21 April 1509 – The King is dead, long live the King!

The new king, the young Henry VIII
The new king, the young Henry VIII

At 11pm on Saturday 21st April 1509, the fifty-two year-old King Henry VII died at Richmond Palace, ending his 23 year reign. His second son, the seventeen year-old Prince Henry, acceded to the throne and became King Henry VIII. He was crowned king on 24th June 1509 in a joint coronation with his new bride, Catherine of Aragon.

A contemporary described the new king:

“The King tilted against many, stoutly and valorously. According to their own observation and the report of others, King Henry was not only very expert in arms and of great valour, and most eminent for his personal endowments, but so gifted and adorned with mental accomplishments, that they believed him to have few equals in the world. He spoke English, French, and Latin, understood Italian well, played on almost every instrument, sang and composed fairly, was prudent, sage, and free from every vice, and so good and affectionate a friend to the Signory, that no ultramontane sovereign ever surpassed him in that respect.”

Henry VIII sounded like the perfect king.

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15 thoughts on “21 April 1509 – The King is dead, long live the King!”
  1. So sad when you consider what he was and what he turned out to be in later years, his reign started out so promisingly and by the time he was dead he had turned into a tyrannical monster who everyone feared, and it’s that image that many people think of him today, as an obese tyrant who killed two wives instead of the young amiable gifted prince of earlier years who could joust and wrestle and speak fluent languages and was a gifted poet and musician to.

    1. I think you confuse Henry VII with his son, Henry VIII. It’s certainly easy to do. The king spoken of here is Henry VII, the first Tudor King who won the throne by defeating Richard III, the last Plantagenet (Yorkist) king. I personally believe him to be responsible for the deaths of the princes in the tower; the sons of Richard III’s brother, King Edward. Richard had declared the princes bastards. But Henry VII married Elizabeth York to join the Houses of Lancaster and York to end the Wars of the Roses. Elizabeth was an elder sister the princes. I have a hard time believing he would have married Elizabeth, believing her a bastard. If Elizabeth was legitimate, so were the princes, therefore he could not allow them to live to rise against his claim to the throne.

        1. Think you should re read the article LOL… it WAS about his father King Henry VII!!!!!

      1. I am pleased to read that another history lover has my view point. I have recently been reading a bit on Richard 111. I also believe him to be innocent of the princes’ murder. Furthermore, I believe that, if history were played out differently, he would have made an excellent king. His past conduct proved him to be a loyal, fair and trustworthy prince. He has been wrongly portrayed by the Tudors. Shakespeare’s R111, while a wonderful piece of theatre, is completely untrue. We should also recognize that he really was the last truly “english” King descended from Edward 111. True, Henry v11 was as well- but his claim to the throne was much weaker.

  2. Clair… would you agree.. Henry did seem to be the perfect King for many years. I truly believe everything changed after his jousting accident during which time he was rendered unconscious for nearly 2+ hours. It has been noted that his personality, demeanor changed rendering him at times indecisive and short tempered. Most recently an accouont of his injury was reproduced indicating he most likely had damage to his frontal lobe (among other injuries). Remember, Anne had a miscarriage after hearing the news. I truly believe he would have remained with Anne Boleyn had it not been for this disaster.

    1. Harry, I must disagree with you on this. Anne’s days were numbered so to speak when she made an enemy of a one time ally – Thomas Cromwell. He fabricated the most intricate plot against Anne; which included adultery, fornication with her brother, wild flirtation with men in court, but the most damaging- conspiracy to commit regicide. The only disaster as I see it – is that Henry believed. But then again, maybe he wanted to for he was already on to is next conquest.

  3. Clearly the article is about Henry VIII he had EVERTHING!! But absolute power does corrupt! He had absolute power and in his later years disaponment,gout, head injury, leg injury, never healed and probably obesity caused diabetis.. Many problems with aging in that time caused a very cranky once Superior Prince to become a tyrant.

  4. Yes, the young Henry VIII sounded like the perfect king … his ruthlessness and injustice (revealed almost immediately by his beheading Empson and Dudley for no crime other than obeying Henry VII) was otherwise kept welI hidden. I wonder if it might have been better if everyone didn’t keep telling him how great he was!

    1. Yes, there was that streak of brutality even then, and that’s why I just can’t go with the idea that Henry VIII suddenly changed after his jousting accident. I’m with J J Scarisbrick: “Henry was not notably more cruel afterwards [after 1536] than he had been before”.

  5. Oh Happy Day! Or so people would have felt when young Henry took over from his father. Henry VIII was even in tune with the desires of the people: executing two tyrants who had held both the city and the gentry to randsom with bribes and threats Epson and Dudley!

    Thomas More made a long and very hopeful poem, in which he saw the new rule as a golden age. Yes, this in some part is form, but he did have hopes for this young man to whom he had acted as mentor and tutor and was to become a father figure and a friend and advisor. More shared interests with the new King; study of astronomy and science for one thing and did not seek to flatter him the same as other courtiers. He was honest in his opinion and Henry for many years respected that quality in him and sought him out. For the first 25 years or more of his reign Henry was the King that More and others hoped: he was to become more cruel and tyranical in the last decade; after 1537-8 onwards. I do not believe there is any evidence for him having a streak of brutality in his early years as King.

    Henry was no different than any other King when faced with treason in those around him. His execution of the Duke of Buckingham is the only one of note in these first 25 years or so, and he was cautious in most of his dealings with people and formation of policy. He listened to his council and to his Parliament and his advisors before acting in most cases with moderation and wisedom. He may have had ideas of grandeur such as wanting to be King of France and building a great court and palaces, but he also found our navy and our defences. Henry was loved and respected during these years and was a prince of pleasure and great sportly displays. That is also part of his attraction as a King who loved glamour and spent money. But he also enacted laws that protected the poor and reformed the hated Star Chamber. He hated takers of bribes and discoutaged this. He wrote an excellent defense of the true faith and at that time was a true son of the Catholic Church. He was regarded as a genuine scholar.

    Then he met a young woman with flare and charisma, not a great beauty, but intelligence and sophistication, and he noticed her. Her name was Anne Boleyn. And she came to court at a time when Henry was having doubts concerning his personal life. He had been advised that his marriage to Katherine was not being regarded as valid and there were rumours abroad over his daughter Mary not being legitimate as a consequence of this. Henry knew he needed a male heir to succeed him and by 1526 he was considering the unthinkable: to question the validity of his marriage. Then an alternative presented itself. Henry was intatuated by the young woman he had found so fascinating a few years earlier and was wrting her love letters. His heart was starting to rule his head and Anne refused to become the mistress of the KIng and he desired her even more. Now Anne was offering Henry a way out of his present dilemma and suggested some time between 1527-28 that if Henry were to marry her that she would give him sons. Henry became attracted to the idea and more attracted to Anne and Wolsey was told to open the road to an annullment because now Henry wanted to marry Anne, although Henry did not give this as a reason to him directly. But a bull written to the Holy Father states in coded words that Henry wanted an inmpediment to his wedding a relative of a woman he had slept with removed: that relative was Mary Boleyn, and the woman he wanted to marry in this bull was clearly Anne Boleyn.

    Anne clearly had an influence over Henry at this period until their marriage in 1533 and Henry at some time after 1530 stopped listening to his council and was listening to the faction around the Boleyns. His policies changed towards France and clearly the Boleyn: Norfolk and Suffolk agendas would be considered moe now that Cardinal Wolsey was out of the way. He had been Henry’s chief mover and shaker and advisor; the heart of his government since the start of the reign and had tremendous trust, influence and power, allowed by the KIng. Now Henry had different advisors; one of whom was to emerge as his chief advisor and aid by the time Henry married Anne: Thomas Cromwell.

    It was Cromwell who advised Henry to look to a doctrinal and not a legal answer to his divorce and it is Cromwell that helped Henry to form the policies that tragically led to the deaths of some of his friends: More and Fisher most notably and the friars. But Henry must have been the chief mover behind these bills being brought to what was called the Reformation Parliament in 1529-1536. George Boleyn was also influential in things at this time; his renowned speach and presentation of the case for the divorce to the very reluctant and headstrong Convocation in 1529. They were forced to accept the Kings authority and the clerical submission gave Henry the authority that he now needed to do as he wished in the matter of the divorce. This may have been seen as tyranny but there are prescedents for his actions: the demands of Henry II for example in getting control of the church courts in 1164. Henry was acting out of the need for an heir and out of the need to settle a long and drawn out matter that was distracting him from ruling the country properly. No matter how popular Katherine was, it has to be admitted from the point of view of a historian that the long divorce was harmful to the effectiveness of the Tudor government. Henry and his council were distracted by a matter that should have been settled years ago; and which probably prevented Henry from achieving many things.

    Henry VIII had the potential to be a far better King than he turned into. The tragedy of the loss of so many of his and Katherine’s and then Anne’s children left the country and them without an heir. Had Katherine and Henry had an heir, then many of the unfortunate pieces of legislation in his reign would not have been passed and he would not have married Anne Boleyn or anyone else. Anne would have settled to a more private life married to a gentleman of the middle nobility and would have had a longer and much happier life, possibly with sons and daughters to delight her. Henry and Katherine would not have been enbattled and enbittened by a terrible divorce that dragged on for years and Henry would not have torn the country apart or broken from Rome. Yes ha may have had a romantic and passionate affair with Anne Boleyn, but it would have come to an end at some point, as he would not have had any need to marry her or to divorce Katherine had his children and his sons lived.

    As for Henry having a dramatic personality change due to the fall in 1536; we are only aware of this recently and from medical evidence and with hindsight. This may have been noticed at the time; but would his courtiers have realised it was caused by the fall? No; they would have blamed many things on this. I also believe that it is reasonable to assume that Henry was changing during the latter period of the divorce as he was losing patience. He was becoming angrier and his courtiers and favourites began to feel the results of that anger. A suggestion from Suffolk that his beloved Anne was not as pure as she had claimed resulted in his banishment from court. Rhys ap Griffiths, the grandson of the man who was reputed to have killed Richard III was executed in 1531; possibly to silence the opposition of the nobles, and partly as he was criticising the KIng and his policies. The evidence against him was shady and his own misrule in Wales was cited as the reason he was arrested and beheaded for treason, but historians have suspected that was a pretense and his views of Henry’s policies was the real reason.

    Henry’s own sister was trying to persuade him to give up Anne Boleyn and she fell out with Henry and even Norfolk was dismayed that Henry was going to marry his niece and saw his changes in policy as having disasterous consequences. Although Anne cannot be held to blame for the deaths of the clerics and friars or More as is often claimed at her; the policies that Henry and Cromwell mowed through Parliament were as a result of his marriage to her. Henry between 1533-1536 oversaw executions of dozens of people who refused to call him Supreme Head of the Church or to say his marriage to Anne was lawful. The Treasons Act 1534 also made free speach and freedom to write against Anne and Henry and their heirs treason, punisable by death. All this was prior to his fall in 1536. It is here that we begin to see the development of a cruel side to the King, but one brought on by a necessity to defend his marriage to Anne, his authority, the future of his heirs and the security of the realm. It could also be argued that those who died had a choice; but that as his laws represented for them a break with the old and true Catholic faith, a denial of the age old truth that the Pope was the representative of Christ and a descenedent of Saint Peter and so Parliament could not make such a law; and that for them only Rome could decide if his marriage was true or not; they could not in all good conscience sign these oaths. It was therefore as a matter of conscience that they now tragically and cruelly met their deaths.

    The increase of such incidents begin after 1537, with the putting down of the rebellions in the north, a putting down, that was shocking, but which could have been far worse and which is moderate in contrast to latter rebellions being put down in 1569 and 1571.
    They are also moderate in consideration of the fact that over 30,000 people took part and 246 people in total were executed. But the Tudors saw rebellion as unnatural acts against the authority of a ruler appointed by God and so punished them in accordance with this absolute belief and justification. We would want to see riots and other acts of violence punished by harsh prison sentences; the people of Tudor England did not see these executions as unjust and approved of how the King dealt with traitors swiftly and decisively. Henry saw these actions as a direct threat to his throne and may have acted in this manner, whether or not he had fallen from his horse; this link would not have been made in 1537.

    Some historians also point to the fact that some of the greatest achievments of his reign began after 1537. The publication of the Bible in English in 1539; the building of our defences and the establishment of indenpent doctrines for the Church of England; a personal interest in the daily government of the country from 1540 onwards, the reforms of government in the privy council taking on many of the responsibilities of the government in the regions and addressing many problems up and down the kingdom; the start of government as we know it today; the expanding of the navy and the colleges and the reform and regulation of the medical profession.

    Whatever people may think of his domestic problems; or his clear change of personality that led to acts of cruelty he would not have considered in the first 25 years or more of his rule; the reign of Henry VIII was a pivatal one for England and for the future United Kingdom. Henry restored our reputation abroad and we were seen as a player on the international scene again. Henry’s reign saw the expansions abroad that were to launch us around the world in the reign of his daughter Elizabeth and the building of our navy enabled that to happen as well. New goods were introduced into the country from abroad and new industries began or were protected. The production of iron and bronze was a vast industry that enabled our canon production to go on in secret and protect our shores for years to come. Some of the biggest and most elaborate building projects of history happened in the beautiful, but sadly later demolished palaces of King Henry VIII, one of which was the largest in Europe; there was a grand international peace conference that outshone anything before or since in the Field of the Cloth of Gold; Henry fought and won wars on two fronts; and he expanded and strenthened our borders with Scotland and settled Wales and Ireland with Parliaments of their own. He gave Wales greater franchise and ended many of the laws that prevented their freedom around the kingdom. His rule saw an expansion in building in the Italian style at home and new techiques in the kitchens and in buildings around the country. He founded proffessional colleges and schools, and he franchised the merchants on a large scale here and abroad. He allowed England to stand independent and to gain respect. Yes, he also destroyed the monastic houses and with it a complete way of life that has never recovered, but he also introduced a move towards an independent wool trade and farming techniques much along the lines we use today. Henry also became a hands on monarch. He was personally involved in many of the designs for the defences of England and many of his palaces. Anne also had a hand in some of the designs for Whitehall and for changes made to Hampton Court. She also influenced his religious policy and some of the reforms that he introduced in religion. She may have also had some influence, although she does not receive the credit, for giving Henry the ideas around allowing a Bible in English. Anne, sadly is often blamed for the more controversial decisions that resulted from Henry’s marriage to her and is not credited with some of the more possitive ones; such as the latter mentioned above.

    Few could have predicted the decline in Henry’s health after 1536 or that the athletic young man of 17 would turn into a man mountain with a volcanic temprament. What they saw that day was a charming young man, a gracious young King and hope for a bright and prosperous future and a golden reign. We have the luxery of looking back through our time portals; our history books and sources 500 years later and we can judge based on what we now know. But we must be careful not to judge too harshly based on what we claim are modern enlightened standards; Henry was a man of his times; and only his conpemporaries have the right to judge him. They did not see a tyrant: they saw a great King; and in the light of some of his achievements that is what he was. But, it has to be speculated that had he but had an heir by Katherine, would his reign have been marred by latter violence and would we not now be calling him what he should have been known as all along: Henry the Great.

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