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No one expected Henry VIII to become King, as he was the “spare” until the “heir” Arthur died in 1502. His childhood was fraught with danger from revolts and pretenders.
Henry was born on 28 June 1491 at Greenwich Palace—the third surviving child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. He was created Duke of York.
His brother Arthur—“a handsome sensitive boy”—was the heir. Arthur was raised in his own household, away from his siblings.
Henry was raised with his sisters Margaret and Mary under his mother’s care at Greenwich, Eltham and Sheen (renamed Richmond).
The famous poet John Skelton was Henry’s tutor. He learnt to read and write in fluent Latin and French from a very early age. He also learnt Spanish, Italian, deportment and how to behave on public occasions.
Henry’s life was in danger in June 1497 when Cornishmen rose in revolt against taxes. Elizabeth of York moved her children to the Tower of London for safety until the rebels were defeated at Blackheath.
His father Henry VII also defeated two pretenders to the throne.
Eight-year-old Henry played host during his brother’s absence during the summer of 1499 when Lord Mountjoy and Thomas More visited, bringing Desiderius Erasmus.
Catherine of Aragon
Arthur married the Spanish Princess Catherine of Aragon in 1501, after lengthy negotiations. He died from consumption four months later in Wales. Henry inherited his brother’s title Duke of Cornwall. He was created Prince of Wales on 18 February 1503.
Henry lost his beloved mother when she died in childbirth, aged 38, in 1503.
His father shocked Queen Isabella when he suggested marrying the widowed Catherine of Aragon. A treaty was signed with the Spanish ambassadors where Henry would marry Catherine. Ferdinand would pay an extra 100,000 scudos as a new dowry.
Pope Julius II granted a dispensation on 26 December 1503 but the wording was ambiguous—assuming Catherine’s marriage was consummated.
Henry VII persuaded his son to make a formal protest against the marriage, claiming he was under-age, when the dowry was not paid.
Henry was brought to court to learn the art of kingship, but his father kept him under strict supervision. Henry was not given any royal responsibilities or training in kingship. He was not allowed to participate in jousting.
He inherited the throne in 1509 as Henry VIII. His reign began with promise to usher in a new “golden age”. No one mourned his father as Henry VII was a miser and extortionist, but England enjoyed 30 years’ peace. Henry inherited a fortune—estimated at £1,250,000.
His grandmother Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, was Regent during the first ten weeks, as Henry was still seventeen.
Historian Alison Weir says, “The young Henry enjoyed robust good health, and was a man of great energy and drive. He had a low boredom threshold and was ‘never still or quiet’.”
Henry also married Catherine on 11 June 1509 at the Chapel of the Observant Friars. They were crowned two weeks later in Westminster Abbey.
Lacey, Robert, Henry VIII, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1972 (Reprinted and reissued 1992)
Ridley, Jasper, Henry VIII, Constable and Company, London, 1984
Starkey, David, Henry: Virtuous Prince, HarperPress [HarperCollins Publishers], London, 2008
Weir, Alison, Henry VIII: King and Court, Jonathan Cape, London, 2001
© 2009 Carolyn M Cash
This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 19 April 2009.