King Henry VIII founded the Anglican Church, married six wives, two of whom were executed, divorced two more of them, hunted and jousted, all before the age of 55.
You’ve probably heard of Henry VIII, but there’s much more to this strange figure than his abundance of wives. He was a in some ways contradictory: A devout Christian who had two wives executed, and a loyal Catholic who broke his country away from the Catholic Church. There is certainly much to be learned about this historically important figure. Without further ado, here are 30 interesting facts about the man.
- If you want to remember what happened to each of Henry’s wives, there is a mnemonic device for that.
King Henry VIII,
To six wives he was wedded.
One died, one survived,
Two divorced, two beheaded.
- Henry VIII is said to have referred to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as ‘A Flanders Mare’. A mare is a female horse, so we can be very sure this was not a compliment.
- Henry’s shortest marriage was to Anne of Cleves, lasting only 6 months and 3 days before it was annulled.
- His longest marriage was to Catherine of Arahttgon, lasting nearly 24 years. This is longer than all five of his other marriages combined.
- Two of his wives were executed. Kathryn Howard was executed for adultery, and Anne Boleyn was accused of adultery, incest and plotting to murder the King. Despite denying these charges, she was still executed. Five men, including the Queen’s brother, were also executed for treasonous adultery and having a sexual relationship with the Queen. The evidence for all of this wasn’t great. We don’t know for sure today all of them were guilty of the crimes they were accused of, or if they were false charges.
- Henry VIII may have written a theological treatise called Defence of the Seven Sacraments. This was written as a reply to Martin Luther’s criticism of the Catholic Church, and particularly to Luther’s theological treatise Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church that criticized some or all of the Catholic sacraments and attacked the papacy.
- Pope Leo X declared Henry the Defender of the Faith in 1521 for his Defense of the Seven Sacraments.
- King Henry VIII authorized the Great Bible, the first authorized edition of the Bible in English, to be read aloud in church. It was completed in 1539, and went through revisions between 1540 and 1541.
- Henry was excommunicated from the Catholic Church in 1538. Excommunication means refusing to give someone communion and disallowing them from being involved in the Church.
- Henry hung 2000 tapestries in his palaces whereas James V of Scotland only hung 200 in his palaces.
- He was an excellent hunter and jouster – and a skilled lute player.
- Henry could both read and write in three languages: English, French and Latin.
- He could sight-read music. This means that he could read and play a piece of music he had not seen before or at least that he had not prepared for.
- Henry VIII introduced a tax on beards, which varied with the beard wearer’s social status.
- In 1509 Henry became king at the age of 17.
- Henry wrote a number of songs, with his most well-known song being “Pastime With Good Company”. He also wrote “En vray amoure” and “Helas Madam”.
- Henry VIII made boiling a legal form of capital punishment.
- He improved the navy, partly by investing in large cannon to replace smaller serpentines in warships. He was also responsible for creating a permanent navy.
- Henry had a collection of weapons, which included 6,500 handguns. He also slept with a gigantic axe beside him.
- Anne Boleyn, his second wife, is rumored to have had an extra finger on her right hand. This may be a misconception for a few reasons however, for example when Boleyn’s burial site was exhumed none of the several bodies that were examined were found to have an extra finger.
- Between 1536 and 1541, Henry VIII disbanded monasteries and other Catholic religious houses and appropriated their income. The monks who surrendered were rewarded, while those few who resisted were executed.
- Henry’s last words were allegedly “Monks! Monks! Monks!” This seems pretty strange at face value, but makes more sense when you consider the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
- A common misconception about Henry is that he wrote the song Greensleeves, when in reality this is unlikely.
- Henry VIII founded the Anglican Church by breaking away from the Catholic Church mainly because the Pope refused to grant Henry an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
- King Henry VIII gambled and played dice.
- Henry was gifted a bear by the King of Norway, described a ‘white bear’. It was probably a polar bear, and was allowed to swim and hunt fish in the Thames on a long leash.
- Late in Henry’s life, he became obese as a result of not being able to exercise as much because of a bad jousting accident, which reopened and worsened a previous injury he had incurred earlier in his life.
- Henry’s courtiers wore heavily padded clothing to emulate Henry in the later stage of his life when he put on weight.
- Henry’s waist size was 54 inches in the obese stage of his life.
- In August 1527, John Rut – an English mariner – sent the first known letter overseas from Newfoundland to King Henry VIII.