By Guest Author: Anne Lesley
He became King Henry VIII and is best remembered for his six wives, the destruction of the monasteries, and the creation of the Church of England.
Henry always had a large appetite but as he aged he became a compulsive eater. He suffered from gout and had an ulcerated leg due to a jousting accident in 1536, this prevented him from exercising as he had done before; he therefore struggled with his weight and became grossly overweight with a girth of 54 inches.
Maybe these health problems contributed to his temper or did his later behaviour result from his early life?
He was known to be a very generous man to his friends, but cruel and ruthless to anyone he believed betrayed or opposed him including his wives.
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 VII and Elizabeth had been a political one to unite the houses of York and Lancaster and gain support in his reign as he had little legitimacy to it and he 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 his older brother Arthur and his education, therefore the young Henry was largely ignored. Arthur and Henry were not close as children and did not have much contact with each other.
The education of Arthur was very strict as he was heir to the throne, whereas Henry was given much more freedom.
Being the second son it is believed that Henry would be raised to enter the Church however this is pure speculation.
As a second son, Henry was spoilt and indulged during his childhood.
His education was supervised by his formidable grandmother Margaret Beaufort and she was very influential during his formative years. It was his grandmother that hired his main tutor, the poet John Skelton although other tutors were employed to teach him specific subjects.
Skelton tutored Henry from approximately 1496 – 1501, although he would also play a part in Henry’s later life as King and he acted as an adviser to him in both public and church affairs.
Henry was a very energetic child but also prone to temper which manifested in later life; however he excelled in his education which was extremely varied. 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.
As well as his standard education he enjoyed many 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 also enjoyed gambling, and playing both dice and cards.
He was proficient in playing many instruments, composing music, dancing and writing poetry. He is the only monarch known to have had his own band and they performed regularly at court.
It has been believed that he composed Greensleeves, although doubt has since been cast on this.
He was a very gregarious, confident young man and enjoyed great displays of bravado – his musical, hunting and jousting exploits enabled him to do this.
Henry’s closest friends during his youth were William Compton and Charles Brandon.
Little is known about Compton’s early life until he became Page to the young Prince Henry. He formed a close bond with the Prince and became one of his most trusted friends. This friendship continued throughout his life and at the time of Henry’s accession to the throne Compton became ‘Groom of the Stole’. He was also knighted in 1513.
Charles Brandon was educated with both Henry and his brother Arthur. Brandon’s father had been the Standard Bearer to King Henry VII and had died defending the future king at the Battle of Bosworth Field and the king agreed to educate Brandon following this. Brandon and Henry became firm friends even though Brandon was 7 years Henry’s senior. They enjoyed the same athletic pursuits in jousting and hunting. Their relationship was turbulent at times but lasted more than 40 years.
As Henry grew he became a handsome and charismatic youth who at over 6ft tall was much taller than most around him. With his powerful, muscular physique he was a very imposing character indeed. He had 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 when in 1502 his 15 year old brother Arthur died.
Henry was only 10 years old but as he would now ascend to the throne his father had him strictly supervised in his activities and he was given less freedom.
He was betrothed to his brother’s wife Catherine of Aragon, but at only 10 years old he was too young to marry.
His father King Henry VII died on 22 April 1509 and Prince Henry 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’.
Thomas More was key counsellor to Henry VIII and Lord Chancellor from 1529 – 1532.
He was one of Henry’s most trusted servants, but when he refused to accept Henry as head of the Church of England he was tried for treason and beheaded.
I wonder what he thought about his coronation poem through the years ahead and what was to become of him.
Henry married Catherine of Aragon on 11 June 1509, a marriage that was to last over 20 years.
It is following the end of his marriage to Catherine that we now remember Henry VIII best.