In our September Book of the Month, author Dawn Ius has re-imagined England’s most infamous king as high school royalty. But what was the real Henry VIII like? We showed you more about the real Anne Boleyn earlier this week. Today, we’re bringing you the facts about the other half of this ill-fated couple.
Henry VIII: The Facts
- Born June 28, 1491
- Died January 28, 1547
- Ruled as King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547
- Second monarch of the Tudor dynasty, after his father Henry VII
- Most famous for his six wives & his role in breaking the Church of England away from the Catholic Church
- Mary I (ruled as Queen 1553-1558; died at age 42)
- Elizabeth I (ruled as Queen 1558-1603; died at age 69)
- Edward VI (ruled as King 1547-1553; died at age 15)
- Henry Fitzroy (illegitimate; died at age 17)
Henry’s older brother Arthur was originally meant to become king after their father, but died at the age of 15, just weeks after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Henry was ten-years-old at the time. Their parents decided that Henry would marry his brother’s widow — although Henry did not agree at first.
Following his father’s death and Henry’s succession to the throne, he finally agreed to marry Catherine. Henry was 18 when he became King of England in 1509.
Catherine and Henry struggled to have children at first; their first child — a girl — was stillborn. Their second child, a son, died at seven weeks old. That was followed by two more stillborn sons. Finally, Catherine gave birth to a healthy baby girl — Mary, who would go on one day to rule England as Queen.
Henry also famously had many mistresses during his marriage to Catherine — despite the marriage supposedly being pretty good. One of his most significant mistresses, Elizabeth Blount, was the mother of Henry’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. Steps were made to legitimize Henry FitzRoy and put him in line for the throne, but he died at age 17 (most likely from Tuberculosis) before Parliament voted on such legislation.
Henry Meets Anne
Henry was still married to Catherine when he met Anne Boleyn — who was one of his wife’s ladies-in-waiting. At the time, Henry was growing impatient with Catherine’s “inability” to produce a male heir — and was known for his many mistresses. But his infatuation with Anne went further, especially when she refused to become one of his mistresses.
Henry’s relationship with Anne inspired him to aggressively pursue an annulment to his marriage to Catherine, even claiming that their union never should have been allowed because she had previously been married to his brother. The battle over ending their marriage took a few years — and eventually, Henry took matters into his own hands when the Catholic Church refused to make a decision quickly enough, and broke the Church of England away from the Vatican.
As discussed earlier this year, Henry’s marriage to Anne did not last long — as Anne, too, failed to give Henry a son, and charges of adultery and treason were brought against her. Eventually, Henry had Anne executed — and a few weeks later, married wife #3.
Though we’re focusing on Anne here because she was the central figure in our Book of the Month, all of Henry’s wives have fascinating stories. Here’s a quick overview of the six wives, and the duration of their marriages to Henry:
Catherine of Aragon
Married to Henry in 1509; marriage annulled in 1533
Married to Henry in 1533–36; marriage ended in Anne’s execution in 1536
Married to Henry in 1536; marriage ended in her death in 1937 (Jane died as a result of complications of childbirth).
Anne of Cleves
Married to Henry in January of 1940; marriage annulled in July of that same year. Though married to him for only months, Anne would go on to outlive all of Henry’s other wives.
Married to Henry in 1540; marriage ended in Catherine’s execution in 1541
Married to Henry in 1543; marriage ended in Henry’s death in 1547
Although Henry is most famously associated with his six wives, his most lasting legacy is probably his role in separating the Church of England from the Catholic Church. Henry still upheld many Catholic ideologies, but appointed himself the head of the Church because he just really didn’t want to listen to the Pope.
Along with the Pope, Henry is also famous for his long rivalry with the King of France and the Emperor of Spain.
During his reign, Henry oversaw the legal union of England and Wales, and made some major changes to the English Constitution — perhaps most notably the idea of “divine right,” and his expansion of royal power, including the King’s control over the Church of England.
Henry was also famous for executing advisers — as well as his wives — who fell out of his favor.