Henry VIII was born on June 28, 1491 in the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, England. He was the son of Henry VII, king of England, and Elizabeth of York. He was the third child out of six born to the couple, but only three of the children survived infancy. His older brother Arthur was the original heir to the throne and he also had two sisters, Margaret and Mary.
In 1493, Henry VIII was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. A year later, he was appointed Duke of York, Earl Marshal of England, and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. His first rate education began when he was very young, grooming him to become a member of the Catholic Church since his brother would take the throne. However, things changed when his brother Arthur died in 1502 and he was appointed Prince of Wales and heir to his father's throne.
After the death of Arthur, Henry's father arranged for him to marry Arthur's widow, Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella. After their parents petitioned the Pope for permission to allow the marriage, the Pope issued a papal bull decreeing that the marriage would be official. However, in 1505, Henry VII lost interest in the alliance and declared that the pair didn't have his permission. After the death of Henry VII in 1509, Henry VIII had the power to decide for himself and decided to marry her anyways. They were officially married on June 11th of 1509.
After taking the throne in late June of 1509, Henry VIII became King of England and the second monarch in the House of Tudor. He immediately filled his court with a variety of interesting people from all parts of Europe, including people from middle class backgrounds. He also began spending a lot of England's surplus money on art, which made him popular with the people of England.
In 1512, he joined the Holy League along with Spain and Venice to thwart France's invasion of the Italian peninsula. He immediately sent an army to the mainland to help in the war effort, but at the same time was forced to fight Scottish rebels in the northern part of England. However, the English victory in the Battle of Flodden Field in September of 1513 helped to stop the Scottish rebels. That year, he also managed to seize the city of Tournai from French forces and eventually negotiated peace terms with France in 1514.
In 1515, a new king, Francis I, took the French throne and a rivalry soon erupted between him and Henry VIII. Over the next several years, tensions rose between the two countries again, but Henry forged an alliance with Spain and Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire to fight back the French invasion of Italy. Unfortunately, the Holy Roman Empire then began invading Italy, much to the horror of Pope Clement VII, who was able to convince Henry VIII to join the League of Cognac to fight the Holy Roman Empire.
By 1525, Henry was becoming quite disenchanted with his wife Catherine, who had borne him four children, three of whom died after a short time. The surviving child, Princess Mary, was in his opinion unsuitable to take the throne because of her gender. He soon fell in love with a woman in his wife's entourage named Anne Boleyn. He sought the assistance of Cardinal Wolsey to annul his marriage to Catherine and he also sent his secretary, William Knight, to convince the Pope to permit the annulment, claiming that she was not a virgin upon their marriage.
Pope Clement VII was quite reluctant to approve of the annulment, largely because he was the prisoner of Emperor Charles V, who was a nephew of Catherine. He ultimately feared that approving the annulment would incur the wrath of Charles and place himself in danger. However, Cardinal Wolsey failed to secure permission and Henry decided to replace him with Sir Thomas More as his chancellor. In 1529, the effort gained ground when Thomas Cromwell, a member of Henry's court, convinced him to get the universities of Europe to approve the annulment and marriage. After some bribery, the universities did so, but the Pope's disapproval still lay in the way.
Thomas Cromwell then took the daring move of recommending that Henry consider abolishing papal rule over England and declare himself head of the Church of England. Henry decided to defy the Pope and secretly married Anne Boleyn in January of 1533 and he also caused the Parliament to pass a law forbidding appeals to the papacy. Archbishop Cranmer subsequently declared Henry's marriage to Catherine annulled and approved the marriage between Henry and Anne. Anne was crowned Queen of England on June 1, 1533 and she gave birth to their first child, Elizabeth, soon after. The annulment of the marriage was made official by the Act of Succession passed by Parliament in 1533, which also made Mary I an illegitimate child and therefore ineligible for the throne.
After Henry's defiant move, the Pope released a papal bull declaring that he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. This presented a great threat to England since it would encourage Catholic countries to crusade against him. To help prevent such attacks from occurring, Henry ordered more fortification of England's shores with batteries and walls. In 1534, Parliament enacted several laws that reinforced the fact that England was no longer under the ruling influence of the Pope and that the King had supreme rule in England. The laws also prohibited members of the church from appealing to the papacy and declared anyone not acknowledging the King's supreme rule a traitor to England.
There were many leaders in England that failed to take an oath declaring Henry VIII supreme ruler. Among them were John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More, both of whom were convicted of treason and beheaded in 1535. In 1536, Parliament passed a law that made it legal for Henry to seize the wealth possessed by lesser monasteries. In October of 1536, the Pilgrimage of Grace, a massive uprising in northern England, protested the King's actions, but Henry had the leaders arrested and executed for treason.
In 1536, Henry also suffered a thigh injury while jousting with a friend. The injury made it very difficult for him to walk and also became infected, possibly contributing to his death. It also led him to gain a large amount of weight since he couldn't really exercise. It also reportedly made him more ill tempered and he increased the number of executions of political opponents. During his reign an estimated 72,000 people were executed by hanging and other means.
In 1539, a law was passed by Parliament that officially dissolved all monasteries in England, removing the last stronghold of the Catholic Church. Around this time, Henry also began to become impatient with Queen Anne, who had failed to produce a son. He had her arrested, charging that she had used witchcraft to get him to marry her, that she had adulterous relationships with five other men, that she had an incestuous relationship with her brother George Boleyn, and that she conspired to kill him. In May of 1536, Anne and her brother George were sentenced to death, along with the four men she had allegedly engaged in affairs with. All of them were beheaded, despite Anne's declaration of her innocence before a priest.
Immediately after Anne was out of the picture, Henry married a woman named Jane Seymour, a former member of the Queen's court. The Parliament subsequently passed an Act of Succession declaring that any children borne by her would be the official heirs to the throne and that Henry would have the power to declare his heir within his will. Jane had one son, Prince Edward, before she died on October 24, 1537 from puerperal fever. Henry was grief stricken by her death, but satisfied that she had borne him a male heir. In 1535, Henry gave permission for Parliament to pass the Laws in Wales Act, which annexed Wales as part of England and a single nation. It also made English the official language of Wales, making the Welsh language obsolete.
Henry remarried to a woman named Anne, sister of the Duke of Cleves, on January 6, 1540. He had reportedly made the decision based on a flattering painting of her, made by Hans Holbein the Younger, but upon seeing her was reportedly disgusted, referring to her as a "Flanders Mare". He decided to end the marriage quickly, since her brother had a dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor and he found her unattractive. She agreed to testify that their marriage was never consummated and the marriage was annulled. In exchange, she was given Hever Castle, but the man who arranged the marriage, the Earl of Essex, was beheaded at the King's behest.
On July 28, 1540, Henry VIII married a woman named Catherine Howard, who was the first cousin of his late former wife, Anne Boleyn. However, she soon had an affair with Thomas Culpeper, a courtier, and the King allowed Thomas Cranmer to conduct an investigation of her activities. She was implicated in the affair and their marriage was annulled, after which she was beheaded on February 13, 1542.
In 1543, he married his final wife, a wealthy widow named Catherine Parr. She frequently argued with Henry about religion since she was a radical, but he was a conservative. She also helped him to reconcile with his earlier daughters, Mary and Elizabeth and he agreed to a Parliament act in 1544 that established them as potential heirs to the throne after Edward.
Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547 of unknown causes. Some scholars suspect that he was afflicted with syphilis, a sexually-transmitted bacteria, because his descendants exhibited symptoms of congenital syphilis. It is also notable that he was quite obese, with a chest with a diameter of more than fifty inches, which likely contributed to his poor health. He was buried in Windsor Castle's Chapel of St. George.
After his death, his son, Edward, ascended to the throne as Edward VI. He became the first Protestant monarch of England, but he didn't do much at first since he was only nine years old. Henry allowed for this possibility in his will, which appointed 16 people to serve on a council that would rule England until Edward was eighteen years of age.