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.