Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) was King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547. Henry was the second Tudor monarch, succeeding his father, Henry VII. Henry is best known for his six marriages, in particular his efforts to have his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, annulled. His disagreement with the Pope on the question of such an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority. He appointed himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England and dissolved convents and monasteries, for which he was excommunicated. Henry is also known as “the father of the Royal Navy”; he invested heavily in the Navy, increasing its size greatly from a few to more than 50 ships.
Domestically, Henry is known for his radical changes to the English Constitution, ushering into England the theory of the divine right of kings. Besides asserting the sovereign’s supremacy over the Church of England, he greatly expanded royal power during his reign. Charges of treason and heresy were commonly used to quell dissent, and those accused were often executed without a formal trial, by means of bills of attainder. He achieved many of his political aims through the work of his chief ministers, some of whom were banished or executed when they fell out of his favour. Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Richard Rich, and Thomas Cranmer all figured prominently in Henry’s administration.
He was an extravagant spender and used the proceeds from the Dissolution of the Monasteries and acts of the Reformation Parliament to convert into royal revenue the money that was formerly paid to Rome. Despite the influx of money from these sources, Henry was continually on the verge of financial ruin due to his personal extravagance as well as his numerous costly and largely unsuccessful continental wars, particularly with King Francis I of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. At home, he oversaw the legal union of England and Wales with the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 and following the Crown of Ireland Act 1542 he was the first English monarch to rule as King of Ireland.
His contemporaries considered Henry in his prime to be an attractive, educated and accomplished king. He has been described as “one of the most charismatic rulers to sit on the English throne”. He was an author and composer. As he aged, Henry became severely obese and his health suffered, contributing to his death in 1547. He is frequently characterised in his later life as a lustful, egotistical, harsh, and insecure king. He was succeeded by his son Edward VI, the issue of his third marriage to Jane Seymour.
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