Henry VIII, King of England (1509-1547) - Biography

King of England from 1509 to 1547, Henry VIII is best known for his complicated relationship with his wives, having had two executed, and the annulment of his first marriage caused the schism with Rome! Nevertheless, Henry VIII was also the king of England who had the will to pose as arbiter in the fight between Charles V and François Ier in the context, decisive for Europe, of the Reformation. Finally, the crisis with Rome would lead to the creation of Anglicanism, ratified during the reign of the daughter of Henry VIII, Elisabeth i.

The heir to the Tudors

Like his daughter Elisabeth, Henry VIII is not the first heir to the throne. Indeed, second son of Henry VII, he came after his brother Arthur, the sovereign's favorite son, who did not hesitate to place him as the distant heir of the legendary king of the same name. In a hurry to secure his succession, King King Henry VII married Arthur to the daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, Catherine of Aragon. We are in 1501, the two spouses are not sixteen years old, their union full of promises for the two kingdoms is well received in England, until Thomas More, who sees in Catherine "all the qualities which make the beauty of a charming young girl ”.

Yet the drama intervenes. In fragile health, young Arthur dies five months after his marriage! The King of England, his past grief, negotiates with Isabella the Catholic to agree to remarry her daughter to the new heir, Henry. They are engaged in 1503, and the marriage must be registered at the fifteen years of the future sovereign. Spain is counting on this union to ultimately control England indirectly. Things get complicated when Henry VII dies in April 1509. His son girds the crown of England, and must marry Catherine as planned, under pressure, and not without some questions. After all, he married the wife of his late brother ... The union was still celebrated in June 1509, and the couple crowned a fortnight later in Westminster.

The young king is no less legitimate and popular, unlike a reclusive and devout father. Henry VIII, on the other hand, is young, tall and handsome, almost seen as a new messiah according to Thomas More. However, is he ready to rule?

The entourage of Henry VIII

Barely on the throne, Henry VIII decides to do the opposite of his father. He frees political prisoners, in fact arresting others, including those he considers corrupt, such as Edmund Dudley and Richard Empson, who are quickly executed. He then recalls the Marquis Thomas Gray, removed by his father. On the other hand, he retains Chancellor William Warham (Archbishop of Canterbury) and Richard Foxe. At the start of his reign, Henry VIII intended to profit rather than govern.

The king, however, will know how to surround himself with competent men, even if he will not hesitate to get rid, sometimes radically, of some of them. We can cite Thomas Wosley, Thomas Cromwell, and obviously Thomas More. However, Henry VIII is determined to govern above all for his personal glory, and thus rise to the level of his European rivals. The international context quickly gave him the opportunity.

In search of glory

The end of the 15th century saw the outbreak of the wars in Italy and the ambitions of France. In a hurry to enter the international game, seeing it as an opportunity to acquire prestige, Henry VIII joined the League that Pope Julius II set up against Louis XII in 1511. However, he had to wait until 1513 to land in France, where he takes Thérouanne. This is the opportunity to begin propaganda in his glory, presenting his victory as another Azincourt. However, he must return urgently to England under the Scottish threat, and can not really take advantage of his prestigious victory. He nevertheless gained a great aura in his kingdom, celebrated as a new Henry V.

Henry VIII and the Church

The "big deal" of the reign of Henry VIII is the schism with Rome. But the reasons are many and complex, and not only due to a whim to remarry.

First of all, the understanding is not excellent between the king and Catherine of Aragon, just like relations with the latter's father, especially between 1511 and 1514. Henry VIII is not the docile prince whom the Spaniards hoped. Moreover, he reproaches the queen for not giving him a son (a boy died a few weeks old in 1511); however, they have a daughter, Marie, born in 1516. Everything accelerates when the king falls in love with Anne Boleyn ...

At the same time, the Reformation progressed in Europe, as far as England. If Henry VIII fights it fiercely, placing himself as a "defender of the Faith", he does not line up behind the Pope, whose supremacy he begins to contest, with the support of Wosley.

The turning point came in 1527, when Henry VIII decided to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, causing scandal with Rome and Spain, now under the rule of Emperor Charles V. The King of England instructs Wosley to negotiate with Pope Clement VII. In law, political intrigue and power struggles between Henry VIII and Charles V (who refused to marry Marie Tudor) mingle. The Pope chooses the latter after several years which see the disgrace of Wosley, for the benefit of More and especially Cromwell.

In 1531, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared: “We recognize that His Majesty is the Particular Protector, the sole and supreme Lord and, as far as the law of Christ permits, the Supreme Head of the Church and the clergy of England. ". The schism is there, and the Pope excommunicates Henry VIII two years later.

Foreign policy

The King of England spends much of his reign playing the pendulum between the two continental powers, France and the Empire.

Henry VIII not only wanted to make England a great power, he also posed as a prince in competition with other princes, in particular with the King of France Francis I, with a similar profile. The two rulers met at the Camp du Drap d´Or in June 1520, where they competed in ostentatious luxury. However, Henry chose his camp following the defeat of Francis I at Pavia (1525), and approached the emperor through the Treaty of Westminster in 1527.

The crisis with the papacy nevertheless shows the limits of Henry VIII's strategy. His influence remained relative, against the Empire, but also against France, once Francis I was released. England remained in retreat from international affairs during the 1530s, then returned to the game in 1542. Henry VIII (King of Ireland for a year) fought in France, where he took Boulogne (1544), and in Scotland. The strategic achievements are nevertheless relative, Scotland still independent, Boulogne returned two years after its capture.

Ultimately, while Henry VIII made it possible for England to stand up to the ambitions of its rivals, he failed to really compete with them. Worse, his efforts bled the kingdom blank ...

Henry VIII and the women

The "divorce" with Catherine of Aragon allowed the king to formalize his affair with Anne Boleyn in 1533. He hoped for a son from her, but she gave birth to a daughter, Elisabeth. Their relationship quickly escalated, Anne having a miscarriage in 1536. Moreover, the queen's reputation grew more and more sulphurous. Henry VIII took the opportunity to get rid of it, and it was executed in 1536.

The king then sets his sights on Jeanne Seymour, with whom he falls very much in love. Miracle, she gives him a son, Edouard, in 1537! Unfortunately, she died the same year ... Henry VIII never really got over it. The fourth marriage of Henry VIII, with Anne de Clèves, is political, to get closer to the German Protestants. The queen is repudiated a few months later. Aged and weakened, Henry VIII tries to regain his youth and his vigor with Catherine Howard, in 1540. It is a fiasco, and the queen is executed in February 1542, just like her presumed lovers ... The last happy chosen, Catherine Parr, seems to give it some balance. The two spouses respect each other, and this time she survives him, dying a year after the death of the king.

The decline

The king, from the disgrace of Thomas Wolsey, has more and more complicated relations with his advisers. Thus, Thomas More, then his rival Thomas Cromwell, were executed in 1535 and 1540 for sometimes obscure reasons. Until the end of his reign, Henry VIII continued the purges and ruled more and more alone, as his popularity is a distant memory, as the kingdom bends under taxes to finance wars. His downfall is also physical following an injury received during a tournament: obese, helpless, he becomes a nightmare for those around him.

It is therefore a relief when Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547. He left a kingdom bloodless and divided. He was briefly succeeded by his son Edouard (1547-1553) and Marie Tudor, known as “Bloody Mary” for his bloody return to Catholicism. Finally, Elisabeth Ire (1558-1603), daughter of Anne Boleyn, if she became one of the greatest queens of England and made her country a great power, failed to perpetuate the Tudor dynasty, which s 'off with it. In the meantime, his father has become a legend.


- B. Cottret, Henry VIII, power through force, Payot, 2005.

- G. Minois, Henri VIII, Fayard, 1989.

- L. Crété, Les Tudors, Flammarion, 2010.

Video: The Private Life of Henry VIII 1933 720p WEBRip AAC2 0 H 264 HRiP (January 2022).