The Birth of Henry VIII

Over half a millennium ago, the child who would one day reign as Henry VIII was born June 28, 1491 at Greenwich Palace, London to parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

The Tudor Dynasty into which Henry had been born was still in its infancy.  His father, Henry VII (pictured), had usurped the crown of England from Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in August 1485.  The six years that Henry VII had held the English throne had been turbulent, to say the least.  His marriage to Elizabeth had not entirely put an end to ‘The Wars of The Roses’ but the combination of her Yorkist lineage with that of his Lancastrian descent went some way to appease the English.  They may not have relished Henry VII but no-one could dislike the gentle, demure and utterly enchanting Queen.  She was peace-loving and able to maintain a respectful distance from her mother-in-law Margaret Beaufort, accepting this powerful influence over her husband.  The King clearly loved and respected his wife very much.  He took his marriage vows very seriously and unlike the majority of monarchs, both contemporary and previous, he practised monogamy.

Despite the hazardous process of childbirth, Elizabeth of York was safely delivered of Henry, just as she had been with his older siblings; Arthur in 1486 and Margaret in 1489.  King Henry VII could now relax safe in the knowledge he had an ‘heir and a spare’.  With each child, particularly the boys, his position on the throne could grow stronger.  Elizabeth would go on to have three more children after Henry but only Mary, born in 1496, would survive to adulthood.

The Christening of the Future King

The christening service for baby Henry was conducted by Richard Foxe, Bishop of Exeter.  It was conducted with Royal protocol in mind.  According to, ‘the Ryalle book’ this would have included a stage and canopy decorated in lavish fabric as well as the sounding of trumpets to mark the occasion.

Maybe it was because little Henry was only the ‘spare’ that few concerned themselves with great outpouring over Henry’s christening.   No poet or contemporary chronicler seems to have provided a written record.  Even Henry’s own grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, makes only a minor mention of his arrival in her calendar.

The Young Henry

As a toddler all that is known about Henry is that he was a confident and attractive child whose appearance soon leaned towards his Yorkist ancestry.  He was a stocky, red-haired infant unlike his fair, slender father and elder brother Arthur. The two boys experienced incredibly different and separate nurture too.

Arthur was being specifically educated for Kingship, away from his siblings.  Alternatively, at the beginning of his life, Henry was surrounded by the feminine influence of his mother and sisters.  More formal education was introduced when he reached six-years-old.  The accomplished poet, John Skelton became his main tutor.  The theological instruction of young Henry was considered very important.  He developed a deep interest in philosophy and theology and the issues that surrounded the subjects, relishing learned debates.  His learning in this field followed the fashionable trend towards Humanist thinking.

There seems little doubt that although loving parents, Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth never lost sight of the dynastic and future importance of their children.  Although debated, some historians believe that whilst Arthur underwent training for the throne, Henry was being prepared for a high profile role within the church.  King Henry VII’s dream, it appears, was to unite the crown and the church within their familial power.

This dream was shattered on April 2, 1502 when Prince Arthur died and the ten-year-old Henry became heir apparent.

Julie Wheeler

Read more about the life of Henry VIII and his six wives in Henry VIII’s Wives: History In An Hour published by Harper Press and available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and as downloadable audio.