On this day in 1547 one of England's most intriguing monarchs, Henry VIII, died. At the time of Henry birth on June 28th 1491, he was second in line to the throne. This changed in 1502 with the death of his older brother, Arthur aged 15. Within seven years of his brother's death, his father Henry VII died and so the younger Henry became king, being crowned on 24th June 1509.
His reign has gone down in history for many reasons. One of the foremost was his six wives and the resulting split from the Roman Catholic church, which was a consequence of his divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The cause for so many wives was his drive to secure the Tudor line, which at this time required a son. His first two marriages did not provide him with a male heir. At the time of his death, he had three successors, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, all of who would successively take the throne. His successors were to have varying relationships with the Roman Catholic church, which was to have a significant consequence in national and international politics for years to come. During his reign, his split from Rome and lead nationally to the dissolution of the monasteries and played its part in his international wars.
As a King, he was known for military achievements (and causalities, such as the loss of the Mary Rose) and his athleticism. It was during one of his sporting activities that his physical decline began following an accident in a jousting tournament in 1536, where he reopened a wound in his leg.
It took some ten years for this wound to cause his health to deteriorate to the point where it was life threatening and in August 1546 his youthful vigour was noticeable deserting him. As his health became a concern, his stools and sputum were regularly examined. Furthermore, the doctors at that time believed that the letting of his blood, in accordance with the waxing and waning of the moon could save him. Between August and December, the privy chamber spent increased amounts on his medical treatment to no avail.
It was treason to predict the king’s death, though it was obviously imminent by January 1547, and so Henry’s doctors did not summon the courage to break the news to the King. This was not surprising as Henry had ordered numerous executions during his reign (some estimates give as a high an estimate as 72,000), including two of his wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. As the month wore on and his health declined, he took Holy Communion and gave his confessions on the 27th. It is also likely that during the evening of the same day he finalised his will, which was witnessed by eleven people (possibly including the ever-present lutenist, Patrec) and in doing so laid the way for Edward his son to become the next monarch, securing the future of the Church of England, for the time being at least.
In his room, Henry lay dying, the aroma of the air was heavy, oppressive, with grey amber and musk, smothering the stench of physical decay along with the shadowy gloom created by the window tapestries. With it being the depth of winter, they would have been drawn tightly, keeping the damp out. A great wood fire, continually fed, would have provided him with warmth whilst eliminating all ‘evil vapours’, whilst giving off a stifling fug. It is also possible that the king would have continued to have been attended with potions and plasters by his doctors, in vain, whilst they knew death was inevitable before the rising of another sun. Lying, dying he was not alone, as the death of a monarch during this period was a public affair.
In his last hours it was also crucial that Henry had time to prepare his soul and he we was aided by Sir Anthony Denny who warned his master that ‘in man’s judgement, he was not likely to live’ and that he should remember his sins, ‘as becometh every good Christian man to do’. In response, Henry said that he believed that Christ in all His mercy would ‘pardon me all my sins, yea, though they were greater than can be’. He later that evening of the 27th asked for Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, who rode at breakneck speed from Croydon, to be with the king. With Cranmer by his side, the archbishop begged the king to give a sign that he trusted Christ for salvation. In response, Cranmer felt the grip on his hand tighten slightly. And so at around 2 a.m., King Henry VIII left this world.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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