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Henry VIII - Good Or Bad?
Transcript of Henry VIII - Good Or Bad?
Henry VIII was born on the 28th of June 1491 to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in Greenwich Palace. He was their third son, and of his six siblings, only three survived infancy: Arthur, Prince of Wales; Margaret; and Mary. Due to medieval traditions of males being the only contenders for the throne (in most cases), Arthur was the heir to the throne (being the eldest), with Henry next in line should anything happen to Arthur (as indeed it turned out) despite Margaret being older than Henry.
In 1493, when he was two, Henry was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque ports. In 1494, he also became Duke of York, and was subsequently appointed Earl Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
Henry was given a good education and prepared for a life in the Church. He was fluent in French, Spanish, and Latin, and loved music: he could play the organ and harp and loved to compose music (Greensleeves is his most famous composition). He loved hunting, dancing, and playing tennis; they contributed to his muscular physique. At the time of his rising to the throne, he was considered the most beautiful king in the world.
In 1502, Arthur, the current heir to the throne, died, most likely of tuberculosis. This made Henry the Prince of Wales and the heir to the throne of England. Soon after, Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York, died as well. These two tragedies may well have been what gave Henry his huge ambitions and a constant desire to prove himself and establish his name as a great king.
Henry VII, wanting a marital alliance with Spain, offered Henry’s hand in marriage to Catherine of Aragon, daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castille and Arthur’s widow. In order for a man to marry his brother’s widow, special dispensation from the Pope was required, and this became important later in Henry’s life. The two were married in 1509 and in the same year Henry VII died and Henry VIII was crowned king at the age of 17. This was the beginning of Henry’s tyrannous reign.
Early Reign 1509- 1525 Henry’s Approach To the Throne
At first, Henry did not take much interest in affairs of the country, preferring to continue with his hobbies. However, he did get rid of many of his father’s ministers, such as Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, emphasising his very different approach to the throne he had.
In 1514, Thomas Wolsey, the current Archbishop of York, was promoted to the position of chancellor. Whilst Henry was relaxing, Wolsey was running the government with the royal council. They ran it very effectively for over 15 years, making England stronger overseas and at home, and bringing the land much prosperity. This proves that all of this, which is sometimes attributed to Henry, should actually be attributed to Wolsey and the government. During this period, England won many battles against France and Scotland (during the battle of Flodden Field in 1513 the Scottish King was killed) and impressive buildings and palaces were built around the country.
Catherine of Aragon produced a healthy daughter in 1516: Mary, who was to become queen of England. She was a popular queen who was much loved by the people., but so far she had failed in her primary purpose– to provide Henry with an heir.
By 1529, Catherine had not produced a male heir and was too old to have another baby. Henry did in fact have a male heir - Henry Fitzroy - through one of his extra marital affairs, but due to this, he was illegitimate and could not take the throne.
In 1525, a young woman in the Queen’s entourage caught Henry’s eye. It was Anne Boleyn, who would become Queen. She refused to commit to Henry unless it was as his sole Queen. Henry used the perfect excuse to remarry: his need for an heir.
1525 - 1530 Annulment?
It soon became Henry’s absorbing desire to annul his marriage to Catherine. Being a religious man, it was thought that his lack of an heir might be due to the fact that he had married his brother’s widow, as in the Bible it says that all who do so shall remain childless.
He charged Wolsey with convincing Pope Clement VII, that his marriage had been invalid and asking the Pope to annul it. When Catherine heard of this she (possibly rightly so) told her nephew King Charles V of Spain, who threatened Rome and the papacy. Trying to keep the peace, the Pope made no decision over the annulment, which meant Henry could not remarry. Henry grew very angry at this and Wolsey was removed from office in 1529. Many would say this was an overreaction. But did Wolsey try to sabotage the annulment?
Anne was very dissimilar to Catherine: she took an active interest in politics, and this did not suit Wolsey. In addition to this he may have feared the public opinion if the popular Catherine was disgraced. Wolsey said finally that the decision of the divorce could only be made by the Pope. He was blamed for slowing down the proceedings. Was it because he knew the Pope would delay for a long time and thus Henry might lose interest in Anne?
On the other hand, between 1528 and 1529 Wolsey did send many letters to the Vatican. While personally not supporting the divorce, it is said that Wolsey did all that he could at a professional level because he knew that his position was at risk if he did not get a verdict. Henry may have been justified in sacking him, but certainly missed him after he had gone.
Henry gradually became more and more desperate for a divorce from Catherine. The Pope’s stance was not going to change, and Henry was in love with Anne. Mere pressure on the Pope wasn’t working, so Henry decided to build his case against his marriage to Catherine. As he was doing this, his advisors told him the one infallible solution: to break away from the Catholic Church.
This would be a task of the most drastic undertaking. Breaking away from Rome just for the purpose of his love might have inspired the sorts of rumours that would make his life as king difficult. Luckily, he found the perfect excuse for them in later years.
1530 - March 1533 Thomas Cromwell
Thomas Cromwell was Henry’s chief minister from 1533 to 1540, but helped Henry immensely even before this, although he never possessed Wolsey’s creative sense. He was the one who confirmed to Henry that the Pope was not going to change his mind, and that the only way for the divorce to proceed would be for the Pope to lose his power over England. This had staggering implications, and putting it through Parliament (an idea of Cromwell’s) gave it an air of legitimacy and hid the truth from the people’s eyes.
On the 11th of February 1531, the Church of England recognised Henry VIII as its supreme head. Despite this, Henry had now revealed his true plans to the rest of the world.
In 1532, Thomas Cranmer, one of Henry’s supporters, became the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anne Boleyn supported his appointment, and even the Pope, who could have rejected his nomination, accepted him. Henry’s breakaway Church had another lead figure.
These were what defined Henry’s move to take over the Church: that it was done in Parliament, with an air of legality when in reality it was a power hungry man’s desire for wealth and a divorce that made him destroy Catholicism in England.
The Act in Restraint of Annates in 1532 was the start of the process that removed the Pope’s power in England and Wales. Annates were Rome’s main source of income from England and this act nearly banned them. It was first used as a measure put pressure on the Papacy to give Henry his annulment. When this failed it became law.
When January 1533 came, so did big news: Anne Boleyn was pregnant. This made even greater urgency necessary for the divorce to take place, as the child, if it was male, must not be considered illegitimate.
Cromwell and Henry wanted all the legal power of the Church to pass to the Crown, which would be a huge loss for the Church and a huge gain for the Crown. All matters previously governed by canon law would become matters for the Crown to handle. The Act in Restraint of Appeals was passes in March 1533 gave all authority in matters civil or clerical to the Crown and made it illegal to appeal to anyone outside the Kingdom for such matters. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, took over the power of the Pope.
Anyone who opposed these moves was executed, a good example being Thomas More (the Chancellor) who was executed . Cromwell took his place. The power hungry Henry would not stop his tyranny for anything.
1533 - 1535 Divorce - and a Daughter
Despite King Charles V of Spain threatening to invade England if Henry remarried, Henry did not take heed of him. Thomas Cranmer secretly and dishonestly married Henry and Anne on January 25th 1533. This clearly proves Henry’s lack of honour and decency - a King should not need to get married in secret unless he has done something wrong.
Cranmer, with his new powers, also arranged for the divorce case to be heard in May, and after just 3 days of discussion, the decision that the marriage had been invalid all along and that Henry and Catherine had (through no fault of their own) been married illegally ion 1509. Therefore Henry had had every right to marry Anne as he was, by ‘all rights’ a single man. Catherine could not bear to attend the meeting, so she could put forward no defence. This gives us another indication of how cruel Henry was by disgracing her publicly. After seeing Henry’s actions, Pope Clement VII excommunicated him in 1533.
Meanwhile, Anne, who had been pregnant at the wedding, gave birth to Elizabeth I in September 1533, and when she rose to the throne her reign would be known as the golden age of British history.
The Catholic Church had been all but banned from England and Wales by now, but now Henry VIII formally severed his ties with it in the Act of Supremacy of 1534, which made the King the Head of the Church of England.
Many more laws were passed from 1534 to 1536: all direct payments to the Pope were halted; the Archbishop of Canterbury was handed the power to grant a wide variety of dispensations that had previously been held only by the Papacy ; and the Crown was given the right to appoint all senior churchman and the definition of beliefs. Previously these powers were held only by the Papacy. Henry was removing every ounce of the Pope’s power.
1536 - 1539 An Heir
In the January of 1536, Anne had a son. Sadly, the child was born dead. The religious Henry may have taken this as another omen...
Because in just a few months time Henry accused Anne of committing adultery with five separate men. Not only does this seem far-fetched, the evidence against them was minimal. Henry got his way, however, and Anne, along with the five men, was executed.
Henry didn’t waste any time, either. On the 30th of May 1536, the fickle King married Jane Seymour. She is known to be his favourite wife, and the only one to provide him with a male heir. Henry composed Greensleeves for her, one of his rare good deeds.
January 1537 was a time of rejoicing and of pain. Jane had given birth prematurely to a baby boy, but died after giving birth. The King was possibly saddened by this, which may be the reason why he waited a few years before remarrying. His son was to be Edward VI.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries
Many years ago, before Henry ha got his divorce from Catherine, reports of the Church abusing its power and authority had come to Henry, and he had used them as an excuse to tell the public that the Church needed reforming without provoking any kind of backlash.
Most of these involved money or land the Church owned vast amounts of both, yet it still charged too much money for small services such as weddings and funerals. These were used as an excuse for the government to attack the Church and seize its wealth, despite few of them being major, faults with the Church
Henry’s primary desire in 1536 was to get rid of Catholicism and everything to do with it in England. This included the monasteries which refused to accept him as ruler of the Church. Henry wanted them gone.
Henry charged Cromwell with organising visits to monasteries in England - with the visitors looking for evidence of the monks and nuns living as they should i.e. leading simple lives. In this way all of the smaller monasteries were closed down in 1536, with larger ones found guilty of some petty crime or even with incorrect charges against them and closed down in 1539. Often the visitors did not even enter the monasteries, but asked local people to tell them what they were like.This was completely unfair to them, and the poor monks were punished severely often for false charges! Henry was very unjust here. He looted, and then burned, the monasteries.
There were many reasons why Henry committed these atrocious crimes, all of them selfish. As well as his need for an heir (and a spare son should anything happen to his first), there was the matter of the power he would gain and the lands he could sell. The monasteries were loyal to the Pope. He wanted them gone.
Another reason he could have used the wealth he gained by doing this was to fund his very expensive foreign wars. He was already bankrupt due to his liking for fanciness and majesty. He had increased the Royal Navy from 5 ships to 53, and built over 40 palaces. The money would have helped him. All of these were selfish reasons, and unfair to the monks and Catholic Church. Henry used them in order to gain fame in future generations.
1540 Henry’s Personal Life
3 years after Jane Seymour died, Henry was again looking for another wife. He married Anne of Cleves in order to secure a political alliance in Europe, but she wasn’t what Henry expected or was looking for and their marriage was annulled soon afterwards. Henry, uncaring for how his wives must feel, married again and again.
1540- 1547 Yet Another Marriage
The 49 year old Henry VIII married 19 year old Katherine Howard on July 28th 1540. The odd couple only stayed together for two years before she was, just like Anne Boleyn, charged with committing adultery when married to the King. This amounted to treason, and Katherine Howard was executed by beheading on the 13th of February 1542. Whether these were true charges or whether Henry used them as an excuse to get rid of Katherine is debatable.
Marriage, and Finally Death
Henry VIII’s final marriage was in 1543, to Katherine Parr. She has often been noted for being a good stepmother to his three children, and, luckily for her, she outlived Henry.
At the end of his life Henry had become old, fat, and loved gambling. He had a huge diet all his life, but now he could not exercise as easily as before. He now lacked the kingly qualities of handsomeness and dignity, and Henry VIII died on the 28th of January 1547 and was succeeded by his son Edward VI, bringing an end to Henry’s horrible reign.