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.

1. Henry had six wives in total

Catherine of Aragon, British School, sixteenth century, Royal Collection

They were Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr.

Who were Henry VIII's wives?

2. His marriage to Anne Boleyn led to the establishment of the Church of England

Anne Boleyn, late sixteenth century, National Portrait Gallery

Because divorce wasn't allowed within the Roman Catholic church, Henry wasn't allowed to divorce Catherine of Aragon and remarry Anne Boleyn. To get around this, Henry broke with the papacy in Rome, and established the Church of England instead. 

3. Henry increased the size of the Royal Navy by 10 times

Fearing attacks from France and Spain after his separation from Rome, Henry invested heavily in the Royal Navy. 

Find out more about Henry VIII's navy

4. Henry established Deptford and Woolwich as the Royal Dockyards

He chose these locations because they were near to his riverside palace in Greenwich. 

5. Henry was born at Greenwich Palace on 28 June 1491

Both his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, were also born at Greenwich. Two of Henry’s marriages, to Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves, took place at Greenwich.

6. Henry had three legitimate children

 Portrait of Elizabeth I of England

Henry had a daughter Mary with 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.

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7. Henry’s flagship, the Mary Rose, was launched in 1511

Full hull model of 'Mary Rose' (1509), a 60-gun sailing warship D8553-1_slider

After a long and successful career, she sank in 1545 off Portsmouth, during an engagement with a French fleet. She was excavated and successfully raised from the bed of The Solent in 1982, with many artefacts still intact.

What happened to the Mary Rose?

Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits

Come face-to-face with British royalty in a new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum