He became King Henry VIII and is best remembered for his six wives (Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived). He was however, also responsible for the destruction of the monasteries, and the creation of the Church of England.
Henry was a slim, energetic, athletic youth, known to be very generous to his friends, but cruel and ruthless to anyone he believed betrayed or opposed him, including his wives. He later became a compulsive eater, grossly overweight with a waist of 54 inches. In his final years, he could not even move around by himself, but had to be attended and moved with the help of mechanical devices.
Maybe these health problems contributed to his temper in adulthood or did his later behaviour result from his early life?
Henry Tudor was born on 28 June 1491, at Greenwich Palace in London. He was the third of seven children to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, although only three of his siblings lived past infancy and into adulthood.
The marriage of Henry’s mother and father had been a political one to unite the houses of York and Lancaster and gain support for Henry VII’s reign as he had little legitimacy to it and had to strive constantly to keep his throne.
This is the world that young Henry was born into, and the constant uncertainty of it may have resulted in his cruel nature and possible paranoia in later life.
As Henry was the second son he was never intended to be heir to the throne and therefore was not given many royal duties. His father Henry VII concentrated on the education of his older brother Arthur, therefore the young Henry was largely ignored by his father and allowed to do as he pleased.
His formidable grandmother Margaret Beaufort, undertook the supervision of his education and was to be very influential during his formative years, being responsible for hiring his main tutor, the poet John Skelton although other tutors were employed to teach him specific subjects.
Henry was a very energetic child but prone to temper which worsened with age. He did however excel in his education. He was taught languages and was fluent in many including French, Spanish and Latin. He was also taught philosophy, theology, rhetoric, literature, geometry, arithmetic and astronomy among other things. His thirst for education and knowledge never seemed to leave him and he had a great eye for detail.
He also enjoyed athletic pursuits including hunting and jousting. It is said that he could exhaust between 5 and 10 horses in a day while hunting alone. He was an excellent Tennis player and enjoyed gambling, playing dice and cards.
Henry also played many instruments, composed music, danced and wrote poetry. He is the only monarch known to have had his own band that performed regularly at court.
He was an outgoing, confident young man and enjoyed showing off his musical, hunting and jousting talents.
Henry’s closest friends during his youth were William Compton and Charles Brandon.
Compton became Page to the young Prince Henry, and formed a close bond with the Prince, becoming one of his most trusted friends through his youth and into adulthood. He was later knighted by Henry in 1513.
Brandon was educated with Henry and his brother Arthur, and they became firm friends even though Brandon was 7 years Henry’s senior. They enjoyed the same pursuits, jousting and hunting, and were to be friends for more than 40 years.
As Henry grew he became a handsome, charismatic youth at over 6ft tall with a slim figure, auburn hair and a good complexion. He was flamboyant and colourful in his dress and enjoyed wearing jewellery. He was an eligible bachelor and very popular with the ladies at court.
Thomas More described Henry ‘He is in every respect a most accomplished Prince’.
Erasmus described Henry as ‘a lively mentality which reached for the stars, and he was able beyond measure to bring to perfection whichever task he undertook’.
Henry’s life was to change dramatically in 1502 when his fifteen-year-old brother Arthur died. Now at only 10 years of age Henry was heir to the throne of England.
His father now took notice of him, supervised all his activities and gave him much less freedom.
Henry was betrothed by his father to his deceased brother’s wife Catherine of Aragon, but being only 10 years old, was too young to marry.
Henry VII died on 22 April 1509 and Prince Henry, now to become Henry VIII ascended to the throne aged 17, however he was completely untrained for the task ahead.
At his coronation, Thomas More presented Henry with a poem:
‘This day is the end of our slavery, the fount of our liberty, the end of sadness and the beginning of joy’.
Henry married his first wife Catherine of Aragon on 11 June 1509; It is this marriage and his later life that we now remember Henry VIII best.
Read on through: The Six Wives of Henry VIII