The character and aims of Henry VIII

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The character of Henry VIII

  • He came to the throne two months before his 18th birthday - seven years had passed since his brother Arthur had died and in that time, he had prepared for his new role. The modern historian Eric Ives describes Henry VIII at this time as 'extrovert, affable and charming'.
  • His idea of kingship differed markedly from that of his father. He disliked the business of government and found writing and reading State papers tedious. But, he could intervene suddenly in the business of government. This approach had impliactions for the quality of decision-making in Henry VIII's administration. 
  • He lacked his father's work ethic - he preferred to pass the time with other pursuits e.g. pageants, sports, hunting.
  • The structure of government evolved differently from his father's government due to Henry VIII's rare involvement in government:
    • In the short-term, there was a renewed emphasis on conciliar government which then made two further comebacks in the later stages of his reign.
    • For two periods in Henry VIII's reign Henry relied upon a chief minister who shaped the structures of government (Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell).
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The legacy of Henry VII

  • Henry VIII had a fourfold legacy from his father:
    • money - Henry VII left around £300,000 upon his death
    • unpopular ways of extracting money
    • a peaceful foreign policy
    • a conciliar form of government
  • Each of these would disappear within the first few years of Henry VIII's reign - the money inherited from his father would be spent on an aggressive foreign policy towards France and the concilar government would disappear in the short-term due to the emergence of Wolsey.
  • The start of Henry's reign was marked by changes in which some councillors were able to dispose of others and establish themselves in power e.g. Richard Fox, assisted by Thomas Lovell and Richard Weston, secured the arrests of Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley. They were later executed. The Council Learned in Law was abolished by Act of Parliament in 1510, causing the cancellation of many of the bonds and recognizances the Council Learned had imposed.
  • Henry distanced himself from his father's regime but also ensured his popularity amongst the nobility and gentry who considered themselves victims of his father's approach to taxation.
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Henry's early aims

  • To establish his status amongst European leaders through marriage
  • To re-establish the role of the nobility
  • To establish himself as a warrior king through success in battle

Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon

  • This marriage had been discussed ever since Arthur's death but had not been finally agreed under Henry VII. 
  • Henry VIII was keen to conclude the marriage as quickly as possible - he believed Catherine had been unfairly treated. His councillors were happy with this as they saw the marriage as something which might deflect him from political matters, meaning that they could conduct conciliar business as usual. 
  • They married on 11th June 1509. 
  • The marriage was initially successful on a personal level and Catherine had some influence over policy making in the first few years.
  • But, by the mid-1520s, Henry would regret this marriage to a woman who was five years older than he was - it became apparent that she would not give him a healthy male heir.
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Henry's early aims

Re-establishing the nobility

  • Under Henry VII, the nobility had been mainly isolated from government - few had spent much time at court and Henry's largely peaceful foreign policy didn't allow them to pursue miltary glory. 
  • With the ascension of Henry VIII, this changed: he shared the military culture of the aristocracy and mainly the sons of nobles partnered with Henry in sports and revels that took up so much time at the start of his reign. 
  • But, the nobles didn't achieve the political domination they had hoped for due to the promotion of Thomas Wolsey. 

Foreign policy

  • The pursuit of military glory led to war with France - this was repeated regularly throughout his reign. It usually had the same results: a lot of money was spent to achieve very small gains which had little or no strategic value.
  • As well as these periods of aggression, there were the occasional alliances with the French against Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. 
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