What did the people of England think of Henry VIII?

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When he first came to the throne at the tender age of eighteen, Henry was enormously popular with the English people. His father, Henry VII, was a cold, calculating man (he wasn't called "the Winter King" for nothing), a greedy monarch who during his last years on the throne had...

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When he first came to the throne at the tender age of eighteen, Henry was enormously popular with the English people. His father, Henry VII, was a cold, calculating man (he wasn't called "the Winter King" for nothing), a greedy monarch who during his last years on the throne had squeezed every last drop of money he could out of his increasingly fractious subjects. Corruption in the government was widespread, and the gap between the monarch and his people had never been greater.

At first, Henry VIII seemed like a breath of fresh air. He was young, handsome, affable, and intensely charismatic. Upon succeeding to the throne, he removed some of his father's most corrupt counselors and set about reducing the crippling financial burden on his subjects. Difficult as it may seem for us to believe, the people on the whole were incredibly hopeful and optimistic about Henry's reign, seeing it as the opening of a new and glorious chapter in English history.

However, Henry's open quarrel with the Church over his plans to divorce Katherine of Aragon polarized public opinion. Katherine was widely loved by the people, who were on the whole deeply sympathetic to her plight. By the same token, they despised Anne Boleyn, the king's mistress, seeing her as nothing more than a gold-digging home-wrecker. Henry's contentious divorce diminished him in the eyes of many of his subjects, though of course most people wouldn't dare to criticize him openly, as they could end up being brutally executed.

As Henry proceeded with his controversial religious reforms, he earned the animosity of many adherents of the old Catholic faith. An uprising called the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in the north of England, and after Henry had cynically tricked the leaders of the uprising by making false promises of concessions, he went back on his word and had them hanged, drawn, and quartered—a traitor's death, and an especially gruesome method of execution.

On the whole, though, most English people approved of Henry's break with Rome, even if they disagreed with the divorce that precipitated it. England had now become a nation state, separate and apart from the rest of Europe, a position that suited the prevailing national temperament down to a tee. Yet there's little doubt that Henry's growing tyranny was not particularly popular among his subjects, especially as the country was encountering severe economic difficulties on account of the king's great profligacy. At the start of his reign, Henry's lavish spending and taste for war brought him immense popularity; but towards the end, it caused widespread resentment.

We cannot know for sure, but as King Henry VIII lay on his deathbed—morbidly obese, his legs riddled with foul-smelling sores, and with England on the brink of bankruptcy—it's fair to surmise that most of his subjects, for one reason or another, were rather glad to see the back of him.

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