Henry VIII’s Will

Posted By on December 30, 2010

On this day in history, 30th December 1546, Henry VIII signed his last will and testament, authorising changes he’d instructed William Paget to make on his behalf on 26th December 1546. You can read his full will in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 21 Part 2: September 1546-January 1547, but here are the key points:-

  • His instruction that he 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 “an altar shall be furnished for the saying of daily masses while the world shall endure”. H also writes that “the tombs of Henry VI. and Edward IV. are to be embellished.”
  • The giving of 1,000 mks. in alms to the poor “with injunctions to pray for his soul”.
  • The giving of lands to St George’s College, Windsor Castle with conditions.
  • The naming of Henry’s son, Prince Edward, as his heir.
  • Henry’s instructions for the succession – The order of the succession after Edward was 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.

  • The appointing of executors – Henry VIII named 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.”
  • Sir Edmund Peckham, “cofferer of our house”, was instructed 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.”
  • The instruction that as well as inheriting Henry VIII’s titles and crown, Edward was to be given “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.”
  • The appointing of  “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 – “the Abp. of Canterbury 500 mks., Wriothesley, St. John, Russell, Hertford and Lisle, each 500l., Durham, Broun, Paget, Denny, Herberd, Montague, Bromley, North, Sir Edw. Wootton and Dr. Wootton, each 300l.”
  • Bequests “in token of special love and favour” – “The earl of Essex, Sir Thomas Cheney, the Lord Herberd, Sir John Gage, Sir Thomas Seymour, John Gates and Sir Thomas Darcy, each 200l., Sir Thomas Speke, Sir Philip Hobby, Sir Thomas Paston and Sir Maurice Barkeley, each 200 mks., Sir Ralph Sadleyr 200l., Sir Thomas Carden 200l., Sir Peter Meutes, Edward Bellingham, Thomas Audeley and Edmond Harman, each 200 marks, John Pen 100 marks, Henry Nevel, Symbarbe, ——Cooke, John Osburn and David Vincent, each 100l., James Rufforth, keeper of our house here, —— Cecil, yeoman of our Robes, —— Sternhold, groom of our Robes, each 100 mks., John Rouland, page of our Robes, 50l., the earl of Arundell, Lord Chamberlain, Sir Anthony Wingfeld, Sir Edm. Peckham, Sir Richard Riche, Sir John Bak[er] and Sir Richard Southwell, each 200l., Dr. Owen, Dr. Wendy and Dr. Cromer, each 100l., —— Alsopp, Patrick ——,——A[yliff],—— Ferrys, Henry——, and —— Hollande. each 100 mks., and the four gentlemen ushers of our Chamber, being daily waiters, 200l.” 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.”

At the start of the will, Henry shows his faith in God and “humbly bequeaths his soul to God” and expresses his desire that “the Blessed Virgin and holy company of Heaven to pray for and with him, while he lives and in the time of his passing hence, that he may after this “the sooner attain everlasting life.” ”

Notice how Henry’s will restores Mary and Elizabeth to the succession, something which Edward overturned in his “Devise for the Succession” before his death in 1553. I love the fact that even though Henry VIII must have been ill at this time, he is still hopeful of heirs through Queen Catherine or “or any future wife”!

Source

  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 21 Part 2: September 1546-January 1547, 634, 30th December 1546, Henry VIII’s Will.

27 thoughts on “Henry VIII’s Will”

  1. Tess says:

    Reading his Will, he sounds like a gentle old man…..Not the tyrant he was. How odd that his son removed Mary and Elizabeth from succession, maybe in case he had kids?

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Tess,
      I know, it certainly gives a very different picture of Henry.
      Edward VI’s Devise for the Succession removed Mary and Elizabeth from the Succession because Dudley and Edward wanted to ensure that the Protestant measures of Edward’s reign were carried on, hence the Protestant Lady Jane Grey being chosen as Edward’s successor. Although Henry had restored his daughters to the succession he never legitimised them and so Edward and Dudley were able to rule them out due to their illegitimacy.

      1. miladyblue says:

        Another thing to consider, Claire, is that Dudley may have
        removed Elizabeth, herself a Protestant (more or less) because he
        knew he did not have any sort of a chance to control her. Elizabeth
        by this point was a strong willed, highly intelligent survivor of
        Tudor politics, and Dudley had to have known that he had no chance
        to control her, unlike Jane Grey, who, as far as I have ever been
        able to tell, did not get her “Baptism by fire” in court, and was,
        or so he thought, a naive young girl he could control. The question
        is, did he convince Edward to remove her from the succession
        because of the “controversial” marriage of their father and Anne
        Boleyn?

    2. nanci says:

      For anyone interested – I just got back from an amazing
      exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC called Vivat
      Rex, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the accession of Henry
      VIII. There were so many wonderful exhibits, mainly centering on
      Henry’s break with Rome and his subsequent publishings on religion.
      Also had a Coverdale Bible, a 1626 copy of Will Roper’s biography
      of Thomas More, a letter from Katherine of Aragon to her nephew
      Charles on the divorce, a 1541 copy of The Byble in Englyshe, and
      many sketches and portraits. For any who don’t get to see the
      exhibition or it doesn’t come to your area, they have a catalog
      available at the Folger Gift shop for $35 that details all the
      exhibits – go to http://www.folger.edu/shop

    3. Martha Zhong says:

      When you read what they write in their papers, the king or the feudal lord always sounds like a gentle man, but still he exploits you and the whole country.

  2. Mary Ann Cade says:

    Claire: One question that has always bothered me about
    Edward VI’s Devise for the Succession. Why did he pass over Frances
    Brandon Grey? Was it because John Dudley was afraid he wouldn’t be
    able to control her and Henry Grey. The way that Frances Brandon,
    who by all accounts, was a very ambitious woman, was appeased was
    through the promise of marriage to her eldest child, Lady Jane
    Grey, to Dudley’s only unmarried son, Guildford. Was that the
    reason or does anyone really know for sure? In hindsight, it is
    interesting to note that by getting involved in this desperate
    attempt to keep Catholic Mary off the throne, Frances Brandon
    signed the death warrants of her Jane Grey, Henry Grey, John Dudley
    and Guildford Dudley. If Dudley had just waited a few years and
    been patient, Mary would have been dead and Elizabeth, who was
    known to favor Protestantism would have been on the throne. What a
    waste….

    1. nanci says:

      My understanding is that Frances agreed to abdicate her
      claim to Jane.

    2. Claire says:

      In his original “Devise”, Edward named the sons that Frances Brandon may have as his successors. The problem with this was that Frances was that the last successful pregnancy she’d had, i.e. the last surviving child, had been nine years ago and that had been a girl, Mary, so Edward made the provision that Frances would rule as governor if Edward died before any male heirs were born. When it was clear that he was dying and that Frances was not pregnant, Edward changed his will and stated that if Frances had no male heirs then the throne would pass to Lady Jane Grey and her male heirs.
      In her book “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen”, Leanda de Lisle makes no mention of Frances giving up her claim to Jane, and I think that it was more down to Northumberland, whose son, of course, had married Jane. Leanda makes the point that Edward could justify this decision because his father had also passed over Frances and named her heirs, instead, in the succession.

      1. Rose says:

        How interesting! That’s always something I’ve wanted to know.

      2. nanci says:

        Oh, so that’s how Edward did it. I had wondered about that
        myself, then read somewhere (wish I’d made note of where!) that
        Frances had passed her claim on to Jane. Thanks for clearing that
        up!

  3. Jeffrey says:

    As always, a magnificent piece of history. Thank you,
    Claire for bringing it all alive. My best to you and yours in the
    coming year.

    1. Claire says:

      Thanks, Jeffrey! Happy New Year!

  4. lisaannejane says:

    What strikes me as kind of funny is that no matter how
    carefully you prepare a will, some lawyer can find a loophole in
    it. And I think Henry’s biggest loophole was not making Mary or
    Elizabeth legitimate. So Edward’s lawyers pounced on it and tried
    to use it as a way to bring Jane Grey to the throne. I also doubt
    Henry thought anyone would dare change the church as he left it. I
    doubt his ego would have even considered the idea that the church
    he created would become more Protestant or Catholic. Unfortunately
    for Jane Grey, the people of England seemed to still be under
    Henry’s rule as they helped Mary take the throne. Just my opinion,
    but Henry was a larger than life figure in many ways and Edward was
    around for such a short time, so ultimately Henry’s will prevailed
    and Mary was made queen.

    1. Claire says:

      I agree, lisannejane, I think that people thought that if the throne was going to go to a woman then Mary had the stronger claim and that it was only right that she should inherit.

  5. Anne Barnhill says:

    What is sad to me is that Henry wanted the entire council
    to help Edward rule and Edward Seymour took the role of Protector
    really against Henry’s will. Edward had no one to love him but his
    sisters and they were kept from him. His short life is so pitiful
    and Henry’s will shows how one’s desires can be ignored once one is
    dead and gone. I like how he provided for Catherine Parr and was
    still hopeful she might be pregnant. I guess they had a more active
    love life than I had thought! THanks for this!

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, Henry VIII’s will is clear that he did not want one man to be in control but that Edward would be advised by a council who would make joint decisions. Henry would have been turning in his grave at the actions of Seymour and then Northumberland, their control of Edward is what Henry specifically was trying to prevent. Edward was a puppet really.

  6. Gena says:

    I think it was more of a sense of fairness why the people
    supported Mary after Edward died. She was, after all, Henry’s
    eldest child and whether “legit” or not she had been born a
    princess. The will itself is amusing in the section for heirs from
    “any future wife”, did he write this right before he signed the
    warrant to have Katherine Parr arrested?

    1. Claire says:

      Gena, I think you’re right about “fairness”. Mary was the King’s eldest child and she was the daughter of Catherine of Aragon who had been hugely popular.
      The will was written at the end of December 1546, so not long after the plot against Catherine Parr in the summer of 1546, but the marriage was seen as harmonious in the autumn and winter of 1546. Henry was ill when he wrote his will so I do find it surprising that he wrote about a potential future wife. Perhaps he thought that he would recover and perhaps he was simply covering every possible eventuality, afterall, Catherine could die or she could misbehave again!

  7. Carolyn says:

    Edward couldn’t legally change the provisions of his
    father’s will until he had “completed his eighteenth
    year”.

  8. Eliza M. L. says:

    Poor Edward…in all aspects, and despite what his father
    had wanted for him, he was nothing but a puppet King with poor
    health. I wonder if Henry VIII saw it coming. He probably
    didn’t.

  9. TudorRose says:

    Henry VIII made and wrote his will on the 30th December
    1546, it would be just under a month before he died. Not long after
    Henry had written his will the Duke of Norfolk was trying to
    conspire with his son the Earl of Surrey along with the pope to
    restore catholicsm as far as situations go there was no inclination
    that the Bishop of Rochester was involved as would be presumed and
    this a result ended in Norfolk aswell as Surrey’s inprisionment and
    unfortunately for Surrey it ended in his execution and also
    Norfolks long years behind bars.According to sources Norfolk was
    supposed to have been executed on the day the king died luckily for
    him that day saved him as if the king lived longer he would have
    suffered the same fate as his son before him.They had also been
    responsible for taking the arms of Edward the Confessor as a way of
    means of having a claim to the throne somewhat. Even as the king
    lay ill and dying it did not stop some people trying to rebel and
    overtake and what more than a better time to do so, I mean that is
    why both father and son picked this time as they both thought that
    they would probably get away with what they were doing, they saw
    the king in ill health and then seized their oppertunity as had he
    been alive and well I doubt that they would have risked something
    as such as they did. Surrey and especially Norfolk had been in the
    kings service for a very long time so it is surprising for someone
    as close as he was to the king manged to survive that long that is
    a mystery to me as it is. He Norfolk and Surrey both just got a
    little carried away with themselves is what I think as we all know
    how vain the Howards were. As it had been twenty-nine days exactly
    before the king died after the will had been written. Henry
    appointed sixteen executors to take care of Edward and help him
    rule when he became king but as we all know this plan did not go
    ahead as it had been turned over not only by Hertford but by three
    of the executors also. It was also round about this time that
    Seymour who had been the boy princes uncle was created a Duke and
    he was thus known as the Duke of Somerset there on out. Henry had
    not been allowed to name or appoint a protector that is why he had
    chosen in the way that he did. The council first met three days
    after the current king had died, that meeting was held on 31st
    January 1547 do decide what was going to happnen and it was then
    that some of the kings council decided to name the Earl as his
    protector which would have probably right as he was afterall apart
    from his father who had passed, his two half sisters the closest to
    in relation the boy aswell as his other uncle Thomas. The Earl was
    given first priority to the boy before all others and hence was
    named his protector.So Edwards Uncle was made Lord protector four
    days after Henrys death and was made a Duke sixteen days after thus
    which in total would make it nineteen days after the death of the
    former king. Things were made to be this way until Edward reached
    the age of eighteen, well until he had been seen to be old enough
    and fit to rule on his own and of his own accord. One of his said
    executors which had been named which also made me look in surprise
    was when I saw the name “Anthony Denny” as it is or was he that is
    related to the author “Joanna Denny” who is well renowned for
    writing books on Anne Boleyn aswell as Catherine Howard. King
    Edward’s protectorship only lasted somewhat two years before the
    council got rid of his protector for his unlawful ways.As Somerset
    had been declared aswell as named a traitor and as a result
    protector Somerset was a protector no more.

  10. Emma says:

    Even in death, Henry was making the women in his life’s
    lives miserable. Mary I had to wait for the throne, being
    middle-aged at the time, unable to produce a heir (only phantom
    pregnancys), and a outlet for money by Spain. Elizabeth also had to
    wait, attacked by rumors, threats, and imprisonment. But his
    daughters went on to be the most famous Tudors and most remembered
    as Bloody Mary and Good Queen Bess (Elizabeth’s nickname) and the
    son he worked so hard to have was, ironically, forgotten.

  11. Lady Kateryn says:

    A brilliant book on this is David Starkey’s The Reign of
    Henry VIII – Personalities and Politics. In it, Starkey speculates
    on the legality of the will bearing in mind, it had not been signed
    but dry stamped and that William Paget,(King’s Secretary) and
    Edward Seymour schemed together to engineer Seymour’s Protectorate.
    Henry could impose his will when he was alive but it was impossible
    to do so once he was dead!

  12. lisaannejane says:

    I am currently reading a book by Alison Weir about Henry
    VIII’s children. I just can’t believe anyone would deliberately
    give arsenic to someone as a way to prolong their life. Poor Edward
    really was a pawn in a game of greedy and ambitious men. The
    arsenic poisoning just seems to go too far. Does anyone else think
    this really happened?

    1. Adriane says:

      The way I understand the arsenic poisoning is it is more of a theory I have read other works that have contradicted the poisoning story. A great book that is an autobiography by Chris Skidmore called Edward VI: The Lost King of England is one of them. Alison Weir is one of my favorite Tudor biographers and the book you are reading is great. I would also recommend her work The Six Wives of Henry VIII it is by far my favorite and I think you would enjoy it. But you are very right poor Edward was just a pawn in a pool of sharks especially his uncles Edward and Thomas Seymour.

  13. shelagh says:

    It was a surprise to me to see that one of the witnesses bore my family name and another had the name of my best friend´s. Perhaps we started at the top of the ladder and worked our way down, unlike Wolsey and Cromwell, who went the other way. It is to be hoped that they at least kept their heads and didnt die in disgrace and infamy!
    A happy New year to you, Claire and all readers. Thank you for the site, which is an endless source of information, and intelligent, but above all, polite discussion.

  14. Gerald Little says:

    Foxe’s Acts and Monuments contains a letter from William Tyndale that is a “supplication to the King, Nobles and Subjects of England” wherein he strongly recommends that the succession to the throne be clearly set out and all sworn to abide by it.

    Has anyone ever commented on this letter and what effect it had on Henry VIII?

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