On this day in history on 28 June 1491, one of England’s most famous monarchs was born… Happy Birthday Henry VIII! The Tudor monarch who is known for his six wives, desperation for a male heir, separation from the Catholic church and stout public image, continues to fascinate us even today! To celebrate his special day, we’ve put together some of our favourite historical facts about Henry VIII that you may not know!
Want to learn more about Henry VIII and life in Tudor England? Be sure to head to his former home, Hampton Court Palace!
1. He was not expected to rule
Henry was the second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, and his elder brother Arthur was heir to the throne until he died from sweating sickness at 15. After ascending to the throne at 17 after his father died, Henry VIII continued living a leisurely life for a monarch – preferring to get up late in the mornings and enjoy hunting, hawking, dancing, gambling and playing cards over his official duties.
2. He was a published author
Before separating from the Catholic Church, Henry VIII wrote a 30,000 response to Martin Luther’s protestant Ninety-five Theses, praising the church in Rome. He was the first English king to publish a book and the Pope declared Henry VIII “Defender of the Faith”.
3. Paranoia and illness
Henry was obsessed with sickness and death, specifically the sweating sickness (which claimed his brother Arthur’s life) and the plague. Any time there was an outbreak, he would minimize his risk of infection by leaving London and limiting the number of ambassadors he saw. Even when Anne Boleyn caught the sweating sickness in 1528, Henry stayed far away until she got better!
4. Weight issues
Despite being a tall, handsome and athletic young king, the older age was not kind to Henry VIII. When he died in 1547, he weighed nearly 400 pounds and had a 54 inch waist.
5. Merciless King
In his later years, Henry grew more paranoid and ill-tempered with crowds of prisoners sent to the Tower of London at his orders. He sent more men and women to their deaths than any other English monarch – it’s estimated 57,000 – 72,000 people were executed during his 37 year reign.
Not only could Henry speak Latin, French, Ancient Greek and Spanish, but also played the lute and organ, sang, played tennis and jousted!
7. Serial Womanizer(?)
Henry VIII’s womanizing reputation has latest throughout history thanks to his six infamous wives and mistresses. In spite of this reputation, we only know of three specific mistresses, one of which being Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary.
8. Wife after wife
There’s a common belief that Henry married and discarded his six wives in quick succession but this isn’t necessarily true! He married his brother’s widow Catherine of Aragon when he came to the throne at 17 and they remained married for nearly 24 years before he had their marriage annulled in order to marry Anne Boleyn. His shortest marriage was to Anne of Cleves, which lasted six months.
9. Belgium rule
He is the only English monarch to have ruled Belgium. After capturing the significant town of Tournai in 1513, Henry eventually handed the territory to France in 1518.
In spite of his obsession of producing a male heir, Henry VIII had four children – three from his marriages and one with his mistress Elizabeth Blount, named Henry Fitzroy (the surname Fitzroy meaning “son of the King”). His three “official” children went on to be kings and queens, with his youngest Elizabeth I becoming an iconic monarch in her own right.
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