A Tale of Two Henrys – The Birth of Henry VII and the Death of Henry VIII

It is interesting that on this day in 1457 Henry VII was born and on this day in 1547 (weird digit thing going on here!) his son, Henry VIII, shuffled off this mortal coil. So, Happy 554th Birthday to one Henry and RIP to the other!

The Birth of Henry VII

Henry VII was born on the 28th January 1457 at Pembroke Castle on the south-west coast of  Wales. His father was Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, and his mother was Lady Margaret Beaufort. Henry’s paternal grandparents were Owen Tudor, a former page to Henry V, and his wife, Catherine of Valois, the widow of Henry V and mother of Henry VI. His maternal grandfather was John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, and his maternal great-grandfather (John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset) was a son of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, and his mistress (and later wife), Katherine Swynford. It was from this Beaufort side of the family that Henry VII derived his claim to the throne.

Lady Margaret Beaufort was only 13 years old when Henry was born and she was already a widow, his father having died from the plague three months earlier while imprisoned by Yorkists. Margaret had been taken in by her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, the man who helped bring Henry up, who took him into exile in Brittany and who helped him win the crown of England. David Starkey writes of how Henry’s birth must have been difficult for Margaret, “with her youth and diminutive stature”1, and perhaps that is why Margaret never had any more children. Poor Margaret, I can just imagine her terror as she gave birth in a cold castle, in the middle of winter and in a country where “the plague still raged”2. I wonder if she had any idea of who this baby would become!

You can read more about Henry VII in the following articles:-

The Death of Henry VIII

By late December 1546, it was clear that Henry VIII was gravely ill. In these last days, the King’s Council met and the decision was made to arrest Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and his father, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Surrey had unwisely boasted about his Plantagenet blood and said that when the King died, his father would be “meetest to rule the prince”3. Allegedly, Surrey had plotted “to kill the Council, depose the king and seize the young prince”4 and also persuade his sister, Mary Howard to become the new king’s mistress. If that wasn’t enough, he had also had the audacity “to quarter his own arms with those of Edward the Confessor”5. Surrey was tried, found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. He was beheaded on the 19th January 1547.

Surrey’s father, the Duke of Norfolk, had apparently been making secret visits to the lodgings of Marillac, the French ambassador, under cover of darkness, and when he was arrested in December 1546 he was questioned about his use of a secret cipher and whether he was loyal to the Royal Supremacy. In his biography of Henry VIII, J. J. Scarisbrick6, writes of how it is hard to know whether it was Surrey who dragged his father down, or the other way round, and also whether the attack on the Howards came from a faction in the Council or from a “suspicious, ruthless and fearful old man who was determined to be master of his own kingdom even unto the grave.”7 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.

But let’s get back to Henry VIII…

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. Scarisbrick writes of how, on the night of the 26th December 1546, Dudley, Hertford, Paget, 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 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”8, 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 illness9. 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”10. 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.

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 doing so 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.’ “11 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 “I will first take a little sleep and then, as I feel myself, I will advise upon the matter.”12 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.”13 Henry VIII died in the early hours of the 28th January 1548, although his death was kept secret until the 31st January, giving his Council time to discuss what was going to happen.

The King’s embalmed body was taken by chariot to Windsor Castle on the 14th February. On the 16th February, the “wilful man”, 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 Nelson (1758-1805) and standing in St Paul’s Cathedral. Not what Henry wanted at all and it seems that he did not get his way regarding the reign of his son, Edward, either. Henry VIII had appointed executors and councillors to help his son rule, yet one man, Edward Seymour, became the Lord Protector. Henry could not do anything about it except roll in his grave.

“The King is dead. Long live the King”. Henry VIII was dead and gone and his young son was now King Edward VI.

You can read more about Henry VIII’s death and will in:-

Notes and Sources

  1. Henry: Virtuous Prince, David Starkey, p19
  2. Ibid.
  3. Henry VIII, J.J. Scarisbrick, p622
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid
  6. Ibid., p622-623
  7. Lacey Baldwin Smith quoted by Scarisbrick, p623
  8. Scarisbrick, p629
  9. LP xxi. part 2. 662
  10. Ibid., 713
  11. Scarisbrick, p638
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid

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21 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Henrys – The Birth of Henry VII and the Death of Henry VIII”
  1. There are obviously two Jennys on this site so I will now refeer to myself as Jenny B – Not that I have anything against the other Jenny – It’s just that we seem to write in different ways.

    We all agree that there is so much we do not know about the Tudor period and a lot is open to speculation but facts are:

    1) Katherine of Aragon was divorced and suffered in the process as her daughter did as well.
    2) Anne Boleyn was behead for whatever crime she was charged with. Our “sainted” H8 did allow her a French sword rather than an axe – but I personally don’t think that’s much of a favour.
    3) Jane Seymour made the grade by giving H8 a son and heir but where was he when she was dying?
    4) Anne of Cleves, from what I can see, got the best out of it by agreeing to become the King’s Sister but I am sure she spent some very worrying moments.
    5) Katherine Howard went the same way as Anne Boleyn (am not sure whether she had a sword or an axe) but for a girl in her prime not the best way to go.
    6) Katherine Parr, from what I understand, managed to survive basically because H8 kicked it before. But what did the poor soul do? Marry an inept and then die in childbirth.

    RIP H8? I would say “Roast in hell!” and not only for the above women but for Wolsey, Moore, Cromwell and the many other people who lost their lives because a raving maniac wanted all his way and when he got it, changed his mind.

    1. Yes, he committed horrible acts of cruelty but I hope that he asked for forgiveness from his maker in those last hours and I do hope he is resting in peace. Although I find it hard not to judge, I do believe that none of us can judge someone, particularly if we have not walked a day in their shoes (is that the right phrase?!). Henry lived in very different times, he had to face challenges to his crown and to his person, and they were cruel times. I cannot begin to understand him and I hate what he did, but then look at people like Thomas More too. Also, we don’t know what made Henry the tyrant he grew into, it may not even have been his fault if it was down to brain damage or disease. Who knows? Anyway, yes, I think he was cruel and monstrous, but I hope he found peace.

    2. Catherine Howard just to let you know Jennifer was executed by the Axe, and not by the sword. It had been her cousin the elder Anne Boleyn who had suffered fate by execution of the sword and not catherine.

      Just to add you did make me laugh when you said what you had said about Henry in his last years, I was a little surprised though too mind you. Haha! 🙂

      1. from Jenny B

        It seems that I will never agree with the rest of the people on the AB Files. Yes it is possible that H8 suffered from some brain damage or disease – but his upbringing didn’t help. For those who say RIP H8, I presume that goes for people such as Hitler, Stalin (who murdered some of his own damily), Pol Pot, et.al. And then there are not so powerful people such as “Fred West”, “The Yorkshire Ripper” and others – I have no sympathy for them at all

        And I would like to meet any adult whose hands are compltely clean.

        1. “And I would like to meet any adult whose hands are compltely clean.”
          That’s the whole point isn’t it? None of us are innocent, none of us are perfect. I am religious, I’m a Christian, and I do believe that anybody can repent, ask forgiveness and be given it by God, no matter the sin, that was the point of Christ’s sacrifice. We do not know what was in Henry’s heart and mind in those last days and whether he did make his peace and so we cannot judge him. I hope he did make his peace.
          I didn’t want to go all religious and I certainly don’t want to preach but we all have a second chance and that includes Henry VIII. So, yes, when you say “I presume that goes for people such as Hitler, Stalin (who murdered some of his own damily), Pol Pot, et.al.”, yes, it does go for them if they repented.

          That’s obviously my opinion and I don’t expect everyone to agree with it, just as not everyone agrees with you. We all have different views, beliefs etc.

  2. Happy Birthday Henry VII and RIP Henry VIII! January is full of Tudor events!!

    I wonder if Henry thought of Anne during his last days. Did he repent of leading her t her death, although innocent? Did he fear of after-life punishment for his sins? Who knows.. Claire, please enlighten me on this.. Is it a myth of a fact that his last words were “monks, monks” ?

    About Henry VII. I am shocked that his mother was just 13.. She never married again? I have read that she was a strong, powerful woman whose opinion was respected by her son and grandson, although I think she dies shortly after Henry VIII became King.

    1. I think it’s an anecdote that he said “monks, monks”, I don’t think he did.
      Scarisbrick writes that Henry “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.’” So he definitely spent time reflecting on things and hopefully asking forgiveness for his deeds and making his peace. I’m sure he must have been haunted by his past in those last days.

      Margaret Beaufort had been married before, although it was dissolved after 3 years, and she went on to marry two more times after Edmund, but she never had any more children and it is thought that Henry’s birth may have been so traumatic that it made her unable to have any more, that it made her infertile. She was a very strong woman and she died in June 1509.

  3. Happy Birthday Henry VII and RIP Henry VIII 🙂 I agree with you Claire–until we walk in someone else’s shoes we will never know exactly what went on in their lifestyle. He was cruel to those around him and in particular to those closest to him…but we will never really know the pressures he was under to defend his right to be King. He may have felt that exerting his power by executing people would make his subjects see he meant business–and while that may have not been exactly the right thing to do by any means, in his eyes it may have. Is it better for a kind to be loved or feared? I’m sure this was a tough question for him…and although it’s not the same, as a teacher I have the same thoughts. Do I want to have my students love me and see me as their friend and subsequently walk all over me? Or do I want to be THAT teacher that everyone fears/hates, but you don’t get walked all over? It’s hard to find a balance between the two and I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like to have that on you while running a whole country! We often focus on the bad things he did, instead of focusing on the good person he was before he started going a bit crazy–for whatever reason that was. I am sure his life was hard and he was under a lot of pressure to keep the dynasty going. I mean it was still a young dynasty and the fact that he really hadn’t been “groomed” to rule…perhaps for a lot of it he was going by the seat of his pants–especially once Wolsey was gone. I always try to focus on the good in people and I know there had to be some good in there somewhere! Even towards the end! So, while I dislike everything BAD he did, I also have sympathy for him and definitely hope he’s resting in peace…because after all, he wanted his reign to be remembered….and it certainly is…hopefully he knows that!!!

  4. I find Henry VII such a fascinating character. Here he was this man who lived in exile for years but managed to put together the last successful invastion of England. But he didn’t rule as a triumph conqueror. He ruled as a pernucious tyrant who was in turn ruled by his mother. he did very little for his wife’s Yorkist relatives. He successfully used propaganda in a way that I think modern societies are only beginning to appreciate.

    He didn’t marry Elizabeth until after he was basically pushed into it by Parlimanet (he had pledged Christmas 1483 to marry her). The timing of Arthur’s birth makes one question whether he insisted on sampling the wares beforehand. He was willing to consider marrying Catherine of Aragon himself after Elizabeth died. If he had a mistress, it’s never been reported, which was also unusual behavior for a king. But he seemed to act like a love sick puppy over Perkin Wabeck’s Scottish wife. Seems like that was the one woman he was truly smitten over.

    Then there is his role in the death of the princes in the tower. He may have had none. It’s something fascinating we will debate for years or at least until the bones are tested again.

    As far as his son’s death, Cranmer of course said Henry grasped his hand to show he died in God. But I wonder if Henry was too foregone by then and Cranmer told a white lie for obvious reasons.

    As to Jenny’s point regarding Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, kings did not appear in the presence of death. That wasn’t unique to Henry or his father. It was protocol. If Francois I did truly hold a dying da Vinci in his arms until his last breath that was incredibly unusual and showed the height of his love for him (as well as how Francois was a unique ruler). I think the Showtime Tudors got it right. Henry knew Jane was dying of what his mother died of. He would have recognized the signs.

    The fact that Henry VII made his wife give birth in the Tower of London where her two full-blooded brothers never were seen from again I think says a lot about his character. And of course she died there. Heartbreaking.

    1. I’m curious: What makes you think Henry VII made Elizabeth give birth in the Tower? I’ve never heard of him forcing her to go there? The Tower was a royal palace like many others with very comfortable royal lodgings, she could have just went there for her own reasons. She certainly fled there for protection with her son Henry during the Cornish rebellion in 1497, it’s not like she never set foot in the Tower again after her brother’s death. It’s also a rather expansive area with many different buildings inside, she needn’t necessarily have been reminded of her brothers there.

  5. I do hope that Henry is resting in peace. Of course he did a lot of bad things. But there was a great deal more to him than that. He was a great King in many ways. He asserted a place for England on the international stage. He demanded respect from King Francis and The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V He was also the principal founder of the English Navy. The navy Henry had buillt was key to England’s victory over the Spanish Armada. Henry’s image and magnificence of his person is as British as roast beef and yorkshire pudding. It has become embedded in the national consciousness.

  6. It’s coincidences like these that prove that the story of the Tudor dynasty is stranger than fiction 🙂 It’s tough to say that I feel sorry for either of these guys, I find it difficult to completely damn them to hell.

  7. In reply to DeAnn, I think Henry VII did love Elizabeth. Maybe not immediately but actions in his marriage suggest there was certainly a mutual affection. When Prince Arthur died Henry said “he and his Queene would take the painful sorrows together” and after a rousing account from Elizabeth how they were lucky to have another son and 2 princesses and how they were young enough to concieve again Henry did this:

    “Then his Grace of true gentle and faithful love, in good hast came and relieved her” (Contemporary Heraald Report).

    Also when Elizabeth of York died, Henry VII apparantly was devastated and he “privily departed to a solitary place and would no man should resort unto him”.

    So though he didn’t help his Yorkist relatives although I suspect much of this was to do with his mother, (Starkey calls her the “mother in law from hell) and delayed marrying Elizabeth I think a love or fondness did develop.

  8. Wow, I never realized that Henry VIII died on January 28 in the early hours of the morning. This is too weird of a coincidence. A year ago, my dad died in the early hours of the morning on January 28. Shortly after his death, I discover “The Tudors” tv show and became absolutely obsessed with Tudor history. I even plan to major in History when I go back to college this fall, specifically because I am so anamored by this time period and I want to study it further.

    It makes me wonder if it was fate as crazy as that sounds.

    1. That’s great but just remember the show you will find as you study this time period, has it’s off moments and the king definitely was not a good looking Rhys Meyers lol.
      I watched the series as well and saw several discrepancies but it was a good show. I’m not trying to take you from studying this time period but just keep an open mind as you do study! And above all, have fun, and come to your own conclusions as well. 😀

  9. Stefanie, to answery your question neither Arthur nor Margaret nor Henry nor Elizabeth nor Mary nor Edmund was born at the Tower of London. For six confinements and births, Elizabeth was somewhere other than the Tower of London. That speaks volumes to me. And it doesn’t seem like she went to the Tower often (Henry Tudor himself preferred Sheen, later Richmond Palace).

    As far as Henry “forcing” her, from everything I’ve read Margaret Beaufort was the mother in law from Hades and neither she nor her son allowed Elizabeth of York to have much say about anything. Her own husband kept her destitute and she frequently had to borrow money from him for what would seem like basic things that a queen would get. He would have made the decisions. And what woman would want to have her seventh son in her advanced age for the time in the place where she believed her brothers died?

    I have no doubt that love and affection developed but Henry Tudor wasn’t exactly the most loving of men after the life he had lived. Henry Tudor had wanted to marry another but circumstances led to his marrying Elizabeth of York. I also think in the early years of their marriage that Henry had to be affected by the rumors about Richard III and Elizabeth of York. I’m sure over time those feelings changed but I think it says a lot that initially he had to be persuaded by Parliament to do what he had promised in France and that he waited to crown Elizabeth. She wasn’t crowned with him. She wasn’t crowned when she was pregnant a la Anne Boleyn. It was only after she delivered in a son at Winchester Palace. Incidentally, I’ve only seen references that Henry and/or Margaret chose that location for Arthur’s birth. I’ve never seen any suggestion that Elizabeth of York had any say in her confinement and birth for Arthur being at Winchester.

    And the royal apartments is where Edward V was housed before his coronation until his uncle usurped the throne. When Richard and his wife moved into the royal apartments around June 16, apparently Edward and his brother were then moved. Since the royal apartments were where Elizabeth of York would have stayed, I don’t see how she couldn’t have been reminded of the last happy time that her brother would have known as he waited for a coronation that never came. As a sister, I would certainly wonder what did my brother think when his usurping uncle ordered him moved from the royal apartments and the realization that he wasn’t going to be crowned.

    And the royal apartments is where Elizabeth of York gave birth and subsequently died. So the Tower may have many different buildings but the royal apartments had special significance for her family. I cannot imagine she didn’t think of those memories during her confinement even if only for a fleeting distressful moment before with a constitution of steel that she banished them. And for all we know, she thought so much more. Her sister Katharine was by her side and chief mourner for her.

  10. From Jenny B

    Smaller world – less people – but I wonder how many people died of suffered dreadfully because of the maniac known as Henry VIII. Obvious more did at the hands of Stalin, etc, al but there were moe people in the world.

    I will admit the Tudor Dynasty is a famous one but more or less a 5 hit wonder latesting in total 118 years (normally that would be 2 generations if some of the personas concerned had not been so sickly – E 1 – lasting the longest at 45 years ).

    I cannot be as forgiving as Claire on this one – HVIII did do some memoreable stuff – but with the help of “friends” – Flodden Field was def. KOH’s success, AB, a mixture of H’s desire to have an heir and his advisors attempts to get rid of the Church of Rome’s influence – AB conbrituted to her downfall and the rise of Jane S. Ms. Howard to her family’s desire to have power and K. Parr attracted the the Protestant movement.

    But who was the final person to decide on the victims in the meanwhile. And personally can’t see it as a “fave” allowing AB’s head to be hacked off by a sword insead of an axe – Result the same although the former quicker. I will always be anto H8 and if he appeared to me today to explain his life I know what I would do!

    1. Henry Viii didn’t exterminate whole nations or make tens of thousands vanish. We don’t have mass graves and yes, he did repent in the end. Your comments comparing anyone to Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot are nonsense.

  11. I’m a Christian, and I feel the Monarchy is flawed! I have to agree with Jenny B here, Henry VIII was a bloody tyrant! Henry VII paid an important role in taking power from the all too powerful lords and barons. The Church was corrupt and his son Henry VIII addressed the religious issues, as well as keeping down any revolt, from those Lords. Oliver Cromwell turned the pages of an inevitable outcome. Pity we still have a powerless Monarchy today! Cromwell should have named a successor.
    I admit; Elizabethan I made a great Queen (possibly our greatest ruler?). Matilda should have had a coronation! James I was a good king. However, the throne should not have been handed down to a small child Richard II, Henry VI: a baby! The lord and protectors’ in both cases only served an on-going feud, which caused all the bloody savagery in the first place! And was probably responsible for Henry VIII actions?
    If the Monarchy is to continue; they need a say in parliament. Power needs to be passed down to the most eligible monarch (whether or not the family chooses its own successor; Parliament or the electorate?)…Or what’s the point of having a puppet rule? The Monarchy’s greatest threat came within itself! In how it dealt with reform, or rather how it didn’t (this issue is still unresolved)! Cromwell himself was a tyrant, and used the democrats for his own ends. Parliament today is ruled from spin doctors-so maybe reforms are a constant? But I believe democracy is our best solution! Maybe in a more civilised society, the Monarchy could play; a more active role? It certainly needs to be more objective, and you only have to see how insular it is: when related to Diana and Fergie! OK, Charles should have been allowed to marry Camilla in the first place-but then Edward VIII should never have abdicated (over Wallace Simpson!). It needs reform or dissolve! The House of Lords could still reform, and it could still act for the electorate! It would elect a leader of the house (and why would he need to be a President? He would be an active leader with real power, and still answerable to Parliament! The dog needs to wag the tail (the dog being the Prime minister, the tail being the leader of the house)! The cause and effects from the Plantagenets and the Tudors houses are an important reminder how our rulers evolved!

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