Henry VIII (June 28, 1491 – January 28, 1547) was King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547. He was the second Tudor monarch, succeeding his father Henry VII. Henry VIII is best known for his six marriages, in particular his efforts to have his first marriage (to Catherine of Aragon) annulled. His disagreement with the Pope on the question of such an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority and the Roman Catholic Church. He appointed himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England and dissolved convents and monasteries, for which he was excommunicated.
Illness and Death
Late in life, Henry became obese, with a waist measurement of 54 inches (140 cm), and had to be moved about with the help of mechanical inventions. He was covered with painful, pus-filled boils and possibly suffered from gout. His obesity and other medical problems can be traced to the jousting accident in 1536 in which he suffered a leg wound. The accident re-opened and aggravated a previous injury he had sustained years earlier, to the extent that his doctors found it difficult to treat.
The chronic wound festered for the remainder of his life and became ulcerated, thus preventing him from maintaining the level of physical activity he had previously enjoyed. The jousting accident is also believed to have caused Henry’s mood swings, which may have had a dramatic effect on his personality and temperament.
The theory that Henry suffered from syphilis has been dismissed by most historians. Historian Susan Maclean Kybett ascribes his demise to scurvy, which is caused by a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. Alternatively, his wives’ pattern of pregnancies and his mental deterioration have led some to suggest that the king may have been Kell positive and suffered from McLeod syndrome. According to another study, Henry VIII’s history and body morphology may have been the result of traumatic brain injury after his 1536 jousting accident, which in turn led to a neuroendocrine cause of his obesity. This analysis identifies growth hormone deficiency (GHD) as the source for his increased adiposity but also significant behavioural changes noted in his later years, including his multiple marriages.
Henry’s obesity hastened his death at the age of 55, which occurred on 28 January 1547 in the Palace of Whitehall, on what would have been his father’s 90th birthday. The tomb he had planned (with components taken from the tomb intended for Cardinal Wolsey) was only partly constructed and would never be completed. (The sarcophagus and its base were later removed and used for Lord Nelson’s tomb in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral.) Henry was interred in a vault at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, next to Jane Seymour. Over a hundred years later, King Charles I (1625–1649) was buried in the same vault.
Upon Henry’s death, he was succeeded by his son Edward VI. Since Edward was then only nine years old, he could not rule directly. Instead, Henry’s will designated 16 executors to serve on a council of regency until Edward reached the age of 18. The executors chose Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, Jane Seymour’s elder brother, to be Lord Protector of the Realm.
If Edward died childless, the throne was to pass to Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter by Catherine of Aragon, and her heirs. If Mary’s issue failed, the crown was to go to Elizabeth, Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn, and her heirs. Finally, if Elizabeth’s line became extinct, the crown was to be inherited by the descendants of Henry VIII’s deceased younger sister, Mary, the Greys. The descendants of Henry’s sister Margaret – the Stuarts, rulers of Scotland – were thereby excluded from the succession. This final provision failed when James VI of Scotland became King of England in 1603.