By Obinna Odenigbo
Henry was only seventeen when he became King but the English people appeared to be happy that they had a new king. For years, his father- Henry VII- had been imposing heavy taxes on the English people. One of the first things Henry VIII did when he became king was to order the execution of the two men his father had employed to organise this taxation.
Henry was very fond of hunting, gambling and dancing and only spent about an hour a day on government business. He relied heavily on his Lord Chancellor and other government ministers to run the country. Henry VIII found this useful because if any of the policies were unpopular, he could blame his ministers. In some cases, he even arranged for these ministers to be executed although they were only carrying out his orders.
It was very important to Henry that his wife, Katherine of Aragon, should give birth to a male child. (She had been married to his elder brother for only 7 days before he died.) Without a son to take over from him when he died, Henry VIII feared that the Royal family would lose control of England.
Katherine gave birth to six children but five died within a few weeks of being born. Only one child, Mary, survived into adulthood.
In 1526 Henry got to know Anne Boleyn, Katherine’s maid of honour. She was a good musician and a talented singer. Henry seemed to find her very entertaining and was often seen dancing with her. It was not long before Henry had fallen deeply in love with Anne
Henry wrote Anne a series of passionate love letters. In 1526 he wrote: “Seeing I cannot be present in person with you, I send you the nearest thing to that possible, that is, my picture set in bracelets … wishing myself in their place, when it shall please you.” Soon afterwards he wrote during a hunting exhibition: “I send you this letter begging you to give me an account of the state you are in… I send you by this bearer a buck killed late last night by my hand, hoping, when you eat it, you will think of the hunter.”
In January 1533 Henry discovered that Anne Boleyn was pregnant. As it was important that the child should not be classed as illegitimate, arrangements were made for Henry and Anne to get married. King Charles V of Spain (nephew of Queen Katherine- Henry’s wife) threatened to invade England if the marriage took place, but Henry ignored his threats and the marriage went ahead. Thomas More, Henry’s Lord Chancellor, was opposed to the king’s plans to divorce Katherine of Aragon and resigned from office.
Henry hoped that Anne would provide him with a son. He was therefore disappointed when, in September 1533, Anne gave birth to a daughter called Elizabeth. While Henry was furious about having another daughter, the supporters of Katherine were delighted and claimed that it proved God was punishing Henry for his illegal marriage to Anne.
The Pope eventually made his decision. He announced that Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was invalid. Henry reacted by declaring that the Pope no longer had authority in England. In November 1534, Parliament passed an act that stated that Henry VIII was now the Head of the Church of England.
When Thomas More refused to support this move he was convicted of high treason. Still refusing to recant, he was executed at the Tower of London.
In January 1536, Anne had a son but unfortunately he was born dead. What is more, the baby was badly deformed. This was a serious matter because in Tudor times; Christians believed that a deformed child was God’s way of punishing parents for committing serious sins. Henry VIII feared that people might think that the Pope was right when he claimed that God was angry because Henry had divorced Katherine and married Anne.
Henry approached Thomas Cromwell about how he could get out of his marriage with Anne. He suggested that one solution to this problem was to claim that he was not the father of this deformed child. On the king’s instruction Cromwell was ordered to find out the name of the man who was the true father of the dead child. Anne was charged with having sexual affairs with Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton and her own brother, George Boleyn.
Anne went to the scaffold at Tower Green on 19th May, 1536. Her last words were: “Good Christian people… according to the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it… I pray God save the King, and send him long to reign over you… for to me he was always a good, a gentle, and sovereign Lord.” She was beheaded by the executioner of Calais, brought over on purpose to use a sword in the French fashion, not an axe – a “mercy” allowed her by Henry.
Ten days after Anne was beheaded, Henry married Jane Seymour. The following year, Jane died giving birth to Edward. Henry now at last had a male heir.
But of all the events that defined the life of Henry’s, the most prominent was that which took place on this day- 17 December- in 1538. The Pope announced to the Christian world that Henry VIII had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church.