Henry VII Henry VIIIYes, on this day in history, 21st April 1509*, King Henry VII died at Richmond Palace. He had been ill on and off since the spring of 1507 when it was feared that he would die of a severe throat infection1. In February 1508 Starkey writes of how he suffered from an acute rheumatic fever followed by “chronic fatigue, a loss of appetite and bouts of depression” in the summer of that year, and then he was taken ill again in February 1509. This time he was dying.

On the night of the 20th April, Henry VII, realising that death was near, summoned his confessor to administer the last rites. His confessor anointed very part of the King’s body with holy oil, Henry heard the mass, kissed the crucifix and “with all his might and power, he called upon the name of Our Lord”2 but merciful death was to evade him for another 24 hours.

In his final hours, he called his son, Henry, to him and, according to Henry VIII, instructed him to fulfil the treaty between Spain and England by marrying Catherine of Aragon, although two member of Henry VII’s council contradict this by reporting that the King told his son that he was “free to marry whom he chose”3.

At 11pm on Saturday 21st April 1509 King Henry VII died. His death was kept secret for two days and then his son was proclaimed King Henry VIII on the morning of Tuesday 24th April at London. It was the start of a new era. The old tight-fisted King had been replaced by a young, handsome, fun-loving Renaissance prince; who could have known what was ahead!


  1. Henry: Virtuous Prince, David Starkey, p235
  2. J.E.B.Mayor, ed., The English Works of John Fisher, quoted in Starkey, p252
  3. Starkey, p253

*Interestingly, some sources say that Henry VII died on 22nd April while others say the 21st. Out of the books on my desk, David Starkey and Suzannah Lipscomb say the 21st, David Loades says 22nd and J J Scarisbrick says that Henry VII “lay dead” on the 22nd. Hmm…

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5 thoughts on “The Death of Henry VII and the Accession of Henry VIII”
  1. I really wonder who says it right: people who say that Henry VII advised his son to marry Catherine or the two people who say otherwise. Nevertheless, I doubt that Henry VIII would marry anyone just because of his father’s deathwish. Maybe he was already smitten with Catherine, who knows?

  2. Most historians accept the 21st date, asserting that Henry VII died late that night. The confusion is caused by the fact that various chroniclers supplied different dates. This is entirely understandable given that Henry’s death was initially kept secret; no wonder different times/dates were provided by contemporaries!

    The 21st was provided in ‘The Great Chronicle of London’ and by Robert Fabyan (d. 1513) in ‘The Newe Cronycles of England and Fraunce’ (published after his death). The date is also provided in a manuscript in the British Library (Cotton MS. Vitellius A XVI).

    I think Sir Thomas Wriothesley’s account of the death of Henry VII also includes the 21st date. An image of Henry VII on his deathbed from the manuscript can be seen here:


    However Edward Hall in his famous ‘The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York’ – ‘Hall’s Chronicle’ – states that the first Tudor king died on the 22nd. This date was supported by Hall’s contemporary and friend, Richard Grafton in his own work. Raphael Holinshed, also stated this date in ‘Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland’ published in 1577.

    Fabyan’s assertion that Henry died ‘in the nyght’ of the 21st seems to be credited by many. It is notable that during the events marking the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession in 2009, the 21st date was frequently stated. This was the case in the British Library’s exhibition for the event (see the accompanying catalogue edited by Dr Susan Doran). The Historical Research journal dedicated its April 2009 edition to articles on Henry VII. It contained a chronology page outlining the key dates in Henry VII’s life and provided the 21st date for his death.

  3. Henry VIII was going to marry Catherine no matter what his father said on his deathbed. It didn’t matter what the rest of them heard his father say. Henry was going to do what Henry wanted to do. He had decided he wanted Catherine and as King he could do as he pleased. Nobody could gainsay him.

  4. I agree that Henry was already smitten and his first act ‘on his own’ would be to marry Catherine, whether his father instructed him to do so or not. He was already making his own decisions and anxious to do so.

  5. That is unusual. The 21st and the 22nd. Mhmm…Itcan only be one or the other can it not? it would seem more plausable to say the 21st really out of the two dates.

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