King Henry VIII is arguably the most recognised, influential and one of the greatest monarchs ever to sit on the throne of England. He is most notably remembered for his dramatic transformation of English politics, his policies against the ruling Catholic faith and the fact that he had six wives. Everybody knows at least briefly how the reign of Henry VIII progressed and its impact on the world we live in today. This dissertation is solely based on the last seven years of Henry’s reign for the reason that during this time it witnessed a dramatic change, as Henry’s third wife just died and the political stability in Europe became unstable.
Did though Henry VIII’s indulgence in marriage along with war somewhat change the progression and development of his reign in his last seven years alive? Appearance wise Henry VIII was shown to be a great public figure, a strong athletic man, who had the intelligence as well as the creativity to be the perfect ‘Renaissance prince’ and king in his time. In his younger years Henry was a charming, authentic, good-looking, charismatic man who created a sense of greatness which oozed out him; he was relished and admired by who ever met him (Eakins 2007).
As identified by Bingham (2011, pg 47) Henry was ‘widely recognised as the most promising prince ever to ascend to the English throne’ a tall, slim, handsome and athletic, he was an able scholar and a skilled musician who also loved to dance, joust and hunt. A celebrity of his time. Along with these positive aspects which make up a perfect renaissance king also lied a tyrant like state of mind, as Henry was what’s more a ruthless, aggressive and psychopathic individual which became more apparent as he got older, as most sources such as Bingham (2011, pg 47) agree with this factor.
Henry’s pitiless reaction to a number of events exposes the truth of his tyrant attitude, for example one event out of many was the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 which was a somewhat peaceful and holy rebellion in the north of England defying the demolition of the monasteries and abbeys. Henry’s way of crushing this rebellion was through fear, extermination and sneaky tactics, far from the cry of a loved and promising ruler.
As stated by Henry himself: “Our pleasure, that dreadful execution be done upon a good number of the inhabitants of every town, village and hamlet that have affined this rebellion” Starkey, Channel 4, 2009) The Pilgrimage of Grace created a ruthless image for Henry and undermined his reign through his immediate rejection for religious reforms requested by the northern barons. As Wooding (2009, pg 1) supports that Henry was often labelled a tyrant due to his legislations of his supreme control as well as his insecurity as king while on the throne in his later years, this is unquestionably supported by the historian Weir (2008, pg xi).
By the time Henry died in 1547 he had acquired the reputation of an oppressor whose hands were soaked in blood of the many he had executed including two of his wives. This dissertation will aim to identify if key aspects in King Henry VIII’s marriages and military actions ever destabilized his reign at any point, if at all in his last seven years alive. Also to classify which one was the most important contributing factor. This investigation is based on Henry VIII because of my motivation and passion for the subject, my enjoyment for analysing historical topics and other certain events from history.
Chapter 1- Henry’s Earlier Reign Before investigating and discussing any forms of Henry VIII’s last seven years as the King of England, it must be considered as well as understood how his rule developed in the years before. From Henry’s coronation in 1509 to his marriage to his third wife Jane Seymour in 1536, Henry married three times gaining two daughters and a frail son, he shaped the whole religious and political structure of England and took part in a number of wars and treaties.
This is considering that Henry himself was never ever meant to succeed to the English throne, as he never received training to become king unlike is older brother Arthur who was descended to claim the throne, Henry was always expected to enter into a profession with the church. Due to the terms that his father before him Henry VII arguably received the throne through aggression and conflict in the time England was plundered in civil war, the War of the Roses.
Although historically evident and undoubtedly shown throughout the history of the monarchy, it was rather, somewhat looked down upon and not really desired practice for an individual to gain kingship/queen ship by inheritance accusations and blood spilling. As Henry never ‘painfully’ forgotten his father’s passage to kingship and the chance of his enemies (Yorkist supporters) renewing the conflict, is evidently shown by his security dependency on the life of this sole male child (Wodding 2009, pg 1).
However most notably Henry was never welcomed with a lot of ‘pomp and ceremonies’ (Bingham 2011, pg 47) unlike his older brother Prince Arthur, for the reason that he was the second son. Importantly it must be recognised that the factors of Henry’s rule was his breaking from the Catholic religion and its dependency on the Pope in Rome, for the reason that he could divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. Along with this is his destruction of the old monasteries of its treasures and suppositious relics (Dr Starkey, 2009).
Although, on the other hand it is widely accepted that Henry VIII broke ties with the Catholic Church and created the Church of England, he still somewhat personally practised the Catholic faith, due to his being a extremely ‘religious man’ (Chrisp et al. 2003, pg 177), however this is most likely untrue because of his prosecution of Catholics. In contrast was Henry being ‘awarded the title Fidei Defonsor –Defender of the faith – by Pope Leo X in 1521’ (Parrot 2010, pg 184).
Chapter 2- ‘I like her not! ’: Henry’s Wives Henry in 1540 is rather foreshadowed by his extreme transformation in appearance and attitudes in comparison to his younger self. His gallant youth and captivating prince stature was replaced with a decaying bloated, hideously obese, horrible minded man who was rarely seen in the public eye (Hutchinson 2005, pg 13), his whole physical appearance changed with his waist increasing by 19 inches from 1520 (Starkey 2002, pg100).
Although Henry became an individual uneasy on the eye he still managed to have three more wives in 1540 to 1547. Always having a wife improved his status and position as king for the reason that the possibility of having another son was never ruled out, however did Henry’s last three marriages undermine his rule in any way? Anne of Cleves Understandably Henry became extremely depressed after his third wife Jane Seymour died giving birth to his only surviving son Edward.
He turned to a period of isolating himself from the court; this obviously was not a kingly way of behaviour as this caused a sense of confusion within the English court, as one courtier noted ‘methink it a great pity that the king is so long without a queen: his Grace might yet have many fair children’ (Wooding 2009, pg 230), this provides reliable evidence to support Henry’s tendency of isolating himself as the primary source itself is from the same period. This identifies that the court felt Henry’s royal position is still weakened for his lack of children, which Henry all too rightly grew frustrated about.
As Sommerville (2009) identifies that the plain matter of fact is that the court felt that Henry was deteriorating physically and mentally which is most possibly true. Even though Henry’s subjects grew worried and disturbed of the King’s new behaviour plus his lack of emergency to find a new wife, the court almost had begun immediately after Jane Seymour died to find a perfect suitor for his Majesty (Weir 1991, pg 108); debatably this gave the court for the first time a sense of independence in governing while the King himself was indisposed.
This brought about the emergence of the Privy Council becoming a wider influence in the role of government, probably not dramatically witnessed in Henry’s last years but differently in the ruling of the country when Henry’s son Edward VI inherited the throne, this aristocratic approach to government in the 1540s brought a new conservatism to the fore, socially’ politically and religiously (William Howard School, 2010). This in particular shows the extent on how Henry’s reign seemed to be undermined by his weak character to recover fast enough mentally to focus his full energy in discovering a different partner.
It took roughly four years for Thomas Cromwell, the architect of political reformation in the Privy Council and Henry’s close adviser for a number of years to find a wife to suite Henry, her name was Anne of Cleves (Weir 1991, pg 109). Anne of Cleves herself was never flatted by diplomats with regards of her beauty, even Henry’s own court painter Holbein commented only on her ‘honesty’ (Bingham 2011, pg 81), she was regarded as being quite uneducated and seemed not to enjoy the pleasures that Henry most admired, a somewhat imperfect partnership for a man who wanted a woman who had sex appeal, a youthful behaviour and a exciting nature.
Alternatively however Ives (2007, pg 78) utterly disagrees with Bingham (2011, pg 81), as ‘historical portraits suggests that Anne was no less pleasing compared to his previous wives’, it is solely down to Anne’s lack of understanding and interest of the English court’s cultural behaviour (that Henry relished) that acted as a cold shower upon Henry. So why did the marriage go ahead? The reason for that is Thomas Cromwell’s handy work; he was a man in a desperate situation who relied heavily for the marriage to succeed because of his increasing unpopularity within court and with the king himself.
Anne belonged to a long line of family which successfully ruled a thriving and inspirational independent province in Germany which maintained good relations with Lutheran (Protestant) princes (Bingham 2011, pg 80). During this time England was completely isolated due to its recent break with Rome, militarily wise. Simply the marriage was a political alliance between England and the military strong province in Germany, this marriage would put England in a much stronger position as her enemies such as France and Spain would have to think twice before committing a war with England.
This confirms to an extent that Henry’s reign was somewhat undermined by his advisers most notably Cromwell for the reason that he advised Henry to marry Anne solely for political aspects which in addition to was against Henry’s wishes, he wanted a wife that suited his needs personally. As Starkey (2009) argues, Henry fairly believed he was undoubtedly manipulated by Cromwell who used threatening facts about England’s isolation with Europe to convince Henry to marry Anne for Cromwell’s own political survival.
Henry’s displeasure with Anne is made shown when Henry himself is recorded in stating: “She is nothing so well as she was spoken of. If it were not for fear of making a ruffle in the world-that is, to be the means to drive her (Anne) brother into the hands of the Emperor- I would of never had married her” (Starkey, Channel 4, 2009) This supports the fact that Henry felt inclined to accept Cromwell’s advice for fear of war. Within a few months (Eakins 2007) Henry filed a divorce between him and Anne, for the reason in which he claimed she was not a virgin before their marriage, making it void.
However, although the marriage with Anne of Cleves was dreadfully embarrassing for King Henry in the face of Europe and ultimately undermined his rule strategically, Henry maintained his supreme authority within his own court as well as maintaining his hold on the Privy Council. He exercised his authority by executing Thomas Cromwell on the 28th July 1540 which was an undoubtedly popular move with his courtiers. With Thomas Cromwell’s head in the basket, Henry lavished supreme royal power like never before, suggesting possibly his authority had not been undermined or breached.
Katherine Howard You would be forgiven in thinking that Henry rather fancied himself a trophy wife, who had the looks and probably not much of the brains. This is quite understandable, Henry not much wanted but needed a wife who was young, energetic and who could give him a new lease of life as ultimately Henry was now frail, fat and never participated in any type of physical activity, which ultimately damaged his significance as king. Not only that in 1540 Henry sat on an uncomfortable throne due to his lack of bearing sons.
King Henry and Katherine married secretly on the day Thomas Cromwell was executed. Katherine Howard a lady in waiting no older then sixteen years of age caught Henry’s eye before the divorce with the Anne of Cleves, with her sexy flirtatious nature and her vigorous attitude. As Starkey (2002, pg 102) clearly points out that Katherine was put forward to Henry by Cromwell’s enemies at court at the time, this is most certainly true as it was standing practice for rivals to emerge within the Tudor court.
Visibly Katherine was a pawn sent by the courtiers of the ‘Howard family’ to grab Henry’s affections to create rewards and benefits for the family such as for the Duke of Norfolk, this indeed was no unusual sort of behaviour for people in court (Ives 2007, pg 79) as clearly identified in both Henry’s marriages with Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour.
It can be argued by weighing these facts that evidently although King Henry VIII was shown to be supreme ruler of England’s political and religious make doings he was possibly in fact in someway a victim moreover, Henry himself was a puppet controlled by the newly established members of the Privy Council, as the William Howard School (2010) questions but this is mostly speculative opinion. More alternative interpretations are that although the Privy Council increased in authority Henry maintained a strong powerful position as Starkey supports (2009).
It must be considered on how we distinguish events. As Starkey (2002, pg 103) follows on from this by pointing out that in due course it shows Henry’s ‘indecisiveness’ and unsuited performance for a king. This portrays that Henry’s reign to some extent was diluted by his marriage with Katherine Howard. Obviously Henry was tremendously fond of Katherine as one courtier distinguished how he ‘caresses her more than he did the others’ (Ives 2007, pg81).
In due course the marriage with Katherine Howard noticeably changed Henry’s perspective in addition to behaviour, for instance the number of executions slowed in the year 1541 (Starkey, 2009), Henry begun radical reforms (however small) in the North of England ‘in which (Sommerville, 2009) he promised the people who part took in the Pilgrimage of Grace’ by ‘travelling through major towns’ such as York (Ives 2007, pg81), this links in with aspects in war as James V of Scotland failed to meet Henry on his travels which worsened their relationship.
Katherine seemed to have offered Henry his chance to relive his youthful chivalric way of life, as he was noted to begin trying to keep up with his new young bride by awakening by 6 for hunting till 10 and dancing at night (Bingham 2011, pg 83). Henry seemed to have transformed in becoming a much more alert and confident individual.
Nonetheless as Hume (1889, pg 77) questions Katherine was more than happy to accept Henry’s love for his gifts as ‘the king had no wife who made him spend so much money in dresses and jewels as she did, and every day some fresh caprice’ and as Bingham (2011, pg 80) concludes on saying Henry was a man less appealing to Katherine, for he was old enough to be her father, bad tempered and was exceedingly obese, unquestionable this is reliable as all the sources support this.
Indisputably Henry held an uncomfortable situation as he paraded his wife around who herself showed little loving compassion to Henry which he never realised, supporting Starkey’s (2002, pg 104) claim of Henry’s indecisiveness and futility. Understatedly like most times, Henry’s marriage brought about an embarrassing conclusive which in the end can be argued to have brought disastrous consequences upon Henry’s position.
As Ives (2007, pg 81) describes how Katherine was accused of sexual indulgence and adultery before and during her marriage with King Henry. She was investigated and interrogated by the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer who discovered by a full confession from the queen that she slept with no less then two people, including her ex-lover Francis Dereham and Henry’s own favoured servant Thomas Culpepper.
This identifies a blunt embarrassing significance on Henry’s reign in 1542 since Thomas Culpepper, a man close and most favoured by the king who even ‘dressed the king on occasions’ (Wooding 2009, pg 23) committed sexual acts on the queen within the same households of his Majesty’s, after hearing this news Henry ‘wept in front of court’, this interpretation is very reliable because Starkey (2009) also supports this point. This exposes ultimately that Henry’s marriage with Katherine undermined his authority.
Henry’s reaction to Katherine’s affairs is speculated by Weir (2008, pg 230) on how Henry put upon an act of braveness while in the public eye by ‘socialising with the ladies, as gay as ever’. However Weir (2008, pg 230) follows on to contradict herself by suggesting that Henry ‘could tolerate no company, locking himself in rooms and restlessly travelling to each of his lodging houses’; this suggests that Henry was showing intense signs of depression, which has been seen before after his third wife’s death supports that Henry’s deteriorating grasp on royal matters by his depression is most probable reliable and true.
Katherine and along with her two lovers were tried and executed at the Tower of London, Katherine being Henry’s second wife who he had beheaded. Clearly Henry became directly depressive and distressed by Katherine’s betrayal; this is shown by Dr Starkey (2009) as he describes how Henry underlined a passage in his own personal bible after Katherine was executed.