Famous Rulers in History English King Henry VIII Part 3

About the famous English King Henry VIII, history and biography, personal life with various marriages and divorces, his rule.

Famous and Infamous Rulers in History


The baby was a girl, Elizabeth. Henry was disappointed and soon was flirting with other women, including Jane Seymour, who was to become his third wife. A pale, plain woman, Jane refused a gift of gold sovereigns from the king, asking for a "good and honest husband instead." Desperate because she could tell she was losing Henry, the coquettish Anne intensified her flirtations, was accused of adultery, and was sent to the Tower. Five of her supposed lovers (Henry claimed she had over 100) were arrested, but only one, Mark Smeaton, confessed, and that while he was on the rack. Anne was beheaded on May 19, 1536.

In 1537 Henry married Jane Seymour, who bore him a son, Edward, by cesarean section, and died 12 days later. Henry was brokenhearted, but urged on by his minister, Thomas Cromwell, he began a search for a new wife, who would be useful to him politically. Court painter Hans Holbein traveled Europe, painting and sending back to England portraits of the eligibles. Henry finally settled on Anne of Cleves, sister of a German Lutheran prince. She was a great disappointment to him when he finally met her; he called her the "Flanders mare" and did not consummate the marriage, for "by her breasts and belly she should be no maid, which when I felt them struck me so to the heart that I had neither will nor courage to the rest." Henry bought her off, and Cromwell was executed for his bad advice.

Henry's next queen, number five, was Catherine Howard, a small, vivacious woman whom Henry called a "blushing rose without a thorn." He married her in 1540, he himself no rose but a fat man with slits of eyes and an ulcerated leg. Catherine took lovers and conducted a torrid backstairs romance with one Thomas Culpeper, whom she called her "sweet little fool." It was a bad mistake, which cost her her head in 1542.

Catherine Parr, an intellectual humanist, was Henry's last wife. She nursed Henry and was kind to his children. Her only extravagance was shoes (she bought 47 pairs in one year), her only fault a tendency to argue too passionately about religion.

Rise to Power: Henry became king at the death of his father, Henry VII, in 1509. He was then only 17 years old.

In Power: Henry's bad qualities--lack of scruples, meanness of spirit, and cruelty--were obscured in his early reign by his keen mind, his openhandedness, and the lavishness of his court. For a while the world was quite in love with him. His gradual change in character, beginning in the late 1520s, may have been due to a progressive case of syphilitic insanity.

Dressed in purple and gold, he and Catherine presided over banquets, some lasting as long as seven hours, and participated in elaborate pageants and tournaments. Though it all cost money, there was plenty of cash in the treasury to support it.

Intellectual and artistic life at court flourished. Henry walked with his arm about the scholar Thomas More's neck and discussed astronomy and geometry with him. Erasmus visited the court. Henry employed artists and musicians of all kinds.

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