Henry VIII’s Death, Will and Legacy

Posted By on February 1, 2010

Henry VIII Engraving

Henry VIII Engraving

I didn’t manage to post on the anniversary of Henry VIII’s death, due to no electricity and internet, so please forgive this late post.

On the 28th January 1547, Henry VIII, King of England and Ireland, died at the Palace of Whitehall at the age of 55. He was buried next to his “true wife”, Jane Seymour, in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Henry VIII’s Will

Henry VIII left the following will which named his son Edward as King, with his daughters Mary and Elizabeth following next in line:-
“Henry R. In the name of God and of the glorious and blessed Virgin, our Lady Saint Mary, and of all the holy company of heaven, we, Henry, by the grace of God king of England, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, and in earth immediately under God the supreme head of the Church of England and Ireland, of that name the eighth, calling to our remembrance the great gifts and benefits of Almighty God given to us in this transitory life, give unto Him our most lowly and humble thanks, acknowledging ourself insufficient in any part to deserve or recompense the same, but fear that we have not worthily received the same….

We will by these presents that, immediately after our departure out of this present life, our said son Edward shall have and enjoy the said imperial crown and realm of England and Ireland, our title to France, with all dignities, honours, pre-eminences, prerogatives, authorities, and jurisdictions, lands and possessions, to the same annexed or belonging to him and to his heirs of his body lawfully begotten. And for default of such issue of our said son Prince Edward’s body lawfully begotten, we will the said imperial crown and other the premises, after our two deceases, shall wholly remain and come to the heirs of our body lawfully begotten of the body of our entirely beloved wife, Queen Katherine, that now is, or of any other our lawful wife that we shall hereafter marry. And for lack of such issue and heirs … , the said imperial crown and all other the premises shall wholly remain and come to our said daughter Mary and the heirs of her body lawfully begotten; upon condition that our said daughter Mary, after our decease, shall not marry nor take any person to her husband without the assent and consent of the privy councillors and others appointed by us to our dearest son Prince Edward aforesaid to be of council….

We will that, after our decease, and for default of issue of … our daughter Mary, the said imperial crown and other the premises shall wholly remain and come to our said daughter Elizabeth and to the heirs of her body lawfully begotten; upon condition [etc.] …

Also we, being now at this time (thanks be to Almighty God!) of perfect memory, do constitute and ordain these personages following our executors and performers of this our last will and testament…. And all these we will to be our executors and councillors of the privy council with our said son Prince Edward, in all matters concerning both his private affairs and public affairs of the realm…. Whom we ordain, name, and appoint, and by these presents signed with our hand do make and constitute of privy council with our said son; and will that they have the government of our most dear son Prince Edward and of all our realms, dominions, and subjects, and of all the affairs public and private, until he shall have fully completed the eighteenth year of his age….”

The Succession

The Act of Succession 1543 (The Succession to the Crown Act 1543) superceded the Acts of 1533 and 1536 returned both Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession, following Edward. This act did not legitimise his daughters but it gave them legal rights to the throne.

On his deathbed in 1553, Edward VI overruled the Act of Succession and went against the express wishes of his father by excluding Mary and Elizabeth from the succession and naming Lady Jane Grey as his heir. Edward’s instructions were presented in a document known as “My Devise for the Succession”.

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I

Henry VIII’s Children

It is interesting that all three of Henry VIII’s legitimate children became monarchs of England, all three were crowned within 11 years of Henry’s death and all three died without issue.

Edward VI was King between 28th January 1547 and his death on the 6th July 1553. He was the son of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. Edward never ruled in his own right as he died before he came of age. Henry VIII’s will named 16 executors who were to act as a council until Edward came of age.

Mary I was Queen between the 19th July 1553 and her death on the 17th November 1558. She was Henry VIII’s first child and was the daughter of Catherine of Aragon and granddaughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. Mary I married King Philip II of Spain but the couple did not have children. Mary I is known as “Bloody Mary” due to her persecution of Protestants.

Elizabeth I was Queen between the 17th November 1558 and her death on the 24th March 1603. Elizabeth was Henry VIII’s second daughter and her mother was the infamous Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, who was executed on the 19th May 1536 after being found guilty of treason, adultery and incest. Elizabeth I reigned for 44 years and her reign became known as “The Golden Age”. She is also known for being “The Virgin Queen”.

Henry VIII’s Legacy

If you went on the streets of England and asked people about Henry VIII, what would they say about him? What is he known for?

  • His 6 wives?
  • His mistresses?
  • His sexual appetite?
  • Executing Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard?
  • Divorcing Catherine of Aragon?
  • The break with Rome?
  • His size and obesity?
  • Executing lots of people?

They probably would not mention the founding of the English Navy, the foundation of the Church of England, Henry’s patronage of the Arts and his bringing the Renaissance to England, the establishment of the Kingdom of Ireland, Henry VIII’s remodelling of government and taxation, his promotion of Parliament, the translation of the Bible into English, his major building programme…Those are just some of Henry VIII’s achievements.

Henry VIII as he liked to be seen

Henry VIII as he liked to be seen

Bluff King Hal or Tyrant

Despite the fact that many people today consider Henry VIII as a tyrant or monster, after all, it is said that around 72,000 people were executed during his reign, the people of the time thought differently. I love this quote from the BBC website:-

“His reputation among 20th century historians has generally been low, but in his own time it stood much higher. Renaissance Europe expected its kings to be a mixture of the lion and the fox – audacious, generous, majestic, ruthless and devious – and Henry fitted the image. He was feared, and admired, and his death was marked by more obvious public grief than that of any other Tudor. That the public remembers him as Bluff King Hal rather than as a murderous cripple testifies much to his talent for self-presentation.”

Elizabeth I idolised her father and knew that people remembered him fondly, so she used to stand in front of his portrait when welcoming foreign visitors (to show the likeness between them) and referred to him in speeches:-

“I may not be a lion, but I am a lion’s cub, and I have a lion’s heart.”

She knew that Henry VIII was seen as a great King.

What Do You Think?

What do you think were Henry VIII’s main achievements?

What do you think he is remember for?

Virtuous Prince or Tyrant?



Remember to enter our Anne Boleyn Files Anniversary Competition – click here for more information – you could win a $30 Amazon voucher or $30 Anne Boleyn Files voucher.

21 thoughts on “Henry VIII’s Death, Will and Legacy”

  1. Jake says:

    Great article! I think Henry’s achievements as a King are often over looked for his personal life..albeit a very unique and scandalous personal life! The man broke from Rome which was a huge turn of events in those times. Obviously now it is hard to really understand how huge what Henry did was, In a time when death was so real and faith was really all most people had to turn the away from the Pope and do it successfully is a testament to how greater King he was. Despite this great act I think he is remembered solely for his six wives, obviously those of us with a greater interest in Tudor history know the complexities of what Henry did and his reasoning for six wives and know there is far more to his story beyond his bedroom antics. But the story of Catherine of Aragon, Henry and Anne is a tale that captivates and stands out. Those who don’t even have a passing interest in History can no doubt recite the words “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, survived”. A great King yes but to the vast majority of people I’d say he would be remembered as The King with six wives, the King that chopped his wives heads off and as the Father of Elizabeth 1.
    As for prince or Tyrant? Well in my view he was far from a tyrant, yes he did some horrific things but I can understand in part why. This is a Man whose forefathers fought for the crown and to him the continuation of the Tudor dynasty was of utmost importance. He needed a son for his Kingdom to be safe, and that was to be expected of a King. So yes he did some terrible and cruel things but he needed a son and Britain is a tiny island he had Spain, France and Scotland breathing down his neck just waiting to take England. You have to give it to him and his daughter Elizabeth they took a tiny island and made it into a feared and powerful nation..At what cost? Were the sacrifices worth it? Well as Anne Boleyn said (On the TV series The Tudors at least) “This is how it is, Let them grumble.”

  2. Gemma says:

    I wonder if he would have added Henry Fitzroy to the act of succession if he had lived?

    1. Jordan Degarmo says:


      1. FabNayNay says:

        Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the united states of america. But, I’m not sure why you even brought him up. I haven’t read all the comments yet, but he wasn’t mentioned at all in the comment you were responding to. So, what does Abraham Lincoln have to do w/any of this. He wasnt even born yet during Tudor times, and wouldn’t be for another couple hundred years. Do tell!

  3. Louise says:

    When you look at Henry’s main achievements such as promotion of Parliament, remodelling Government and translating the Bible, they all really stem from the creation of the Church of England. Therefore, save for the instigation of the royal Navy, it is arguable that the creation of the Church of England was his only great achievement. And of course he only did that because of a woman!

    Without the women in his life would Henry’s name have eventually sunk into obscurity? I think so.

  4. Cynthia says:

    Katherine Parr was very lucky as this says much about Henry’s state of mind and eventual plans:

    “And for default of such issue of our said son Prince Edward’s body lawfully begotten, we will the said imperial crown and other the premises, after our two deceases, shall wholly remain and come to the heirs of our body lawfully begotten of the body of our entirely beloved wife, Queen Katherine, that now is, OR OF ANY OTHER OUR LAWFUL WIFE THAT WE SHALL HEREAFTER MARRY.”

    If it were any King but Henry VIII, I would think it was merely a necessary legal formality. But I have my suspicions where he is concerned.

  5. Angelina says:

    Great article. Throughly enjoyed reading it. I wonder the same, Gemma. Would’ve Fitzroy been King if he’d lived long enough? maybe in an alternert universe lol. We will never know (that is until Humans can time travel) I have always had mixed feelings for Henry – like Elizabeth I admired him greatly in some aspects but in others I found him utterly replusive, and a monester. ALl in all I think he was a pretty good King, if not a terribly mixed up and confused man. He instilled his values and leadership in his daughter, Elizabeth, who put that to good use.

    I wonder if on the day she was crowned he was somwhere smiling, or with a look of shock on his face.

  6. julie b. says:

    It makes me wonder how Elizabeth could idolize her father when he was responsible for killing her mother. What kind of opinion do you think Elizabeth had of her mother? I am certain Elizabeth must have heard terrible stories about her. What opinion do you think she had of Anne? — Great article Claire, it makes me curioius

  7. rochie says:

    Don’t forget that there were various ‘reformations’ taking place all over Europe in the early half of the Sixteenth century, some prior to Henry’s Church of England. The academic establishment in England was already moving towards humanism and enlightenment, and an English reformation inspired by Lutheran ideas was probably going to take place anyway, regardless of what Henry did or failed to do in the bedchamber. He and Anne cannot take all the credit (or discredit) for that. Other forces were at work.

  8. Jill says:

    Most daughters do idolize their fathers, overlooking the individuals flawed and cruel nature. Elizabeth was only three years old when her mother was executed so she really didn’t know her and even if Anne had not be put to death, many times their children were simply pawns in a political chess game. Henry wanted children only to further the Tudor line. I can’t imagine anyone nowdays giving him the Father of the Year award. Can you imagine what his Father’s Day Card would say? “Dear Dad: Happy Father’s Day even though you had my mother put to death, had me declared illegitimate, pitted me against my sister and brother, I’d have to say you did a pretty good job because after all even though I am a female, a lion’s cub I managed to rule for 45 years. Your loving daughter, Elizabeth I.”

  9. lisaannejane says:

    Here’s a card for Henry:
    Roses are red,
    Violets are blue,
    You made me third in line to the throne,
    And I still did way better than you!

    Your daughter, despite making me a bastard, Elizabeth

  10. Julia says:

    It is difficult to know what to make of him. He was extremely charismatic, vain, hypocritical, spoilt and selfish. As a young man i think i would have fancied him,as he is said to have been very fit and hansome.

    I can’t believe he had two wives executed for adultery, when he had had so many mistresses, then had the nerve to say it was his wives’ fault he couldn’t have a son.

    But we could do with a leader like him now, to deal with these Islamic extremist threatening our world.

  11. lisaannejane says:

    From what I understand of the world situation, I think we need leaders who are both knowledgeable and have empathy for others to lead to a peaceful solution to current problems. An extremist for any cause is dangerous and will always pose a threat.

  12. JimBobJones says:

    what did the public think of henry viii???

    1. Claire says:

      By the time of his death, I think people were ready for a change. His last years were ones of brutality and paranoia. People did look back on him with affection though, “Bluff King Hal”.

  13. Anastasia says:

    I think we will never know, he is pretty much of an enigma. I do not know much about Henry VIII’s achievements yet. I do believe, nevertheless, that he was a tyrant. He was a tyrannical King who inspired the love and affection of his people.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    I think he was a sociopathic monster and wasted the monies he grabbed from the church. So many people put to death by him. 72,000 and yet he is not known as bloody Henry, Elizabeth wore a ring with her mothers miniature on it all her life so clearly she loved her, She buried one of his wives in a magnificent grave with her sister Mary and asked to be buried there too, when she was going to all this trouble to effect a beautiful grave for others she did not carry out her fathers wishes and he was left under the floor of the church with barely a word noting his burial underfoot, however I believe Elizabeth’s biggest pay back to her fathers obsession with the Tudor line was to deliberately end it by not having issue and crush all his dreams into the dust and show he wasted the lives of so many women to achieve a dream she ensured he would never get

  15. Hamza Adam says:

    Very good website

  16. Gordon Thursfield says:

    Most of Henry’s “achievements” were just necessary steps by his ministers to protect the realm in mitigation of his philandering, and general tyranny. A matter of self and the Tudor Dynasty first; the welfare of his subjects last. Seemingly YOLO, wasn’t a quote confined to 21st century prepubescent girls.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      What philandering? Henry Viii wasn’t anywhere near the philanderer that his contemporaries Francis I and Charles V were. He was married to Katherine of Aragon for 24 years and had a few brief affairs during her pregnancies. He had three known long term mistresses, two of whom he married, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.
      His third wife died leaving him with one infant son and he didn’t have any affair when married to Jane Seymour. He married a fourth time to try to secure the dynasty. His problems with Anne of Cleves were physical and political. Katherine Howard was too young for him and loved sex, having a long term affair. He had treated her well and she was foolish to believe that having a man in her room every night wasn’t going to be noticed.
      He married Katherine Parr for companionship.

      Please do some actual research before making comments that are unsubstantiated and actually irrelevant.

Please note: Comment moderation is currently enabled so there will be a delay between when you post your comment and when it shows up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap