On This Day – 28th January 1547

Henry VIII (Cornelis Metsys)

On the 28th of January 1547 Henry VIII of England died at Whitehall.

Henry had ruled England since 1509, and was only 55 when he died. He was certainly a prime candidate for NewLab’s  drive against obesity, however, one can just  imagine what he would have told them, had they dared to  mention his outrageous size!  It has long been known that Henry did not suffer from syphilis, but I was interested to read that it that he may well have suffered from Type 2 diabetes.

Much has been said about Henry’s marital adventures, but it should, perhaps, be remembered  that the succession wars, poetically named “The Wars of the Roses” , were  neither poetic nor brief. The first major battle was in 1455 and the final episode was the executions of Perkin Warbeck and Edward, Earl of Warwick, in 1499.  But only we, with hindsight, know that that was truly the end of the wars between rival contestants for the throne of England, those living at the time did not. By 1524,it was obvious that Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, would not provide a male heir. The only time the English throne had been left to a woman, civil war had followed. Henry was not the only person in England who thought his first marriage should be annulled in order to provide a male heir.  However, not many approved of Henry’s choice for his second wife!

Henry is often portrayed as a lecher, in fact he had very few mistresses,  and it is interesting to note that Henry, unlike other monarchs of the time, was only happy marrying women that he knew. David Starkey went so far as to call Henry something of a prude.

Henry is often seen as a ‘strong’ king –  I don’t! His father, Henry VII, left him with lots of money, which he promptly spent. Henry left the running of England first to Thomas Wolsey, and then to  Thomas Cromwell. Providing his ministers gave him what he wanted, Henry was happy,  but God help them if they failed! There is no doubt that Henry used ‘judicial murder’ to rid himself of opponents, real or otherwise. The most disgraceful was the execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. Convicted of treason, her only crime was that she was the last legitimate member of the previous dynasty.  According to some accounts, Margaret, aged 67 years, refused to lay her head on the block and was forced to do so.

Henry may have been physically energetic, but he was, in other ways, exceedingly lazy. He hated writing, and put off signing documents. A dry seal of his signature was made so that documents could be stamped and the indentation filled in. Historians have some difficulty in knowing which documents he really signed and which he did not. During his reign,  ‘Gentleman of the Privy Chamber’ became a highly prized office. It would appear that one of the best ways to get Henry to sign a document was to catch him on the ‘Privy’.  The ‘Gentlemen’ who attended him at that time were often able to get him to sign documents especially those granting lands and other perks and, needless to say, pick up a few ‘perks’ for themselves!

Henry was buried on the 16th of February 1547  at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, next to his third wife, Jane Seymour.

Henry is often credited with turning England into a Protestant country. He did no such thing. As far as he was concerned he remained a Catholic to the end.  He may have made himself Head of the Church in England (not the Church of England), he may have closed all monasteries (the money was extremely useful), he may (briefly) have allowed Cromwell to place a copy of the Bible in every parish church (swiftly repealed when the ‘common folk’ started discussing theological matters) – but he also reinforced the earlier heresy laws and asserted the traditional Catholic doctrines as the basis of faith for the English Church in the ‘Statute of the Six Articles’ of  1539. If the new treason laws didn’t get you – the old heresy laws would! What no one seems to have adequately explained is why he had his son and heir educated by people with known Protestant sympathies.

However one feels about Henry VIII’s religious and marital  activities, one surely has to say that on this day in 1547 a man, who had changed England forever, died.

10 thoughts on “On This Day – 28th January 1547”

  1. Oh!
    I was taught that Henry did have syphilis – hence the never-healing ulcer on his leg. How long has academia known that this wasn’t true?

  2. Evening Boadicea: I have heard mention of the diabetes theory and this certainly seems rather more probable than syphilis. This seems to be quite likely when you look at his siblings.

    There seems to be no record of any treatment for syphilis, Bearsy, which was recognised and er “treatable”, well sort of, so I think this is unlikely. I agree with Boadicea, he was not promiscuous and had a rather “courtly” attitude to his wives, and although they had to be despatched with “extreme prejudice” more often than not, he did seem genuinely to mourn their demise.

  3. The problem is that people think because he married so often he was promiscuous.

    I’m not sure that he mourned the deaths of all his wives. He celebrated Catherine’s death, probably, in part, because her death allowed him to ‘escape’ from the second marriage. And he celebrated Anne’s death by marrying Jane Seymour almost immediately.

    But it is true that he mourned Jane’s death for some considerable time.

  4. True, Boadicea, but he did need an heir, and quite rightly so. I feel this was the motivating factor.

  5. Bodicea, It is worth noting he was also desperate for a male heir, which probably made for a worse showing than if he had had one early in his reign. It is said he still held much affection for Catherine of Aragon, who we are told was a good match and it was only due to political expediency that I believe this situation changed.

  6. As a Ex. Welshman I always try to defend the Tudors, it’s not easy. Henry VIII’s execution of Margaret Pole was really a continuation of his father’s purge of the Plantagenets (themselves not a pleasant bunch) but that’s hardly a good reason for it.

    His early strong support of the Catholic Church earned him the “Fidei Defensore” from the then Pope, which is still there on the coinage.

    I agree with the Type II diabetes theory, it would also explain the unhealed leg ulcer resulting from an old wound.

    Interesting to speculate what may have happened had Henry Fitzroy (Duke of Richmond) survived into adulthood. he was, I think, the only acknowledged illegitimate son of Henry and was close to being recognized as an heir when he died at 17. Even so he may well not have survived against those two strong women Mary and Elizabeth.

  7. Henry, and many others thought a male heir was necessary. The only person who did not see the problem was Catherine whose mother, Isabella of Castile, had been a queen in her own right – and a pretty strong queen at that!

    I’m inclined to believe (along with David Starkey) that Henry was one of those men whose ‘conscience’ was very based on what he wanted… and he wanted Anne.

    I don’t think his treatment of Catherine shows that he ‘held much affection’ for her. By all accounts, Kimbolton castle where she died, was not the healthiest of places and he steadfastly refused to allow her to see their daughter, Mary.

    Anne Boleyn was part of a faction that wanted to replace the Spanish alliance with an alliance with France, and one of the reasons for Anne’s fall was that the pro-Spanish faction gained more power.

  8. You’re right, that Henry FitzRoy was the only acknowledged illegitimate child. It is possible that Henry might have overturned convention and declared Henry junior his heir, but it would have been difficult to enforce.

    The convention was that only a ‘legally begotten’ child could take the throne – even those who knew that they had much to fear from Mary acknowledged that she was the rightful heir. Trying to foist an illegitimate heir onto the country could well have left the door open for another round of civil unrest. And I really think that Henry was trying to avoid that.

  9. When I went to school they didn’t really teach much about this period of history beyond the list of wives and a ’sketch’ of their relationship with Henry, the sterotypical fat Henry in his later life and the succession crisis involving Mary and Elizabeth, posssession of Church property and the death of Cardinal Wolseley – hardly a rounded education! The politics of the period are immensely intriguing, particularly those between England, Spain, France, the Holy Roman Empire and the Papal States. Politics and religion do not make good bed fellows.

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