The Death of Henry VIII: Did Henry VIII Ever Do Anything Good?

by AlexandriaIngham

Henry VIII is known for his six wives and tyrant nature, but did he ever do anything good. It's time to explore his actions and see if there were benefits to England.

On January 28, 1547, Henry VIII died from natural causes. He had had a very eventful life and reign, as the second Tudor monarch. He was never supposed to be king, but the title of heir presumptive was placed upon him in 1502 after the death of his older brother, Arthur.

Many people will likely remember him for the executions and his run of wives. However, there were some good things that came out of his reign.

Henry VIII Moved England Out of the Dark Ages

The religious reformation did offer some benefits to England as a whole, especially financially.

Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547 at the age of 55When he decided that he wanted a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, the pope didn’t allow it. Henry VIII wanted to marry Anne Boleyn, and believed that his first marriage was invalid due to Catherine marrying his brother. It left Henry VIII one option: to break away from the Catholic Church. When you look at the future and how the religion kept changing, it can be easy to think that this was one of his bad decisions. However, he did move England out of the Dark Ages because of it.

England was able to focus on more modern beliefs; beliefs that were stretching throughout Europe at the time. The people had the chance to read the bible for themselves as it was slowly translated into English; however, not all people in the country could read at the time.

One of his biggest accomplishments through the religious reformations was to make England more financially secure. While the dissolution of the monasteries is seen as a negative thing and people did lose their lives, there was a lot of money gained from that. The monasteries never paid tax, despite taking up a large area of the country and being extremely wealthy. The land could be used for other things, and would put more money back into the country’s pockets through tax.

Much of the money was put back into the king's coffers. Anne Boleyn wanted the money to go to the people, as she was very charitably minded. It was a problem between Thomas Cromwell and Henry's second wife, which may have been part of the reason for her downfall.

Henry VIII also managed to take away a tax, known as the “Peter’s Pence.” This tax was sent straight to the pope. Since the king was now the head of the church, there was no need to send money to the pope. Not only did this keep some money in the country, it stopped England funding its enemies, which was how the money was used.

Henry VIII: The Founder of the Royal Navy

The Royal Navy expanded thanks to the second Tudor monarch.

There are a number of people credited for the foundation of the Royal Navy, and Henry VIII is one of them. He invested money into the warships in an attempt to take over more countries. These larger ships replaced the smaller ones and Henry VIII apparently tried to design his own. The extent to the design work is unknown.

The work didn’t stop at the ships. Henry VIII made the Navy permanent, and moved towards employing gunnery instead of boarding tactics. He also created the “council for marine causes,” which specifically ensured maintenance was carried out while away and that the Navy operated as it was supposed to.

State-of-the-art defences were created after Henry VIII’s break from Rome, due to the threat from both Spain and France. He made sure Kent, Cornwall and the areas between them were fortified against an attack. Coastal fortresses were also strengthened to protect the country, although the extent of all this work is unknown. Other areas were eventually strengthened, like Berwick, which wasn’t finished until the reign of Mary I.

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Elizabeth I as Queen of England

Elizabeth Tudor was Henry VIII's second daughter, but nearly never became queen.

Elizabeth I was left out of the line of succession until Henry VIII's change in willElizabeth I is often viewed as the greatest Tudor monarch. She helped to tidy the mess that her father and siblings had created before her, and tried to put more money back into the country. However, she nearly didn’t get the chance to become queen, since she was the daughter of the executed Anne Boleyn.

After Anne’s death in 1536, Elizabeth was stripped of the title princess and was just a lady. She was illegitimate and no longer eligible for the throne. Thanks to Katherine Parr, Henry VIII changed his mind at the last minute. In his will, he changed the order of succession to place both of his daughters back in after Prince Edward. There were conditions attached to that, but Elizabeth wouldn’t have had anything to fear: according to Robert Dudley, she had decided from a young age that she would never marry, so there was no fear that she would break the condition that she could only marry someone the Privy Council agreed on.

The Negative Views of Henry VIII

Henry VIII may have done some good, but there is a lot of bad to consider.

Anne Boleyn was just one of Henry VIII's 37,000 victimsThere are many more negative views of the second Tudor monarch compared to the positive ones. He has been widely seen as an obese tyrant, who was unhappy enough to marry six times. He cause the death of two of his wives directly and one indirectly. Catherine of Aragon may have lived for longer had she not been forced to live in such dire conditions after their divorce.

The only wife he may have truly loved was Jane Seymour. She died 12 days after giving Henry VIII the heir he believed he needed.

However, it was not just his wives who suffered. According to some sources, 37,000 people were executed or died at the hands of Henry VIII—and his daughter, Mary, is the one known as “bloody!” Some of the executions weren’t even valid and the trials wouldn’t have held any ground in a court of law today. Just a few examples include:

  • Margaret Pole, who died at the age of 67. She was the last Plantagenet, being the daughter of the executed George, Duke of Clarence. While she lost the right to the throne after her father’s execution, Henry VIII was always worried that the York faction would use her and her family as a way to depose him.
  • Henry Howard, who was the last victim of Henry VIII. Henry VIII feared that Howard would take the throne away from Prince Edward, due to having a link through both his mother and father. There was never any evidence that supported the man was conspiring to do this though.
  • Anne Boleyn, who was Henry VIII’s second wife. She’s already briefly been mentioned, but she was partially the reason for Henry VIII breaking away from the Catholic Church. They married on January 25, 1533 and she died just over three years later. She was accused of various crimes, one of those was incest with her brother, George Boleyn. Both were executed, along with four other men accused of adultery with her. The evidence used in the court was fabricated when looking at the dates.

The death of Henry VIII on January 28, 1547, may have been a relief to many people, but it was still a time for sadness. The English people believed that their king was chosen by God and it was treason to think otherwise. There would have been some who supported him anyway—those who most benefitted during his reign.

Henry VIII was buried in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, next to his third wife, Jane Seymour. This was his chosen resting place, as she always had a place close to his heart. 100 years later, a relative and former king, Charles I, would be interred with them.

Further Reading on Henry VIII

Henry FitzRoy is often seen as the forgotten son. His marriage to Mary Howard is also commonly forgotten because of this.
There were five men convicted of treason with Anne Boleyn. Sir Henry Norris was one of them but was he just another victim of Cromwell's plot?
Updated: 01/28/2014, AlexandriaIngham
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frankbeswick on 02/28/2014

Anne Boleyn was a homewrecker, though Henry did not take much persuading. But the accusations of witchcraft were spurious, as were the accusations that she had affairs with her brother and her music master. Personally, I would not mistreat witches with allegations of this nature.

frankbeswick on 02/28/2014

Henry's decline commenced when he decided to be a great warrior king, because this decision led him to make unjust war, one of the greatest evils that a person can commit. Aristotle, writing in Nichomachean Ethics, stated that we learn by doing. Henry in this warmaking did great evil, and thus he became a morally degraded person. Add this to his persistent adultery, which is an immoral act, because it involves breaking of solemn vows, and you see how evil took over his life. He degenerated to murdering his own people and committed grave wrong against the church.

The holy sistert that he executed was the Elizabeth Barton, the Maid of Kent, who was executed with five colleagues, four of them priests, after being tortured by Thomas Cromwell and sentenced without trial. Not only did Cromwell torture her, but he gave the only account of her "Confession." Henry was complicit in this malpractice. Sadly some priests gave evidence against her and her supporters and then asked to be proposed for the jobs that they had vacated by their execution.

I suggest that we look at the evil done by Henry and then balance it against the sum of the good.The scales are heavily weighted to evil. I note that the Scots stil resent Henry's atrocities at the Rough Wooing. So some of the ill feeling between England and Scotland is down to Henry.

ologsinquito on 02/28/2014

I'm sure he did do good, earlier in his life, before he rebelled against God. But his evil deeds multiplied. This is your niche, and I'm not going to be writing about Henry VIII, but I couldn't resist publishing an article elsewhere about how he had a holy religious sister and several priests executed because they supported her. The sister had begged him not to divorce Catherine.

AlexandriaIngham on 01/29/2014

Thanks for all the comments.

I've never been a fan of Henry VIII personally, but I saw the question asked about whether he ever did any good and I really wanted to find out if he did. The anniversary of his death was the perfect time to post something about it.

I don't remember learning much about how good he was in history. I remember learning about his six wives, but all that was very biased and Anne Boleyn was made out to be the home-wrecker and witch. Most of the lessons were around Mary I and Elizabeth I. I can't believe now just how one-sided history lessons were, or maybe that's just the way I remember them. The more I research now, the more I learn the truth.

frankbeswick on 01/28/2014

I believe that certain monarchs benefit from the literary and propaganda efforts of a class that has benefitted from their rule. A landowning class of people who had plundered the monasteries and taken their land grew up around Henry and owed their position to him. The Protestants like to think that he invented their church, even though he hated Protestantism, so they favoured him. [He was a schismatic Catholic.] So he gets a good press.

But I like to evaluate a ruler by the way that he treats the ordinary people, a pretty left wing approach I suppose, though I am only moderate left-centre. I cannot celebrate a bully who murdered so many people, imposed oaths on people under penalty of death and whose supposed reforms deprived poor people of the one institution that cared for them. I cannot celebrate a war monger who not only got hs country into unnecessary wars to aggrandize himself, but who wasted the nation's treasury in the process.

Shakespeare mistreated Crouchback to get in well with the Tudors, the fate of those who were not well in with them was always in people's minds!

RupertTaylor on 01/28/2014

Frank, I find it hard to understand the spin-doctoring that has gone on around Henry VIII. When I was a snotty-nosed pupil at school Prince Hal got favourable treatment yet Richard III, who wasn't that bad in comparison, was vilified. Do we have to blame Shakespeare and his mistreatment of Crouchback?

frankbeswick on 01/28/2014

I regard his reign as one of the greatest blights that ever befell England, along with the monstrosities of King John and the evils of the Norman conquest. Monasteries were places where poor received charity. In Northern England the provided banking services; they provided schools; there were convents that taught girls. The monasteries provided some hospital services, including leprosaria. The monasteries were places of learning.

Furthermore, Henry did not use this new gained wealth for the people, he was too keen to spend it on luxuries or wars; and the land taken from the monasteries did not go to the people, but to favoured Aristocrats and gentry.

Henry also murdered thousands of people during the pilgrimage of grace, besides the many dissidents whom he executed. As Rupert says, he was widely hated.

Mira on 01/28/2014

Nice article, Alexandria! I enjoyed it a lot!:)

RupertTaylor on 01/28/2014

By the time of his death Henry was widely hated by the people whose welfare he placed second to his own lustful appetites.

His funeral, two weeks after his death was a gruesome affair. His lead-lined coffin was carried from London to Windsor so he could be buried next to the wife who bore him a son, Jane Seymour. On the way, his putrefying body exploded and - um - juices began to leak out. The stench was unbearable and according to an eyewitness account:

"[T]he pavement of the church was wetted with Henry’s blood. In the morning came plumbers to solder the coffin under whose feet was suddenly seen a dog creeping and licking up the king’s blood. If you ask me how I know this, I answer William Grenville, who could scarcely drive away the dog told me and so did the plumber also."


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