Arguably the most famous Tudor monarch, the legacy of Henry VIII is famous – or infamous, as some would argue. In schools up and down the country, children are often taught about his gluttonous lifestyle, and the rhyme “divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived” is relatively common when it comes to remembering the fates of his six wives. While his legend has continually developed throughout the more than 450 years since his death, it is only by looking at how and why Henry created such a lasting impact on England – one that still resonates today – that one can see why he was such a monumental ruler.
The key changes that Henry introduced into England predominantly concerned religion. After realising that the Pope would never grant his wish to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry the younger Anne Boleyn, in 1529 he began the process of setting up the Church of England, which simultaneously resulted in the break with Rome. England had been Catholic for hundreds of years and Catholicism was deeply embedded both as an institution and as a societal norm. His dissolution of the monasteries and declaration that he was Supreme Head of the Church was the last straw: England by 1534 was irreversibly a non-Catholic country, at least in name. Such an immense upheaval isolated England in Europe, and, by Henry’s death, Protestant England was diminutive in comparison to its overbearing Catholic neighbours. Nevertheless, despite the massive upheaval that forming a new Church brought, including waging war on those who refused to convert, posterity demonstrates to us how successful his policies were. Today, at least in name, England is still a Protestant country; with the Queen stillhead of the Church. Although Henry’s agenda was political, in that he wanted to marry Anne so that she could provide him with a male heir, the religious ramifications nonetheless must be attributed to him: the fact that Henry’s Church of England is still the de jure church centuries on is proof of Henry’s lasting legacy.
Ultimately, while the key changes that Henry brought about can be found principally in his religious policy, it should be recognised that he was the first natural successor to the throne since the tumultuous Wars of the Roses; his threechildren continued the line of succession and ensured that after Henry’s death England was under Tudor rule for over half a century.