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This would change in the years that would follow Francis' defeat of France. Henry's focus upon domestic issues became fixed upon the difficulties of succession -- just as his father's had been. But unlike Henry VII, Henry VIII had ongoing difficultly seeding a male heir. Although it was not unheard of in Europe to place a Queen upon the throne, Henry and his advisors believed that stability could only be ensured if a King took power upon Henry's death. The trouble was complicated by Henry's repeated infidelities, which resulted in a male bastard: Henry Fitzroy. If Henry VIII were to suddenly die, theoretically, civil war could erupt all over again; doubtlessly some royals would back his daughter, Mary, others might back his illegitimate son, and still others might back a Yorkist noble relative of Edward IV. The situation was such that Henry demanded a male heir, to ensure his legacy, and virtually nothing would stand in his way.
Henry's dilemma regarding ascendancy came to be known as "the King's Great Matter." (Schlesinger, 55). Additionally, Catherine began to lose favor with the king for her condemnation of Wolsey's pro-French policies. Foremost among these was the eventual Anglo-French treaty of 1527, which arranged that Princess Mary be wed to the Duke of Orleans -- Francis' son. Although this had clear ramifications with international politics, it also meant that Mary could not ascend to the English throne, or even worse, Francis' son could make a claim to the throne himself. This turn of events would leave Henry Fitzroy as the only identifiable heir to Henry VIII, and he would be plagued with internal dangers.
For Henry, who was a devout catholic, his inability to produce a male heir with Catherine represented a sign from God that He was displeased with the marriage between them -- after all, she was his brother's widow (Bagley, 57-8). Many historians have agreed that this is part of the reason why Henry began to pursue the sister of Mary Boleyn, Anne, and consider her seriously for marriage (Bagley, 59). Although undeniably pressed by his drive to produce an heir, it is also clear that Henry was deeply infatuated with Anne who, possibly, denied his sexual advances under the condition that they wed.
So, Henry had Cardinal Wolsey attempt to inquire as to the legitimacy of his marriage to Catherine; he also sent William Knight to Rome to attempt to grant Henry a dispensation allowing him to marry any woman he wished. This ploy failed because the Pope was virtually held prisoner by Charles V of Spain, who sought to undermine Henry's power in Europe (Bagley, 63). Almost comically, this battle for power was played out along the lines of the alliance that the marriage of Catherine and Henry was supposed to ensure: "Both Catherine and Henry sought allies. Catherine sent Francisco Felipez to Spain to beg her nephew, Charles, require the Pope both to forbid any decision against her, and revoke Wolsey's legatine powers." (Bagley, 63). Henry became angered with Wolsey's inability to convince the Pope, so he stripped him of his titles and powers -- just as the queen wanted -- and put Thomas More in his place as Lord Chancellor and Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury. Subsequently, in 1533, Cranmer, without the Pope's consent, declared the king's marriage to Catherine annulled and married Henry to Anne.
The newly appointed More recognized the king's right to make Anne queen, but opposed the marriage itself on religious grounds. So, "On July 1  More is tried for treason, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged, cut down while still living, his bowels pulled from his body and burned in his sight, his genitals cut off, his head as well, and his body to be quartered and put on view to the public." (Thornton, lxiii). However, prior to the declared date of execution, fearing a possible riot from More's compatriots, Henry forestalled his subsequent torture, and limited his punishment to a mere beheading. Many beheadings would follow.
Parliament's Act of Succession in 1534 officially recognized Henry's new marriage and solidified England's break from Catholicism by making Henry the Head of the Church of England. Yet, Henry quickly became dissatisfied with his new bride, and sought the attentions of another lady of his court -- Jane Seymour. Since Anne failed to produce a son, she was accused of witchcraft, adultery, and incest. She was beheaded in 1536 and Henry married Seymour only days later. Seymour gave birth to a son, Edward, but died two weeks later.
Although blessed with a son, Edward was a sickly boy, and Henry wanted other male children to strengthen his line. So next he married Anne, the sister of the Protestant Duke of Cleves, who was seen as an important ally in case of a Roman Catholic attack on England. She dissatisfied him physically so he had the marriage annulled in 1540. He married again in 1541 only to accuse his wife, Catherine Howard, of adultery; she was executed a year later. His final wife, Catherine Parr, wed Henry in 1543, never gave him a son either, but apparently displeased him less than the others. So finally, upon Henry's death he was forced to overturn the Act of Succession that made Edward illegitimate so that he could take the crown.
In Henry's later years he definitively lost the vigor and allure of his youth; he became fat, bald, and extraordinarily lazy. He suffered a leg wound in 1537 from which he never fully recovered, and died on January 28th, 1547. His legacy was definitively not what he would have imagined. He had reorganized the balance of power in Europe, but with France and Spain at the fore; yet, he had managed to solidify English control in Scotland and Wales. Also, he had permanently and methodically dismantled the Catholic Church in England on a personal whim, but remained a Catholic to the very end. And ultimately, although spending the second half of his reign searching for a suitable heir, his son died only six years after becoming king, and the supremacy of the Tudors ended shortly thereafter. Obviously, Henry VIII's most lasting impact on history a mere side-effect of his own hungers: England became a protestant nation. Furthermore, Henry had set a precedent for English kings by way of extravagance and authority which culminated in James I's claim of divine right and the English Revolution. It is difficult to imagine what the face of Britain or Europe would have been like had, for example, Arthur survived, simply because Henry's leadership was so decisive and so elementally flawed.
Bagley, J.J. Henry VIII and his times. London B.T. Batsford, 1962
Eakins, Lara E. "Henry VIII." Tudor History Group, 2005. Available: http://tudorhistory.org/files/copyright.html.
MacCulloch, David. "Henry VIII and the Reform of the Church." The Reign of Henry VIII. New York:…[continue]
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