Gateway to the Classics: Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Island Story by  H. E. Marshall

Henry VIII.—The Story of the King's Six Wives

A FTER the death of Wolsey, Henry chose a wise and gentle man called Sir Thomas More to be his Chancellor.

As the Pope still refused to give Henry leave to send Katherine away, he resolved to do so without leave. He sent her away, married his new wife, Anne Boleyn, and, because the Pope as head of the Church had refused to allow him to send Katherine away, he announced that the Pope had nothing more to do with the Church of England. Henry told the people that in future they must look upon the King of England as head of the Church as well as of the State.

The Pope was very angry with Henry and threatened him with all kinds of punishments, but Henry did not care. He had done what he wished to do, and was no longer afraid of the Pope.

Soon it began to be seen how wise Wolsey had been, for now that Henry ruled without him he became a much worse King than he had been before. Some good and wise men, among them the Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, felt that Henry had been wrong to quarrel with the Pope. They would not acknowledge him as head of the Church, so Henry first put them into prison and then he cut off their heads.

The King soon tired of Anne Boleyn, and, when people told him that she was a wicked woman, he was quite willing to believe them. He put her into prison and presently cut off her head. The very next day he married another lady called Jane Seymour. This lady was good and gentle, but she did not live very long after she was married to Henry. He was very sad at her death, and for two years he did not marry any one else. At the end of that time he married a fourth lady. She was called Anne of Cleves. Henry had never seen her, as she lived in Germany, but he had seen a picture of her painted by a famous artist called Holbein. In it she looked very pretty, and Henry said he would marry her because Thomas Cromwell, who was his chief adviser at that time, told him that it would be a wise thing to do.

But when the lady came to England, Henry found that she was not in the least like her picture. She was not at all pretty; she was very clumsy and awkward and could not speak a word of English.

Henry flew into a great passion, rudely called her "a great Flanders mare" and vowed he would not marry her. He was, however, obliged to do so. He was afraid if he did not, he might have to fight the German Princes who were her friends. But in revenge he put Thomas Cromwell into the Tower, and cut off his head because he had advised this marriage.

Henry soon got rid of his new wife. He offered her a large sum of money if she would go away and let him marry another lady. Anne was quite pleased to do this. No doubt she was glad to get away with her head safe upon her shoulders from such an angry, passionate man.

About a fortnight later Henry married another lady, called Catherine Howard.

This time the King soon discovered that he had married a wicked woman. She was not any more wicked than Henry was himself, but he did not think of that. To punish her, he cut off her head and the heads of several of her friends as well.

About a year later Henry married his sixth and last wife, a lady called Catherine Parr. She was a good woman, and it is wonderful that she should have been willing to marry so bad a man, and one who was so fond of cutting off the heads of his wives. Perhaps she thought that Henry might cut off her head if she refused, and after all it was a fine thing to be called Queen of England.

Catherine Parr was clever and she managed to keep her head upon her shoulders, although Henry once thought of cutting it off, because she did not quite agree with him about religious matters.

Although Henry had quarrelled with the Pope, he did not wish England to become a Protestant country. He wished the people to remain Roman Catholics, but to look upon him instead of the Pope as the head of the Church. So he beheaded and burned the people who tried to follow the teaching of Luther, and he also beheaded and burned those who still looked upon the Pope as the head of the Church.

Yet Henry helped on the Reformation, for he gave an order that a Bible should be placed in every church, so that people might go there and read it. And as books were still very dear, these Bibles were chained to the desks in case people should be tempted to steal them away.

Henry VII. had left a great deal of money when he died, but Henry VIII. was so extravagant and reckless that he soon spent it all. He tried many ways of getting more money, and after he quarrelled with the Pope he thought of a new way.

All over England there were monasteries and convents in which men and women lived who gave up their lives to good works. They cared for the sick and poor, taught the people how to read and write, and did many other useful things. Some of these monasteries and convents were very rich, possessing land and jewels besides much money. Henry said that the people who lived in these places led wicked lives. No doubt some of them did, but many of them led good lives and brought great comfort and happiness to the poor around them. But because of the evil which some did, Henry shut up these monasteries and convents. He sent the people who had lived in them out into the fields and streets homeless wanderers, and took all their money and lands for himself.

Besides doing this Henry taxed the people very heavily, and at last they rebelled. It was a curious rabble-like army which gathered together—an army of peasants and weavers led by priests and monks carrying their sacred banners and crucifixes.

They called their rebellion "The Pilgrimage of Grace." "Who is your leader?" asked the Duke of Norfolk, who had been sent against them.

"Our leader is Poverty," they replied, "and we are driven on by Necessity."

Although the King was not well prepared, the rebels did not succeed. The Duke of Norfolk persuaded them to go home, promising them pardon in the King's name. They went home, but the following year the rebellion broke out again. This time the King's soldiers were better prepared. The rebels were defeated, many of them being taken prisoner and put to death in cruel ways.

Henry VIII. died in 1547 A.D., having reigned for nearly thirty-eight years. His reign was a great one for England, the country becoming more important among the kingdoms of Europe than it had ever been. But Henry himself was bad and selfish, and at the end of his reign at least, proved himself to be a cruel tyrant.

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