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Henry VIII

Character and Legacy

Henry was a supreme egotist. He advanced personal desires under the guise of public policy or moral right, forced his ministers to pay extreme penalties for his own mistakes, and summarily executed many with little excuse. In his later years he became grossly fat, paranoid, and unpredictable. Nonetheless he possessed considerable political insight, and he provided England with a visible and active national leader.

Although Henry seemed to dominate his Parliaments, the importance of that institution increased significantly during his reign. Other advances made during his reign were the institution of an effective navy and the beginnings of social and religious reform. The navy was organized for the first time as a permanent force. Wales was officially incorporated into England in 1536 with a great improvement in government administration there.

In 1521, Henry had been given the title "Defender of the Faith" by the pope for a treatise against Martin Luther, and he remained orthodox in his personal doctrinal views throughout his reign. However, the Six Articles were only fitfully enforced, the use of the English Bible was cautiously increased, seizure of church property continued, and the destruction of relics and shrines was begun. The way had been opened for Protestantism, and Henry presided over the dissolution of Irish monasteries and assumed (1541) the titles of king of Ireland and head of the Church of Ireland. At Henry's death, the council that he had appointed for the minority of Edward VI leaned toward the new doctrines.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: British and Irish History: Biographies


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