Henry VIII was born on June 28, 1491, at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, England. He was the third child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. While still a child, Henry was appointed Duke of York and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1501, he was appointed Prince of Wales after his brother, Arthur, died of an ear infection. In 1509, Henry became King of England, at age 18, following the death of his father. Nine weeks after his ascension, he married Catherine of Aragon, the widow of his brother Arthur and the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.
During his reign as King of England, Henry initiated major changes in England. In 1534, he decided to sever the 1,000-year-old relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. Although there had previously been some movement in England toward separation, it gained political support when the Roman Catholic Pope Clement VII refused to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. At the time, Catherine could no longer bear children, and the couple had not produced a male heir to the throne. Henry proceeded to make himself the head of the Church of England so that he could guarantee the annulment. In 1538, Henry began a process known as “The Dissolution of the Monasteries,” in which all property of monastic institutions (Roman Catholic monasteries) was confiscated. The sweeping religious changes became known as the English Reformation. In 1555, however, England returned to the Roman Catholic Church under Queen Mary I. In addition to the religious reformation, Henry initiated the Law in Wales Act (1535–1542), in which the nation of Wales was annexed, creating a single nation and a single legal system. As part of the act, the English language replaced the Welsh language in Wales.
King Henry is probably best remembered, however, as having six different wives during his reign as king. Catherine of Aragon was his first wife. After 20 years of marriage, Henry had the marriage annulled. Immediately after the annulment of his first marriage, he married Anne Boleyn, the daughter of British nobility. The couple, however, could not produce a son, which convinced Henry that God did not approve of the marriage. Henry made up false accusations against Anne, and she was convicted of treason. She was beheaded at the Tower of London in 1536. Their daughter, Elizabeth, would eventually become Queen of England. Henry immediately married Jane Seymour. Jane gave birth to Henry’s only son, Edward. Twelve days later, however, Jane died from complications caused by the pregnancy. Some historians maintain that Jane was his favorite wife. Edward would later become King of England. Next, Henry married Anne of Cleves in an attempt to forge an alliance with Germany. Henry found Anne unattractive, and they agreed to a divorce six months later. Henry then married Catherine Howard, a cousin of Anne Boleyn. At this time Henry was 50 years old, and his new bride was only 19. She was soon beheaded after she was accused of adultery. His last wife was Katherine Parr, who was essentially a nurse for the portly king during his final years. She succeeded in reuniting Henry with his children. On January 28, 1547, Henry died. He was buried at the Castle of Whitehall next to Jane Seymour.