Ward's Book of Days.
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What happened on this day in history
On this day in history in 1491, was born Henry VIII.
Henry was a king more famous for his six wives than for his turbulent yet effective rule, which took England from obscurity to being a major world power.
Henry became heir to the throne, aged eleven, in 1492, when his elder brother Arthur, Prince of Wales, died suddenly. Arthur had been married to Catherine of Aragon, but the marriage had only lasted a short while and apparently never consummated. Henry’s father needed the alliance with Catherine’s father, the king of Spain and so Catherine was kept at the English court to be married to Henry, when he came of age. When Henry came to the throne, aged 18, he immediately married Catherine.
Henry’s reign was noted for stability and prosperity at home, due to a foreign policy based on avoiding foreign conflict. Henry and his ministers played off the two major powers in Europe, France and Spain, by making brief alliances with one or the other, or another power, as best suited the moment.
At Henry’s court, there were numerous factions, each trying to gain influence. Although England was Catholic and Henry himself was a devout Catholic, many at court had sympathies with the Protestant cause. Henry had no male heir but only a daughter, Mary, later Mary I, with Catherine. He was persuaded to seek an annulment of his marriage on the grounds that it was unlawful to marry one’s brother’s wife. The pope refused Henry’s request, preferring to side with Spain and Catherine’s relatives, for political reasons. At this, Henry was convinced to make a break with Rome. The Act of Supremacy made the king the head of the church in England. England was still Catholic but the king ran church affairs. The Act of Appeals declared that England was ‘an empire’, that is a sovereign state. Henry had made England into a nation state, independent of all foreign powers. The way was now clear for Henry to divorce Catherine.
Henry then married Anne Boleyn, by whom he had a daughter Elizabeth, later Elizabeth I. When that marriage failed, he married Jane Seymour and had his male heir, Edward, later Edward VI. Henry went through a succession of marriages, none of them successful. He left a male heir who took the throne aged nine and two daughters who became queens in turn. During Edward’s reign, his ministers made England Protestant. In Mary’s time, England reverted to Catholicism and when Elizabeth succeeded, England turned back to Protestantism. Henry thought he had left the succession clear and the land safe but, in fact, his marriages had brought turmoil.
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