On 28th January 1547, the fify-five year old Henry VIII died at the Palace of Whitehall. He had been battling ill-health for a number of years, but his health had steadily declined in 1546 and by late December 1546 it was clear that the King was dying.
The King’s Last Days
When an ill Henry VIII returned to Whitehall from Oatlands, via Nonsuch, it was to an empty court. His wife, Catherine Parr, had been sent away to Greenwich for Christmas and the court had been closed. Only the King’s Privy Council and trusted attendants were present. Although his council were spreading the news that the King had been suffering with a fever caused by his leg and was on the mend, the truth was that the King was dying and that his last will and testament were being drawn up.
Historian J.J. Scarisbrick writes of how, on the night of the 26th December 1546, John Dudley, Edward Seymour, William Paget, Anthony Denny and two other men were called to see the King. Henry ordered Denny to fetch his will but got mixed up and brought him the wrong one, an earlier one. Denny then found the correct will, one drawn up by Thomas Wriothesley, and read it out to the King. The King was surprised at its contents, saying that he was not happy with the list of executors and councillors, so Paget made the corrections ordered by the King, one of which was removing the name of Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester – “a wilful man”,1 according to the King. Four days later, on the 30th December, Hertford, Paget and Sir William Herbert visited Henry and the will was signed, witnessed and sealed with the King’s signet ring.
On the 3rd January 1547, the French Ambassadors, De Selve and La Garde, wrote to Francis I telling him that they had been told by the King’s Council that the King was now well, after they had not been allowed to see the King on the 1st January due to his illness.2 On the 16th January, Henry had improved enough to receive the French and Imperial ambassadors and De Selve and La Garde reported that the King “seems now fairly well”.3 It is unclear when the King suffered a relapse but on the 27th January the King was too ill to be present at the commission which agreed on the Duke of Norfolk’s attainder.4
By the evening of the 27th, it was clear to Henry VIII’s doctors that he did not have long to live, although they refrained from telling him in case they were accused of treason for foretelling the King’s death. Sir Anthony Denny was the one who advised Henry that he must prepare himself. Scarisbrick writes of how the King “began to think on his past life and its shortcomings, saying, ‘yet is the mercy of Christ able to pardon me all my sins, though they were greater than they be.’”5 When Denny asked the King if he wanted a church man to minister to him, the King replied that he would like Cranmer there but said “I will first take a little sleep and then, as I feel myself, I will advise upon the matter.”6 The King slept for a couple of hours and then asked for Cranmer who had to travel from Croydon.
By the time Cranmer got to Whitehall, Henry was unable to speak, and was slipping in and out of consciousness. Cranmer asked Henry to give him some sign that he trusted in God and Henry “holding him with his hand, did wring his hand in his as hard as he could.”7 Henry VIII died in the early hours of the 28th January 1547, although his death was kept secret until the 31st January, giving his Council time to discuss what was going to happen.
Henry VIII’s nine year-old son, Edward, inherited the throne and became King Edward VI.
The Burial of King Henry VIII
The King’s embalmed body was taken by chariot to Windsor Castle on the 14th February. On the 16th February, Stephen Gardiner presided over Henry’s funeral mass in the Castle’s St George’s Chapel. Henry’s body was laid to rest in a vault between the stalls and altar, the grave where his third wife, Jane Seymour, had been buried. Although Henry had planned for he and Jane to be laid to rest in a magnificent tomb in the Lady Chapel, a tomb which Cardinal Wolsey had actually had designed for himself, the tomb was not finished. In 1646 Parliament ordered that the ornaments of the tomb should be sold and the sarcophagus ended up being the tomb of Lord Horation Nelson (1758-1805) and standing in St Paul’s Cathedral.
Henry VIII’s Will
You can read Henry VIII’s full will in Letters and Papers,8 but here are the key points:
- Burial instructions – Henry wished to be buried “in the choir of his college of Windesour, midway between the stalls and the high altar, in a tomb now almost finished in which he will also have the bones of his wife, Queen Jane” and stated that “an altar shall be furnished for the saying of daily masses while the world shall endure”. He also ordered that “the tombs of Henry VI. and Edward IV. are to be embellished.”
- He ordered the giving of 1,000 mks. in alms to the poor “with injunctions to pray for his soul”.
- He gave land to St George’s College, Windsor Castle with conditions.
- He named his son, Edward, as his heir.
- He left instructions for the order of succession after Edward: 1) “the heirs of his [Edward’s] body”, 2) Henry’s children by “Queen Catharine, or any future wife”, 3) “In default, to his daughter Mary and the heirs of her body, upon condition that she shall not marry without the written and sealed consent of a majority of the surviving members of the Privy Council appointed by him to his son Prince Edward”, 4) “In default, to his daughter Elizabeth upon like condition”, 5) To the heirs of Lady Frances (daughter of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon), 6) To the heirs of Lady Eleanor, sister of Lady Frances, 7) And in default, to his right heirs.
If Mary and Elizabeth did not observe the conditions laid out, they would forfeit their rights to the succession.
- Henry VIII appointed the following executors: “the Abp. of Canterbury, the Lord Wriothesley, Chancellor of England, the Lord St. John, Great Master of our House, the Earl of Hertford, Great Chamberlain of England, the Lord Russell, Lord Privy Seal, the Viscount Lisle, High Admiral of England, the bishop Tunstall of Duresme, Sir Anthony Broun, Master of our Horse. Sir Edward Montagu, chief judge of the “Commyn Place,” Justice Bromley. Sir Edward North, Chancellor of the Augmentations, Sir William Paget, our chief Secretary, Sir Anthony Denny and Sir William Harbard, chief gentlemen of our Privy Chamber, Sir Edward Wootton and Dr. Wootton his brother.” All these men were also to be members of Edward’s Privy Council and Henry VIII instructed that “none of them shall do anything appointed by this Will alone, but only with the written consent of the majority.”
- The appointing of Sir Edmund Peckham, “cofferer of our house”, to “be treasurer of all moneys defrayed in performance of this Will” and to pay off Henry’s debts after his burial and to make sure that “all grants and recompenses which he has made or promised but not perfected are to be performed.”
- Edward VI was to inherit the crown, his father’s titles and “all his plate, household stuff, artillery, ordnance, ships, money and jewels, saving such portions as shall satisfy this Will; charging his said son to be ruled as regards marriage and all affairs by the aforesaid Councillors (names repeated) until he has completed his eighteenth year.”
- He appointed “the present earls of Arundel and Essex, Sir Thomas Cheney, treasurer of our Household, Sir John Gage, comptroller of our Household, Sir Anthony Wingfield, our vice-chamberlain, Sir William Petre, one of our two principal secretaries, Sir Richard Riche, Sir John Baker, Sir Ralph Sadleyr, Sir Thomas Seymour, Sir Richard Southwell, and Sir Edmond Peckham” to assist the King’s council.
- “Bequeaths to his daughters’, Mary and Elizabeth’s, marriages to any outward potentate, 10,000l. each, in money, plate, etc., or more at his said executors’ discretion; and, meanwhile, from the hour of his death, each shall have 3,000l. to live upon, at the ordering of ministers to be appointed by the foresaid Councillors.”
- The instruction that the Queen be given “3,000l. in plate, jewels and stuff, besides what she shall please to take of what she has already, and further receive in money l,000l. besides the enjoyment of her jointure.”
- Bequests to his executors, favourites and servants, and the instruction that his executors could also give “legacies” to other servants not named in the will.
The will was signed with the King’s stamp at the beginning and end and signed by the following witnesses: “John Gates: E. Harman: Wyllyam Sayntbarbe: Henry Nevell: Rychard Coke: David Vincent: Patrec: [Ge]orge Owen: [Tho]mas Wendye: Robert Huycke: W. Clerk.”
As you can see, Henry VIII listed his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, in the line of succession after Edward, Edward’s heirs and any children Henry may have by Catherine Parr. Edward VI, of course, ignored this order of succession and removed his sisters from it, choosing Lady Jane Grey, daughter of Frances Grey (nee Brandon), as his successor.
(This article is based on previous posts I’ve done on Henry VIII’s death and will).
Notes and Sources
- Henry VIII, J.J. Scarisbrick, p629
- LP xxi. part 2. 662
- Ibid., 713
- Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, had been arrested with his son, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, for treason. Surrey was tried, found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. He was beheaded on the 19th January 1547. Fortunately for Norfolk, although he had been found guilty of treason and sentenced to death, the King died the day before he was due to be executed and his sentence was commuted to imprisonment. He was released in 1553.
- Scarisbrick, p638
- n Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 21 Part 2: September 1546-January 1547 – read at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=80889