Government and Politics

The Tudors

Why is Henry VIII so famous?

The reign of Henry VIII, from 1509 to 1547, is perhaps the most well-known Tudor monarchy. It was marked by papal conflicts and England’s subsequent break with the Roman Catholic Church. When Henry’s wife, Catherine of Aragon (1485–1536), failed to produce a male heir, he appealed to the pope to grant him a divorce. The request was of course denied. Though Henry went on to have his marriage to Catherine declared invalid (on the grounds that she was his brother’s widow) and he secretly married Anne Boleyn (c. 1507–1536) in 1533, his troubles with the church continued. In 1534 he set up the Church of England, declaring the monarch as its head. He went to extreme measures to ensure the act was upheld—even executing his appointed chancellor, Sir Thomas More (1478–1535), for his refusal to acknowledge royal supremacy.

Henry VIII was eventually successful in procuring a male heir to the throne—but it required a third marriage, to Jane Seymour (c. 1509–1537): His son, Edward VI (1537–53), succeeded him in 1547. Nevertheless, it was Henry VIII’s daughters who went on to make history. Mary I, who ruled England and Ireland from 1553 to 1558, was the daughter of Henry and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. In 1554 Mary wed Spain’s Philip II (1527–1598), forming a temporary alliance between the two powers. The following year she realigned England with the Catholic Church, undertaking the persecution of Protestants and earning herself the name “Bloody Mary.”


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