Henry VIII of England

From Wikiquote
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger

Henry VIII (June 28, 1491January 28, 1547) was King of England from 22 April 1509 until his death in 1547. Henry is best known for his six marriages, including his efforts to have his first marriage (to Catherine of Aragon) annulled. His disagreement with Pope Clement VII about such an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority. He appointed himself Supreme Head of the Church of England and dissolved convents and monasteries, for which he was excommunicated. Henry is also known as "the father of the Royal Navy," as he invested heavily in the navy, increasing its size from a few to more than 50 ships, and established the Navy Board.

Domestically, Henry is known for his radical changes to the English Constitution, ushering in the theory of the divine right of kings. He also greatly expanded royal power during his reign. He frequently used charges of treason and heresy to quell dissent, and those accused were often executed without a formal trial by means of bills of attainder.


  • For this book is for me and all kings to read.
    • On William Tyndale's The Obedience of a Christian Man (c. 1528), quoted in John Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials: Relating Chiefly to Religion, and Its Reformation Under the Reigns of King Henry VIII., King Edward VI., and Queen Mary the First, Volume I (1816), p. 177
  • [We are] not only prince and king, but set on such a pinnacle of dignity that we know no superior on earth.
    • Letter to William Benet (September 1530), quoted in J. J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII (1968; 1971 ed.), p. 350
  • I shall never consent to his being judge in that affair [sc. the divorce]. Even if his holiness should do his worst by excommunicating me and so forth, I shall not mind it, for I care not a fig for all his excommunications. Let him follow his own at Rome, I will do here what I think best.
    • Remarks to the papal nuncio (June 1531), quoted in J. J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII (1968; 1971 ed.), p. 379
  • Well-beloved subjects, we thought that the clergy of our realm had been our subjects wholly, but now we have well perceived that they be but half our subjects, yea, and scarce our subjects: for all the prelates at their consecration make an oath to the pope, clean contrary to the oath that they make to us, so that they seem to be his subjects, and not ours.
    • Speech to Parliament (11 May 1532), as quoted in Hall's Chronicle (1809), edited by Sir Henry Ellis, p. 788
  • Well trusting therefore that these urgent causes shall be so indifferently pondered and weighed in the balance of the Pope's judgment and heart, and also his own duty, which things well considered, he having also regard to his oath in the receipt of his dignity which he there actually giveth for observance both of the general Councils and the antique laws of the fathers of the Church, considering also with himself how we at the time of our coronation be likewise obliged both to support and maintain the immunities and princely liberties of our realm and crown, which to contrary I make myself sure his holiness well informed, will never require, since it is prohibite both by God's precept and law of nature by these words. Quod tibi non vis fieri alteri ne facias.
    • Draft of a despatch to the ambassadors at Rome (January 1533), quoted in Nicholas Pocock, Records of the Reformation: The Divorce 1527-1533. Mostly now for the first time printed from mss. in the British Museum, the Public Record Office, the Venetian Archives and other libraries, Vol. II (1870), p. 438
  • We be informed by our judges that we at no time stand so highly in our estate royal as in the time of Parliament, wherein we as head and you as members are conjoined and knit together into one body politic, so as whatsoever offence or injury (during that time) is offered to the meanest member of the House is to be judged as done against our person and the whole Court of Parliament.
    • Speech to Parliament on parliamentary privilege (March/April 1542), as quoted in Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland Volume III (1808), by Raphael Holinshed, p. 824
  • Alas, how can the poor souls live in Concord when you preachers sow amongst them in your sermons debate and discord? They look to you for light and you bring them darkness. Amend these crimes, I exhort you, and set forth God's word truly, both by true preaching and giving a good example, or else, I, whom God has appointed his vicar and high minister here, will see these divisions extinct, and these enormities corrected...
    • Last speech to parliament, December 24, 1545. [1]
    • See also: Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, Great Britain. Public Record Office, John Sherren Brewer, Robert Henry, vol. XX, part 2, p. 513. [2]
  • Be not judges yourselves of your own fantastical opinions and vain expositions; and although you be permitted to read Holy Scriptures and to have the Word of God in your mother tongue, you must understand it is licensed so to do only to inform your conscience and inform your children and families, not to make Scripture a railing and taunting stock against priests and preachers. I am very sorry to know and hear how irreverently that precious jewel, the Word of God, is disputed, rimed, sung, and jangled in every alehouse and tavern, contrary to the true meaning and doctrine of the same.
    • Last speech to parliament, December 24, 1545.
    • English Church History from the Death of King Henry VII to the Death of Archbishop Parker, Rev. Alfred Plummer, 1905, Edinburg, T. & T. Clark, p. 85. [3]

Quotes about Henry VIII

  • We may be amused by a defence of Richard III., but we can feel only indignation and disgust at an apology for Henry VIII., whose atrocities are as well authenticated as those of Robespierre, and are less excusable.
  • I am sure you were at Hampton Court when the French king's ambassador was entertained there at those solemn banqueting-houses, not long before the king's death; namely, when, after the banquet was done the first night, the king was leaning upon the ambassador and upon me: if I should tell what communication between the king's highness and the said ambassador was had, concerning the establishing of sincere religion then, a man would hardly have believed it: nor had I myself thought the king's highness had been so forward in those matters as then appeared. I may tell you, it passed the pulling down of roods, and suppressing the ringing of bells. I take it that few in England would have believed, that the king's majesty and the French king had been at this point, not only, within half a year after, to have changed the mass in both the realms into a communion (as we now use it), but also utterly to have extirped and banished the bishop of Rome, and his usurped power, out of both their realms and dominions.
    • Thomas Cranmer, quoted in John Foxe, The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe, Vol. V (1870), pp. 563-564
  • Two beheadings out of six wives is too many.
  • Henry the Eighth has been favoured by some Protestant writers because the Reformation was achieved in his time. But the mighty merit of it lies with other men and not with him; and it can be rendered none the worse by this monster's crimes, and none the better by any defence of them. The plain truth is, that he was a most intolerable ruffian, a disgrace to human nature, and a blot of blood and grease upon the History of England.
  • Quisquis enim hic felicem agit vitam, atque rempublicam recte gubernat, sicut nobilissimus meus pater fecit, qui promouit omnem pietatem atque expulit omnem ignorantiam, habet certissimum iter in coelum.
  • [W]hoever leads an auspicious life here and governs the commonwealth rightly, as my most noble father did, who promoted all piety and banished all ignorance, has a most certain way to heaven.
  • Henry's outwardly formidable and impressive personality helped from the first, despite his youth. This was a King that men could look up to—indeed, had to look up to because none could match his physical size. The feelings he inspired always mingled some fear with the awe, and it would be hard to say that any of his subjects—even his close companions at court, even his wives—came to love him; but for a man so manifestly King to every eye, so quick at judging men and situations, and so capable of exercising both easy charm and unchallenged authority, awe and devotion and apprehension did more than affection could have done. Henry established this palpable hold over his people's imagination and obedience as soon as he ascended the throne, and he retained it largely unimpaired to the day of his death.
    • Geoffrey Elton, Reform and Reformation: England 1509–1558 (1977; 1984), p. 23
  • And thus much touching the end of king Henry, who, if he had continued a few months longer (all those obits and masses, which appear in his will made before he went to Boulogne, notwithstanding), most certain it is, and to be signified to all posterity, that his full purpose was to have repurged the estate of the church, and to have gone through with the same, so that he would not have left one mass in all England.
    • John Foxe, The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe, Vol. V (1870), p. 692
  • Evangelicals often had reason to view Henry VIII as another persecuting Pharaoh, but when the king turned against the pope and began wielding his sword against "persecutors" like Thomas More in the early 1530s, some clearly began to envision him as an agent of divine vengeance against their enemies.
    • Karl Gunther, Reformation Unbound: Protestant Visions of Reform in England, 1525-1590 (2014), p. 87
  • A pig, an ass, a dunghill, the spawn of an adder, a basilisk, a lying buffoon, a mad fool with a frothy mouth.
  • It's no surprise that so much fiction constellates around the subject of Henry and his wives. Often, if you want to write about women in history, you have to distort history to do it, or substitute fantasy for facts; you have to pretend that individual women were more important than they were or that we know more about them than we do.
    But with the reign of King Bluebeard, you don't have to pretend. Women, their bodies, their reproductive capacities, their animal nature, are central to the story. The history of the reign is so graphically gynaecological that in the past it enabled lady novelists to write about sex when they were only supposed to write about love; and readers could take an avid interest in what went on in royal bedrooms by dignifying it as history, therefore instructive, edifying.
  • Pig, dolt and liar.
  • Henry VIII was a golden and gifted boy who grew up to become a forceful, energetic and ambitious ruler — he was a majestic and ruthless monarch who created an ‘imperial’ monarchy by asserting English independence, defying Rome, breaking up the monasteries, promoting his realm’s military and naval power and his own autocracy, all ultimately enabling the triumph of Protestantism. Yet he became a bloated, thin-skinned tyrant who ordered the killing — on faked evidence — of many, including two of his wives, because of his own wounded pride. Both hero and monster, he was, in his paranoid cruelty, the English Stalin.
  • And even where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth, even there shall the dogs lick thy blood also, O king! And I am that Micheas whom thou wilt hate, because I must tell thee truly that thy marriage is unlawful; and I know I shall eat the bread of affliction, and drink the water of sorrow, yet because our Lord hath put it into my mouth I must speak it. There are many other preachers, yea, too many, who preach and persuade thee otherwise, feeding thy folly and frail affections upon the hope of their own worldly promotion; and by that means they destroy thy soul, thy honor and posterity, to obtain fat benefices, to become rich abbots and get episcopal jurisdiction and other ecclesiastical dignities. There, I say, are the four hundred prophets who, in the spirit of lying, seek to deceive thee; but take good heed lest you, being seduced, find Achab's punishment, which was to have his blood 'licked up by the dogs,' saying it was the greatest miscarriage of princes to be daily abused by flatterers.
    • William Petow, sermon (1 May 1532), on 1 Kings 22, quoted in "Last of the Carthusians and the Fate of the Observant Fathers," in Catholic world, 1881, Volume 34, Catholic Publication Society, New York, p. 257. [5]
  • Commonwealth schoolchildren are often taught one of the key events in British history with the help of a mnemonic: "King Henry the Eighth, to six wives he was wedded: One died, one survived, two divorced, two beheaded." Beheaded! In 1536 Henry had his wife Anne Boleyn decapitated on trumped-up charges of adultery and treason because she gave him a son that did not survive, and he had become attracted to one of her ladies-in-waiting. Two wives later he suspected Catherine Howard of adultery and sent her to the ax as well. (Tourists visiting the Tower of London can see the chopping block for themselves.) Henry was clearly the jealous type: he also had an old boyfriend of Catherine’s drawn and quartered, which is to say hanged by the neck, taken down while still alive, disemboweled, castrated, decapitated, and cut into four. The throne passed to Henry’s son Edward, then to Henry’s daughter Mary, and then to another daughter, Elizabeth. “Bloody Mary” did not get her nickname by putting tomato juice in her vodka but by having three hundred religious dissenters burned at the stake. And both sisters kept up the family tradition for how to resolve domestic squabbles: Mary imprisoned Elizabeth and presided over the execution of their cousin, Lady Jane Grey, and Elizabeth executed another cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. Elizabeth also had 123 priests drawn and quartered, and had other enemies tortured with bone-crushing manacles, another attraction on display in the Tower. Today the British royal family is excoriated for shortcomings ranging from rudeness to infidelity. You’d think people would give them credit for not having had a single relative decapitated, nor a single rival drawn and quartered.
  • A lying, greedy and idiotic king, a beetle and a pile of dung, the spawn of a snake, a chicken, a lying toad mixed all together by Satan's spawn.
    • Henry Randall, quoted on page 77 of A Tale of the Worst Kings in England by John Gaist.
  • Summitry was now reaching its premodern heyday, for reasons relevant to our larger story.Although by about 1500 several strong national states had emerged in Europe, they remained greatly dependent on their monarchs. This kind of personalized power is at the heart of summitry. One of the most famous encounters took place on the so-called Field of the Cloth of Gold in June 1520, toward the summit bringing together Henry VIII of England and François I of France. The young English monarch, whose titles still included “King of France,” had resumed the old struggle in 1512. But his advisor Cardinal Thomas Wolsey secured a truce and then arranged a summit to consummate an enduring peace. It took place on the edge of Calais, the last English enclave in France, in a shallow dip known as the Val d’Or. Both sides of the valley were carefully reshaped to ensure that neither party enjoyed a height advantage. A special pavilion was constructed for the meeting and festivities, surrounded by thousands of tents and a three-hundred-foot-square timber castle for the rest of those attending. Henry’s entourage alone numbered more than five thousand, while the French crown needed ten years to pay off its share of the cost.
    • David Reynolds, Summits: Six Meetings that Changed the Twentieth Century (2007), p. 16
  • At the appointed hour on June 7, 1520, the Feast of Corpus Christi, the two monarchs with their retinues in full battle array appeared on the opposite sides of the valley. There was a moment of tense silence—each side feared an ambush by the other. Then the two kings spurred their horses forward to the appointed place marked by a spear in the ground and embraced. The ice was broken. They dismounted and went into the pavilion arm in arm to talk. Then began nearly two weeks of jousting, feasting and dancing that culminated in a High Mass in the open air. Choirs from England and France accompanied the mass and there was a sermon on the virtues of peace. n both choreography and cost, the Field of the Cloth of Gold resembles contemporary summits. In a further similarity, style was more important than substance: by 1521 the two countries were at war again. In many ways they were natural rivals, whereas Henry was bound—by marriage and interest—to France’s enemy Charles V, king of Spain. Both before and after the Cloth of Gold Henry met Charles for discussions of much greater diplomatic magnitude. And although Wolsey hoped the meeting of the British and French elites might build bridges, this soon proved an illusion. As the Cloth of Gold demonstrated, egos were everything in these summits, with each side alert to any hint of advantage gained summits by the other. Commines was implacably opposed to such meetings for this very reason. It was, he said, impossible “to hinder the train and equipage of the one from being finer and more magnificent than the other, which produces mockery, and nothing touches any person more sensibly than to be laughed at.”
    • David Reynolds, Summits: Six Meetings that Changed the Twentieth Century (2007), pp. 16-17
  • He had survived pretenders, excommunication, rebellion and threats of invasion, died in his bed and passed his throne peacefully to his heir. He had won a title, Defender of the Faith, which English monarchs still boast... He had made war on England's ancient enemies and himself led two assaults on France. For nearly four decades he had cut an imposing figure in Europe...bestriding its high diplomacy as few of his predecessors, if any, had done. He had defied pope and emperor, brought into being in England and Ireland a national Church subject to his authority, wiped about a thousand religious houses off the face of his native land...and bestowed on English kingship a profound new dignity. He...had brought the Scriptures in the vernacular to his people, hesitantly and perhaps partly unwittingly, but none the less decisively, allowed his country to be directed towards the continental Reformation...and given to his people a new sense of unity – the unity of ‘entire Englishmen’ rather than that of 'Englishmen papisticate' or of those who were 'scarce our subjects'. The England which he had led back into European affairs...had disowned allegiance to any external authority, indisputably emerged from his reign with a new political 'wholeness'... Thanks above all to Thomas Cromwell, his reign had given England much 'good governance'.
  • Henry's reign in many ways left a deeper mark on the mind, heart and face of England than did any event in English history between the coming of the Normans and the coming of the factory.
  • He became more and more odious as he grew older, but he never lost his interest in theology, and it was the interest of a man with brains. The continuity of the Church was preserved with its creeds, orders, sacraments and discipline, because a wicked king knew something about the faith and was proud of his knowledge. The Reformation was to come and pass, but the Church was to remain—not a sect devoted to any man's opinions, but a body wide enough to include those who sympathised with Colet or with More or with Erasmus, a body suffering violence, but not destroyed; and this was so because Henry VIII was in all things a traditionalist, and because he had no wish to impair the prestige of the Church, believing himself to be its head and its defender.
    • H. Maynard Smith, Pre-Reformation England (1938), p. 515
  • Henry VIII not only countenanced the practice of military pastimes by permitting them to be exercised without restraint but also endeavoured to make them fashionable by his own example. Hall assures us, that, even after his accession to the throne, he continued daily to amuse himself in archery, casting of the bar, wrestling, or dancing, and frequently in tilting, tourneying, fighting at the barriers with swords, and battle-axes, and such like martial recreations, in most of which there were few that could excel him. His leisure time he spent in playing at the recorders, flute, and virginals, in a setting of songs, singing and making of ballads. He was also exceedingly fond of hunting, hawking, and other sports of the field; and indeed his example so far prevailed, that hunting, hawking, riding the great horse, charging dexterously with the lance at the tilt, leaping, and running, were necessary accomplishments for a man of fashion.
  • His policy was both wise and strong. While not encouraging transoceanic adventure in the face of predominant Spanish power, he made possible the future liberation of his country's energies by the only means—the foundation of a Royal Navy... It was Henry VIII who built an effective fleet of royal fighting ships, with royal dockyards at Woolwich and Deptford; he also founded the corporation of Trinity House. Henry's maritime policy had a double importance. Not only did he create ships specially manned and commissioned to fight, and to fight in the public service alone, but his architects designed many of these royal ships on an improved model. They were sailing vessels better adapted to the ocean than the rowed galleys of the Mediterranean powers, and better adapted to manoeuvring in battle than the more clumsy ‘round’ ships of the mediaeval type in which the English merchants sailed the sea, and in which the Spaniards crossed the Atlantic. The new type of English warship was three times the length of its beam or more, while the normal ‘round’ ship was only twice the length of its beam. Hitherto sea-battles had consisted of ramming, archery and boarding, very much like the battles of the old Greek and Roman navies. But a new age was at hand. From the port-holes of Henry VIII's fleet protruded the iron mouths of great cannon in a row, ready to give the shattering ‘broadside,’ the operation of war to which, more than to any other, British maritime and colonial power owe their existence. It was Henry VIII himself who had insisted that his naval architects should mount heavy cannon in the body of the ship; they had devised the expedient of piercing apertures in the very hold itself through which the great shot could be discharged.
  • The Royal Navy was Henry's creation, and it saved both himself and his daughter after him when they adopted an island policy and defied the Catholic powers of Europe. Wolsey had no notion of the importance of sea power to England. He was a great medieval churchman, a civil servant of the old school, and a diplomatist of the Renaissance type. But of the future development of England at home and on the sea Wolsey had no vision at all. His master, with that curious instinct of oneness with the English people which was the secret of Tudor greatness, saw deeper. He could use Wolsey's consummate administrative powers during the years of his own apprenticeship in statecraft, and then pass over him along a path of his own which no Cardinal could be expected to tread.
  • It is indeed a fact of the first importance that Henry VIII, the most wilful but not the least wise of our Kings, did more for Parliament than any other person in our history. His father, Henry VII, and his own first great Minister Wolsey had seldom summoned Parliament; until the breach with Rome the two Houses seemed, like other European Parliaments, to be declining, perhaps towards ultimate extinction. But Henry VIII, in the middle of his reign, decided to use Parliament as his instrument and accomplice in the destruction of the Papal power, the spoliation of the monasteries, and the subordination of the medieval liberties of the Church to the laity and above all to the Crown. He had no standing Army, and without the general acquiescence of his subjects and the support of their more influential classes Henry could not have carried through this immense revolution. He found in Parliament, particularly in the Commons, the expression of that popular support he required. To be despot himself he raised up in Parliament a force that was destined to prevent his successors from being despots.
    • G. M. Trevelyan, 'Monarchy and the Constitution: A Historical Survey', The Times (11 May 1937), p. 40
  • Having learnt of the date [of his coronation], from all directions a vast multitude of persons at once hurried to London to see their monarch in the full bloom of his youth and high birth. For everybody loved him; and their affections were not half-hearted, because the king on his father's side descended from Henry VI and on his mother's from Edward IV. For just as Edward was the most warmly thought of by the English people among all the English kings, so this successor of his, Henry, was very like him in general appearance, in greatness of mind and generosity and for that reason was the more acclaimed and approved of by all. Henry was also recommended by his handsome bearing, his comely and manly features (in which one could discern as much authority as good will), his outstanding physical strength, remarkable memory, aptness at all the arts of both war and peace, skill at arms and on horseback, scholarship of no mean order, thorough knowledge of music, and his humanity, benevolence and self-control.
    • Polydore Vergil, The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil, A.D. 1485–1537, ed. Denys Hay (1950), p. 151
Wikipedia has an article about: