King Henry VIII of England was born in Greenwich palace on June 28, 1491. The second son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, Henry was not heir to the throne until the unexpected death of his elder brother, Arthur, in April 1502. Seven years later, Henry VII died, and the seventeen-year-old prince acceded to the throne as King Henry VIII on April 21, 1509. Two months later he married his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon.

In 1511 Henry joined the alliance known as the Holy League with Spain, Venice, and the Holy Roman Empire to curb French aggression in Italy. Henry led an invasion of France in 1513, and his armies captured the cities of Tournai and Therouanne. While abroad, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, defeated the Scots at the battle of Flodden. In 1515, Henry named Cardinal Thomas Wolsey his Lord Chancellor, and Wolsey soon took on many important duties in the day-to-day administration of the government and in foreign policy efforts. He was Henry's chief minister until 1529, when he was replaced as Chancellor by Sir Thomas More.

In 1521, Henry published a book defending Catholic teaching against Martin Luther's positions on the seven sacraments. The Pope subsequently named the king "Defender of the Faith." By 1527, Henry was determined to divorce Queen Catherine, who had not borne him a living male heir. Of their eight children, only the Princess Mary (the future Queen Mary I) survived infancy. Henry tried to put pressure on Pope Clement VII to give him a special dispensation to divorce Catherine. When Wolsey failed in his negotiations with the Vatican to get the dispensation, Henry fired Wolsey and decided to sidestep established legal procedures of the Church. In defiance of Rome, he humbled the English clergy in a 1532 act of Parliament called the Supplication against the Ordinaries. Then, in 1533, he married Anne Boleyn, who soon gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth I in 1533. The following year, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, which named the king the Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England. Thereafter followed the suppression of Catholic monastaries throughout England.

In May 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed on the grounds of marital infidelity. Henry married Jane Seymour, who died in childbed after giving birth to the king's only legitimate son, the future King Edward VI. In 1540, Henry's Viceregent and chief minister Thomas Cromwell arranged a political marriage between Henry and Anne of Cleves, in the hope of attaching German Protestant interests to those of England. Henry detested her appearance and the marriage lasted only six months, serving as the downfall of Cromwell, who was executed that same year for treason. Henry married twice more, first with Katherine Howard, who was executed in 1542 for marital infidelity, and then again in 1543 with his sixth wife Katherine Parr, who outlived the king.

Henry's later years saw a renewal of hostilities with both France and Scotland. War with Scotland ignited with the 1542 routing of the Scots by the English at Solway Moss, and continued the next three years. Henry personally invaded France in 1544, where his armies captured the strategically unimportant city of Boulogne. The two nations ceased fighting in 1546. Henry's later years were also characterized by rigorous persecution of both Roman Catholics and of Protestants. Many Catholics were executed for treason, and many Protestants–notably John Lambert and Anne Askew–were burned at the stake for heresy.

Henry passed away at Whitehall palace on January 28, 1547, at the age of 55. He was succeeded by his son, Edward VI.

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