Why is King Henry VIII famous?

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England's King Henry VIII is best known for two things:

  • His many wives and his decision to execute several of them.
  • His decision to suppress the Roman Catholic Church, establishing the Church of England as the official religion of the nation. This act became known as the English Reformation.

The second ruler from the House of Tudor (succeeding his father, Henry VII), Henry VIII (1491-1547) ruled England for 38 years. He is famed for his six wives--he ordered the beheading of two of them--and his passionate and vain desire to provide England with a male heir to the throne. Henry had two wives executed--Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard--in part because they could not provide him with a son. Several other wives--Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves--had their marriages annulled or dissolved. A handsome man during his younger years, Henry became obese late in life. His son, Edward VI, succeeded him; Henry's daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, later became Queens of England following the death of Edward.

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Henry VIII, King of England, is famous mostly for the fact that he was married so many times in hopes of getting a son.  This is not, however, the reason why he is most important in historical terms.  His divorces were related to his real reason for fame though.  This is because his desire for divorce led to his break with the Roman Catholic Church.

Because the Pope would not grant him a divorce, Henry broke from the Catholic Church and created the Church of England.  This was extremely important for two reasons.  First, it made England (eventually) a Protestant country.  This would have major geopolitical implications as England would now be an enemy to such Catholic countries as Spain.  This religious difference is part of what brought on the attack of the Spanish Armada, for example.  Second, it changed English society by destroying all of the monasteries of England.  These religious institutions had been major economic, political, and social factors.  By destroying them, Henry changed the fabric of English life radically.


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