Henry VIII - 1509-1547
The achievements of Henry VIII's reign have often been obscured in the popular imagination by the story of his many marriages. It is overlooked that by 1547, when he died, England had broken with the power of the Roman Papacy, had become established as a rival of the European powers headed by the Emperor Charles V and Francis I of France and laid the foundations for the golden age of Elizabeth I.
As a young man Henry was a predictable prince of his age: lusty, ambitious and a religious conformist, whose pamphlet Assertio Septem Sacromentorum earned him the title of Defender of the Faith, bestowed by Pope Leo X.
Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, daughter of the Catholic monarchs of Spain, signalled Henrys lack of concern for political marriage alliances. Though, persuaded by Cardinal Wolsey his Chancellor, he attempted to make a pact with Francis I of France at the opulent meeting which came to be known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520.
The failure of this rapprochement, Wolsey's ostentatious style of life (he built Hampton Court Palace), and his failure to procure for Henry a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, led to the Chancellor's fall from grace. Wolsey died in November 1530 before he could be executed.
Growing more confident and more assertive, Henry now appointed men about him who would do his bidding. Thomas Cranmer annulled his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, then, having been excommunicated by the Pope, Henry established himself as head of the Church of England.
Opposed by Sir Thomas More, Henry had him executed and appointed Thomas Cromwell as Vicar General of England and began the dissolution of the monasteries. Cromwell, however, also fell into disfavour and was executed as Henry became increasingly autocratic and intolerant of any challenges to his power.
From this moment until his death Henry extended and showed off his authority by refurbishing, or building new, palaces such as Whitehall (later burned down), Richmond, St James and Hampton Court. His profligate style of life led however to the ruin of the Exchequer and to his reputation as a colourful, extravagant and exacting monarch.
Key Events during the Reign of Henry VIII
1509 - Henry accedes to the throne on the death of his father Henry VII.
1509 - Henry marries Catherine of Aragon.
1516 - Catherine gives birth to Princess Mary.
1533 - Henry's marriage to Catherine is annulled.
1533 - Henry marries Anne Boleyn; Princess Elizabeth is born.
1533 - Henry is excommunicated.
1534 - Henry established as head of the Church of England.
1535 - Thomas Cromwell made Vicar of England.
1536 - Anne Boleyn is executed and Henry marries Jane Seymour.
1536 - Cromwell begins dissolution of the monasteries.
1537 - Jane Seymour gives birth to Edward (later Edward VI), but dies.
1540 - Henry marries and divorces Anne of Cleves.
1540 - Henry marries Catherine Howard.
1543 - Henry marries Catherine Parr.
1547 - Henry VIII dies.