At in the nursery with his mother and

At the age of 17 years
old, Henry VIII was pronounced king at Westminster Abbey following the death of
his father, Henry VII (Henry Tudor) in 1509. Henry VIII is undoubtedly the most
infamous monarch of the Tudor period, most notably known for his round
appearance, six wives and extravagant lifestyle regardless of Henry Tudor being
the king that secured the Tudor dynasty following his triumphant defeat of
Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. The first Tudor king set the way for a
peaceful and secure monarchy as he ended the wars of the roses uniting the
house of Lancaster and York. The Lancastrian king married the Yorkist Elizabeth
of York and further unified the two warring houses by conceiving a son and
future king that had both Lancastrian and Yorkist blood. Throughout his reign
he successfully overcame Yorkist threat to create a stable monarchy that Henry
VIII inherited unlike his father the usurper who had fought for the Tudors to
be on the throne. However, Henry VIII had not been brought up to be King, he
was simply the spare. Prince Arthur, Henry VIII’s older brother was the heir to
the throne. In 1502 following Arthur’s death Henry went from being the reserve
to the heir but as a result of this they had very contrasting upbringings.
Arthur was brought up in a politically male dominated world whereas Henry was surrounded
by mostly women including spending most of his time in the nursery with his
mother and two sisters which some historians believe is a key factor in why
Henry’s reign was women focused and based. Henry VIII had an especially close
relationship to his mother evident through his handwriting that strongly
resembles his mothers and not his teachers suggesting his mother was his first
teacher, an unusual setup for a young royal male.


Upon ascension to the
throne Henry VIII wanted to break from the past and the rule of his father.
Since grief struck Henry VII’s latter years had been characterised by malice
and severity following the death of Prince Arthur and Elizabeth of York, he was
perceived to have tyrannised members of the gentry and nobility and imposed
harsh penalties through the Counsel Learned in the Law (a small group of highly
feared professionals, most with some kind of legal training or experience that
held royal rights). This was the first bloodless transfer of power in England
since Henry V nearly a century before and it appeared that Henry VII had
successfully achieved his aim of securing the Tudor dynasty as the throne was
peacefully passed down to his son. Even though Henry VIII is remembered for
more negative qualities, he did have positive qualities that increased his
support. For example he looked like a king and he wanted to impress and show
that he was a vigorous king by restoring the relationship with the nobility.
Despite Henry trying to demonstrate a break from his father in terms of
severity and harshness he did keep some of his advisors and maintained some of
his policies. But two clear demonstrations of change won Henry popularity and
added to his knightly and chivalrous image. This included the arrest and
execution of Dudley and Empson the two most hated of his father’s advisors for
implementing harsh financial policies due to public demand for revenge and his
honourable act of marrying and freeing Catherine of Aragon. Just weeks into
Henry’s reign he was already married to the Spanish princess whose lifelong
duty had been to obtain an alliance with England. Catherine was the daughter of
Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, their marriage led to the
unification of Spain resulting in the country being a new European great power
and an attractive ally for the first Tudor king, Henry VII. It was negotiated
through a marriage treaty that Catherine of Aragon was to wed Prince Arthur. At
the time they were only three and had to wait until 1501 when they had reached
the age of 15, an acceptable age to proceed with on goings at this time. Less
than 5 months later Catherine was widowed following the death of her young
husband and just over a year later the teenage widow was betrothed to Henry
VIII. 1504 her mother Isabella died which greatly reduced the value of
Catherine as a royal bride. Aware of this Henry VII ordered his son to
repudiate the betrothal without telling her, leaving her in diplomatic and
marital uncertainty. Subsequently after his father’s death and Henry’s decision
to go ahead with his marriage to Catherine portrayed this as an honourable act
by the new king while restoring the valuable Spanish alliance and giving him an
ally for his aim of building a reputation as a warrior king.

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During this period the
king was seen as a warrior and expected to lead the country into war and the
young Henry came to the throne with youthful innocence and the determination to
be the opposite of his father who had avoided war. In this way Henry VII had
failed to live up to the knightly ideal in the minds of contemporaries.
Contrastingly to the rise of his father the usurper who faced backlash from
opposition Henry VIII was greeted with joy evident through Thomas More’s
writings that fondly described the event of Henry’s rise and also referred to
him as the Messiah in a poem. It is clear that in the minds of the majority
there was a sense of excitement towards the new young king and the reason being
that he was a holy, warrior, renaissance prince. The term ‘renaissance prince’
describes a strong, handsome, educated, sporty and religious scholar which
perfectly describes Henry VIII at the start of his reign. The adolescent yet
charming prince had a keen interest in music and science, spoke Latin, French,
Spanish and was a fine jouster. In 1506 at the age of 15 Henry met Archduke
Philip of Burgundy who was driven ashore by a storm on his way to claim the
Spanish throne that he had inherited through his wife and was brought to Henry
VII’s court. The young Henry VIII immediately took a liking to Philip who was
young, charming, a particularly good jouster and a very different king to what
teenage Henry was used to giving him an alternative king for him to admire. The
extent of Henry’s admiration for Philip led to him being the recipient of
Henry’s first letter, or first letter to survive. In this letter Henry
requested that Philip keep in contact and inform him of his good health and
prosperity and in turn he would do the same. Formally nevertheless, it appeared
that the 14 year old prince was reaching out to the 27 year old to be his pen
pal. Four months later Henry received the news that Philip had died to which
Henry compared the news to that of the passing of his mother. It was around
this time that he took up Philips favourite sport; jousting. However as the
future king of England, he could not compete himself as it would be too
dangerous and therefore everyday he was out in the tiltyard practicing the
exercise known as running the ring. This allowed Henry to befriend Yorkist star
jousters and it was here that he became close to them. In this way Henry VIII
was already at a much stronger position than his father in terms of Yorkist
threat and in addition to this he was brought up by his Yorkist mother and
looked like his grandfather Edward IV, the first Yorkist king of England.


It was not surprising that
Henry VIII’s early years had been dominated by his desire for war and glory as
he was obsessed with proving himself as a warrior through the kingly act of
war. The childhood of Henry was filled with tales of legendary King Arthur and
his knights as well as Henry V’s conquests in France in which he crowned his
son the ‘King of France’ and making this title part of Henry VIII’s
inheritance. Therefore Henry wanted to claim what was rightfully his through
war with France and further demonstrate a break from his war avoiding father.
Yet Henry VIII also gave off the first impression that he was a bit of a soft
touch. When contemporaries approached him seeking favours of land, offices and
titles he granted what was requested to oppose his father’s miserliness. Henry
VIII liked the way he held the authority to remind people he made them and it
is through him that they have power. At this time society was rigidly
structured and class was everything in the court of Henry VIII. You were born
into greatness, you did not work your way up. The court was governed by noble
landowning aristocracy and as men of blue blood they had the God given right
and ability to advise the king on his policies as he was seen as one of them
and effectively was just a first among equals. Be that as it may, this was not
the thinking of the egoistic king and first British monarch to insist on being
addressed as Your Majesty. Symptomatic of the way his mind works and belief he
is greater than all around him this also stemmed from natural insecurity and
paranoia that all Tudors on the throne faced as a consequence to their rather
weak claim to the throne of England. Even though members of nobility were there
to help and advise the king, many rival noble families still populated the
royal court and were a threat in the means that many of them had a very viable
claim to the throne and Henry was aware that these were as strong as his if not
stronger. Henry’s paranoia led him to act promptly and in many cases brutally
against anyone involved in a rumor or conspiracy despite their being little to
no evidence and on numerous accounts Henry removed any potential threats to his
place on the throne when their only real crime was having royal blood. With an
insecure king on the throne the aristocracies were constantly in suspicion
allowing for men of low birth to make their mark by rising up the ranks and
getting close to the king. As well as Henry’s distrust of fellow nobles, his
lack of interest in paperwork and the business of government meant he entrusted
in men from humble backgrounds as the young king found writing tedious and
delegated everything away. Thomas Wolsey is a prime example of a low born son
of a butcher brought to prominence, showered with titles and wealth and for a
period running the country of England. Wolsey was Henry’s personal priest and
proved a genius at finance and administration but his understanding of the
king’s goal to acquire money and wealth put him in money hungry Henry’s good
books. The rise of Wolsey fascinates many historians as in the age where the
‘Great Chain of Being’ encouraged contemporaries to believe that everyone had
their place and this was set for life, this butchers boy from Ipswich became
not just a key figure in the Church as Cardinal and Archbishop of York but Lord
Chancellor under King Henry VIII. It was a mix of luck, charm, intelligence and
opportunism that saw Wolsey thrive like he did. When it came to Wolsey’s
execution it was obvious that it was not solely at the hands of the king who had
offered him everything in return for his services but down to a woman desperate
to be the queen of England- Anne Boleyn.

 Henry’s desire to marry his second wife and be
granted an annulment for his marriage to Catherine played a huge role in the
English Reformation and shaped modern England. Anne Boleyn was French and the
daughter of one of Henry’s ambassadors; she was seeking a suitor at the English
court when she caught the eye of the king. It was reported that she had a
personality that that lit up the room and really shone through that Henry VIII picked
up on straight away. The men of the Tudor period were constantly on the lookout
for a wife, replacement wife or whore and married Henry initially wanted to bed
Anne but she had other plans. She outright refused to become Henry’s mistress,
a position that her sister Mary had fulfilled before her but was not good
enough for Anne and from the start of her relationship with Henry she knew she
wanted to be queen. For nearly 20 years Henry had been married to Catherine of
Aragon but her failure to conceive a son and heir to the throne (they only had
one daughter Mary) to help further secure the Tudor dynasty as well as the fact
she was past her childbearing years made her useless in the eyes of the king
and his new Pro- French policy doomed Spanish Catherine a pointless marriage partner
and ally. Additionally, religious Henry believed his first marriage was against
God’s will. A quote from the bible “if a man shall take his brother’s wife it is
an unclean thing…they shall be without children” was persistently at the
forefront of Henry’s mind and conscience since his wife was previously married
to his older brother and Henry had to obtain papal dispensation in order to
marry the widow. Regardless of Catherine insisting that she and Arthur never consummated
their marriage, Henry stared to question this interpreting the bibles “without
children” to mean “without sons” and believed he had no heirs as a punishment
from God. Therefore, Henry deemed his marriage as illegitimate and knew that he
had to construct a legal marriage to be rewarded with a son from God. The declaration
of his marriage as illegitimate left his daughter’s legitimacy in question meaning
Henry would have no heir and put him in a weak and unsecure position.  Henry acted swiftly to make his illegitimate
son with his mistress (Henry Fitzroy) Duke of Richmond in 1525 and sent him to
run the Council of the North to gain experience in government and this suggests
Henry was clutching at straws to find a possible successor. Undoubtedly, Henry’s
longing to be with Anne was a significant factor in his push for an annulment
as they sent many love letters to each other but her main attraction was that
she was younger, more fertile and pushed the idea into Henry’s head that she
would be the one to give him a son. This is evident through one of her love
notes to Henry in her personal bible on a page opposite the baby Jesus that she
explains to him she can deliver hope; ultimately this is suggesting she will
deliver a male heir that Henry so desperately needs.

Only the Pope in Rome
could grant Henry his annulment and trusted sidekick Wolsey was set with the
job of securing it. Unfortunately Wolsey did not recognize the importance of
this task to Henry and the fact he was not on best terms with the Boleyn
faction left Henry’s annulment low down on Wolsey’s list of priorities. Despite
promising the king the matter would be easily resolved because of his influence
with papacy, Wolsey personally had nothing to gain and he was under the
impression that by delaying proceedings it would cool Henry VIII’s infatuation with
Anne and she would be discarded. By 1529 and after two years of negotiations it
was clear the Pope was not going to grant Henry an annulment and resentful Anne
blamed Wolsey and attempted to turn the king against his counselor. Even though
Henry forgave Wolsey, Anne continued to convince the already skeptical king
that he had turned into a traitor. Wolsey lost access to the king and Anne had
Henry’s ear so desperate Wolsey in an attempt to regain favour gave Henry Hampton
Court, the lavish palace that Wolsey built to show off his riches. The attempts
failed and a sickened Wolsey died on his way to trial.