Henry VIII and His Six Wives

Henry VIII was on a quest for a son, but in the process he managed to notch up six wives.

Henry VII


Henry VIII reigned from 1509-47 and was the second Tudor king. His father, Henry VII, had won the Wars of the Roses in the 1480s but the family still had enemies. Henry needed a son to secure the throne for the Tudor dynasty.


Henry's wife, Katherine of Aragon, had failed to produce a son and heir, and by the mid 1520s, Henry had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn. On Henry's orders, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was sent to Rome to petition the Pope for a divorce. However, following pressure from both Henry's wife and her powerful nephew, the German Emperor, the Pope refused Henry's request. Wolsey was blamed and imprisoned.


Europe in the 16th century was in the throes of the Reformation, a wave of protest against the Catholic Church. This led to 'Protestant' churches being set up in places such as Germany, which encouraged Henry to oppose the Pope.


Between 1529 and 1534, Henry began criticising the Church and appointed church reformers to key positions in return for their support. In 1532, he made Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury and Cranmer granted Henry a divorce. The Pope responded by excommunicating the King.


In 1534, Henry VIII widened the split with Rome by passing the Act of Supremacy, making the King head of the Church in England instead of the Pope. He also passed laws forcing the clergy to submit to him and he gained control of 800 monasteries and convents which he then abolished, expelling the monks and nuns that lived in them and confiscating their wealth.


The changes Henry made angered many. In 1536, 40,000 people, from peasants to minor nobility, took up arms in what became known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. In fear, Henry promised to help the rebels but, later, executed many of them.


Henry's church was a Catholic Church without a Pope. Although reformers tried to change doctrines, Henry passed the Six Articles Act in 1539, which enforced Catholic beliefs. Protestantism only took hold in the reign of Henry's son, Edward VI (1547-53) with the gradual denial of the doctrine of transubstantiation and the introduction of the Prayer Book.