Henry VIII of England Term Paper

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Henry VIII

King Henry VIII of England fundamentally altered the course of English and, indeed, European history. It is difficult to imagine, had another individual ascended to the English throne, that they could have set the nation on a path so distinct from that of their forbearers, or with such lasting and widespread ramifications. In short, it was Henry VIII's particular personality that set him and his reign apart. He was literally and figuratively a larger than life figure, who seemed to be the leading believer in his own innate greatness. Objectively, however, it cannot be denied that Henry was a decisive and powerful leader: "Whether the end is benign or evil, great leaders are those men and women who leave their personal stamp on history." (Schlesinger, 7). From this point-of-view, Henry VIII was the stone that upturned the course of history and set it on another track, purely as a result of his own notions and ambitions: he was a historical catalyst. So the classical understanding of a leader, as someone who is merely the icon for major historical currents, can only very loosely apply to Henry VIII. Essentially, the common understanding of history is one of social determinism, but Henry VIII seems to defy such notions because the directions he took England in during his reign seem almost entirely unique to his character. Was it inevitable that the monarchs of England would eventually abuse their power and, additionally, break from the Catholic Church? Perhaps. Yet, it is undeniable that Henry VIII was the particular instrument that set these events into motion.

Born as the second son to his father, King Henry VII, in 1491, Henry VIII was not in a position to take the English throne. Unfortunately, "Since he was the second son, and not expected to become king, we know little of his childhood until the death of his older brother

Arthur, Prince of Wales." (Eakins 2005). Still, it is known that at the age of ten he attended the wedding of his brother Arthur to Catherine of Aragon in November of 1501. Arthur and his new bride went to live in Wales, but only four months after the wedding Arthur's already failing health did him in (Eakins 2005). This event left both the English and Spanish royal families in a difficult position; the wedding had been arranged as a treaty between the two families, but the death of Arthur threatened to undo any progress that such an alliance could have made. To rectify this difficulty, "A treaty was signed that would allow Catherine to marry the next heir to the throne -- Prince Henry." (Eakins 2005). It was also deemed necessary to have a papal dispensation issued to allow Henry to marry the widow of his brother; this was made easier by the fact that Catherine maintained the first marriage had never been consummated. Nevertheless, both the English and Spanish crowns were reluctant to pay their shares of the marriage agreement until after Henry VII died on April 22, 1509.

Henry VII's death was a monumental event because the century-old civil war that had brewed between the York's and the Lancaster's potentially threatened to take hold once again. Only under the rule of a Tudor could England be promised domestic peace; and it would seem that the threat of another civil war was one of the most powerful forces that allowed Henry VII and his son to take such a firm grasp upon the English government. The general populous was just as weary of bloodshed as the nobles had become; so after Henry VII's defeat of King Richard III, those who challenged the English throne were greeted with an ever decreasing amount of support.

Henry VII had sustained the throne through his claim's near absurdity during the War of the Roses: he was neither a York nor a Lancaster. Essentially, "An alliance was forged around an obscure relative of the king's [King Edward IV of York], a provincial Welshman named Henry Tudor, the earl of Richmond." (Schlesinger, 16-17). Since Henry was a Tudor, the weakness of his claim to the throne became its strength: he could generate alliances on both sides of the conflict. However, although Henry VII had eight children, only two sons lived beyond infancy. This meant that the death of Arthur put Henry VIII in the following position: either his reign would secure peace or the war would begin all over again -- for many Englishmen this made backing or opposing Henry VIII a very black and white decision. Accordingly, many leading nobles embraced Henry VIII's rise to power whole-heartedly. Thomas More wrote on the day of Henry's crowning, "This day is the end of our slavery, the fount of our liberty; the end of sadness and the beginning of joy." (Randell, 9). So it was believed that Henry VIII's reign would be a much-awaited return to normalcy for all of England.

The contrast between the old, decrepit and reclusive King Henry VII and King Henry VIII was immediately apparent: "He was tall, muscular, graceful, and red-cheeked, with soft, delicate almost girlish features, and a natural crown of red-gold hair." (Schlesinger, 29). As a young man and king, Henry's appetite for banquets, hunting, music and tournaments was almost insatiable. He even entered a knightly tournament in disguise, and organized elaborate costume balls. In short, we lived and spent lavishly; this was much to the liking of the people, who generally believed that a rich and powerful man should live in such a way. So in this respect, Henry VIII was also different from his father; although Henry VII had been respected and even feared, he was not loved by his subjects as his son immediately was. Nevertheless, those closest to him recognized the dangers associated with having a king so ready to use his powers extravagantly to satisfy his immediate desires. When a close friend marveled at the intimacy King Henry afforded Thomas More, More responded portentously, "If my head could win him a castle in France, it should not fail to go." (Schlesinger, 32).

Henry's early fascination with athletics and warfare soon took shape in England's inclusion in the Holy League; this was an alliance between Ferdinand of Spain, the English, and the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian against King Louis XII of France for attempting to depose the Pope. Henry was eager to finally put his metal to the test and was said to have ridden day and night in full armor and even light cannons in person during the battles he led in France. However, the campaign in France initiated Henry's tensions with Spain. Although Ferdinand had agreed to join Henry's war with the French, he secretly made alliances with Maximilian in an attempt to limit English influence. As a result, Henry began to question the value of his marriage to Catherine. To make matters worse, while Henry was abroad Catherine miscarried due to overexerting herself.

Ultimately, the balance of power began to return to normal once Henry returned to England. Catherine had led the defeat of the rebelling Scots, and was greeted by Henry with open arms; soon she was pregnant again. Yet by the autumn of 1513 two unacceptable facts became known to Henry: "Not only were Maximilian and Ferdinand bribed by the French to disown their treaty obligations to England, but the fact that the royal finances could not support a repetition of the campaign of 1513 was finally accepted by the young warrior." (Randell, 33). This dual realization, coupled with the influence of his advisor Thomas Wolsey, brought about the sudden realignment of Henry's alliances away from the Spanish and towards the French. Consequently, Catherine was put in a more precarious position: she needed to supply Henry with a male heir or else she ran the risk of losing her importance to the king and having their marriage annulled.

Yet for a time, antagonisms between the English and Spanish waned when Louis XII died and a new French king was crowned: King Francis I. Largely, this was because Henry and Wolsey recognized that any alliance with the French was likely to be an only temporary lull in the ongoing conflict between the two nations (MacCulloch, 165). His marriage to Catherine was also strengthened by the birth of a healthy girl, Mary in 1516. Ferdinand of Spain died in 1516 as well and his Nephew Charles V took the throne. Emperor Maximilian's subsequent death in 1519 threatened to upset the balance of power in Europe, again, until the Pope chose Charles as the next Holy Roman Emperor over Henry and Francis. For a time, England held the key to peace in Europe financially, as both Charles and Francis vied for Henry's favor. This was a result of Wolsey's agreement with the Papacy know as the Treaty of London. However, England's power did not last, and Henry was forced to ally with Charles in 1521; this led to a quick defeat of Francis' French forces.

Broadly, Henry's early years… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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