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Henry VIII

(History of the World: The Renaissance)

Article abstract: Through administrative changes and his break with the Roman Catholic Church, and the subsequent establishment of the Church of England, Henry VIII strengthened the position of the monarch in English society.

Early Life

Henry VIII was born on June 28, 1491, in Greenwich, England. He was the second son of the first Tudor king and the Lancastrian claimant to the throne, Henry VII, and Elizabeth, the daughter of the Yorkist Edward IV. Henry VII gained the Crown by defeating Richard III at Bosworth Field in 1485; Richard III was killed in the battle, and Henry Tudor, a Welshman, immediately assumed the throne. During his early years, Prince Henry was overshadowed by his older brother, Arthur, who was his father’s heir. Little is known of Henry’s education except that the poet John Skelton was involved; Skelton wrote Speculum Principis in 1501 as a guidebook for Henry. It is also believed that Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother, was involved with her grandson’s education. Whatever the nature and source of his education, Henry later demonstrated that he had a firm grasp of the classics, a limited knowledge of music, and fluency in three languages. Young Henry was interested in most forms of contemporary sport and was recognized for his athletic abilities.

Henry remained a secondary figure as long as his brother was alive. His father never assigned him any responsibility or seriously pursued any marriage arrangement for Henry. Henry VII did express some tentative interest in a marriage between Prince Henry and Eleanor, daughter of Philip, the Duke of Burgundy, but it was not seriously considered. In April, 1502, Prince Arthur, recently married to Catherine of Aragon, died in Wales from tuberculosis at the age of fifteen. Suddenly, the overlooked second son became the heir to the Crown and the focus of great attention and interest. Henry VII became very protective of his only surviving son. Negotiations with Madrid were conducted in 1503, and on June 23 of that year a treaty was signed which provided for the marriage of Henry to the widow, Catherine of Aragon, upon Henry’s attainment of the age of fifteen. One obstacle which had to be overcome was acquiring a dispensation from Rome to permit the marriage. The need for the dispensation was based on a scriptural directive that prohibited one from marrying the widow of one’s brother. Catherine argued that only a dispensation on the basis of the impediment of public honesty was required because the marriage had never been consummated. Both English and Spanish officials agreed, however, that a dispensation on the basis of the impediment of affinity in the first degree collateral should be obtained. Problems (financial, political, personal, and with the Church) continued to plague the marriage treaty. On April 22, 1509, Henry VII died at Richmond Palace; six weeks later, on June 11, 1509, Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon.

Life’s Work

The thirty-six-year reign of one of the greatest monarchs in English history began with great expectations for a bright and progressive era in English affairs. Henry VIII, the eighteen-year-old king, was an exceptionally handsome man who stood slightly over six feet in height. He was clearly different from his father: Whereas Henry VII was reserved and secretive, Henry VIII was open and frequently discussed matters of state freely. Henry VIII set out to create a public image of himself as a Renaissance prince in the tradition of Desiderius Erasmus and other notables of the Northern Renaissance. In fact, while he was familiar with the general scope of the literature, Henry VIII did not understand the ideals which motivated the writings of Erasmus, John Colet, and Sir Thomas More. On the second day of his reign, Henry ordered the arrest of two of his father’s principal advisers and administrators, Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, on charges of extortion. They were executed sixteen months later.

During the early years of his...

(The entire section is 2,072 words.)