Today on April 21, 1509, Henry VIII, the most notorious king of England, ascended the throne as a teenager.
At the age of 17, Henry VIII succeeded his father to become the second king from the House of Tudor. As the second eldest son of King Henry VII, he was never destined to wear the crown. As a young boy, he was initially groomed for a career in the Catholic Church — I don't know about you, but it's rather hard to imagine the lustrious Henry VIII leading a pious life. Nevertheless, everything changed when his older brother Arthur abruptly died in 1503 from an illness.
As the new heir, Henry showcased a great deal of promise for his future responsibilities. He excelled in his studies and education while exhibiting strong athletic capabilities. The six-foot-tall, attractive, and powerfully built Henry VIII was regarded as a skillful huntsman, dancer, and monarch in the making — perhaps even the most charismatic men to sit on the throne.
At the age of 52, the reigning King Henry VII died of tuberculosis at Richmond Palace. Shortly after receiving the crown, the young Henry proceeded with marrying his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon. Rumor has it that his dying father made him promise to marry Catherine as a last wish. The arrangement ensured political unity between England and the powerful Spanish kingdoms of Castille and Aragon. So less than two months later, he married Catherine during a low-key ceremony at the friar church in Greenwich. On June 23, the new king escorted his wife from the Tower of London to a glamorous coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey — an event for the ages.
King Henry VIII went on to rule over England for nearly four decades and greatly expanded royal authority over that time. However, today he is undoubtedly best remembered for his six wives. His first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and eventual divorce, sparked monumental changes to the country's political and religious landscape. The royal couple had just one child, Mary, who ascended the throne and became known as "Bloody Mary" for her ruthless prosecution of the protestants. After failing to produce a male heir, Catherine believed God must have certainly cursed their marriage. To legitimize an annulment, Henry repeatedly referenced a rule from the Old Testament, banning a man from marrying his brother's widow. He solicited a divorce from Pope Clement VII but was ultimately refused.
In retaliation, Henry VIII initiated the English Reformation and dissolution of the monasteries — essentially a land grab of all the Catholic Church's possessions in England. The king formally separated the Church of England (the Anglican Church) from the papal authority of Rome. Moreover, he boldly appointed himself as the new Supreme Head of the Church. Henry was now free to divorce Catherine and pursue his next bride — the young and beautiful Anne Boleyn.
On January 25, 1533, King Henry VIII secretly married his second wife at a private ceremony outside of London. Throughout their three year marriage, Anne gave birth to just one daughter named Elizabeth — the future Queen Elizabeth I. Like Catherine, Anne Boleyn quickly fell from the king's graces but would suffer a much worse fate. Failing to produce a male heir was a political embarrassment and disaster. Struggling to find a legitimate reason for another divorce, the king resorted to a much more ruthless solution. Anne was found guilty of adultery by a kangaroo court in 1536 and beheaded immediately after.
But the love story of Henry VIII was hardly over yet. The king went on to marry another four women, including Jane Seymour (his true love), Anne of Cleves (a political betrothal gone bad), Catherine Howard (the "teenage trollop"), and Catherine Parr (the eventual "mother" of his children). Here is an easy way to remember the fates of each wife (in sequential order): divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.
As King Henry VIII inevitably aged, he became more obese and riddled by severe health problems. Three of his five children would reign over the kingdom, including Edward VI (his only son that died as a young boy), Mary I, and most notably, Elizabeth I (in order of succession). The House of Tudor has since become one of the most famous dynasties in all of British history.