The bloody lust of Henry VIII

472px-Family_of_Henry_VIII_c_1545_detailHenry VIII’s voracious nature and hot temper have become the stuff of legend. He is renowned for being a man of ferocious appetites, and he was prepared to use any means necessary to quell any opposition.

Shortly after ascending to the throne, Henry married Catherine of Aragon, as his father had wanted, to secure an alliance with Spain, and executed Edmund Dudley and Richard Empson, two of his father’s advisors, on the grounds of treason. This was to become a pattern for Henry. From Thomas More to Thomas Cromwell, anyone who Henry perceived as either a threat to the throne or to his secession from the Catholic church was liable to find themselves with their head on the block.

However, he’s most notorious for his list of spouses, driven by his desperation for a male heir and straightforward lust. The annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was prompted by a combination of the two as Anne Boleyn had already caught his eye. As we all know, Anne Boleyn did not last long before facing the executioner’s axe; facing accusations of infidelity, treachery and incest. Anne was followed by Jane Seymour, who died in childbirth, Anne of Cleves, who Henry divorced, and the unfortunate Catherine Howard. Henry accused Catherine of being unfaithful with her secretary, Francis Dereham, while she claimed that Dereham had raped her. Despite her protests, she was sent to her death. Fortunately for his last wife, Catherine Parr, he died before she could fall out of his favour.

The exact number of  executions ordered by Henry VIII has not been conclusively agreed upon but it is somewhere between 57,000 and 72,000. As a final bloody addendum, it should be noted that he made ‘death by boiling’ a legal form of execution.

This is an extract from issue three of All About History. To subscribe to the magazine click here now