The Line of Henry VIII

The Line of Henry VIII

Henry VIII has to be one of the more widely-known Kings of England. The Tutor line ended almost 100 years after Henry became King at the age of 18.

During his rule he:

  • Married six women (Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr)
  • Separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church
  • Composed Greensleeves

Like most kings, Henry wanted a male heir to ensure that his line stayed strong after his death. He tried very hard to get a male heir, as he believed that a female heir would not be strong enough to lead the country. Unfortunately, only three of his ten (possibly eleven) children survived: Edward, Mary and Elizabeth.

Below I have attempted to piece bits of history together, spanning not only the life of Henry VIII, but also his children.

Henry VIII

Henry VIII, born Henry Tudor, was the third of seven children of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York. Henry was never intended to be king, his older brother Arthur, Prince of Wales was being groomed to be his father’s successor. Henry VII wanted to strengthen his kingdom, so when Arthur was two years old, he arranged for his son to marry Catherine of Aragon - creating part of the treaty of Medina del Campo. The two betrothed did not meet until 13 years after this arrangement, however they had been sending formal letters to one another. Ten days after they finally met they were married at Old St Paul’s Cathedral. Not even a year into the marriage, the couple fell ill and Arthur died. Henry VII, eager to keep the alliance with Spain, arranged for his next oldest son (Henry) to marry Catherine of Aragon.

It is believed that Henry was not happy with the arrangement. It wasn’t until after his father was buried that he agreed to the marriage, stating that it was his father’s dying wish.

Catherine of Aragon

Henry’s wedding to Catherine was held privately at a church in Greenwich. On 23 June 1509, Henry led his bride from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey for their coronation.

The couple’s marriage became strained; mainly because of their failed attempts to produce an heir.

  • 31 January 1510

    • Unnamed daughter
  • 1 January 1511

    • Henry, Duke of Cornwall
      (died aged almost two months)
  • November 1513

    • Unnamed son
      (died shortly after birth)
  • December 1514

    • Henry, Duke of Cornwall
      (died within one month of birth)
  • 18 February 1516

  • November 1518

    • Unnamed daughter
      (stillbirth in the 8th month of pregnancy)

Henry believed that the marriage was cursed, as Catherine could not bare him a son. He sought to divorce Catherine on the grounds that his brother had consummated the marriage before he had died.

This sparked the English Reformation, the process of transforming England from a Catholic country to a Protestant one. Henry also created the Church of England and spilt England from papal supremacy.

On 23 May 1533, Thomas Cranmer ruled on the validity of Henry’s marriage to Catherine and declared the marriage illegal.

In 1535, Catherine was transferred to Kimbolton Castle. She was forbidden to see her daughter Mary, but was permitted some visitors. Mother and daughter were also forbidden from writing to each other, but a few sympathisers delivered letters between the two. Catherine died on 7 January 1536.

Elizabeth Blount - The Mistress

During Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, he took a number of mistresses. Elizabeth Blount was the first undisputed mistress of the king. On 15 June 1519, Blount bore the King an illegitimate son - the only illegitimate son whom Henry VIII acknowledged as his own. After the child’s birth, the affair ended for unknown reasons.

Anne Boleyn

After Elizabeth Blount, Henry found a new mistress named Mary Boleyn - one of Catherine of Aragon’s ladies-in-waiting. In 1525, Henry (increasingly frustrated that Catherine had not produced him a male heir) turned his affections to Mary’s sister Anne Boleyn, a young woman in the Queen’s entourage. Anne resisted his attempts to seduce her, and refused to become a mistress as her sister Mary Boleyn had.

Henry was now determined to find a dynastic successor and had three options available: legitimising Henry FitzRoy; marrying off Mary and hoping she would bear a grandson to inherit; or somehow rejecting Catherine and marrying someone else of child-bearing age.

The third option was the most attractive to Henry, and it soon became the King’s absorbing desire to annul his marriage to Catherine.

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were married on 25 January 1533 at Westminster Abbey.

  • 7 September 1533

  • September 1534

    • Henry, Duke of Cornwall
  • 29 January 1536

    • Unnamed son
      (miscarriage in the 4th month of pregnancy)

By now Henry VIII was furious that he had no male heir, and declared that he had been seduced into the marriage by means of “sortilege”. Anne was accused of adultery, incest, and high treason. On 14 May 1536, Thomas Cranmer declared the marriage dissolved.

Anne Boleyn was beheaded on 19 May 1536.

Jane Seymour

After Anne’s execution, Henry became engaged to Jane Seymour, who had been one of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn’s ladies-in-waiting. They were married at the Palace of Whitehall ten days after the execution. Interestingly Jane was never crowned, as a plague spread through London where the coronation was going to be held.

During her time with Henry, Jane tried to restore his daughter Mary to the line of succession, as Jane was sympathetic to the late Queen Catherine.

The birth was difficult, and the queen died two weeks later from an infection. Jane was the only wife of Henry to receive a queen’s funeral and was buried in Windsor Castle.

Anne of Cleves

Henry wished to marry once again, and was told of Anne - the sister of the Duke of Cleves. Henry believed that having an alliance with the Duke of Cleves would help prevent a Roman Catholic attack on England.

Henry sent a painter (Hans Holbein the Younger) to paint a portrait of Anne of Cleves, and upon receiving this he agreed to marry her. The couple were married on 6 January 1540, however it was not long before Henry wished to annul the marriage as he had fallen for Catherine Howard.

Anne did not argue against the annulment, and confirmed that they had not consummated the marriage. The marriage was annulled on 9 July 1540.

Catherine Howard

Henry VIII and Catherine Howard were married on 28 July 1540. Soon after the marriage, Catherine had an affair with Thomas Culpeper. She also employed Francis Dereham - with whom she had previously had an affair - as her secretary.

Henry originally refused to believe the allegations, but when presented with proof and confessions, went into a rage. The two men were executed, and Catherine Howard was beheaded on 13 February 1542.

Catherine Parr

Henry married Catherine Parr, a wealthy widow, in July 1543 at Hampton Court Palace. Catherine helped convince Henry to reconcile with his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. In 1543, an Act of Parliament put Mary and Elizabeth back in the line of succession after Edward.

Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547, aged 55. He was interred next to Jane Seymour in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

After his death, his only legitimate son, Edward, inherited the Crown to become Edward VI.

Edward VI

Edward was born on 12 October 1537, the only male heir of Henry VIII to survive infancy. Throughout the realm, the people celebrated the birth of their future king. However, celebrations were short-lived as Jane Seymour (Edward’s mother and Henry’s queen) fell ill on 23 October from presumed postnatal complications. Henry VIII wrote to Francis I of France that “Divine Providence … hath mingled my joy with bitterness of the death of her who brought me this happiness”.

Edward VI succeeded his father on 28 January 1547. As Edward was only nine years old, he could not exercise actual power. Henry made clear in his will that the future governing of England (until Edward was old enough to rule) was to be overseen by 16 designated executors serving on a council of regency. The executors chosen were Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, Edward’s eldest uncle on his mother side, to be Lord Protector of the Realm and was appointed Duke of Somerset.

Later, during the reign of Edward VI, Edward Seymour became power, war and money mad. He was eventually stripped of the title and executed. In February 1550, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, became Lord Protector of the Realm.

Edward became ill in January 1553 with a fever and cough that gradually worsened. On 6 July 1553, at the age of 15, Edward died at Greenwich Palace.

Mary I

Mary was born on 18 February 1516 - Henry VIII’s first child to survive infancy. Her parents’€™ marriage was troubled, and on 23 May 1533 they divorced. The marriage was declared illegal, meaning Mary was deemed illegitimate and was thus removed from the line of succession.

Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon, was sent Kimbolton Castle. Communication between mother and daughter was forbidden, however some letters were couriered by trusted sympathisers. Mary refused to acknowledge that her father’s new wife Anne was a Queen of England or that her half-sister Elizabeth was a princess.

Towards the end of her father’s life, Mary and Henry reconciled their differences and Mary was reinstated into the line of succession.

Mary succeeded her younger brother on 19 July 1553, after nine days of complications that saw Lady Jane Grey Queen of England.

At the age of 37, Mary turned her attention to finding a husband. Her cousin Charles V suggested that Mary marry his only son, Prince Philip of Spain. The idea of a marriage between Mary and Philip was not a welcomed one, as the people feared that Philip would become the King of England and retain the title if he lived longer then Mary. After a thwarted attempt to depose her, Mary settled these fears by creating a Marriage Act that meant that Philip would only be King of England while he was married to Mary, and so long as he did not out-live her.

Mary and Philip were married at Winchester Cathedral on 25 July 1554 - just two days after the couple’s first meeting.

In September 1554 it was believed that Mary was pregnant, however this was a false pregnancy (perhaps brought on by Mary’s desire to have a child).

In 1555, Mary earned her nickname ‘Bloody Mary’ when she began permitting the burning of Anglicans for heresy, and up to her death she had around 220 men and 60 women executed.

Mary became very weak and ill in May 1558, and died on 17 November 1558 at the age of 42 during an influenza epidemic.

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth was born at Greenwich Palace on 7th September 1533. She was named after both her grandmothers - Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Howard - and was the only child of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to survive infancy. On 19 May 1536, Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn was executed. Just two years old at the time, Elizabeth was declared illegitimate and removed from the royal succession.

In 1537, Edward was born and became the undisputed heir to the throne. Elizabeth attend her brother’s christening carrying the baptismal cloth, and after her fathers death in 1547, Edward became king. Elizabeth was sent to live with Catherine Parr - her father’s widow who was newly married to Thomas Seymour, the uncle of Edward VI. While there, Elizabeth experienced an emotional crisis that is believed to have affected her for the rest of her life.

When Edward VI died, his will prevented both Mary and Elizabeth from the succession. It instead declared his heir to be Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary, Duchess of Suffolk. Lady Jane was proclaimed queen, but was deposed after nine days by Mary.

During Mary’s reign, the Protestant faith that Elizabeth had been educated in was becoming dominated by the Catholic faith that Mary followed; Elizabeth had no choice but to outwardly conform. In January 1554 the Wyatt rebellion broke out, but was soon suppressed. Elizabeth was suspected of conspiring to de-throne Mary, and on 18 March she was imprisoned in the Tower of London. On 22 May she was moved to Woodstock under house arrest for almost a year. Elizabeth was allowed to return to court to attend the final stages of Mary’s apparent pregnancy in April 1555; the reason being that if there were complications that caused Mary and her child to die, Elizabeth would then become queen. When Mary fell ill in 1558, King Philip started to plan for Elizabeth to succeeded her sister, and on 6 November 1558 Mary recognised Elizabeth as her heir. 11 days later, Mary died and Elizabeth became queen at the age of 25.

It was expected that Elizabeth would marry now she had became queen, but she famously never did. She received many offers for her hand but always declined - the reasons for this are believed to be that Thomas Seymour had put her off sexual relationships. In the spring of 1559 it became clear that Elizabeth had fallen in love with Robert Dudley. The two of them would have married, but William Cecil, Nicholas Throckmorton, and a number of other conservative peers made their disapproval unmistakably clear.

Elizabeth I died on 24 March 1603 at Richmond Palace, and was interred in Westminster Abbey in the same tomb as her half-sister, Mary.

As Elizabeth I was the last of Henry VIII’s descendants, James VI - the great-grandson of Margaret Tudor (Henry VIII’s oldest sister)- succeeded her to the English throne.

I’m not much of a historian, but I did enjoy researching this bit of history.

I hope you enjoyed it too.