Famous Rulers in History English King Henry VIII Part 1

About the famous English King Henry VIII, history and biography, personal life and birthdate.


Famous and Infamous Rulers in History


Vital Statistics: The charismatic and ruthless King Henry VIII of England was the second son of Henry VII, the first Tudor, and Elizabeth of York. He was born on June 28, 1491, in the royal palace at Greenwich.

As a young man, Henry was a glorious, golden-haired monarch, ruler of what promised to be a new Camelot. According to a description by a foreigner: "His majesty is the handsomest potentate I have ever set eyes on--above the usual height [over 6 ft.], with an already fine calf to his leg, his complexion very fair and light, with auburn hair and a round face so beautiful it would become a pretty woman."

His good looks did not last. Injuries he sustained while jousting (once a heavily armored horse fell on top of him) and a resultant chronic leg ulcer kept him from the physical activities he loved, and his gastronomic self-indulgence increased, so by the time he was in his 40s he was grossly fat, and by the time he was in his 50s he often had to be carried about on a contrivance like a sedan chair, which was padded with quilted velvet.

Henry had six wives, two of whom he ordered beheaded, and four children: an illegitimate son (by his mistress Bessie Blount); Henry; Mary (by his wife Catherine of Aragon); Elizabeth (by his wife Anne Boleyn); and Edward (by his wife Jane Seymour).

Holding the hand of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Henry died on Jan. 28, 1547, in London. He was 55 years old.

Personal Life: Because as a child he was under the shadow of his older brother Arthur, heir to the throne, little is known about Henry's youth. His first tutor, as far as we know, was the cynical poet laureate John Skelton, who taught him "his learning primordial." It is likely that Henry studied Latin, languages, and history. His interest in sports and music--he was accomplished at both--undoubtedly began in childhood.

In 1502 Arthur, only 15 years old, died of tuberculosis, leaving behind a widow, Catherine of Aragon. Henry, though then heir to the throne, was given few responsibilities to fit him for rule and led a restricted life; he was allowed to speak only in response to a question from his father, and was permitted to use only private doors to the palaces.

As king, his personal and public life were inextricably bound together. Consider: Had Catherine borne him a son and heir, would he have been so ready to divorce her? And if he had not, with his resultant divorce, broken Rome's hold over England, what shape would the inevitable Protestant Reformation have taken there? One day a monarch, the next a playboy, he was the epitome of capriciousness. Would he have been quite so capricious without all that power? He was an individual to whom power was a kind of poison, which slowly drained him of all his youthful promise and charm and turned him into a monster who had his wives and friends beheaded out of pique.

Soon after Henry's father died, he married his brother's widow, Catherine; the two were crowned together on Midsummer Day, June 24, 1509. Though it was a political marriage (Catherine was the daughter of King Ferdinand II of Spain, an ally), Henry grew to love this highly cultured, delicate, dignified woman six years older than he. He was a devoted husband, wearing her initials on his sleeve at jousts and calling himself "Sir Loyal Heart."

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