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A statue of King Henry the Eighth at the Great Gate of Trinity College, Cambridge, UK

Henry VIII

Image Credit: | Above: A statue of King Henry the Eighth at the Great Gate of Trinity College, Cambridge, UK

Henry VIII was born in 1491. In his youth, Henry developed great skill in music and sports. He was created prince of Wales in 1503, following the death of his elder brother Arthur.

He also married Arthur's widow, Catharine of Aragon, the marriage taking place shortly after his accession, in 1509.

Catherine was unable to bear Henry a living son and gave birth to a daughter who became Mary I in 1516. As a result, he decided to divorce her in around 1525 as he needed a male heir.

This is despite the fact that the queen had acted as a successful regent in 1513 while Henry was taking part in the Battle of Flodden, in which he beat the Scots.

Pope Clement VII reluctantly authorised cardinals Wolsey and Campeggio to decide the issue in England, but the commission broke down, as Catherine claimed she hadn't consummated her marriage to Arthur.

This led to the initiation, by Henry, of an anti-ecclesiastical policy, intended to force the pope's assent to the divorce. Monies to Rome were stopped and ecclesiastical legislation became subject to royal approval.

The king was in the process of trying his lord chancellor Wolsey for treason in 1529 but the cardinal died before his trial.

He was replaced by Thomas Cromwell who has been seen as the protagonist in closing down the monasteries in the country and giving the wealth to the king.

Thomas Cranmer, Henry's new archbishop of Canterbury, pronounced Henry's marriage with Catharine invalid in 1533, and crowned Anne Boleyn (already secretly married to Henry) queen at the Tower of London.

The pope excommunicated Henry and, in 1534, the breach with Rome was completed by the Act of Supremacy, which made the king head of the Church of England.

In May 1536, Anne Boleyn, who also failed to provide a male heir - just a daughter who became Elizabeth I, was convicted of adultery, treason, incest and witchcraft and beheaded with a sword at the place of her coronation alongside six of Henry's courtiers.

Soon afterward, Henry married Jane Seymour, who in 1537 bore a son (later Edward VI) and died of childbed fever.

In 1540, Henry allied himself with the German Protestant princes, by marrying Anne of Cleves. However, Henry disliked Anne and divorced her almost immediately on the grounds of non-consummation and gave her Leeds Castle as compensation. Cromwell, who had recommended the marriage, was beheaded.

Henry then married Catherine Howard, but in 1542 she too was beheaded for having an affair with Thomas Culpepper.

He married his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, in 1543 and she survived as she took care of the monarch who was suffering from an ulcer in his leg that have never healed after falling from his horse while jousting.

Henry defeated (and killed) James V of Scotland, in 1543, and forced the Scots to agree to a marriage between Mary Queen of Scots and his son, Edward, but this came to nothing.

In 1543, he joined Charles V of Spain, against France, and took Boulogne. These wars were mainly expensive and fruitless.

Henry died on 28 January 1547 and was buried in Westminster Abbey next to his 'favourite' wife Jane.

In recent years, the monarch has been played by Eric Bana in 'The Other Boleyn Girl' film (2008) and by Jonathan Rhys Meyers in four seasons of 'The Tudors'.