“I would not be a queen for all the world!”
- Early Reign: Henry became king in 1509 after the death of his father and he was coronated on the 14th of June that year. Despite only being 18, Henry displayed all the ruthlessness and political cunning that would come to define his reign. Almost immediately, two of his father’s former minister’s were arrested and executed for high treason. This tactic would be used frequently by Henry to eliminate those who he saw as troublesome or as a potential threat.
- France: Henry invaded France in 1513 as part of his commitment to the Pope’s Holy League against France. Driven in large part by Henry’s dream to be king of France and relive the glory of Agincourt, the campaign failed in its objectives and Henry ran out of money. Soon after King Louis XII died and was succeeded to the French throne by Francis I. European geo-politics evolved quickly after Henry’s failed invasion and two superpowers emerged on the European continent. The first was Charles of Austria’s ascent to the Spanish and German thrones and the second was the very real threat of an Ottoman invasion from the East. In 1518 the Treaty of London had emerged from Cardinal Wolsey’s meticulous diplomacy with the aim of uniting the European powers against the Ottomans. In an unprecedented meeting, Henry met with Francis at what became known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold or Camp du drap D’Or in France. Their encounter was driven as much by the fear of Charles as anyone but also by each sides desire to be seen as the main player when facing the Eastern threat. Henry’s intention from the meeting was to ride the wave of diplomacy that Cardinal Wolsey had helped create. Wolsey was a renaissance man, an arbitrator in excelsis and a diplomatic architect who believed in universal peace. Henry for his part was curious to meet Francis and show off his strength and athleticism. Each king arrived with 6,000 followers and laid out a temporary city which featured banquets of dolphin and fountains of wine. These Tudor displays on the continent helped to transform little England from a European backwater constantly at war with itself into a serious European contender.
- Head of the Church: The rise of Protestantism in Europe from 1517 did not impress Henry initially. By 1531 this had all changed. Henry needed a divorce from his wife Catherine of Aragon as she had gone past her child bearing years and Henry desperately needed a male heir. The Pope refused to grant his divorce and so Henry passed laws in England rejecting papal authority and placing himself as head of the church in England. The process would be known as The English Reformation and was quickly followed by the dissolution of the monasteries. Henry was excommunicated from the church but curiously, remained a practising Christian for the rest of his life.
- Women: One thing most British people know about Henry VIII is that he was a serial womaniser who had 6 wives. While in part driven by a taste for taking what he wanted, there was a pragmatic reason for this also. Henry needed a male heir in order to stop civil war erupting after his death. Henry’s first marriage was to Catherine of Aragon the widow of his older brother Arthur. Catherine only produced one surviving child, the future Queen Mary I, and multiple later miscarriages strained their relationship. After divorcing Catherine, Henry married Anne Boleyn, a lady in waiting for the Queen. After a secret ceremony following his divorce, Anne gave birth to a daughter whom they named Elizabeth. Anne was a committed Protestant reformer with a strong intellect and did not suit the submissive role of Queen. The King and Anne frequently argued and while pregnant with their second child, Anne miscarried. The writing was on the wall and an increasingly erratic Henry had her arrested on trumped up charges of treason. She was beheaded in 1536. Henry’s third marriage to Jane Seymour finally produced a male heir who they named Edward. Tragically, Jane died in childbirth. Henry’s fourth marriage to Anne of Cleeves was arranged by the King’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell in an attempt to create greater unity with Protestant Germany. The marriage was a disaster and almost immediately annulled. Cromwell fell out of favour with the King and was beheaded a short while after. The day of Cromwell’s execution Henry married Catherine Howard. He was delighted with his new wife but two years later in 1542, allegations emerged that she had had an affair. After confessing, Catherine was executed. Henry’s final marriage was to Catherine Parr who took on the role of his nurse and went on to outlive him.
- The Rough Wooing: In 1539 and with a male heir in the form of Edward, Henry invaded Scotland with the intention of uniting the Scottish and English thrones. The current King of Scotland was James V who had a young daughter named Mary. By arranging a marriage with the future Queen of Scots to his son, Henry sought to create a United Kingdom as he had done between England and Wales. The resulting years of war became known as the ‘rough wooing’.