Henry VIII of England lived from 28 June 1491 to 28 January 1547. He was King of England and Lord (later King) of Ireland from 22 April 1509 until his death. The second king of the House of Tudor, Henry VIII is famous for marrying six times and for splitting away from the Roman Catholic Church. Henry tried hard in the latter part of his reign to subdue Scotland to his will: and, almost incidentally, just four years into his reign, was responsible for the worst military defeat Scotland ever suffered at the hands of England. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Henry was the third child and second son of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York. As the second son of the monarch, he was made Duke of York in 1494. He received an excellent education, becoming fluent in Latin, French, and Spanish, and was destined for a senior role in the Church.
In 1502, Edward's older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales, died suddenly, leaving Henry as heir to the throne. Arthur had recently married Catherine of Aragon, youngest surviving heir of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. Henry VII therefore arranged for young Henry to marry Catherine of Aragon to maintain the links the marriage offered with Spain. Catherine said her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated because of their youth, but Papal dispensation for the marriage between Henry and Catherine was sought (and given) to ensure its legitimacy would not be questioned. But by 1505, Henry VII was no longer interested in an alliance with Spain, and the young Henry, now Prince of Wales, was forced to claim that the wedding has been arranged without his agreement.
Diplomatic negotiations about the marriage were still under way when Henry VII died in 1509, leaving the 18 year old Henry VIII to decide the matter for himself. He married Catherine of Aragon on 11 June 1509. Under Henry VIII, the English Court rapidly became regarded across Europe as a centre for the arts and for learning: and Henry proved to be an able and energetic king.
In 1513, Henry invaded France as part of the War of the League of Cambrai or the War of the Holy League, a conflict that focused on Italy, but which involved most of Europe at one time or another. Henry's attack on France led James IV of Scotland (who was married to Henry's older sister Margaret Tudor), in line with the "auld alliance" mutual defence pact with France, to attack northern England. The result was the worst defeat Scotland ever suffered at the hands of England, at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513. The Scots lost up to 10,000 dead out of an army of some 25,000. The Scottish dead included James IV himself, plus an archbishop, two bishops, 11 earls, 15 lords and 300 knights: in effect a whole generation of the Scottish nobility was swept away. The English lost just 1,700 dead out of an army of around 20,000. And what was even worse from the Scottish point of view was that they had been beaten by the English "B" Team: Henry VIII and his main expeditionary army was able to remain on the continent throughout, winning a major victory by capturing Tournai from the French just two weeks after Flodden.
Peace with France followed in 1514, though Henry remained very closely allied with the Papal States, and his written attacks on early Protestants led to his being given the title Defensor Fidei (Defender of the Faith) by Pope Leo X. Despite the irony of what was to follow, Henry retained this title, and all subsequent monarchs of England/Britain/Great Britain have done likewise.
By the late 1520s, it was clear that Catherine of Aragon was unlikely to produce a male heir for Henry: and equally clear from his various illegitimate offspring that the lack of an heir was not due to any failing on Henry's part. Henry tried to persuade Pope Clement VII to dissolve his marriage with Catherine. When this was not forthcoming, Henry, now aged 42, married Anne Boleyn, in January 1533. The English Parliament fell into line by declaring his marriage to Catherine invalid, and his marriage to Anne valid. Henry was then excommunicated by the Pope, and in 1534, the English Parliament finalised the split with the Roman Catholic Church, passing an Act that made Henry "The only Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England". At the same time, sources of Papal revenue within England were blocked. Anyone opposing these changes found themselves liable to torture and execution for high treason.
Anne Boleyn gave birth to a daughter who was later to become Queen Elizabeth I, but was unable to produce a son. In 1536 she was condemned to death for the "witchcraft" she had used to snare Henry; for her adulterous relationships with five men; and for incest with her brother. She was completely innocent on all counts, but that did not stop Anne, and everyone else involved in this complex web of trumped-up charges, being executed.
Ten days after Anne's death, Henry, now aged 45, married Jane Seymour. Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, the future Edward VI, in 1537, but then died of puerperal fever. Meanwhile, in 1535, Henry had given his approval to the Laws in Wales Act 1535, which unified England and Wales, and decreed that henceforth English would be the only language used for all official business in Wales.
On 6 January 1540, Henry, now 48 years old, and in search of a second male heir, married Anne of Cleves, who he had accepted as a prospective wife on the basis of an extremely flattering painting by Hans Holbein the Younger. Henry found his new wife utterly unattractive, privately referring to her as the "Flanders Mare". Henry quickly tried to rid himself of his fourth wife. Anne, for her part, was intelligent enough to realise that her interests lay in going along with Henry's wishes, and in return for confirming that their marriage had never been consummated, she was given country estates and a significant role in society. The Earl of Essex, who first had suggested Anne of Cleves as a wife to Henry, fared less well, being beheaded.
On 28 July 1540, Henry, aged 49, married Catherine Howard, probably aged 16 at the time. She made the very poor career move of preferring the company of young male courtiers and old boyfriends to that of her aging and increasingly large (but still exceptionally powerful and dangerous) husband. She was executed for treason on 13 February 1542, still only about eighteen years old. The young men she had been involved with, both before and after her marriage, met a similar fate.
In 1542 Henry tried to impose his split with the Catholic Church on James V of Scotland and his country. When James failed to accept Henry's summons to meet him at York, England invaded Scotland. The result was the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss, near Carlisle, on 24 November 1542, and the subsequent death of James V, still only 30 years old.
Henry married his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr, in 1543, when he was 52. Theirs was not the most harmonious of marriages but she outlasted him, still being alive at the time of his death in 1547. He was succeeded by his son Edward VI.
In his final years, Henry VIII had found time to play one last hand intended to further his dynastic ambitions, this time with disastrous results for Scotland. From the time of Mary Queen of Scots was born on 8 December 1542, both Henry VIII and the French King Henri II tried to gain Scottish agreement to a marriage between her and their respective sons. The result in July 1543 was the the Treaty of Greenwich, which provided for Mary to be married to Henry VIII's son Edward in 1552: and for their heir to inherit the Kingdoms of Scotland and England. The English Parliament delayed its ratification of the Treaty, giving the Scottish Parliament, which believed it better to pursue an alliance with France (England had, after all, invaded Scotland only the previous year), the opportunity to repudiate the Treaty altogether.
Henry VIII responded in May 1544 with the "Rough Wooing", an invasion of Scotland. This culminated in 1547 at the Battle of Pinkie, near Musselburgh, in which the English soundly defeated the Scots. Henri II of France offered a safe haven for Mary, and troops to help repel the English, in return for an agreement that Mary would marry his son Francois. Mary sailed for France on 7 August 1548, aged 5. Henry VIII had overplayed his final hand and lost the chance to unify the Crowns of England and Scotland: destroying much of southern Scotland while he was at it.