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Young King Henry VIII

The New King

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Portrait of Henry VIII in early manhood by an unknown artist.
Young King Henry VIII

Portrait of Henry VIII in early manhood by an unknown artist.

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Young King Henry cut a striking figure. Six feet tall and powerfully built, he excelled in many athletic events, including jousting, archery, wrestling and all forms of mock combat. He loved to dance and did it well; he was a renowned tennis player. Henry also enjoyed intellectual pursuits, often discussing mathematics, astronomy and theology with Thomas More. He knew Latin and French, a little Italian and Spanish, and even studied Greek for a time. The king was also a great patron of musicians, arranging for music wherever he might be, and was a notably gifted musician himself.

Henry was bold, outgoing, and energetic; he could be charming, generous and kind. He was also hot-tempered, stubborn, and self-centered -- even for a king. He had inherited some of his father's paranoid tendencies, but it manifested less in caution and more in suspicion. Henry was a hypochondriac, terrified of disease (understandable, considering his brother Arthur's demise). He could be ruthless.

The late Henry VII had been a notorious miser; he had amassed a modest treasury for the monarchy. Henry VIII was impetuous and flamboyant; he spent lavishly on the royal wardrobe, royal castles and royal festivities. Taxes were unavoidable and, of course, highly unpopular. His father had been unwilling to engage in war if he could possibly avoid it, but Henry VIII was eager to wage war, especially against France, and he ignored the sage advisors who counseled against it.

Henry's military efforts saw mixed results. He was able to spin the minor victories of his armies into glory for himself. He did what he could to get into and remain in the good graces of the pope, aligning himself with the Holy League. In 1521, with the assistance of a team of scholars who still remain unidentified, Henry wrote the Assertio Septem Sacramentorum ("In Defense of the Seven Sacraments"), a response to Martin Luther's De Captivitate Babylonica. The book was somewhat flawed but popular, and it, along with his previous efforts on behalf of the papacy, spurred Pope Leo X to confer on him the title "Defender of the Faith."

Whatever else Henry was, he was a devout Christian and professed an immense respect for the law of God and man. But when there was something he wanted, he had a talent for convincing himself he was in the right, even when the law and common sense told him otherwise.

Next: Cardinal Wolsey

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