Wives & War: To what extent did these two aspects undermine Henry VIIIs rule in his last 7 years as King, 1540-47?

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Wives & War: To what extent did these two aspects undermine Henry VIII’s rule in his last 7 years as King, 1540-47?

Howard Putley



  • Abstract

Page 3

  • Introduction- King Henry VIII

Page 3

  • Chapter 1- Henry’s Earlier Reign

          Page 4

  • Chapter 2- ‘I like her not!’: Henry’s Wives

  1. Anne of Cleves
  2. Katherine Howard
  3. Katherine Parr

Page 5

  • Chapter 3- A bloody matter: Henry’s Wars

  1. France
  2. Scotland

Page 11

  • Conclusion- The King is dead: What has been discussed and found

Page 15

  • Evaluation

Page 16


  • Bibliography and critique of sources

Page 18


This dissertation is going to be about the later years of Henry VIII’s reign and how the different aspects of marriage along with conflict effected King Henry’s actions and image. This investigation considers analysis as well as comparison between different events in Henry’s marital and military life prior to the years of 1540 to his death in 1547, by doing this dissertation it is to create a clear picture on how Henry VIII’s last seven years on the throne was undermined, destabilized and diluted. Key events considered in this investigation are Henry’s marriages with the Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr along with England’s military conflicts with both France and Scotland. Together with these aspects other certain factors becomes apparent in this dissertation such as political and religious matters which is also widely explored. At the end of this dissertation it has concluded from considering if wives and war undermined Henry’s rule, that most notably it was King Henry himself who undermined his own rule due to his poor decisions.  


King Henry VIII

King Henry VIII is arguably the most recognised, influential and one of the greatest monarchs ever to sit on the throne of England. He is most notably remembered for his dramatic transformation of English politics, his policies against the ruling Catholic faith and the fact that he had six wives. Everybody knows at least briefly how the reign of Henry VIII progressed and its impact on the world we live in today. This dissertation is solely based on the last seven years of Henry’s reign for the reason that during this time it witnessed a dramatic change, as Henry’s third wife just died and the political stability in Europe became unstable. Did though Henry VIII’s indulgence in marriage along with war somewhat change the progression and development of his reign in his last seven years alive?

Appearance wise Henry VIII was shown to be a great public figure, a strong athletic man, who had the intelligence as well as the creativity to be the perfect ‘Renaissance prince’ and king in his time. In his younger years Henry was a charming, authentic, good-looking, charismatic man who created a sense of greatness which oozed out him; he was relished and admired by who ever met him (Eakins 2007).As identified by Bingham (2011, pg 47) Henry was ‘widely recognised as the most promising prince ever to ascend to the English throne’ a tall, slim, handsome and athletic, he was an able scholar and a skilled musician who also loved to dance, joust and hunt. A celebrity of his time. Along with these positive aspects which make up a perfect renaissance king also lied a tyrant like state of mind, as Henry was what's more a ruthless, aggressive and psychopathic individual which became more apparent as he got older, as most sources such as Bingham (2011, pg 47) agree with this factor. Henry’s pitiless reaction to a number of events exposes the truth of his tyrant attitude, for example one event out of many was the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 which was a somewhat peaceful and holy rebellion in the north of England defying the demolition of the monasteries and abbeys. Henry’s way of crushing this rebellion was through fear, extermination and sneaky tactics, far from the cry of a loved and promising ruler. As stated by Henry himself:

“Our pleasure, that dreadful execution be done upon a good number of the inhabitants of every town, village and hamlet that have affined this rebellion”

(Starkey, Channel 4, 2009)

The Pilgrimage of Grace created a ruthless image for Henry and undermined his reign through his immediate rejection for religious reforms requested by the northern barons. As Wooding (2009, pg 1) supports that Henry was often labelled a tyrant due to his legislations of his supreme control as well as his insecurity as king while on the throne in his later years, this is unquestionably supported by the historian Weir (2008, pg xi). By the time Henry died in 1547 he had acquired the reputation of an oppressor whose hands were soaked in blood of the many he had executed including two of his wives.

This dissertation will aim to identify if key aspects in King Henry VIII’s marriages and military actions ever destabilized his reign at any point, if at all in his last seven years alive. Also to classify which one was the most important contributing factor. This investigation is based on Henry VIII because of my motivation and passion for the subject, my enjoyment for analysing historical topics and other certain events from history.

Chapter 1- Henry’s Earlier Reign

Before investigating and discussing any forms of Henry VIII’s last seven years as the King of England, it must be considered as well as understood how his rule developed in the years before. From Henry’s coronation in 1509 to his marriage to his third wife Jane Seymour in 1536, Henry married three times gaining two daughters and a frail son, he shaped the whole religious and political structure of England and took part in a number of wars and treaties. This is considering that Henry himself was never ever meant to succeed to the English throne, as he never received training to become king unlike is older brother Arthur who was descended to claim the throne, Henry was always expected to enter into a profession with the church.

Due to the terms that his father before him Henry VII arguably received the throne through aggression and conflict in the time England was plundered in civil war, the War of the Roses. Although historically evident and undoubtedly shown throughout the history of the monarchy, it was rather, somewhat looked down upon and not really desired practice for an individual to gain kingship/queen ship by inheritance accusations and blood spilling. As Henry never ‘painfully’ forgotten his father’s passage to kingship and the chance of his enemies (Yorkist supporters) renewing the conflict, is evidently shown by his security dependency on the life of this sole male child (Wodding 2009, pg 1). However most notably Henry was never welcomed with a lot of ‘pomp and ceremonies’ (Bingham 2011, pg 47) unlike his older brother Prince Arthur, for the reason that he was the second son.

Importantly it must be recognised that the factors of Henry’s rule was his breaking from the Catholic religion and its dependency on the Pope in Rome, for the reason that he could divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. Along with this is his destruction of the old monasteries of its treasures and suppositious relics (Dr Starkey, 2009). Although, on the other hand it is widely accepted that Henry VIII broke ties with the Catholic Church and created the Church of England, he still somewhat personally practised the Catholic faith, due to his being a extremely ‘religious man’ (Chrisp et al. 2003, pg 177), however this is most likely untrue because of his prosecution of Catholics. In contrast was Henry being ‘awarded the title Fidei Defonsor –Defender of the faith – by Pope Leo X in 1521’ (Parrot 2010, pg 184).

Chapter 2- ‘I like her not!’: Henry’s Wives

Henry in 1540 is rather foreshadowed by his extreme transformation in appearance and attitudes in comparison to his younger self. His gallant youth and captivating prince stature was replaced with a decaying bloated, hideously obese, horrible minded man who was rarely seen in the public eye (Hutchinson 2005, pg 13), his whole physical appearance changed with his waist increasing by 19 inches from 1520 (Starkey 2002, pg100). Although Henry became an individual uneasy on the eye he still managed to have three more wives in 1540 to 1547. Always having a wife improved his status and position as king for the reason that the possibility of having another son was never ruled out, however did Henry’s last three marriages undermine his rule in any way?  

Anne of Cleves

Understandably Henry became extremely depressed after his third wife Jane Seymour died giving birth to his only surviving son Edward. He turned to a period of isolating himself from the court; this obviously was not a kingly way of behaviour as this caused a sense of confusion within the English court, as one courtier noted ‘methink it a great pity that the king is so long without a queen: his Grace might yet have many fair children’ (Wooding 2009, pg 230), this provides reliable evidence to support Henry’s tendency of isolating himself as the primary source itself is from the same period. This identifies that the court felt Henry’s royal position is still weakened for his lack of children, which Henry all too rightly grew frustrated about. As Sommerville (2009) identifies that the plain matter of fact is that the court felt that Henry was deteriorating physically and mentally which is most possibly true. Even though Henry’s subjects grew worried and disturbed of the King’s new behaviour plus his lack of emergency to find a new wife, the court almost had begun immediately after Jane Seymour died to find a perfect suitor for his Majesty (Weir 1991, pg 108); debatably this gave the court for the first time a sense of independence in governing while the King himself was indisposed. This brought about the emergence of the Privy Council becoming a wider influence in the role of government, probably not dramatically witnessed in Henry’s last years but differently in the ruling of the country when Henry’s son Edward VI inherited the throne, this aristocratic approach to government in the 1540s brought a new conservatism to the fore, socially’ politically and religiously (William Howard School, 2010).

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This in particular shows the extent on how Henry’s reign seemed to be undermined by his weak character to recover fast enough mentally to focus his full energy in discovering a different partner.

It took roughly four years for Thomas Cromwell, the architect of political reformation in the Privy Council and Henry’s close adviser for a number of years to find a wife to suite Henry, her name was Anne of Cleves (Weir 1991, pg 109). Anne of Cleves herself was never flatted by diplomats with regards of her beauty, even Henry’s own court painter Holbein commented only ...

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