28 June 1491 – Birth of King Henry VIII at Greenwich

Henry VIIIHappy 524th birthday to King Henry VII!

Yes, on this day in history, 28th June 1491, Henry VIII was born at Greenwich Palace. His parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, now had an heir and a spare, as well as a daughter (Margaret).

Henry’s older brother Arthur died in 1501 and so it was Henry who became king on his father’s death in April 1509. He ruled for over 37 years and is one of the most famous monarchs in history, although many remember him for his six wives and tyrannical actions rather than for his achievements. In 2007, at English Heritage’s Festival of History at Kelmarsh Hall, Alison Weir put forward the case for Henry VIII to be voted England’s greatest monarch and listed the following as his achievements:

  • He was responsible for the English Reformation and for founding the Church of England.
  • He promoted parliamentary government by extending representation and expanding the privileges of both Houses.
  • He enhanced the standing of the monarchy and helped create a new sense of national identity.
  • He overhauled the machinery of the state, introducing progressive and efficient taxation schemes.
  • He created the most magnificent court in English history.
  • He patronised the Arts to lasting effect and popularised the art of portraiture.
  • He built or remodelled 70 palaces and erected fortresses along the south coast.
  • He was the first English king to authorise the translation of the Bible into English.1

Do you agree with those achievements? Could you add to them?

You can read more about Henry VIII in the following articles:

Notes and Sources

  1. List taken from “England’s greatest monarch is… “, BBC News, Wednesday 8 August 2007, see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/6936537.stm

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13 thoughts on “28 June 1491 – Birth of King Henry VIII at Greenwich”
  1. “created a new sense of national identity”

    Reading Wolff Hall I understood that Mantel wanted us to admire how modern Cromwell’s ideals and actions were . But one his project was that there should be only one language in the whole realm, also in Wales. In other words, the Welsh people would lose their language and thus also their national identity.

    As a member of a small nation which succeeded to retain its own language and create its own state and successfully defend its independence, I cannot accept, much less admire, this kind of policy as it is not nationalism but imperialism.

    1. Hi Hannele,

      How important has the Welsh language been to the survival of the Welsh people?England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have prospered together, as a union of small nations, and achieved success far beyond their individual capacities, surely? My father was a Welshman, a gentle man, with a soft gentile accent and that is what he thought. So, worth a mention.

      1. I believe that each language is a different way to look at the world. Therefore the death of a language is always a loss.

        That does not mean that people should not a choice to change their language if they want to. But they should not forced to do so because they do not have a possibility f.ex. to go the school in their own language or the authorities did not want to learn their language.

        In the same way, if many peoples want to live in the same state and all citizens have equal rights, that is ok. But if some nation conquers others and forces them to live under its rule, it is not ok.

  2. “promoted the parliamentary government”

    The Parliament had no power but did what Henry ordered it to do and his ministers were responsible only for the king, not to the Parliament. This cannot be called the parliamentary government at all.

    It was just an happy accident that later the Parliament got another kind of role than Henry intended it to have. He can only have the merit only that the Parliament as an institution existed when this change happened.

  3. I agree with historian Robert Hutchinson’s comment on “Inside the Court of Henry VIII” that Henry was the most selfish monarch England ever had. Parliamentary power grew in spite of Henry … he certainly didn’t plan to help it.

    Henry was left great wealth, but left the country absolutely bankrupt, wasting it all on wars in France that gained nothing for England. He destroyed the support system for the poor, the sick, and the elderly by destroying the monasteries and provided no replacement — if Henry gave Thomas Cromwell’s 1535 attempts to get a Poor Relief Bill through Parliament the same support that Henry gave to laws that that he wanted (such as the Act in Restraint of Appeals), Cromwell’s poor relief plan (which included public works projects for the unemployed) would have passed.

    Henry’s “accomplishments” are limited to self-glorification, such as buildings and portraits (the fortifications were only needed because Henry’s insistence on the divorce). His Bible portrayed his picture as larger than the picture of G-d, and, Henry would eventually get a law passed restricting the right to read the Bible to the upper classes … which is the class that also knew Latin, and so, did not really need an English Bible in the same way that the lower classes needed it. Henry also murdered thousands of his own subjects (including one, and possibly two, of his wives). His divorce created a rupture with England’s largest trading partner, yet Henry did not do anything to minimize the effect of this disruption on the economic well being of his subjects.

    Furthermore, Henry guaranteed civil war and invasion if he had died at any time between 1533 and Edward’s birth by bastardizing Mary unnecessarily (a “good faith” exception would have protected her legitimacy even if the marriage to her mother was annulled as invalid) and leaving the crown to, first, a “two strike loser” (Elizabeth from 1533 to her bastardization in 1536 had two strikes against her … gender and age, whereas Mary had only one strike against her … gender), and then to no one at all.

    Most kings have some idea of a “common weal” or “common good” that results in something that benefits the people at large. Edward IV and Henry VII, for example, actively promoted trade; Richard III left legal reforms that are still used; Henry VI and Edward VI also founded schools; Mary tried to restore the monasteries to care for the poor, and, Elizabeth left the system of poor relief that Britain used for 300 years, as well as promoting trade and exploration. Henry VIII, by contrast, seemed to have no such idea; his activities were limited to promoting that which would benefit him. That they somehow developed into benefits for the people at large is good luck (or divine help), but those benefits are not due to Henry!

    1. Well said.

      The greatest good luck was of course Elizabeth. It was indeed an example how “man proposes, god disposes”.

  4. I agree that their achievements should be mentioned, he was a great personality who lived in a rich era of ideas and fascinating people. I am in no way one H8 hater, I think he strengthened the power that his FATHER had centralized, although I do not agree one bit with his methods, he was tyrannical, but determined not to lose his kingdom and continue the legacy, which is the same as many kings did, and only because he is the most famous, is the only named by their behavior. Many people forget that in NO way a woman in England was considered for to be a monarch, and I’m sure many in his epoch, understand your desire for a male heir; but I think all in all, it was his reign that enabled Mary and Elizabeth, even bastards, were in line of succession. But the greatest monarch of England? definitamente not, he even didn’t the greatest monarch Tudor in my opinion (if not count its popularity of course), first is his father Henry VII, then Elizabeth I.

    1. Plus father of the Royal Navy, Defender of the Faith, defined what it meant to have a national English Church, even though this in my personal opinion was not an achievment as it seperated us from the true Church, founded colleges and regulated the medical proffession, expanded our trade at home and abroad and encouraged a home grown and successful economy, encouraged and invested in smelting and iron ore for guns and machines and other stuff, encouraged mining and the brick industry must have done well with the building of chimneys in Tudor houses, introduced beer to England as above, gave representation to the Welsh and passed the first national Welsh bill, gave them some say in their own affairs; built on his fathers achievments in making the country more and more independent and courted by other powers; gave us Elizabeth I, although if this is an achievment is a personal matter; founded schools, made us respected abroad and feared, built a string of national defences, some of which still mounted guns in the first and second world wars; made history interesting; built some of the most revolutiionary designs in shipping for the time, had some of the largest palaces in Europe, had an expanding political and secular administration that gave greater powers to both local town councils and reformed the day to day running of the country in the Privy Council. I am certain there are a thousand more, but i am too tired to recall them. Oh, did I mention introduced beer!

      1. I agree with John Matuasiak that Henry’s Reformation actually meant that the people had to believe what the king ordered – but that could change after his whim.

        That did not add faith but rather cynicism.

        1. Hannele you are so right, Henry swung back and forth between orthodoxy and reform like a yoyo. One moment he gives Cranmer and Cromwell a free hand, the next he authorized, no manipulated the Six Articles, becoming even more orthodox and defining belief by whim. I think the religious changes in England 1529 to 1554must have been seriously confusing. Henry was a hands on king during his last ten years, trouble was that made him a tinkerer, constantly fiddling with stuff, a perfectionist. There is a great portrait of Henry in his private room correcting books, believed to have been theological books, I can envision him mumbling away, crossing out, if he lived today he would have a vintage car, forever under the bonnet, messing with the engine.

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