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Henry VIII, oil on panel by the studio of Hans Holbein the Younger, after 1537; in the Walker Art —The Bridgeman Art Library/National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)
(born June 28, 1491, Greenwich, near London, Eng.died Jan. 28, 1547, London) King of England (1509–47). Son of Henry VII, Henry married his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon (the mother of Mary I), soon after his accession in 1509. His first chief minister, Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, exercised nearly complete control over policy in 1515–27. In 1527 Henry pursued a divorce from Catherine to marry Anne Boleyn, but Pope Clement VII denied him an annulment. Wolsey, unable to help Henry, was ousted. The new minister, Thomas Cromwell, in 1532 initiated a revolution when he decided that the English church should separate from Rome, allowing Henry to marry Anne in 1533. A new archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, declared the first marriage annulled. A daughter, Elizabeth I, was born to Anne soon after. Becoming head of the Church of England represented Henry's major achievement, but it had wide-ranging consequences. Henry, once profoundly devoted to the papacy and rewarded with the title Defender of the Faith, was excommunicated, and he was obliged to settle the nature of the newly independent church. In the 1530s his power was greatly enlarged, especially by transferring to the crown the wealth of the monasteries and by new clerical taxes, but his earlier reputation as a man of learning became buried under his enduring fame as a man of blood. Many, including St. Thomas More, were killed because they refused to accept the new order. The king grew tired of Anne, and in 1536 she was executed for adultery. He immediately married Jane Seymour, who bore him a son, Edward VI, but died in childbirth. Three years later, at Cromwell's instigation, he married Anne of Cleves, but he hated her and demanded a quick divorce; he had Cromwell beheaded in 1540. By now Henry was becoming paranoid, as well as enormously fat and unhealthy. In 1540 he married Catherine Howard, but he had her beheaded for adultery in 1542. In 1542 he waged a financially ruinous war against Scotland. In 1543 he married Catherine Parr, who survived him. He was succeeded on his death by his son, Edward.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Henry VIII, visit Britannica.com.
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