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King Henry VII became King of England at the age of 17. He had six wives, two of whom he had executed (Anne Boleyn and Kathryn Howard), two from whom he was divorced (Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves), one who died (Jane Seymour, and Katherine Parr, whom he left a widow. It was during his reign that the Church of England was formed as a result of the separation from the Roman Catholic Church, and Henry declared himself the supreme head of that church.



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Henry VIII

Henry VIII

If you ask most people what they think of when they hear the name of Henry VIII, they will either say that he is the subject of a 1960s song by Herman's Hermits or that he was married six times and beheaded a couple of his wives.

But he was also the man responsible for the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, which came about primarily because that church has long believed that divorce is not an option for Catholics.

Henry VIII was the King of England from the age of seventeen in 1509 until he died in 1547. His early life is not well chronicled because no one expected him to become king. That honor was supposed to go to his older brother, Prince Arthur.

When Arthur was 15, he married Catherine of Aragon, daughter of the Catholic Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand, who the careful reader might recall as being the royal couple who financed Christopher Columbus in his quest to find a faster route to Asia. The marriage was arranged by his father, Henry VII, in an attempt to forge an alliance between Spain and England against France and as a symbolic end to the War of the Roses.

The newlyweds fell ill. Historians disagree about what the illness was, the possibilities being plague, tuberculosis, influenza, or the mysterious, virulent "English sweating sickness." Catherine recovered, but twenty weeks after his wedding, on April 2, Arthur died. Henry was 10 at the time, and he became the new Prince of Wales.

He was also entered into an arranged marriage to his brother's wife by his father, who was still focusing on the alliance against France. He was only eleven, but a treaty was signed and the young couple was officially betrothed.

Henry VIII became the King of England upon his father's death from tuberculosis in 1509 and married Catherine two months later, and on June 23, 1509, he and his wife were crowned.

Two days after his coronation, Henry embarked upon the path he would later tread frequently: he would simply have those whom he believed stood in his way executed. He had two of his father's ministers arrested and charged with high treason. They were executed a few months later.

Catherine became pregnant in late 1509 but suffered a miscarriage. She became pregnant again and gave birth to a boy, who was later baptized Henry, on January 1, 1511. He died when he was 52 days old. Catherine suffered another miscarriage and then had another son, who died a few days after his birth. On February of 1516, she had a daughter, Mary. She was pregnant twice more, but bore Henry VIII no son.

The king was frustrated as he needed a male heir, and had more than one mistress, one of whom was Mary Boleyn, whose sister Anne was one of Queen Catherine's ladies. The other was Elizabeth Blount, who in 1519 bore him a son, Henry FitzRoy.  He also decided he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn, an intelligent woman with a good sense of humor whom Henry felt was the woman who could bear him a son or two.

By the time Catherine was 42 and no longer of childbearing age, Henry decided he would divorce Catherine, get Pope Clement to grant him an annulment, and marry Anne. This move was what began the English Reformation, which resulted in the Church of England breaking away from the Catholic Church and the authority of the Pope.

When Catherine found out, she petitioned the Pope not to allow the annulment.  That battle -- both political and legal -- went on for six years.

Henry had to do something to keep the possibility of marrying Anne and having a male heir to the throne, so he decided to ignore the Pope and had the Archbishop of Canterbury grant the annulment. That done, Catherine was dubbed the Princess Dowager of Wales and was banished from the court. She died in 1536, still refusing to acknowledge that she was no longer the Queen of England.

Henry and Anne were married in secret in 1532, and she became pregnant. A second, and this time, public, wedding was celebrated in January of 1533. She was crowned the Queen Consort in June 1533 and delivered a daughter that September.

By all accounts, the couple was not happy with married life. They enjoyed one another's company, but Anne was not one to be submissive, even to the King of England. For his part, while he apparently enjoyed her opinionated and independent character when she was his mistress, he expected her to be obedient and submissive as his Queen. She had a quick and violent temper, which Henry despised as time went on, and when she miscarried in 1534, he took her inability to bear him a son as a personal betrayal.

Meanwhile, he was getting plenty of blowback from numerous people who were still loyal to the papacy, including a group of monks eventually called the Carthusian Martyrs who were executed for disagreeing with Henry's divorce of Catherine and marriage to Anne; Sir Thomas More, who refused to attend the wedding of Henry and Anne and then refused to swear his loyalty to the Crown over the Catholic Church; and Thomas Cromwell.

In 1536, Anne miscarried a male child, and that was pretty much the end of the marriage. Henry took up a relationship with Anne's former lady in waiting Jane Seymour, whom he would later marry, and had five men, including Anne's brother George, arrested on charges of "treasonable adultery," accused of having illicit relationships with the Queen. Anne was then arrested as well, on charges of adultery and incest. All of the accused were executed in May of 1536, and a second divorce was averted.

Ten days after Anne was executed, Henry married his mistress, Jane Seymour, and in the fall of 1537, she gave birth to a son, Edward, who would one day become King Edward VI.  Jane died 12 days after the birth from an infection.

After being a widower for more than two years, he married Anne of Cleves, a betrothal which was based on a portrait he had commissioned of her before the marriage. He had not seen her in person, but sent the court painter to Cleves to paint portraits of Anne and her sister. It is thought that the painter took liberties with the painting, portraying Anne as prettier than she was. Henry wanted out of the marriage from the beginning and found her unattractive. Furthermore, he had become attracted to Anne's lady in waiting, Kathryn Howard.

Less than half  a year after their marriage, Anne, whose survival instincts were apparently sharp, had no problem testifying that the marriage had not been consummated, and their marriage was dissolved. Upon the dissolution, she was given the honorary title as the "King's Sister."

Kathryn Howard, on the other hand, did not have such survival skills. This wife, the first cousin of Anne Boleyn, married Henry in July of 1540, a mere sixteen days after Anne of Cleves had been relieved of her crown and dispatched to a country estate. At 19, she was 30 years younger than Henry.

One cannot really blame her for craving attention from those closer to her age, but that was a dangerous thing to do, as she must have known. Before their first anniversary, rumors of Kathryn's infidelity were rife, and when she appointed one of her male admirers to the position of her personal secretary, it was too much. Henry's advisor, Archbishop Cranmer, dug into her background, and it turned out her promiscuity had begun before their wedding and continued through their marriage.

She was put to death in February of 1542.

His final wife, Katherine Parr, was the daughter of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon, and was, in fact, named after her. Katherine was 31 when she and Henry were wed, and very well-educated. She was fluent in Latin, French, and Italian, and while she was queen, she learned Spanish.

She was twice widowed by the time King Henry took an interest in her, and had expressed a desire to marry Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Queen Jane Seymour. But when Henry proposed, she felt it was her duty to accept it.

She was stepmother and teacher to his children Edward and Elizabeth and a patron of the arts and music. She wrote two books; the first one, "Prayers or Meditations," was the first written work ever to be published by an English Queen under her own name, while the second, "The Lamentation of a Sinner," was published after Henry died in 1547.

By the time he died, Henry was obese, with a waist measuring 54 inches. He was unable to move about on his own and was aided by various mechanical inventions. He suffered from gout and his body was reportedly littered with boils. He had a festering leg wound which became ulcerated for the last eleven years of his life. He had mood swings and was thought to have had syphilis, though that has been discounted in recent years, that idea abandoned for the idea that it was probably untreated Type II diabetes from which he suffered.

He died at age 55 on what would have been his father's 90th birthday in the Palace of Whitehall.

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