIII married six wives but by the time of Henry’s death in 1547, he only had three children, Mary, Elizabeth (Anne Boleyn’s daughter) and Edward (Jane Seymour’s son).

Henry VIII and His Mistresses

It will come to no surprise for most to hear that Henry VIII had mistresses. This was not to provide an heir – illegitimate children could not take the throne (Mary and Elizabeth became two exceptions) – it was to keep Henry happy. However, at least one of these affairs did lead to a child, Henry Fitzroy.

The young Henry was born in June, 1519, when Henry VIII realised that an heir was less likely. Catherine had had her last stillborn in the November of the year before. Since the birth was a secret, the exact date is unknown and there is nothing about a christening, except that Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was the godfather.

This illegitimate son was born from an affair with Elizabeth “Bessie” Blout and was the only one that Henry actually acknowledged. It is possible that he feared he would never have an heir that he decided the best thing for the country was to acknowledge this son and place him in line for the throne. Unfortunately for Henry, his illegitimate son died in July 1536.

Another known mistress was Mary Boleyn, the sister of Henry VIII’s second wife. Mary had two children who may have been Henry’s but he never acknowledged them.

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Henry VIII Starts the Religious Reformation

It was because of Henry that the religious reformation started in England. However, he never quite brought it as far as the reformers wanted. Henry VIII was raised as a Catholic and believed that the reformers were heretics so it is no surprise that he struggled to bring in all aspects of the Protestant religion into England.

It was only because of Thomas Cromwell that the Henry started the reformation. Cromwell pointed out that Kings could have a direct relationship with God and there was no need for the Pope. This led to a series of statutes between 1532 and 1537 that would lead to the break from Rome. Henry VIII had support from Thomas Cranmer, who was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1532.

The reformation was put on hold shortly after the execution of Anne Boleyn and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. This led to the Six Articles, which meant that the reformation could go no further, despite Cromwell and Cranmer wanting it to. It wasn’t until Henry’s children, Edward and Elizabeth, that the reformers were able to get the religion that they wanted – it was only Elizabeth who managed to bring both religions together to create something that most English people could accept.

Edward VI was just nine years old when he had the weight of the country on his shoulders
Edward VI was just nine years old when he had the weight of the country on his shoulders

The Death of King Henry VIII of England

Henry is known for being obese but this didn’t happen until later in life. It was around 1536, when he suffered a jousting accident that nearly killed him, when troubles with obesity happened. Henry struggled with a leg wound, which aggravated a leg wound from previous years. It was difficult for doctors to treat and this was a problem for the rest of his life. As he couldn’t do as much activity, he was unable to burn off the calories that he ate and put on weight.

The lack of physical activity was also linked to his mood swings, which he suffered from more of later in his life. However, there are other psychological and medical problems that medical doctors and historians believe that he suffered from, including being Kell positive and suffering from Type II diabetes.

His obesity was linked to his death on January 28, 1547. Henry was just 55 years old, which was still relatively young for Kings then. There is very little noted about his death, other than that he died in Whitehall and was buried next to his third wife, Jane Seymour, in Windsor Castle. Incidentally, the same vault is the resting place for the Stuart monarch, Charles I.

Before his death, Henry VIII had ensured that all his children were placed in line of succession. Edward VI was the first, with his two illegitimate daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, afterwards. Henry never wanted the Scots to get their hands on the English crown and made sure his sister, Margaret’s children never had the chance at succession. Instead, the next in line for the throne were his younger sister’s descendents, Mary Tudor, Queen of France. This didn’t happen as Elizabeth left the crown in the hands of James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England.

Inside the Body of Henry VIII


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