Henry Tudor was never meant to be King. Born on June 23, 1491, he was the second son and third child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Henry became heir to the throne at the age of 10 after the premature death of his elder brother, Arthur, in 1502. This sudden bereavement gave the young Henry a scant seven years to prepare to take over the throne from his formidable father.
Despite this disadvantage, Henry became one of England’s most famous- and infamous monarchs. Right from the start, he won his people’s hearts and minds, and no matter what he put the country through to satisfy his often selfish and egotistical whims- be it war, poverty or social and religious upheaval, they loved him right up until his premature death in 1547.
These days, history remembers Henry less kindly, viewing him as a mediocre ruler at best; at worst tyrannical and self-seeking. Still, Henry VIII stands out as memorable- and not merely because he managed to have six wives- five concentrated into the last 14 years of his life. Here are just twelve details of the King Henry VIII and his reign that justify his legacy- good and bad- to history.
Henry VIII began his Reign ‘Majesticly’
Henry ascended the throne on April 21, 1509, at the age of just seventeen years old. His training as a King in waiting may have been hurried and recent, but the young monarch took to his new role naturally. Despite his relative youth, he elected to rule independently, setting his own policies: both domestic and matrimonial. Within seven weeks, of his ascension, Henry ended years of uncertainty surrounding a proposed union with his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon by marrying her in a quiet ceremony at Greenwich Palace.
This quick marriage cemented a useful alliance with Spain. It was also probably intended to allow the King to secure the succession quickly. This dynastic loose end being tied up, Henry moved onto other issues, namely the question of securing the loyalty of his people. Henry VII had ended his life deeply unpopular with all classes. He had taxed his people hard to ensure the financial security of his realm and also curtailed the aristocracy. Henry VIII intended to be different.
So, he immediately overturned these unpopular measures. Henry VII had left a full treasury, so Henry relaxed the collection of taxes. He also executed two of his father’s most hated ministers, Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley for good measure. Henry succeeded in winning the peoples’ good opinion- at least initially. “If you could see how all the world here is rejoicing in possession of so great a Prince, how his life is all their desire, you could not contain your tears for joy,” wrote Lord Mountjoy to the philosopher Erasmus in 1509. However, mere popularity was soon not enough for Henry; he wanted the nation to revere him. The way people addressed him needed to imbue and reflect the high esteem in which his people- and the rest of Europe – held him
However, mere popularity was soon not enough for Henry; he wanted the nation to revere him. The way people addressed him needed to imbue and reflect the high esteem in which his people- and the rest of Europe – held him. It also needed to reflect how Henry saw himself.The traditional term of address for a Monarch was ‘Your Grace’ or “Your Highness.” However, in 1519, the newly elected Holy Roman emperor, Charles V had started using a new term: “majesty’. The title, which came from the Latin ‘
The traditional term of address for a Monarch was ‘Your Grace’ or “Your Highness.” However, in 1519, the newly elected Holy Roman emperor, Charles V had started using a new term: “majesty’. The title, which came from the Latin ‘Maiestas’ had not been used since the days of the Roman republic. Then it had been used to infer the supreme greatness and dignity of the state. Charles began to use it to associate those qualities with his own person.
Henry was not to be outdone. If Majesty was good enough for Charles (and the French King, who had quickly followed suit), then it was nothing more than his due. So he also adopted the title. From 1520, records show that foreign ambassadors, as well as courtiers, were addressing the king by this new title.