How Henry VIII Worked


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class from howstuffworks.com.

Candace Gibson: Hello, and welcome to the Podcast. I'm Editor Candace Gibson joined by staff writer, Jane McGrath.

Jane McGrath: Hey.

Candace Gibson: Jane, who do you think is one of the most revile figures in all of history?

Jane McGrath: Oh, that's a good question. I think Henry VIII is up there.

Candace Gibson: Yeah, maybe alongside Rasputin who we talked about in earlier podcast, the crazy man.

Jane McGrath: Hitler, maybe.

Candace Gibson: Ah, good answer. Good answer. Definitely not Thomas Jefferson, whom everyone loves! Or at least I do.

Jane McGrath: Yes, we all know that.

Candace Gibson: Henry VIII, so, he reigned for 36 years; 1509-1547. And during this time, I think somewhere between, like, 57,000 and 72,000 people were beheaded.

Jane McGrath: That's an amazing number when you think about it especially the fact that the queen, Queen Mary, known as Bloody Mary, actually only killed about 300 I think in her six years and yet she's known for being the bloodiest.

Candace Gibson: I know. That was his daughter so we don't know if, you know, she learned a thing or two from her dad or what but as we'll see in a few minutes, her killings were for a very different reason but Henry - Henry, Henry, Henry, where do we start with Henry? He's such a complicated man. He wanted to be more popular than his father and his father set out to amass tons of money so that the monarchy would be virtually unstoppable and unbreakable and the people kind of hated him. So, when Henry VIII came into power, he wanted a couple of things. He wanted to marry his brother's widow and he wanted to be more popular than his dad and eventually he did both things but then screwed them both up.

Jane McGrath: Yeah, you could say that. He ended up killing two of his father's advisors, close advisors, who were well-known in England at the time for being responsible for a lot of the high taxes that were going on. The oppressiveness that they hated Henry VII for.

Candace Gibson: Yeah, that was Edmund Dudley and Richard Mensen and, like Jane said, they were symbols of the corruption of court so when Henry killed them, instantly, his stock went up but he didn't stop there. He started doing some things that the people did not like so much. And, so, one of the first wrong moves that he made when he was a court was that he made an attempt to marry his older brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon! She was from Spanish royalty, and essentially he was arguing that the marriage didn't really exist in the eyes of God because they never consummated it, at least that was the excuse he used by the Pope's hand to get the marriage approved.

Jane McGrath: Right. And he - exactly. Like you said, he needed special permission from the Pope to marry her in the first place so that caused a lot of trouble later on.

Candace Gibson: It did, and, so, after all of that hoopla, getting to marry Catherine of Aragon, he decided that he wanted to divorce her.

Jane McGrath: Yeah, she - the big reason was you could say that she had not produced him a male heir and he wanted someone to - in his family, his lineage, to pass the crown down to and this marriage, which was all well and fine, but the queen did not produce any males.

Candace Gibson: So, Henry turned around and he said, all right, you're doing nothing for the Tudor family and I guess, technically, it was a sin to marry you in the first place so we're getting divorced and that was when the Pope said no because you said in the first place, you know, you pointed out this law that said it's not a sin to marry someone if the marriage hasn't been consummated so that's what we're going to stick by Henry, that's that. So, Henry went up to the Pope by saying, well, you know what, the Catholic Church doesn't matter anym ore. I'm the church.

Jane McGrath: Yeah, and this was a very interesting move on his part because he's an interesting figure in that he supported the church during the protestant revolution basically that happened earlier on and he wrote a lot of things against Martin Luther, who was credited with instigating the revolution, and so he made a lot of friends, Catholic friends in England who, like, Sir Thomas Moore is one who helped him talk about - like, write things that were against Martin Luther and align himself with the Pope and the church.

Candace Gibson: So, when he broke with the Catholic Church, he oversaw the start of the English reformation and essentially what he did was created a modern sovereignty which is, you know, a thrown, independent of the church but he didn't really see it at that time. He wasn't trying to make huge strides for England, he just wanted to get what he wanted in the bedroom, quite frankly. So, - and he wasn't just blindly annulling his marriage from Catherine. He had his eye on someone else.

Jane McGrath: That's right and her name was Anne Boleyn.

Candace Gibson: Yes, and I'm sure many of you have heard that name, and even if you don't know the full story, she was his mistress for a time being. She was a very young member of the court and her family noticed that she had caught the king's eye and her family, being a rather enterprising group of individuals, said well, why don't you exploit that, Anne, and so she did.

Jane McGrath: Yeah, and it worked and it caused England to turn away from the Catholic Church in the end.

Candace Gibson: It really, really did. It was a huge mess.

Jane McGrath: Yeah, and it ended up not working out all that well for anyone really because Anne didn't produce a male either.

Candace Gibson: She produced a daughter but no male heir.

Jane McGrath: Yes, right.

Candace Gibson: And the thing is, Henry really loved her at first. We know for a fact that he really, really loved her but she was incredibly unpopular at court and she wasn't getting any sympathy and after she failed to produce a male heir, she was kind of out but Henry needed reason to kick her out of the bed so he made up a lie that she was an adulterous.

Jane McGrath: Yeah, and one of the law is that, eventually evolved around her, was that she was actually an adulterous with her brother, so, had an affair with her brother so this idea of sin incest is obviously - people latched onto this idea since they already hated her and it was one of the reasons why she was executed.

Candace Gibson: And that was the end of Anne. But Henry really couldn't be satiated throughout his life. We constantly in history see him espousing women and then killing them off and inventing these reasons and it's not as though the people of England were sitting back at this time and condoning it. By the contrary, I'm sure they were very upset but they were probably also very afraid of him because this was a man who killed a nun, he killed cardinals, he killed advisors, he killed members of the court.

Jane McGrath: Right, and most of this stemmed from his separation with the church because once he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn, people such as Sir Thomas Moore and Cornel John Fisher, who used to be his advisories, were arguing that - they basically did not want to sign themselves onto this oath of supremacy that Henry had come up with and they weren't going to repatriate the church and turned to Henry as their new Pope basically.

Candace Gibson: But because Henry had declared himself the head of the church and God's living, I guess dignitary or ambassador on earth, he had carte blanche to pretty much do what he pleased. And this was really dangerous -

Jane McGrath: Right and he did.

Candace Gibson: - for the monarch to have and there were people who did voice opposition to Henry and one of the more notable ones - actually, it's so funny because she was such a humble and unexpected figure to do so, Elizabeth Barton.

Jane McGrath: That's right. And she was a young girl an d she was basically a servant and she got sick when she was about 19 and she started getting visions that she claimed divine visions and messages from God saying, you know, Henry cannot marry Anne Boleyn, you cannot let this happen. If he does, he's not going to survive long afterwards. And, so, she started saying these visions and Henry was a little upset about that.

Candace Gibson: And, so, there were people divided into distinct camps, those who thought she was crazy; those who thought she was having legitimate visions; and those who thought, I guess, she was just speaking out against the king. It was an act of treason. And the archbishop of Canterbury had some good insight. He thought, well, if I get this girl instated in a convent and she studies to become a nun, she's going to gain some clout and she did, and she had these visions for more than 10 years and eventually she was accused of treason and arrested. And when she was put on trial, I don't know if she was frightened to the point of confessing that she was faking it or if she really was genuinely faking it all along and whatever, she retracted her statements. And that was the end of her.

Jane McGrath: So, she didn't really win out by retracting her statements anyway.

Candace Gibson: No, not at all.

Jane McGrath: But, yeah, you're right. As you mentioned, they made her a nun and it kind of worked to the fact that she was known from them on as the Nun as Kent.

Candace Gibson: So, if you look back at these members of the church that Henry opposed and all the harm that came to them, John Fisher, like you mentioned earlier, he was very, very opposed to Henry's annulment from Catherine and he was beheaded but later, 400 years later, actually, he was sainted.

Jane McGrath: Yeah, and I imagine not getting into this oath of supremacy; put him in good light with the church for that canonization.

Candace Gibson: It was really scary what the act declared. It would be like our U.S. president today saying, yeah, we already have a separation of church and state but there's sort of a new religious power and that's me and so I can do what I want. So, think of everything he has at his disposal. Not only does he have the national treasury but he's got the military and he's got all of these councils that he overseas; he's got the infrastructure, everything under his thumb and because he is the new supreme ruler, he gets to do whatever he wants, and meanwhile, he throws caution to the wind when it comes to morality and gets to go out and be with as many women as he wants and when he's tired of one, he gets to cut off her head and go onto the next one.

Jane McGrath: Yeah, and I imagine he instilled fear in everyone at the time since he was cutting off whoever he thought, you know, whatever his whims told him.

Candace Gibson: Right. And, so, when we look back at Henry, we have to wonder, well, all these people were in opposition dying, was there anyone who actually supported him and scarily enough, yeah, there was.

Jane McGrath: Yeah, it's interesting. There's this one character named Thomas Cromwell who supported him throughout his seek for a divorce from his first wife so that he could marry Anne Boleyn and he - once the Catholic Church was done away with in England, he basically swept through, he disbanded the monasteries, he did away with taxes that were paid to Rome at that time and after the marriage to Anne didn't work out, as we said, Henry married Jane Seymour and -

Candace Gibson: Not Dr. Quinn Medicine Women.

Jane McGrath: That's right, a different one.

Candace Gibson: In case you were confused.

Jane McGrath: And she actually did - as a side note, she did produce a male heir for him, but she died a little bit later and it turned out - later down the line, that the son was kind of a weakly child and ended up dying kind of young, too, but that's not to the point that after Jane Seymour died, Cromwell, who is still his friend at this time, convinced Henry to marry Anne of Cleves. And this was a disaster basically.

Candace Gibson: It was for a political alliance with Germany, yes?

Jane McGrath: That's right. Yeah. And it didn't work out from the beginning because Henry hated her. He didn't think she was pretty; he didn't like her personality; just hated each other and so he would not have anymore and so he wanted a divorce. And he sort of blamed Cromwell for this marriage because, like, obviously he orchestrated it as a political move, as Candace said!

Candace Gibson: So, a note to all of you legislators out there listening, don't be match makers, just in case, because you never know.

Jane McGrath: That's true. It sort of bit Cromwell in the behind right there. And, actually, after that, you can see how the tables turned so much because remember when we said that he disbanded monasteries and stuff like that against the Catholic Church but, at that time, he got connections with Lutherans and so his enemies, Cromwell's enemies at this time, made these connections, tried to convince the king that he was a heretic because obviously Henry was not for Lutherans; he fought against the Lutheran's as well. And, so, this convinced Henry and head chopped off.

Candace Gibson: And, you know, you look at what happened after Henry passed on and his daughter came to the throne, Princess Mary, Queen Mary, Bloody Mary, and here's what's so ironic. She was devoutly religious and so she tried to reinstate the church and the reason that we call her Bloody Mary is because a lot of people died under her hand when they were burned at the stake for heresy. So, all that - I guess you could call it work or all the groundwork that her father laid, trying to separate the church and state, she tried to fix and it didn't work in the end.

Jane McGrath: No, it did not.

Candace Gibson: But from then on out, man, what a mess.

Jane McGrath: Right. And, after Mary, then that's when Elizabeth came to throne and that's when we get Shakespeare and everything, the Elizabethan Era, and the rest is history.

Candace Gibson: So, if you want even more about Elizabeth and Shakespeare and marriage or blood, be sure to check out howstuffworks.com.

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