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Was King Henry VIII a good or a bad king?

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“His majesty is 29 years old and is very handsome.” How the Venetian Ambassador described Henry between 1515-1519.

“A youngster who cares for nothing but girls and wasting the money his father left.” How the French Ambassador described Henry between 1509-1511.

The French Ambassador’s answer is not surprising as he and Henry were enemies and later they went to war.

Henry VIII was the second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. He was born on June 28th 1491, was crowned king in 1509 and passed away in 1547. In Henry’s lifetime he had many things wrong with him including: gangrene, syphilis and scurvy (when gums rot due to lack of vitamin C – he thought fruit was for peasants). Henry had a brother, Arthur who died before him of tuberculosis. Jousting, wrestling, tennis, music and women were among Henry’s interests. He liked women so much he married six times.

His wives were: Catherine of Aragon (divorced, after Henry making himself the head of a new church, I will come onto that later) mother of Mary, Anne Boleyn (beheaded, I found out that before she was beheaded she spoke the words “I pray God save the King, and send him long reign over you…for to me he was always a good, gentle and kind person”), mother of Elizabeth I, Jane Seymour (sadly she died giving birth, this is called maternal death), the mother of Edward, Anne of Cleves (divorced), Catherine Howard (beheaded, as Henry believed she was cheating on him, called adultery) who was still only a teenager (and Henry was 45! ) when they got married and finally Catherine Parr (survived) who was the only wife to outlive Henry. From only this paragraph you can see Henry was very interested in women, does this mean he was focusing mainly on his loves as opposed to his country?

Many people believe Henry was a fantastic king, for many reasons. He, in his young age, was a fit, well built and slender man, however as his age grew, so did he. Just before his death he was so overweight he couldn’t even climb the stairs himself. However, he was a very determined king, for if he wanted something, he would get it. Thomas Cranmer (who was soon made Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry) said in 1520: “The king…who is most wise and watchful in everything.” This shows Henry was very observant as to what was going on around him. Following on from that part of a letter written by Henry to his chief minister in 1519 read: “I want you to keep a close eye on the Duke of Suffolk, the Duke of Buckingham, the Lord of Wiltshire and on anyone else you may suspect.”

Henry VIII clearly had a very kind heart. Part of a love letter Henry wrote to Anne Boleyn said “I can assure you I will do more than just devotion; I give you the loyalty of my heart, the desire to please you and you alone. I want no-one else in my heart and only you can help me.” Obviously Henry was a very affectionate man, who completely devotes himself to his loved ones and will do anything to please them. As a secondary source L.E. Snellgrove wrote in 1972: “Henry gave England the government its people desired. The beheadings, burnings and hangings were few compared with those ordered by other European kings. Neither does it’s seem they were resented by tough and brutal people.” This just shows that even though it seemed like Henry beheaded and killed a lot of people; they were just a mere few compared to other kings. He was, in a way, a kind-hearted, considerate man.

On the other hand there were some who didn’t believe Henry was so affectionate, loving or caring. In fact they some absolutely detested him. For example in 1967 V. Chancellor wrote that “Several times Henry killed because it suited him. He hardly pretended to give his victims a fair trial.” This man clearly wasn’t impressed with the way in which Henry ruled and punished his people. Another could be: ‘Henry forced the clergy to acknowledge his authority as “supreme head of the English church”‘ Quoted the French Ambassador in 1520 (extra information from Microsoft Encarta). According to the French Ambassador Henry gave a very forceful and compelling argument on this matter. This source is reliable as it came from the time, primary. The ‘Break from Rome’ occurred in 1534 as a result of Henry’s desire to divorce and remarry. Henry broke from the Catholic Church after the Pope did not grant him a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. He needed to divorce her as she couldn’t give him a son. Henry also wanted to marry the younger, Anne Boleyn.

I found that Robert Lacy (a modern historian) said in his book ‘The Life and Times of King Henry VIII’: “Good wife, though she was Catherine of Aragon had failed in her primary function, to provide Henry with a healthy male heir.” He goes on to say: “Not until 1516 did she produce a healthy child, and then it was a girl, christened Mary (who was later known as Queen Mary I). There were several more pregnancies, but no son came and before long Catherine’s pregnancies ceased.” This is quite a reliable source as I got it of schoolhistory.co.uk which some teachers use for lessons. As Henry did not want to be Catholic any more he closed down all the monasteries and sold off the land to make more money for himself, he then would gamble all of it. The Venetian Ambassador said: “Henry gambles…to the amount of 6,000 – 8,000 ducats a day.” Following this Henry made his own church, the Church of England (C of E) which was a mix of Protestant and Catholic ideas as Henry’s opinions kept changing. When Henry was a full time committed Catholic, the Pope gave him the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ in honour of his loyalty, this changed quite a bit afterwards.

‘However Henry died a Protestant. On his deathbed his Archbishop of Canterbury (a Protestant), Thomas Cranmer asked him if he dies a Protestant and Henry squeezed his hand back as if to say yes (extra information from Active History). Back then religion was a very different thing to the way it is now. People still do take it seriously nowadays, but not as much as people did in Tudor times. Religion was their life; people would live their life the way the bible and God told them to. If they didn’t/sinned they would have to buy indulgences which were things that got you out of purgatory. Purgatory being a place for sinners, between Heaven and Hell. Professor Scarisbrick in 1967 wrote that “Henry was a formidable, captivating man.

But his great charm could turn into anger and shouting. He was highly strung and unstable and was possessed of a strong streak of cruelty.” This shows that this Professor believed Henry was a mad, mental man. Finally one other bad thing Henry did was to his wives. If he grew tired of them he got rid of them, in many ways. The order in which he lost his six were – divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. This links back to the beginning of this essay where I wrote about his wives in general. Henry had lots of wars. Henry fought with France and Scotland, and spent a lot of money fighting. Basically going on from what I said with selling the land the monasteries were on, he got money and spent it on gambling and wars, instead of spending it on his country.

So, in conclusion some say Henry VIII was a good king, some a bad but I believe he was a bad king for he cared mainly for women, gambling and himself (image etc). He had many weak points and overall was an awful ruler in my opinion. I know others may have different opinions and I respect everyone’s views and feelings on the issue. There is a lot of evidence to support both sides so it is really a personal matter.

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