When Henry VII died on April 21,1509 he left the throne secure for his second surviving son, Henry VIII. He would be the last king of that name (well, so far) and he would become memorable for his many marriages and tyrannical behavior. For the topic of this series Henry VIII was his father’s legal successor.
There so much to cover with the reign of Henry VIII but sticking with the theme of this series I will concentrate on his struggle to secure the succession. Being only the second Tudor monarch there was still some competition among the Plantagenet descendants of Edward III. One of the things I may have failed to mention during the entries on the War of the Roses was the fact that there was so many marriages with the descendants of Edward III and the English nobility that it gave many nobles a hereditary claim to the crown. One of the more notable nobles with a claim to the throne was Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham. He and Henry VIII had an on and off again friendship throughout the early parts of Henry’s reign. In 1521 Stafford was found guilty of treason and executed.
Henry honored his father’s wished by marrying Catherine of Aragon, his brother’s widow, and for years they struggled to secure an heir to Henry’s throne. During the marriage two sons, both named Henry, Duke of Cornwall, only lived for a few months. Tha majority of Queen Catherine’s pregnancies ended in still births. Only one daughter, Mary, born in 1516, survived until adulthood. However, to Henry, a daughter was considered unsuitable partly because he believed a daughter would be unable to consolidate the Tudor dynasty and the fragile peace that existed following the Wars of the Roses.
In 1519 Henry also had a son with his mistress, the 17-year-old Elizabeth Blount. The boy, Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset, was publicly acknowledged by Henry, the only illegitimate child he ever acknowledged as being his, was proudly shown at court to assuage the kings pride over not having a male heir at this time in his reign. In 1536 with the question of the succession still not settled an Act of Parliament was being made which would have given Henry FitzRoy the legal right to succeed his father. Sadly, this Act was never completed as Henry Fitzroy died of consumption July 23, 1536.
I do not feel the strong need to go through all of Henry’s marriages. That is another topic for this blog. We all know the story though. Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Bolyne. The marriage between Henry and Anne also produced only a daughter, Elizabeth, named after Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York. After the execution of Anne, Henry married Jane Seymour and finally had his male heir when Jane gave birth to Edward on October 12, 1537. Jane, herself died as a result of this childbirth and was deeply mourned by the king. None of Henry’s three subsequent marriages produced any more children. Historians speculate that as Henry grew older he was impotent and unable to produce any more children.
When Henry died on January 28, 1547 his legal heir, the sickly Prince Edward, mounted the throne of England as King Edward VI. However, the struggle for the Tudor dynasty to produce legal heirs was far from over.