Henry was the second Tudor monarch. He broke with the Papacy in Rome and established the Church of England, initiating the English Reformation.
Henry was born on 28 June 1491 in Greenwich. After the death of his elder brother Arthur in 1502, Henry VIII became heir to the English throne. Seven years later his father Henry VII died and he was crowned king of England. Shortly afterwards he married Catherine of Aragon, Arthur’s widow. Henry increasingly relied on Thomas Wolsey to rule for him and Wolsey became lord chancellor in 1515.
One of Henry’s favourite pursuits, alongside hunting and dancing, was to wage war. Wolsey organised the first French campaign and proved to be an outstanding minister. The Scots were defeated at Flodden in 1513. But war with France ultimately proved expensive and unsuccessful and Wolsey’s ascendancy was cut short by Henry’s need for a male heir. He was determined to replace Catherine – whose only surviving child was a daughter, Mary, but the pope refused to grant the divorce. In 1533, Henry went ahead anyway and married Anne Boleyn, with whom he had a daughter, Elizabeth. The pope excommunicated him, and parliamentary legislation confirmed Henry’s decision to break with Rome. With the help of Wolsey’s replacement, Thomas Cromwell, Henry established himself as head of the Church of England and ordered the dissolution of the monasteries. Henry grew tired of Anne Boleyn, who had failed to produce a male heir, and she was executed for adultery and treason in 1536. Jane Seymour became queen and in 1537 produced a male heir, Edward, but died after childbirth.