Edward_VI_by_Holbein1. His Quest for an Heir

Henry is most famous for his wives, all six of them. It was not the legacy he intended to leave behind, and by Henry’s reckoning, six wives was perfectly reasonable. Henry’s marriages were many not because he was changeable, but because he was desperate to secure his line. All but one of his wives, in Henry’s eyes, failed him. His first two wives only gave him girls. To make matters worse he had fathered a healthy boy with his mistress Elizabeth Blount, but neither Katherine nor Anne had managed to produce a legitimate heir. It was the wife who gave him his first legitimate son, Jane Seymour, that Henry chose to be buried with, in his words, his “true wife”.

The Tudor Dynasty was still new, and while Henry had all but wiped out the last of the Plantagenets, leaving behind a secure succession was still foremost on his mind. He himself was the “spare heir”, while his mother, Elizabeth of York, had given his father Henry VII a good family of two boys and two girls who lived until adulthood, his older brother and heir to the throne Arthur Tudor died tragically young. It was only seven years later that Henry, never raised to be king, took the throne, and his brother’s widow, himself. Katherine of Aragon did bear Henry a son in the early years of their marriage, but little Henry died after only a month. After a twenty-year union and a single girl, Mary, Henry began to think he was being punished for his sins. The rest, of course, is history. Five wives later, elderly, sickly and grossly overweight, two girls, one boy and a couple of illegitimate children, Henry’s obsession with fathering princes to secure his line had not waned. It is impossible to tell but unlikely, considering the state of his health, that he was sexually active with his last wife, Katherine Parr. Yet Henry still seemed to think he was capable of fathering more children, at least at the time of writing his will, as you can see from the following line

As to the succession of the Crown, it shall go to Prince Edward and the heirs of his body. In default, to Henry’s children by his present wife, Queen Catharine, or any future wife.

Had Henry lived until his seventies I think he never would have given up his quest to have another boy to secure the line. We all know the irony in that. She is called Elizabeth the First.


DSCN61022.The Reformation

Another thing Henry is famous for is the break from Rome and the Catholic Church. Yet he was not responsible for the furthering of religious reform during his reign. The break with Rome was for rather more selfish reasons.

The Protestant Reformation was sparked by the posting of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses. Henry VIII opposed the the early stages of Protestantism, earning the title Defender of the Faith when he published his rebuttal Defence of the Seven Sacraments. The title was bestowed upon him somewhat grudgingly, but it would have been quite rude of the Pope to ignore the presentation copy, bound in cloth-of-gold with personally inscribed dedicatory verses. It was a spectacular display of public suck-up and the Pope was obliged to reciprocate. The Pope did refuse to add Gloriosus (famous) or Fidelissimus (ever faithful) as some cardinals had suggested to the title. Nonetheless Henry was delighted.

However when Pope Clement refused to grant Henry a divorce (or annulment) from Katherine of Aragon, the Fidei defensatrix decided he didn’t want to be told what to do. His future wife, Anne Boleyn, owned a copy of William Tyndale’s The Obedience of a Christian Man, which she convinced Henry to read. The book advocated that the king of a country was the head of that country’s church, rather than the pope, inspiring Henry’s decision to break with Rome and make himself “Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England.”

While Rome was convinced Henry would come back to them if only they could be rid of Anne Boleyn, Henry never did return to the Roman Catholic Church. But any talk of actual reform was merely lip service. Henry remained devoted to the traditional beliefs of the Holy Catholic Church throughout his lifetime and continued to persecute “heretics”. The Dissolution of the Monasteries was simply a way to stuff his ever-diminishing coffers, much to the chagrin of his wife Anne Boleyn, who was Evangelical and believed passionately in reform. Anne wanted the proceeds of the dissolution used for charitable purposes, not paid into the King’s treasury.

Anne had a copy of the first English bible translated by  William Tyndale, which was being smuggled into England after 1526, that she openly displayed in her chamber. Not only was it a banned book, but in 1530 Tyndale brought Henry’s wrath down on him by writing The Practyse of Prelates, opposing Henry’s divorce on the grounds that it contravened Scripture. Henry asked Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to have him apprehended and returned to England, but he was refused. Anne, despite Tyndale’s opposition to her marriage, owned a beautiful copy of the 1534 printing of Tyndale’s translation and continued to work towards a reconciliation between the two.

Henry never did manage to get his hands on Tyndale, for despite Thomas Cromwell’s attempt to intervene, Tyndale was executed in 1536 for heresy by the Holy Roman Empire. It was just months after the execution of Anne Boleyn.
Tyndale’s last words were were reported as “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.” His prayer was answered. It was only four years later that Henry VIII commissioned copies of the bible in English. But it was in his son Edward’s reign that true Protestantism was established for the first time in England, with the the abolition of clerical celibacy and the Mass, and religious services being conducted in English.


800px-Nonsuch3.Nonesuch Palace

Henry conceived Nonesuch Palace in the thirteenth year of his reign, six months after the death of his wife Jane and the birth of his son Edward VI. The palace was designed to be a celebration of the power and the grandeur of the Tudor dynasty, built to rival Francis I’s Château de Chambord. The palace cost at least £24,000, or £138,000,000 by today’s reckoning. Work started on the palace in 1538, but it was still incomplete when Henry VIII died in 1547. In fact the next two Tudor monarchs didn’t finish it, In 1556 Queen Mary I sold it to the 19th Earl of Arundel who completed it. It returned to the crown in the 1590s, and remained royal property until 1670, when Charles II gave it to his mistress, Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine. She had it pulled down around 1682–3 and sold off the building materials to pay gambling debts. You might like to think Henry VIII may have been sympathetic, he was extremely fond of gambling himself.


458px-Thomas_Howard,_third_Duke_of_Norfolk_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger4.The Execution of Norfolk

Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was like a cat with nine lives. Born in 1473, his father, then the Earl of Surrey, and his grandfather the 1st Duke of Norfolk were killed at the Battle of Bosworth fighting for Richard III. Although the family titles were revoked by Henry VII immediately after Bosworth,  Norfolk slowly but steadily climbed back into favour, marrying Anne of York, fifth daughter of Edward IV and Henry VII’s sister-in-law in 1495. By Henry VIII’s reign, the Howards were a powerful family, with two of Norfolk’s nieces, namely Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, becoming Queens of England. But in the final years of Henry’s reign the religiously conservative Norfolk was becoming increasingly isolated politically. His son, Henry Howard Earl of Surrey, childhood friend of Henry VIII’s illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, was not helping matters. Henry had become convinced Surrey was planning to usurp the crown from his son Edward. Surrey had allegedly displayed in his own heraldry the royal arms and insignia, which far more likely displayed his rather inflated ego rather than any plans to snatch the crown from young Edward. Not being able to resist a good beheading even though he was dying, Henry had Surrey and Norfolk arrested for treason and sent to the Tower. Surrey was sadly executed shortly after his trial and conviction, on the 19th of January 1547. On the 27th January 1547 Norfolk was attainted by statute without trial, but Henry never got to sign the death warrant, dying on the 28th of January.

Norfolk was held in the Tower throughout Edward VI’s reign, but released by the Cathololic Queen Mary and pardoned in 1553. He had survived to see the reigns of six monarchs, many wars and the execution of two of his nieces and his son. He died peacefully in his home at Kenninghall in 1554, at the grand age of 81, escaping Henry VIII’s final revenge.


IMG_45745.His Tomb

For himself he would be content that his body should be buried in any place accustomed for Christian folks, but, for the reputation of the dignity to which he has been called, he directs that it shall be laid in the choir of his college of Windesour, midway between the stalls and the high altar, in a tomb now almost finished in which he will also have the bones of his wife, Queen Jane.

The instructions from Henry VIII’s will may sound humble, but he had somewhat grander plans for his final resting place. Plans for his grand tomb began in 1518, only nine years after he ascended the throne. These underwent several changes, including a monument that was to be 28 foot high, 15 feet long and topped by an effigy of the king on horseback. After Cardinal Wolsey’s death, Henry snatched components from Wolsey’s unfinished tomb, as grand as the plans for Henry’s own, for his own use. Almost three decades, many abandoned plans and much coin later, the tomb was still unfinished. The responsibility fell to his son Edward VI to complete his parent’s tomb. Several Italian artists later work had still not progressed, and Edward’s short reign ended with his sudden death. Despite the pleas in the minutes drafted for his will for his father’s tomb to be made up, nothing was done. Henry’s eldest daughter and first Queen of England, Mary I, also did nothing to complete the tomb, despite her good intentions.

Five years into Elizabeth I’s reign, she decided to look at the project again, having her Treasurer William Paulet draw up a list of parts still needed to complete the tomb. Paulet was drawing up a revised design for the tomb, but unfortunately Elizabeth did not like it. Somewhere between Elizabeth being finicky and the need to save money,  another three decades passed with Henry’s tomb left unfinished. More than 200 years later he and his wife Jane still rested in an unmarked burial chamber in the middle of the choir in St. George’s Chapel. It remained unmarked until 1837, when King William IV placed a plain black marble slab with brass letting, marking the final resting place of King Henry VIII, his wife Queen Jane, King Charles I and an infant child of Queen Anne Stuart. Thousands of tourists walk heedlessly over his grave every year.


It’s Tudor History Week for Tudor Geeks on Nerdalicious. Keep an eye out for more articles and interviews this week in History.


About The Author

Olga Hughes is currently pre-occupied with fairy tales, fantasy, misanthropy, medieval history and the long eighteenth century. She has a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Victorian College of the Arts and is currently majoring in Literature and History at Deakin. She has contributed to websites such as History behind Game of Thrones, The Anne Boleyn Files and The Tudor Society.

2 Responses

  1. Underdogge

    I know this feature is from a couple of years ago (it’s near end of June 2015 as I type) but I am glad the then Duke of Norfolk kept his head and died at home at a good age. You may be aware that the grounds (or is it part of them?) of Nonesuch Palace are now a public park, Nonesuch Park. It is a nice park though mental images I had about its interesting history were rather knocked on the head when a broadcaster from that area mentioned it being a park well-known for courting couples doing what courting couples do.

  2. Bev Dee

    Hi it’s a shame that Nonesuch palace was pulled down but they didn’t think much of it if they gave it away and I think it fitting that King Henry didn’t get the tomb he wanted