He dragged England towards the Reformation–or at least towards diminished papal authority in his realm. His deadly executions are listed here.
He was a slow supporter of the Reformation. His biography is included at this website because the Reformation renewed Christian doctrine.
For genealogical tables, please click here on his father Henry VII’s post:
Henry VII (off site at Live as Free People)
Here are the key players–many Thomases!
Let’s get into his religion policies and his relations with his own subjects.
Religious and National Policies
- At the beginning of Tudor times (1485) only 5 percent of men and 1 percent of women could write. Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 and by that time the numbers rose to 25 percent for men and 10 percent for women. The Reformation flourished in the new education, however rudimentary it was.
- Henry was nudged along by these ministers, bishops and clerics, as follows:
- Thomas Wolsey (c. 1475-1530): He was very bright and attended Oxford University, though he was a son of a butcher. His mentors were of an older generation and wanted to retire (he did not push them out). Another simple reason: Henry’s councilors told him to pay attention to the affairs of state, while Wolsey told him to go out and play. Henry followed Wolsey’s advice. He worked hard to get the pope to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, but failed because the pope was being harassed by Catherine of Aragon’s nephew Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, whose army was ransacking Rome in 1527. No way would Charles allow the pope to approve of the annulment. Wolsey was unjustly considered a failure and sent up north to his diocese. On his way south to stand trial where the outcome was foregone (guilty and execution), he died.
- Wolsey’s main thrust was foreign affairs and he pursued peace. Yet Henry wanted to get involved in international political fights: Popes, France, Holy Roman Empire, Spain, and smaller states like Switzerland and Low Countries (Holland and Flanders). England did not fight an open battle, but negotiated for peace, thanks to Wolsey.
- Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556): The king appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533 with papal approval. He was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. He supported the king’s divorce because he may have embraced Lutheranism. In fact, he married Margaret, niece to Lutheran Reformer Osiander. He brought about modest reform in the Ten Articles and Bishops’ Book (see below for both). He died under Queen Mary’s persecution. (Mary was Henry’s daughter by Catherine of Aragon.)
- Thomas Cromwell (c. 1485-1540): He was a self-made man and lawyer and served under Thomas Wolsey. Cromwell was relentless in purifying the church of corruption and then all the way to the dissolution of the monasteries and abbeys, wherever money could be turned away from Rome and sent to the Crown (the king). He definitely agreed with Cranmer and the king on annulling his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He was sympathetic to Lutheran ideas but when aristocratic members of the counsel and conservative members and bishops turned against him and he was executed, it is possible that he said he died in the old faith, Catholicism, but not Roman Catholicism.
- Hugh Latimer (1485-1555): He was educated at Cambridge. At first he was a staunch defender of the unreformed faith, but he was convinced of the errors of his ways and turned in favor of the Reformation. He was appointed bishop of Worcester in 1535. He died under Queen Mary’s persecution.
- Stephen Gardiner (1483-1555): He was highly educated and made a bishop and lord chancellor for a time (a chancellor handled the business side of the kingdom). He elevated his nephew Germayne Gardiner to be his secretary. He was executed for upholding papal supremacy. The bishop was implicated and was going to be dragged off to the Tower, but he caught wind of it and hurried to the king’s side to plead his case. It worked because by now Henry was manipulable and easily persuaded. The bishop was not executed. He served later Tudors
- On 1 May 1517, on Evil May Day, several hundred Londoners rioted because of preaching, xenophobia, and foreign economic influences. The mob attacked foreigners and threatened the mayor and the aldermen and death to Wolsey.
- Four hundred remained in detention until Queen Catherine intervened on their behalf. On bended knee she asked for their pardon. In handcuffs and chains around their necks, the rioters were paraded before the king and cried, “Mercy!” Their pardon was announced at Westminster Hall at a splendid public ceremony. People loved her for it.
- In 1516, Wolsey told the king and council that the administration of justice was inefficient. The Star Chamber, a court, heard only 12 cases per year. When he took it over, he heard 120 cases. The court investigated lords and knights and sheriffs and regulated food supplies and prices.
- Sometimes Wolsey acted in ways that Henry might not approve of. The king noticed. Was this the gradual, inch-by inch decline of the bishop / cardinal?
- Henry made had Wolsey bishop of Lincoln in 1514 and then archbishop of York. In 1515 he replaced Bishop Warham as Lord Chancellor. In that year he was made cardinal at the king’s request to the pope.
- Now let’s get closer to Henry. In the early months of 1518 He took up a little theology: Defense of the Seven Sacraments, in reply to Luther (see below).
- Before then, however, as early as 1527, Wolsey was falling out of power for these reasons: His failures to get the divorce; his commoner background; his exaltation at court to the disadvantage of powerful men like the dukes of Norfolk (Thomas Howard) and Suffolk and lord Rochford; his disapproval of Anne (he wanted Henry to marry a high-level international aristocrat). In 1529 he was losing his grip.
- On 19 Sep 1529 Wolsey and Campeggio were to meet Henry, but Anne arranged a tour of a new (hunting) park and even a picnic. She made sure they came back late, and Wolsey was rebuffed.
- On 21 Sep he was ordered to turn over the Great Seal and was kicked out of court and sent to Easton, a few miles away.
- Sometimes Henry sent word that he approved of and favored Wolsey; other times he rebuffed him. Henry was confused because he was attached to the cardinal. Result: Rollercoaster for Wolsey, and months of torment, poverty, humiliation, and penitence.
- In April 1530 Wolsey, archbishop of York, was sent northward, and on 7 Nov next year, he planned to call a Northern Convocation. Before then he asked for support and solace from Rome. In Sep 1530 a papal nuncio arrived in England. Rumors spread that Wolsey might escape. Coded letters were intercepted. Henry instructed his agents in Rome to find out any secret dealings between Wolsey and the Curia in Rome. Maybe this led to Wolsey’s doom.
- On 4 Nov Wolsey was arrested while at dinner and summoned to London to stand trial, but on his way there, while he was at Leicester Abbey, a hundred miles from his destination, the Tower, he died a quiet death, probably dropsy, on 29 Nov. 1530.
- In 1528, William Tyndale published Obedience of a Christian Man, which claimed for the king much authority. Henry liked that thesis, so he supported Tyndale for a short time. But Tyndale did not support the king’s plans to divorce. Tyndale left.
- In 1529 an English Lawyer named John Fish published in Antwerp A Supplication for the Beggars. It described the churches’ abuses, but exaggerated them. Friars supporting themselves by begging were supposedly draining £40,000 out of the economy annually. All the abuses must be corrected by the king personally. Henry like that part.
- By 1529 Henry was not the “bastion of orthodoxy” that he had been earlier (recall Defense of the Seven Sacraments).
- Who would become chancellor, the highest (business) office of the land after Wolsey fell from office? Thomas More was chosen in 1529. Henry promised not to bother him, even though Henry knew of More’s opposition. More resigned his office in May 1532. Two years later in April 1534, More was in the Tower of London. Promise broken.
- Now what about Henry and the Church?
- In halts and starts, zigzagging, Henry was keen to limit the jurisdiction of the church, especially the pope, in England. Traditionally the church and state was called Spiritual and Temporal. But the Spiritual involved Christian or Ecclesiastical Courts and collection of tithes from ownership of land. Clerics had immunity from the Temporal authorities. As Henry was beginning to see things, the Spiritual should be concerned only with the Word and sacraments.
- Thomas Cromwell, a self-made lawyer, rose through the ranks and supported the king. In 1530, he even suggested that the entire clerical order should be charged with praemunire (lesser treason that was punished not by death but by loss of goods and privileges and imprisonment).
- Henry pushed for the praemunire and the church paid a fine of £100,000, but did not suffer a loss of their jurisdiction and authority.
- This new outlook on church jurisdiction was getting bigger than the divorce. Segments of English society were becoming anticlerical, and Henry allowed it to happen and supported it at times. So did Anne, who had Lutheran leanings.
- The king could also take care of the souls of his subjects, which crossed the line over to the church’s job. In other words, the pope was being moved aside, little by little. Rome had little more than an honorific role at the center of virtually autonomous national churches.
- The Reformation Parliament of 1529 did these things: Put limits on fees for probating wills (done by the church); imposed restriction on fees for funerals; restricted pluralism (holding multiple assignments or “livings” by a single churchman), nonresidence (failure to be present at a “living”), and on clergy involvement in trade and farming.
- However, Henry did not get his way rapidly or completely. Twice, in 1530, once in June, the other in October, he gathered the notables of the realm and asked if he should ignore the Curia in Rome, populated by Imperialists (those who favored Charles and hence Catherine) and decide matters in England. The notables rebuffed him twice. He fumed, but dare not push them. Too early.
- In April 1531 Henry interrupted a preacher who said that Constantine, a key Roman Emperor of the fourth century, refused to decide a dispute between two bishops. Henry cried out, “That’s a lie!” But the preacher stood his ground, and Henry walked out.
- One weapon against the church was the Supplication against the Ordinaries (an “ordinary” was a bishop or archbishop in church parlance), a long list of complaints against the workings of ecclesiastical courts, clerical fees and frivolous excommunications, and tithes. The document first made its appearance in the Reformation parliament in 1529. In March 1532, Cromwell oversaw its final draft.
- A Convocation was made up of leading clergy from the two provinces of the English church: York in the North (smaller), and Canterbury in the South (bigger).
- On 12 Apr 1532, Henry demanded the Convocation before Parliament’s session to receive three demands: (a) All future clerical legislation should receive the king’s assent; (b) all obnoxious constitutions of the past should be annulled by a royal committee of thirty-two persons; (c) all those approved by the committee should stand by virtue of royal assent. The Convocation resisted. Rewrites followed. The two Boleyns (father and son), the duke of Norfolk, and three other lay peers hustled the clergy into final submission.
- By May 1532 this was the Submission of the Clergy, which codified in Parliament what was achieved in the Convocation.
- Cromwell was the executor of the Royal Supremacy.
- By then Henry’s early attack on Luther and his Defense of the Seven Sacraments was now viewed as an embarrassment. Henry renounced his authorship of it.
- If there was widespread anticlericalism in England, there was still widespread support for Catherine. The people apparently distinguished between the two.
- In Feb 1533 the Act of Restraint of Appeals was passed, which forbid all appeals to Rome in temporal or spiritual matters.
- In July 1533 the Conditional Restraint of Annates (church levying taxes was curtailed), and the pope was in a minimal way head of the Church in England, but his power was draining away.
- In 1533 the Roman Catholic Church fought back and excommunicated Henry.
- In September 1534 Pope Clement died, and Paul III was selected.
- In November 1534, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, making Henry head of the English Church (see the text, below under Key Documents).
- In the same year, parliament passed the Treasons Act, which forbid any subject or person to deprive the king, queen or their heirs of the dignity, title or name of their royal estates (status). This deprivation could be done by the mere wish, will, or desire by words or writing or “craft imagine.” So mere words or thoughts could be treasonous. And for good measure, no one could call the king a tyrant or a heretic or schismatic or an infidel.
- In the same parliament, the Act of First Fruits and Tenths was passed, cutting off the flow of money from England to Rome. It was called first fruits because when anyone was appointed to an ecclesiastical office, he had to send the money to the king; it was called tenths because it gave the king ten percent of the church income.
- In 1536 the first stage of the dissolution of the English monasteries began. A survey of the wealth of the church was called Valor Ecclesiasticus. It was like another Domesday Book of 1086.
- In March 1536 parliament passed a bill authorizing the seizure and taking of the property and assets of all religious houses and converted to better use if the houses earn £200 or less.
- Soon Cromwell’s “visitors” shut down 372 religious houses in England and 27 in Wales, slightly more than half of all the monasteries in the kingdom.
- A New Court of the Augmentation of the Revenues of the King’s Crown was established to manage the revenues coming in to the crown. In the first two years all the confiscations brought in £30,000. But the king’s debt was not paid off, for he spent too much.
- The general trend in England to limit the church’s jurisdiction was pushed along by Cromwell, who used the power of the printing press. He launched a written campaign in support of the New Order.
- In 1536 a new Succession Act was passed, allowing Henry the extraordinary power to appoint whomever he wanted to be the heir, if he had none (Edward, his and Jane Seymour’s son, was born on 15 Oct 1537). Would Henry appoint his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond, from Henry’s mistress Elizabeth Blount? No go. He died in July 1536.
- At the same time, a series of rebellions broke out, called the Pilgrimage of Grace. This title is better applied to the outbreak in Yorkshire about 8 October with Robert Aske as its leader. Call him the Accidental Leader. Shoemaker Nicholas Melton also became a leader. But it was a movement across the north, mainly.
- Aske crossed the Humber River, wandered into a town in Lincolnshire, and heard a commotion. Royal commissioners were in town about to inspect the smaller religious houses and take religious artifacts. He joined the commotion, and because he was an educated lawyer, he led the people. If he had left his home a few days earlier, he might not have been part of the movement or led it.
- Growing into a large-scale movement, it was an indictment of all the Henry stood for: No more dissolution of monasteries. England must return to obedience to Rome (though some rebels did not insist on this). Get rid of the base-born councilors, like Cromwell, Richard Rich and two monastery inspectors, Layton and Leigh. Heretical and heterodox bishops, especially Cranmer, should be expelled. Taxes were burdensome.
- Henry suppressed the rebels, in the midst of promises that he would go to them and listen. In a second wave in 1537 he promised pardon, but didn’t carry out the promise. Aske and Melton were executed, along with numerous others.
- Jane Seymour, in sympathy with the rebellion, took to her knees to implore the king to restore the abbeys. The king replied: “Remember that the last queen died in consequence of meddling too much” (qtd. in Guy 63).
- By the end of June 1537, England was tranquil again.
- During tough times internationally, Henry got rid of his long-festering key opponents, the nobles of the White Rose: the Courtenays, the Nevilles, and the Poles.
- Courtenay’s wife, the marchioness of Exeter, and Lady Margaret Pole, had been close to Catherine and daughter Mary and connected to the Nun of Kent, Elizabeth Barton. In 1538 he decided to strike and executed key family members (see below, his Executions).
- Henry’s reform sometimes is called Henrician Caesaropapsim (Caesar + Papalism = King having religious authority and secular authority, Spiritual and Temporal combined). To promote it, Cromwell provided entertainment (see no. 64).
- In 1538 Pope Paul finally excommunicated Henry. No turning back.
- In June 1539, a rambunctious pageant was played out on the Thames. Two barges were put out in the middle of the river, one manned by a crew representing the king and his council, the other by those dressed up as the pope and cardinals. They met in combat, and guess who won? The king’s barge did, and the religious paraphernalia were thrown into the river.
- A little more about Thomas Cromwell: He had been traveling to Italy and France and Flanders where he became a banker earlier in his life. He oversaw the dissolution of the monasteries. He was a brilliant Parliamentarian who knew how to get legislation passed.
- He was the mastermind who got the “reformation statutes” in Parliament from 1529 to 1536. Net result: Papal authority was excluded from the English kingdom.
- For his labors Henry rewarded him by making him Baron Cromwell in 1536 and Earl of Essex in 1540. These titles brought him financial security, but what about political security?
- Cromwell was also sympathetic to Protestantism and the idea of translating the Bible into English. Henry opposed strong Protestantism, and behind the scenes he orchestrated Tyndale’s execution for such a translation of the New Testament. But Queen Anne supported translating it.
- At this time the Reformers were called “gospellers.” They used the printing press to their great advantage. Books and pamphlets were smuggled into England, particularly Luther’s writings.
- Nonetheless, Cranmer and Cromwell, working together, eventually persuaded the king to allow a translation of the whole Bible in 1539. It was based on Miles Coverdale’s earlier translation (1535) and Matthew’s Bible (1537) the Vulgate, and Lutheran texts. It was funded by Cromwell, in 1539, and called the Great Bible. Cranmer contributed his famous preface to the 1540 edition.
- In May 1539 Parliament passed the Second Act of Dissolution, which declared all church property was forfeit, not just the smaller houses.
- The rich gifts donated to Thomas Becket’s fabulous tomb over the centuries, gifts behind iron bars, were hauled away to London in twenty-four wagons. Other shrines were also confiscated. His bones were crushed and scattered to the wind—Henry and Charles V had had taken pilgrimage there a few years earlier. Times change.
- Church property net Henry £140,000. For the next years he sold church lands with a value of £750,000. Now the gentry and aristocracy were invested in and benefiting from confiscating church property.
- He built coastal fortresses to the cost of a half-million pounds, but he also spent £170,000 on his private palaces. Nonsuch Palace, which would disappear a few generations after Henry died, was much bigger than Hampton Court (Nonsuch means “no such equal” or “second to none”). It was in response to the luxurious Chambord Palace (or Fontainebleau Palace) in France.
- On 10 June 1540, the captain of the guard arrested Thomas Cromwell. Why? A mystery at bottom. But here are (probably) NOT the reasons: (a) He pushed Henry into marriage with a plain woman. Reply: Henry had been warned of her plain demeanor, but went ahead anyway. (b) Kingly ill will; reply: On 14 Apr Cromwell was made a peer and lord great chamberlain of the household. (c) Divergence of religious policy; reply: Any further change of religious reform was not pushed behind Henry’s back, who was fully engaged. (d) Foreign policy differences: Reply: Henry was fully engaged here too, so nothing went on behind his back.
- Here are probable reasons for Cromwell’s downfall: (a) Norfolk was set back when his niece Anne Boleyn was executed. (b) Cromwell’s super-competence pushed aside lords of the land. (c) Stephen Gardiner surged against him in this way: Cromwell was called a heretic for supporting sacramentarianism or sacramentary; that is, people could take the Lord’s Supper at home in private, and it denied the Real Presence; the Eucharist elements were symbolic. He was also accused of being an Anabaptist, supporting heretic preachers and printing up heresies. He did none of the above. He even supported the Six Articles. On the scaffold Cromwell proclaimed he did not deny any article of faith.
- On 28 July 1540, Cromwell was beheaded, saying that he died in the “old faith” (Catholicism, but probably not Roman Catholicism). His head was boiled and put on a spike on London Bridge. On the same day, Henry married Catherine Howard.
- After Cromwell’s death, about eleven months later, a brooding Henry called in the men who accused Cromwell and scolded them. He regretted the decision. In fact, he didn’t even know how things got that far. Cromwell, he said, was his most faithful servant he ever had. The problem was, Henry was now a volatile and vulnerable and easily manipulated old man with a leg ulcer that didn’t heal.
- Henry’s progress to the north, long overdue, arrived in York on 18 Sep 1541. After some ceremonies, he intended to meet with the Scottish King James V, who never showed up. Insult. Henry hurried home to find his son four-year-old son Edward ill with quartan fever.
- From 1540 to 1547 Parliament passed six of the traditional payments “fifteenths and tenths, a percentage of moveable property. These grants netted £29,000.
- Parliament also approved three subsidies that required the clergy to give the Crown 20 percent of their income for three successive years and the laity to pay a percentage of their real and personal property.
- In 1542 Henry “borrowed” £112,000 from his wealthier subjects, which of course he never intended to pay back. He also borrowed from continental moneylenders, totaling £272,000 at interest rates at 14 percent. Much of it was unpaid at his death.
- The crown was not solvent. He began mixing more and more base metal into the coinage, making them half gold and half silver and then two-third base metal. Of course prices rose because the coins could not buy as much as before (if it took, say, three coins to buy an item, the debasement of the currency now required a lot more coins).
- In 1543 the Parliament passed an Act for Advancement of True Religion: His more conservative bishops persuaded him to remove Tyndale’s translation since it was false and crafty and untrue. Only clergymen were to read aloud a Bible in public, or else the baser sorts of people will go astray.
- On 12 July 1543, he married Catherine Parliament passed a Succession Act allowing Henry, assuming Catherine Parr did not have children, to name his heirs.
- Henry wrote up his will with the approval of parliament, which said Edward is to succeed. If he died without heirs, then it was Mary; if she died without heirs, then the monarch should be Elizabeth. If she died without heirs, then the descendant of Henry’s sister Mary should be monarch, in this case Lady Jane Grey.
- Henry VIII died on 28 Jan 1547, and Edward was about to be king. Henry made generous provisions for his daughters Mary and Elizabeth. Lots of money meant more power and influence. They could maneuver now.
- In 1518, Henry plunged into theology with his Defense of the Seven Sacraments. Lutheranism was catching hold in England. Henry sneered and jeered at Luther, and the book was not very deep, so it became popular. When the Defense was translated into German (and various other languages), Luther replied with equal contempt. Then Luther heard Henry was manipulated, so he retracted his earlier reply. Henry was not manipulated, so he and his allies pounced on Luther’s seeming retraction. Luther found out and wrote another reply. The upshot: The pope declared Henry Defender of the Faith, for Most Christian King belonged to Francis I of France. This title was not intended to be passed on, but Henry’s daughter Elizabeth claimed it. And it has been part of English royalty ever since. However, when Henry inched his way towards a break with Rome and a mild version of Protestantism, he was embarrassed by his Defense. He even renounced his connection to it.
- In 1534, the Act of Supremacy makes Henry head of the Church of England: “Be it enacted by authority of this present Parliament that the King our sovereign lord, his heirs and successors kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted and reputed the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia, and shall have and enjoy annexed and united to the imperial crown of this realm as well the title and style thereof as all honours, dignities, preeminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits and commodities, to the said dignity of supreme head of the same Church belong and appertaining.”
Summary of the 1534 Act:
(1) High treason to call king heretic, schismatic, to deny title;
(2) Payment of First Fruits (before this Act, Rome got £4,800; now Henry gets, e.g., £46,052 in 1535 and £51,777 in 1536);
(3) All adult males had to swear an oath to the terms;
(4) Clergy had to subscribe that pope had no greater authority than another foreign bishop and to support the king’s supremacy in the Act;
(5) An oath renouncing papal jurisdiction and supporting supremacy imposed on all officials, lay and ecclesiastical, land owners, holy orders, or degrees at universities
- The Ten Articles were adopted by the Convocation in 1536: The Bible, the three universal creeds, and acts of the first four councils were authentic. Only baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and penance were accepted sacraments; Transubstantiation was not mentioned, but the real presence was asserted. Images could be used, but not worshipped. Intercession to the saints was acceptable. Justification was more closely linked to faith, but works helped to justify. Prayers and Masses for the dead were denied.
- The Institution of a Christian a Christian Man or the Bishops’ Book was a compromise doctrinal statement, in 1537. It was more conservative (Catholic leaning) than the Ten Articles. It reestablished the seven sacraments, though not all on the same level. Transubstantiation was not mentioned. The definition of justification was moderately Protestant. Images were attacked. The supremacy of Rome was denied, while the freedom and equality of the national church was upheld. In 1538 Henry began to correct it in a more conservative direction. Cranmer opposed the conservative corrections.
- The Six Articles were pushed through Parliament in 1539 and became known as the “whip of six strings” because noncompliance was a felony punishable by death and confiscation of property. Protestants complained the Reformation went backwards. Some teachings: Transubstantiation was affirmed; auricular confession was heard; celibacy of the clergy upheld; and Communion in one kind (bread only need be given to laymen) was acceptable. Why a surge in conservatism? International relations deteriorated, so England felt isolated against France (Francis I) and Charles (King of Spain / Holy Roman Emperor). He calmed the largely conservative (Catholic leaning) nation to avoid domestic unrest as seen in the Pilgrim of Grace. One positive about the Six Articles from a Lutheran-English point of view: It insisted on a Scriptural foundation for doctrine, which takes them out of the hands of popes and church councils. Something to build on, later perhaps.
- In 1543, the King’s Book was drawn up in its final draft. Its official title was the Necessary Doctrine and Erudition of Any Christian Man, which was an attempt to correct the Bishop’s Book (no. 4, above). It laid out a system of belief that was mainly Roman Catholic except for superstitions. It reaffirmed transubstantiation and prayers for the dead and rejected justification by faith alone, for it must work hand in hand with charity (love or acts of charity); it said not to presume too much on our perseverance (continuance) in grace. Conservatives were pleased, Evangelicals were unimpressed, but nothing changed.
These are the people Henry executed.
1513: Edmund de la Pole, a member of the rival family to the Tudors, was taken from the Tower of London and beheaded. His brother Richard had taken up arms against Henry while Richard was in France. This sealed Edmund’s fate.
1517: London leaders of a riot in May were quartered. They had been protesting foreign influence on economics—xenophobia, in other words.
1521 (May): Henry executed the Duke of Buckingham: The duke descended from Edward III; the duke was rowdy and unsubmissive; he believed a prophecy that he would become king; the death of Henry’s son was divine vengeance (all these things are reported of the duke). He was a severe landlord. He and a score of men were brought to the scaffold. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a commoner, pushed for the execution.
1529 (29 Nov): Cardinal Wolsey was going to be put on trial and found guilty and probably executed, but he died on his way to trial. It is reasonable to suggest that Henry’s hounding him and moving him around was the main factor in his death.
1534: Elizabeth Barton, a visionary nun, her director Edward Bocking, and four others were hanged at Tyburn. They had opposed Henry’s separation from Catherine and marriage to Anne.
1535: Thomas More, a humanist and devout Catholic, opposed Henry’s divorce and his being head of the (English) Church and wrote against Luther and William Tyndale.
1535 (22 June): Executed: John Fisher; St. John of Rochester, was a Catholic theologian who wrote against Luther and Henry’s divorce from Catherine and the Act of Succession. Pope Paul III made him a cardinal, which infuriated the king. He was canonized by Pius XI in 1936. Richard Reynolds and three Carthusian monks were beheaded for refusing to sign the Act of Succession, at Tyburn on 4 May 1535.
1533-35: In all about 45 of Henry’s leading opponents were executed.
1536 (spring): Anne was beheaded on 19 May; her brother George for adultery with her; Henry Norris; Francis Weston.
1536: During the Pilgrimage of Grace, seventy peasants of Cumberland were hanged. The chief monks of Sawley, one of the religious houses the Pilgrims had reopened, were hanged on long pieces of timber or out of the steeple. 150 other victims, including women who were burned to death, would be executed in London and various places in the north.
6 Oct: William Tyndale lived abroad to translate the New Testament into English. In Antwerp, Belgium, he was betrayed by his friend Henry Philips, was put on trial, and found guilty. He was strangled to death on that date and burned at the stake.
1537: A second wave of the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out, and Henry executed seventeen leaders, including Thomas Aske.
1538 (9 Dec): Beheaded: Key members of the noblemen of the White Rose: Geoffrey Pole (cardinal’s younger brother); his eldest brother Henry; Lord Courtenay; and Sir Edward Neville. 1540: Walter lord Hungerford was charged with unnatural vice and treasonously attempting the king’s death by the use of magic.
1539: Last abbot of Glastonbury Abbey was hanged on Tor Hill.
1540 (28 July): Thomas Cromwell was beheaded on the charge of heresy.
Same day: John Lambert on the charge of heresy, for denying the Real Presence at Communion.
30 July: Burned at the stake: Robert Barnes, William Jerome, and Thomas Garret, on charges of heresy.
30 July: Catholic priests Edward Powell, Richard Fetherstone, and Thomas Abel, the latter writing a book and being an “able” defender of Catherine, for which he suffered a long imprisonment, were executed.
1541: An elder Pole, Lady Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury, was beheaded on a charge of conspiracy.
1542 (Feb): Sir Thomas Culpepper and Francis Dereham were executed for adultery with Catherine Howard, the king’s fifth wife. On 13 Feb Catherine the queen and her lady-in-waiting Lady Rochford were beheaded on Tower Green.
Stephen Gardiner elevated his nephew Germayne Gardiner to be his secretary. He was executed for upholding papal supremacy.
1546 (16 July): Anne Askew, an outspoken Protestant and noblewoman, was tortured and burned at the stake, pushed along by the Conservatives (Catholic leaning).
1546: (autumn): Henry Howard, earl of Surry and son of the duke of Norfolk, was executed for treason—he bragged about his Plantagenet blood (he descended from Edward III) and declared that when Henry died, his father would be most suitable to rule Prince Edward. He said he planned to kill the council, depose the king, and seize the young prince. Worst of all, he quartered his own arms with those of Edward the Confessor (king from 1042-1066). That’s high treason. The duke of Norfolk was almost executed because of treason (he was questioned about a secret cipher and about his support for the Royal Supremacy), but Henry died in the nick of time, so the duke was saved, but he was kept in prison during Edward’s reign.
From 1536 onwards: The dissolution of hundreds (one historian says over a thousand) of religious houses, like friaries, abbeys, monasteries, shrines and so on led to the executions of many of the prelates and priests and abbots and monks who supervised those institutions.
He killed two of his wives and mistreated Catherine of Aragon so badly that he probably hurried along her demise.
After the Treason Act of 1534 …
308 people were killed in 14 years (Ackroyd 397).
Mary: 300 in five years, while she had the support of neighboring nation-states;
Elizabeth: 200 in forty-five years and only four for heresy (Anabaptists). The other executions were done for challenging her right to rule in a heated context of assassination attempts and plots and international opposition to the point of five Spanish Armadas.
Perspective: These nation-states opposed Elizabeth’s reforms, but supported Mary’s effort to return England to Rome: Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, France, and the Spanish Netherlands.
On the dust jacket to Judith John’s book, the editor says that the executions numbered 57,000 to 72,000 during Henry’s thirty-eight-year reign. But so far I have never read this huge number in other historians. Maybe the editor should have written they were “executed or displaced or exiled” from the friaries, abbeys, shrines, monasteries and recusant churches.
For a summary and a report on his passing, please click on Henry VIII, Part 5: Personal Life
Written by James Malcolm
ARTICLES IN THE TUDORS AND REFORMATION SERIES
Henry VIII, Part 3: Reformation and National Policies
RELATED (posted offsite at Live as Free People)
Henry VII: First Tudor King (Henry VIII’s father)
The years denote their reigns.
Henry IV (1399-1413)
Henry V (1413-1422)
Henry VI (1429-1461, 1470-1471)
Edward IV (1461-1470, 1471-1483)
Edward V (1483)
Richard III (1483-1485)
Peter Ackroyd, Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I (New York: Thomas Dunne / St. Martin’s, 2012).
Stephen Alford, Edward VI: The Last Boy King, Penguin Monarch Series (Allen Lane / Penguin, 2014).
G.. W. Bernard, The King’s Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church (Yale UP, 2005).
Tracy Borman, The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secret’s of Britain’s Greatest Dynasty (New York: Grover P, 2016).
Gerald Bray, ed. Documents of the English Reformation (Fortress, 1994).
S.. B. Chrimes, Henry VII, new edition, Yale Monarch Series (New Haven: Yale UP, 1999).
Ian Crofton, The Kings and Queens of England (New York: Metro Books, 2006).
J.. D. Douglas, “Elizabethan Settlement (1559,” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).
John Edwards, Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen (New Haven, Yale UP, 2011).
—, Mary I: The Daughter of Time, Penguin Monarch Series (Allen Lane / Penguin, 2016).
John Guy, Henry VIII: The Quest for Fame, Penguin Monarch Series (Allen Lane / Penguin, 2014).
Judith John, A Dark History: Tudors: Murder, Adultery, Incest, Witchcraft, Wars, Religious Persecution, Piracy (Metro, 2014).
Jennifer Loach, Edward VI, edited by George Bernard and Penry Williams, Yale English Monarchs (New Haven: Yale UP, 1999).
David Loades, Elizabeth I (New York: Hambledon, 2006).
—, ed. Chronicles of the Tudor Kings (Penguin Viking 1990).
G.. J. Meyer, The Tudors: The Most Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty (Bantam, 2011).
P.. W. Petty, “Elizabeth I (1533-1603),” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).
Charles Philips, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain (New York: Metro Books, 2009).
W.. S. Reid, “Pilgrimage of Grace (1536-37),” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).
J.. J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII, new edition, Yale English Monarchs (New Haven: Yale UP, 1997).
Robert Schnucker, “Henry VIII (1491-1547),” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).
Ian Sellers, “Uniformity, Acts of,” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).
Howard F. Vos, “Six Articles, the (1539),” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1974).