9 Surprising Facts About Henry VIII’s Life

9 Surprising Facts About Henry VIII’s Life
"Portrait of King Henry VIII 1540c." by lisby1 is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Henry VIII was a king of England and Ireland who ruled the country from 1509 until his death in 1547. He was born in 1491 in Greenwich, and he died in 1547 in London at the age of 55. He died due to health issues he suffered for over ten years. Henry VIII was obese, and he couldn’t move without the help of mechanical inventions. His body was covered with painful, pus-filled boils, and there’s a possibility he suffered from gout. All of these conditions can be traced back to a jousting accident he had in 1936. (1) (2)

Henry VIII is best known for the separation of the Church of England from the Vatican. The reason for disagreements between him and Pope Clement VII was the annulment of Henry’s first marriage with Catherine of Aragon. The two of them had one female child, and Henry was worried about his failure to produce a male heir to the throne.

In 1931, the Pope sent a letter to Henry which stated that if Henry went on to remarry, the Church of England will be excommunicated. Henry VIII ignored the warning and married Anne Boleyn, the mother of the future Queen Elizabeth I. This act alone has fundamentally changed the course of European and Christian history.

Even though the Church of England was very similar to Roman Catholicism at first, these moves made Henry and his successors absolute rulers who didn’t answer to the pope anymore. England joined a number of German states in rejecting Catholicism, which will later cause numerous religious, political, and military conflict. (3)

Henry’s acts have, undoubtedly, changed the history and relationship between the European countries. Even though Henry is known for the separation of the Church of England, his decadent lifestyle, and numerous marriages, there are still many more facts about Henry VIII you probably never heard about.

That’s why we prepared a list of some of the most intriguing ones just for you! Without any further, let’s find out more about Henry VIII.

I. He was married six times

Six marriages are probably among the most popular facts about Henry VIII, but we can’t skip this one! Even today, marrying six times is a rare thing to come across, especially for a monarch. Just imagine how odd and controversial this was in the 16th century. However, Henry VIII didn’t marry six times only out of the lavish lifestyle and decadency. He was desperate to produce his successor, a male heir to the throne.

His six wives were Catherine of Aragon (the mother of Queen Mary I – the Bloody Mary), Anne Boleyn (the mother of Queen Elizabeth I), Jane Seymour (the mother of King Edward VI), Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Katherine Parr. (2)

Henry’s first marriage with Catherine of Aragon was annulled. (2) His second wife, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded because of treason. (4) Jane Seymour, his third wife, died 9 days after giving birth to Edward VI. (5) Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife, died of natural causes, too. (6) Catherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife, was beheaded because of adultery (7), and his last wife, Katherine Parr stayed by his side until he died in 1547. (8)

II. All 3 of his children took their turn as England’s monarch

When Henry VIII died, the first heir to the throne was Edward VI who was only 9 years old at the time. During his reign, a regency council governed the state until Edward VI reached his maturity. However, Edward prematurely died in 1553 at the age of 15.

He was succeeded by Mary I, who was also known under the nickname Bloody Mary. She was a child of Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She ruled the country until 1558 when she died.

Queen Mary I’s successor was Queen Elizabeth I, the child of Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth I was the longest reigning and the last monarch from the House of Tudors. (9)

III. Henry VIII wasn’t supposed to be the king

One of the most surprising facts about Henry VIII is that he wasn’t the first heir to the throne. Even though Henry VIII is probably the most famous monarch in the history of England, he was never supposed to become the king.

He was the second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. His older brother, Arthur, was first in line to become the ruler. The two brothers didn’t grow up together. Arthur’s childhood was dedicated to learning how to be a king, and Henry spent most of his early life with his mother and sisters. When Arthur was only 15 years old, he died from the so-called, sweating sickness.

Henry was only 10 years old at the time, and he had several years to prepare for his new role. Right after his brother’s death, Henry went on to receive the necessary education. His father died when he was 19 years old from tuberculosis, and that’s when he became the king. (10) (11)

IV. Henry VIII married his brother’s widow

When Arthur was a toddler, he was engaged to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. This engagement was supposed to create an alliance between England and Spain. The two of them married in 1501 when they were 15 and 16 years old and lived together for several months until Arthur died in 1502.

After Arthur’s death, Catherine claimed that the two of them never consummated the marriage. Because of that, the marriage between Henry VIII and Catherine was eventually approved. The two of them had one child together, Mary I. (12)

V. Henry VIII was extremely obese

In 1536, Henry had a jousting accident in which he suffered a leg wound. From this point onward, Henry’s physical and mental health was only getting worse. He had a chronic leg wound which prevented him from maintaining the level of physical activity he enjoyed before the injury.

In the years to come, Henry showed extreme mood swings, which had a dramatic effect on his temperament. His obesity and health issues hastened his death, and he died in 1547, 11 years after his accident.

Over the centuries, there have been several theories on what he actually suffered from. It’s most likely that he suffered from gout, but there have been some theories that suggest it was syphilis or a brain wound he suffered from during the jousting accident. The syphilis theory has usually been dismissed by historians. (13)

VI. He was a hypochondriac

Even though Henry suffered from many things later in life, he was very athletic and healthy during the first few decades of his life. Having in mind the times he lived in and the untimely death of his older brother, he was very paranoid about getting sick and dying. At the time, there were plenty of illnesses he could worry about, but his two main concerns were the plague, and the sweating sickness, which his brother died from.

During the outbreaks of these illnesses, he would isolate for months and try to stay away from those who might’ve been exposed to the disease. In 1517-18, when an epidemic of the sweating sickness hit London, he left the city for almost a year and even refused to see ambassadors.

When his second wife, Anne Boleyn, got sick in 1528, he refused to see her for weeks. (14)

VII. He was also known as “The father of the Royal Navy”

After the separation from the Catholic Church, Henry VIII didn’t answer to the Pope anymore, and he became the absolute ruler. During his reign, he invested a lot into the navy. He increased the size of the navy from just a few to more than 50 ships. Henry also established the Navy Board. (15)

VIII. Henry VIII had many interests and hobbies

Another one of the interesting facts about Henry VIII is that he had many other interests. He was a polyglot, who spoke English, Latin, French, Ancient Greek, and Spanish. Next to being good with languages, he also loved music and sports. Henry played a lute, organ, and sang. He also loved to spend time outside and do sports, including tennis and jousting. (1) (16)

IX. Before the separation from the Catholic Church, the Pope declared him the “Defender of the Faith”

Long before separating from the Catholic Church, Henry VIII was an advocate against Protestantism. At one point, he wrote a 30,000-word response to Martin Luther’s protestant Ninety-five Theses, which made him a published author. After the publication, the Pope declared him the “Defender of the Faith”, which he would later revoke. (17)

There you have it  – those were some of the most intriguing facts about the former King of England, Henry VIII. Having in mind his six marriages, the separation from the Catholic Church, and the way he lived his life, it’s easy to see how unique of a monarch Henry was, even under today’s norms.

Which one of these facts about Henry VIII surprised you the most? Do you know some other cool things about him we haven’t mentioned in this article? Leave a comment below!


  1. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-VIII-king-of-England
  2. https://www.history.com/topics/british-history/henry-viii
  3. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/pope-clement-vii-forbids-king-henry-viii-from-remarrying
  4. https://www.historyextra.com/period/tudor/anne-boleyn-death-execution-where-buried-how-die/
  5. https://www.biography.com/royalty/jane-seymour
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_of_Cleves
  7. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Catherine-Howard
  8. https://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/history-and-stories/katherine-parr/
  9. https://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/history-and-stories/henry-viiis-children/
  10. https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/tradition/a27258498/prince-arthur-tudor-death/
  11. https://www.historyhit.com/when-was-henry-viii-born-when-did-he-become-king-and-how-long-was-his-reign/
  12. https://www.biography.com/royalty/catherine-of-aragon
  13. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/jousting-accident-turned-henry-viii-tyrant-1670421.html
  14. https://www.history.com/news/the-mysterious-epidemic-that-terrified-henry-viii  
  15. http://www.nmrn-portsmouth.org.uk/sites/default/files/styles/homepage_collections_slidshows/public/modules/image/A%20brief%20history%20of%20the%20RN.pdf
  16. https://www.classical-music.com/features/articles/musical-life-king-henry-viii/
  17. https://www.britannica.com/topic/defender-of-the-faith

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