Henry VIII


The second son of England's Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, he became King of England in 1509.  That same year, on the issuance of a papal dispensation, he married Catherine of Aragon, widow of his older brother Arthur, and thereby continued an alliance between the English Tudors and the Spanish throne.

Shortly after Luther published tracts that launched the Protestant Reformation in Europe, Henry wrote a reply entitled Defense of the Seven Sacraments (1521) which earned him the papal title "Defender of the Faith."

By 1529 Henry was weary of Catherine and concerned about his failure to produce a legitimate male heir (the only child to survive his marriage to Catherine was Mary Tudor).  When the Roman Catholic church refused to grant him a divorce he began to challenge papal control in England.  After Sir Thomas More resigned as Lord Chancellor and Thomas Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry got his divorce.  Henry then married Anne Boleyn.  Shortly thereafter, parliament, under the leadership of Thomas Cromwell, passed a series of laws that took England out from under the control of Rome.

Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn also failed to produce a male heir to the throne (the child of this marriage was Elizabeth).  After a brief three year marriage, Anne Boleyn was accused of adultery and beheaded.  A day later, Henry married Jane Seymour who did produce a son (Edward VI).  Less than two weeks after the birth of Edward, Jane Seymour died.  In 1540 Henry married Anne of Cleves.  He was so displeased with her that the marriage was dissolved on the claim that it had never been consummated.  Next Henry married Catherine Howard.  She was charged with adultery and beheaded in 1542.  His last wife, Catherine Parr, survived him.

The Reformation of the church in England began during Henry's reign.  His reforms, however, were less motivated by spiritual concerns than by the desire to elevate the throne of England above ecclesiastical control.




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