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King Henry VIII Tudor of England (1509-1547) - life, wives and reign

The theme was inspired by watching television series "The Tudors". The film would be good for everyone, but the main characters remained forever young. They decided to make the king grow old only by the end of the series, when it was time to die. And before that, it seemed that his entire reign was within a couple of years, and not 38, as it really is. Well, in general, as it turned out, the appearance of the actors does not correspond to the real historical images at all. The most striking example, again, is the king himself, who in life pretty soon turned from a slender young man into a pot-bellied glutton, but practically did not change on the screen.

Interestingly, the private life of Henry VIII has always attracted more attention than his public activities. This is generally not surprising given the number of official wives. In those days, divorces were in principle extremely rare (not because people were more suitable for each other, but because the church forbade it), but Henry married six times.

So, let's look at the real portraits of our heroes. Here is the young man Henry VIII at the beginning of his reign.


Portrait of Henry VIII after his coronation in 1509 (age 18) Portrait of Henry VIII after his coronation in 1509 (age 18)


There might not have been a reign, since Henry had an older brother, Arthur, who was being prepared for the role of king of England. As part of this preparation, Arthur was married (1501) to Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Their Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.


First wife - Catherine of Aragon

Portrait of Catherine of Aragon (presumably) in 1502 (aged 16)Portrait of Catherine of Aragon (presumably) in 1502 (aged 16)


Six months after the wedding, in 1502, the heir to the throne, Arthur, died (he was 16 years old.) And Henry inherited not only the title of Prince of Wales, but also his brother's wife, since his father (King Henry VII) did not want to lose the benefits of dynastic marriage. The marriage took place only after the death of the old king in 1509 - delays interfered with the unpaid part of Catherine's dowry and the permission for the marriage of the Pope. The permission was granted, on the grounds that the marriage of Princess Catherine of Aragon and Arthur was never consummated due to the prince's physical weakness. Most likely, this is indeed true, since Henry VIII himself did not mind, until he needed to remember this. In general, the new English king acquired a crown and a wife almost simultaneously, and began to rule.

The first thing he did was disperse (by executing some) his father's old ministers, who interfered with the spending of money accumulated by the tightfisted Henry VII. Since these ministers were extremely unpopular among the people (which is not surprising - where did they get money from, if not from this very people?), They began to love the young king not only for his representative appearance (his height reached 187 cm - in order time is just a giant).

A small victorious war was missing. In 1513, the English army, led by the king, landed in France, where they fought with varying success, taking, however, several cities. This was the reason to launch a big propaganda hype about the grandiose defeat of the French (yes, and in those days it was in the order of things). During the absence of Henry, his wife Catherine of Aragon remained regent, and it was she who had the merit of a really big victory - over the invading Scots. King James IV of Scotland was killed in battle, and silence was established on the northern border for a long time. By the way, the wife of Jacob and the Queen of Scots was Henry's elder sister Margaret Tudor, who became the regent of the Scottish kingdom after the death of her husband. It was her descendant (great-grandson, King James VI of Scotland) who became, under the name of James I, the English king after the death of the last representative of the Tudor dynasty.


Portrait of Margaret Tudor Queen of Scots Portrait of Margaret Tudor Queen of Scots


In 1514, the dynastic marriage of another sister of the king (younger) Mary Tudor with the king of France, Louis XII, was concluded.


Portrait of Mary Tudor sister of Henry VIII, Queen of France, 1514 (age 18)Portrait of Mary Tudor sister of Henry VIII, Queen of France, 1514 (age 18)


The marriage did not last even three months - the 52-year-old French king died on January 1, 1515, as they said, unable to withstand excessive efforts in the bedroom. The young widow Maria, who prudently demanded from her brother Henry the right to marry for love, if she survived her first husband, immediately took advantage of this right by marrying Charles Brandon, the first Duke of Suffolk. It must be said that there were only two dukes in England at that time, so the party was, in general, quite decent. The problem was that the king, suspecting the couple's not entirely innocent relationship even before the wedding with Louis, sending Brandon to France as a guardian, took his word from him not to propose to Mary. Well, in fact, marriage by a member of the royal family without the permission of the king was treason.


Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon in 1516 (aged 20 and 34) Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon in 1516 (aged 20 and 34)


Brandon was a childhood friend of Henry and the king eventually forgave him, limiting himself to a temporary excommunication from the court and a fine (albeit a huge one).

At this time, the former confessor of Henry VII, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, gradually moved to the place of the first adviser to the king.


Portrait of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1526 (aged 53)Portrait of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1526 (aged 53)


From 1515 to 1529 Wolsey served as Lord Chancellor and it is believed that it was he, and not the king, who determined the policy of England at that time. He was reproached for "artistry"(he was the son of a butcher) and bribery. The first, by today's standards, speaks only of perseverance and talent, but the second is difficult to credit. By the end of his career, the cardinal had amassed a huge fortune, including through receipts from abroad - they, of course, had to be worked out by influencing the foreign policy of England.
In 1520, through the efforts of the cardinal, peace was concluded with France, which culminated in the meeting of the kings of England, Henry VIII and France, Francis I, on the so-called "Golden Brocade Field"near Calais. A whole city was built on a wasteland from frames covered with precious fabric. The two kings and their huge retinues enjoyed themselves for two weeks. This celebration has punched a huge hole in the already dying state budget.

But Henry had other worries. Marriage, which suited him perfectly in his youth, now weighed heavily on the king. Queen Catherine suffered many unsuccessful pregnancies, but of her six children, only her daughter Maria (1516) survived.


Portrait of Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon at 19 (1535)

Portrait of Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon at 19 (1535)


Catherine was never distinguished by cheerfulness, and these trials led to even greater religiosity. In addition, with age, she became very stout.


Portrait of Catherine of Aragon in 1525 (aged 40) Portrait of Catherine of Aragon in 1525 (aged 40)


The king did not lack mistresses, one of them even bore him a son - Henry Fitzroy (1519). It was not the lack of female attention, but the absence of an heir. And then Henry fell in love with Anne Boleyn, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting.


Second wife - Anne Boleyn

Portrait of Anne Boleyn in 1534 (age 33)Portrait of Anne Boleyn in 1534 (age 33)


By all accounts, Anna was never beautiful. But you can’t refuse her prudence - unlike the king’s previous passions, she told him that close relationships are possible only after an official marriage. In fact, it still happened a little earlier, but then the king was already up to his neck in his "Great Cause", as they began to call the divorce process with Catherine of Aragon. For this, he had to quarrel with the whole world and even come up with a new religion.
At first, they tried to get the Pope's consent to a divorce amicably, stressing that the king suddenly felt the impossibility of cohabitation with his brother's wife, which is a direct prohibition in the Bible (isn't this the reason for all the problems with the birth of an heir?). But the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, who at that time was the de facto master of Italy (Catherine of Aragon was his aunt), put pressure on the Pope.
As a result, the victim in this case was Wolsey, who, contrary to his promises, failed to persuade the Pope. In 1529, the cardinal was deprived of his posts and sent into exile, and died a year later.


Portrait of Henry VIII in 1326 (age 35)Portrait of Henry VIII in 1326 (age 35)


The place of Cardinal Wolsey as Lord Chancellor was taken by Thomas More, a famous philosopher and humanist, author of Utopia.


Portrait of Thomas More in 1527 (aged 49)Portrait of Thomas More in 1527 (aged 49)


More tried to refuse, because he was opposed to divorce without the permission of the Pope, namely, this was the case, but it was impossible to resist the king.

The solution to the divorce problem was suggested by the new adviser to the king, Thomas Cromwell, the former secretary of Wolsey. The idea was simple to genius - since the head of the church does not want to support the king, then the king himself will become the head of the national church and will no longer need the approval of the Pope.
This combination, in addition to liberation from the power of Rome, made it possible to replenish the treasury with the property of the Catholic Church in England. For this, they dug up an ancient law, according to which a person who obeys a foreign citizen is a traitor and is subject to appropriate punishment, and his property is confiscated. According to this law, all Catholic priests turned out to be traitors, as they obeyed a foreigner - the Pope.


Портрет Томаса КромвеляPortrait of Thomas Cromwell in 1532-1533 (aged 67)


Cromwell had another good reason for reorganizing the church, a personal one - he was a staunch Protestant. The ideas of the Reformation had long been popular in England and there were quite a lot of Protestants, so that even such radical measures had many supporters. Moreover, the lands confiscated from the church were distributed to the nobles who supported the king. And for the common people, the Bible became available in English.
In 1532, Parliament appealed to the king, calling him the only protector against the abuses of the priests.
In January 1533, Henry VIII secretly married Anne Boleyn, who, by this time, was already pregnant. Thomas More resigned. In 1533, the Archbishop of Canterbury died and his place was taken by the reformist Thomas Cranmer, who, a month and a half later, annulled Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon and declared the king's new marriage to Anne Boleyn legal.


Портрет архиепископа Томаса КранмераPortrait of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1545 (aged 56)


A few days later, Anne Boleyn was crowned. In the same year, her daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was born. In 1534, Parliament passed the "Act of Supremacy", which recognized the king as the supreme head of the Church of England. It was followed by the Act of Treason, according to which persons who refused to recognize the Act of Supremacy were considered traitors, and the Act of Succession, which recognized the children of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn as the legitimate heirs.


Елизавета Тюдор, дочь Генриха VIII и Анны Болейн

Child portrait of Elizabeth Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn


All representatives of the noble estates of the kingdom were required to take an oath confirming the approval of the new laws. Those who did not do this automatically became traitors to the state and were subject to the appropriate punishment - hanging (not to death), then castration, gutting, burning their entrails in front of them, quartering and decapitation. Thomas More and one (!) of the hierarchs of the church, Bishop Fisher, refused to take the oath and were executed, although, as an exception, they simply cut off their heads.

Such a difficultly prepared marriage turned out to be short-lived. Over the next two years, the Queen suffered two miscarriages. Heinry began to feel that the previous curse was being repeated.
In January 1536, Catherine of Aragon died, and six months later Anna Boleyn was executed on charges of adultery and, accordingly, treason. She was accused of having an intimate relationship with several men, including her own brother. Before her death, she swore that there was nothing like this and, most likely, this is true. It's just that she was already tired of both the king (he got a new mistress - Jane Seymour) and Cromwell (because, by virtue of natural authority, she interfered in state affairs).
Henry stated that he had been bewitched, as evidence of which a clear sign of a witch was given - Anna had a vestige of the sixth finger on her hand. One way or another, she turned against herself very many - both as a result of the "affair"of Catherine of Aragon, and because of an immoderate love of luxury, and simply because of her obstinate and arrogant character.


Third wife - Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour was first Catherine's lady-in-waiting, then Anna's, and, by all accounts, was the exact opposite of the latter - both in appearance and in character.


Portrait of Jane Seymour in 1536 (aged 28)Portrait of Jane Seymour in 1536 (aged 28)


The day after Mary's execution, the king secretly became engaged to Jane, and 10 days later the official ceremony followed. The new queen was a Catholic, but did not try to influence religious politics in any way, focusing only on family matters. She was very eager to reconcile Henry with her daughters (there was no quarrel as such, it’s just that the king now considered both Anna and Elizabeth to be illegitimate children, so they did not appear at court). In general, not a single bad memory of the new queen has been preserved.
True, Jane was queen for just over a year. She died of puerperal fever two weeks after the birth (October 12, 1537) of the long-awaited heir, Edward. The birth was difficult and long. It was rumored that the doctors suggested that the king choose who to save - the mother or the child, and he chose the child ...


Portrait of Edward Tudor, son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour

Portrait of Edward Tudor, son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour


Now there was an heir, but one son was not enough - children then died very often. Therefore, the search for a new wife for the king immediately began, at the insistence of Cromwell, in the Protestant states in order to have allies against the emperor and France. By the way, Henry was already 49 years old. He had long been tormented by a constantly festering ulcer on his leg, which emitted a terrible smell. As a result, he moved less and less, and ate the same amount. The result was not slow to affect - by the age of 50, his waist circumference was 132 cm, and his weight was about 130 kg, and his subjects called him "Big Harry"behind his back.


Portrait of Henry VIII in 1537 (aged 46)Portrait of Henry VIII in 1537 (aged 46)


At the same time, he still considered himself irresistible, so the reaction of potential brides offended him.
The young and beautiful Duchess of Milan refused such an honor, bluntly stating that she did not want to follow the previous wives.
The French, who were asked to gather suitable candidates somewhere near Calais so that the king could choose a bride to his liking, simply laughed, suggesting that Henry might want to try these candidates. As a result, the search for brides was at the mercy of Cromwell, who found what he was looking for in the Protestant duchy of Cleve. The court painter Hans Goldbein was urgently sent there, and, after a while, the portrait was delivered to the king.
Henry liked the portrait very much and preparations began for the next wedding.


Fourth wife - Anne of Cleves

Portrait of Anna of Cleves in 1539 (aged 25) Portrait of Anna of Cleves in 1539 (aged 25)


At the end of 1539, the bride arrived in England, the impatient king rushed to meet her and was terribly disappointed, not finding any resemblance to the original portrait. Calling the bride a "Flemish mare,"he ordered the lawyers to look for a reason to terminate the contract. There were no good reasons and had to get married.
The portrait, made a year later by another artist, confirms that Goldbein really embellished a little, although not much. Most likely, the newlyweds had some kind of physiological incompatibility, especially since the king constantly said that the queen “smells bad” and he cannot even force himself to perform marital duties.


Portrait of Anna of Cleves in 1540 (aged 26)Portrait of Anna of Cleves in 1540 (aged 26)


It is curious that Goldbein got away with this story, but Cromwell did not - he was accused (not of organizing an unsuccessful marriage, of course, but of treason) and executed in the middle of 1540.

Anna of Cleves liked life in England, she dressed up, gambled and participated in other entertainments that were not available in the boring Duchy of Cleves. It seems that the lack of intimacy with the king did not bother her much either. The only thing that bothered me was the real opportunity to go after Queen Anne. However, this time everything worked out. In June 1540, the queen was asked to agree to an annulment in exchange for a substantial compensation and the title of "the king's favorite sister". She happily agreed and, until her death in 1557, enjoyed unprecedented of that time for a woman freedom and universal respect.

And the king already had a new bride in mind - Kate (Catherine) Howard, niece of the Duke of Norfolk, one of the two existing Dukes of England (the second was Charles Brandon).  


Портрет Томаса Говарда, третьего герцога НорфолкаPortrait of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk in 1539 (aged 66)


Fifth wife - Catherine Howard

Most likely, it was the Duke of Norfolk who "slipped"his relative to the king. The wedding took place in July 1540. Henry doted on the new queen. A cheerful, direct and kind girl, as if she had returned his youth.


Portrait of Catherine Howard in 1541 (aged 19-20) Portrait of Catherine Howard in 1541 (aged 19-20)


However, this marriage also failed. At the end of his life, Henry liked to complain that only commoners could enjoy a happy family life, and he got the weak, whores, witches, or simply disgusting women. And indeed, despite the reputation of the "Bluebeard", Henry just wanted to have heirs. That's the only reason he got married. Otherwise, you could get by with mistresses ...

In general, as it turned out, brought up among her stepmother's dissolute ladies-in-waiting, Catherine, even before her marriage to the king, had several lovers. Moreover, she was so careless (or simply stupid) that she secured places for some of them at court.
Already married, Kate began an affair with the king's page. In short, this time, the accusations of adultery were quite justified, and the fifth wife of Henry VIII, Kate Howard, also went to the chopping block, in February 1542.


Portrait of Henry VIII in 1542 (aged 51)Portrait of Henry VIII in 1542 (aged 51)


Whether the king needed a new wife is hard to say. The birth of another heir was probably out of the question. Heinrich was 51 years old - a very respectable age for that time. Diseases led to the fact that he could not even move independently.

The last burst of energy was another intervention in France. In 1544 Boulogne was taken under the personal leadership of the king. England did not bring any special dividends. The city was defended against almost continuous attacks by the French for the next 6 years, spending a huge amount of resources, after which it still had to be returned to France.

And yet, the king married again. Catherine Parr, whom Heinrich liked, had already managed to bury two elderly husbands. Evil tongues said that that is why the king chose her - as an experienced nurse.


Sixth wife - Catherine Parr

Portrait of Catherine Parr in 1545 (aged 32)Portrait of Catherine Parr in 1545 (aged 32)


The wedding took place in July 1543.
Catherine was a radical Protestant and, having settled in, tried to influence her husband in matters of religion. This, however, quickly stopped, after her enemies at court obtained an arrest order from Henry (for heretical views). The queen accidentally saw the order and begged the king to forgive her, explaining all religious disputes only with a desire to distract him from his sore leg.

Charles Brandon died in August 1545. The departure of a faithful friend, with whom the king did not part almost all his life, struck Henry. Maybe it was at that moment that he realized that his end was near.

January 28, 1547 Henry VIII died at the age of 55. Modern doctors believe that death followed from obesity and possibly diabetes, which in turn was caused by numerous injuries received in jousting tournaments (the same ulcer on the leg was also most likely a consequence of the injury). Among other things, there was also a craniocerebral injury, which explains some mental illness (including, probably, the habit of getting married :).

Henry VIII remained in history not only as the prototype of Bluebeard, but also as the founder of the Anglican Church, which is still official in the United Kingdom.

The children of Henry VIII inherited the kingdom, and all three were on the throne. Edward VI received the crown at the age of nine and died at 16. After him, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, Maria, ruled for five years, then the daughter of Anne Boleyn Elizabeth (1558-1603). On it the Tudor dynasty ended, having existed for 518 years and leaving England with the Tudor rose as a heraldic symbol.