Henry VIII (1491–1547) is one of the most written about kings in English history. He established the Church of England and the Royal Navy.

Henry VIII came to the throne when his father Henry VII died on 21 April 1509. He was a powerful man and charismatic figure; perhaps best known for his tumultuous love life and the establishment of the Church of England. He is also credited with establishing the Royal Navy, encouraging shipbuilding and the creation of anchorages and dockyards.

7 things you should know about Henry VIII

  • Henry had six wives in total – Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr.

  • His marriage to his second wife, Anne Boleyn, led to his break with the papacy in Rome and the establishment of the Church of England.

  • Fearing attacks from France and Spain for his separation from Rome, Henry invested heavily in the Royal Navy, increasing its size ten-fold. 

  • Henry established Deptford and Woolwich as the Royal Dockyards. He chose these locations because they were near to his riverside palace in Greenwich. 

  • Henry had three legitimate children: daughter Mary to Catherine of Aragon, Elizabeth with Anne Boleyn, and a son Edward with Jane Seymour. All three children would rule England after Henry’s death, with Elizabeth, the last monarch of the Tudor dynasty, ruling for a celebrated 45 years. 

  • Henry’s flagship, the Mary Rose, was launched in 1511. After a long and successful career, she sank in 1545 off Portsmouth, during an engagement with a French fleet. She was excavated in 1982, with many artefacts still intact. 

  • The collections at Royal Museums Greenwich hold a number of items from Henry VIII’s reign and the Tudor era for you to explore online. View the collections