Nov 13, 2021
8 mins read
King Henry VIII was nearing the end in December 1546. His ongoing health problems worsened, and at this time, he was suffering from a fever on top of everything else. Doctors would remain by his bedside, doing everything in their power to keep the King alive.
Eventually, Henry started to gather strength and slowly but surely showed signs of recovery. Henry said he was back to his best, but it was clear for everyone to see that this was far from reality; he was a man in the final stages of life. He looked anaemic, his body was weak, and the word was sent that the King didn't have long. However, to keep up appearances, notices were sent out across Europe that Henry was, in fact, strong. He had suffered a mild complaint on the back of his leg being sceptic. No one should worry, was clearly a man on the up and back to his usual self.
It was around now that the Seymour's would make their move to remove the Howards. This ongoing conflict between these two powerful families had resonated for years. Hertford who was the eldest surviving brother of Queen Jane Seymour, would hold the upper hand, as for Norfolk he was a prominent English politician and nobleman was also the uncle of two of the wives of King Henry VIII, namely Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. But a man who was now well past his best, and clinging on to what little power he had left. However, Norfolk's enemies finally got their way and had him removed from the Privy Council.
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey was an English nobleman, politician and poet. He was raring to go on his own daring mission. He'd already virtually declared that the Kingdom would be his after Henry's death. But as expected, this would get him into deep trouble. Sir Richard Southwell, a former close friend to Surrey, had spoken about his intentions to the council. Not only that, but Surrey was found to have replaced a coronet which was on his coat of arms, with a crown and initialled with the letters HR Henricus Rex. Whatever Surrey thought about his own ancestry, his haste into getting things prearranged wholly backfired.
The council were adamant that Surrey had become dangerous to the Kingdom; he had lost the plot and had ideas way above his station. On 12 December, Norfolk and Surrey were both arrested and taken to the Tower. Although the King had little to no argument with Surrey, quite possibly thinking it was the musings of a mad man. However, Norfolk would not appear in the same light; Henry battered him verbally. Some believe his words could have been due to the pain the King was in at the time.
Hertford would now dominate proceedings, the King had entrusted him, and both the Privy council and chamber were now entirely under Hertford leadership, and he could do whatever he chose to stop any potential outside threats. The King, now clearly ill, required more attention, he had acquired some so-called medicines months earlier, but the bill had grown fivefold in this time. But as we know, the doctors of the day didn't really have any idea on treatments and most were based on natural healing therapies. Rosewater, ointment and ginger were some of the prescribed items to help ease the suffering.
Henry ordered his Queen, Catherine and his daughters to leave Whitehall and spend Christmas at Greenwich on Christmas eve. Prince Edward was staying in Hertfordshire; Catherine sent him a picture of herself and Henry asking Edward to focus on his father's achievements. Although Edward wrote to his father, it's unsure he really knew how ill he was by this time. Henry would spend Christmas alone; only a handful of servants and councillors were on hand to serve him. It was a complete lockdown with no information being given about the King, or his condition.
Yet many on the outside knew something was not right, and speculation rose that Henry was, in fact, dying. Henry had written his Will before leaving Boulogne in 1544, which included details on the Act of Succession. On 26 December 1546, he gathered his thoughts and asked for his Will to be read. A list of 16 councillors was drawn up to serve on the council of regency. Yet still, he stipulated that this was by no means going to be a one-man-band to hold overall power and that all the listed men would have to work together. Hertford was clearly disappointed with this outcome but had little choice in accepting the King's word. The Will, however, was given to Hertford for safekeeping.
By 1 January, the King's health suffered another setback. One week later, it was being reported that he may be dead. On 10 January, both Queen Catherine and lady Mary returned to Whitehall, but they could not see Henry. No one is sure on whose order this was. Catherine had not been placed on the council of regency, a throwback to when Henry was much more mobile and believed although women had their place, it wasn't in the world of politics.
On 13 January Surrey was tried at Guildhall for treason. However, he spoke up and gave a good account of himself; however, the powers that be had already made up their minds before the trial even started. The day before, Norfolk had admitted his guilt in concealing his son's treason. There was little both men could do now but face the ultimate sentence. Henry was kept informed of the case, quite possibly knowing the impending end of both men. at the trial Hertford was ecstatic, but Surrey, although he seemed immovable, shouted towards him, "the king wants to get rid of noble blood and employ none but lowly people."
By the end of the trial, Henry was a little more stable. He had an audience with the French and Spanish ambassadors, apologising over his incapacity to see them earlier. Henry was lucid, chirpy and all seemed well, his old self was returning, and even for some time, his spirits were high. On 19 January, Henry was planning Prince Edward's investiture to Wales. The same day a bill of attainder was introduced at Parliament against Norfolk and Surrey. Their lives, lands and possessions would now be the property of the crown. Just two days later, Surrey was taken to Tower Hill for execution. Even though he had attempted an escape from his cell in the Tower, he was quickly recaptured.
Henry fell gravely ill again after this; Sir William Paget was an English statesman and accountant who held prominent positions in the service of the King and also with Edward VI and Mary I. and would be one of the first men who sat by his side for comfort. Some others, including Hertford, would take turns in talking to the King throughout the long winter days ahead. By the 23rd, Henry was gasping for breath. Hertford had pressured him into agreeing that Thomas Seymour could be placed on the Privy council. Still, Henry grasping what little air he could, kept repeating, "no no." Just three days later, Henry summoned his Queen to his bedside. He said it is gods will that we should part, but he began weeping and sent her away. Norfolk was next in line for execution, but strangely it's thought the King had seen enough blood over his tenure, with the outcome being that Norfolk was reprieved.
On the 27 January, Henry saw his confessor and received holy communion, but he was starting to fail quickly by the evening. The council now knew his death was near. No one had ever spoken to Henry about his demise, as fear would always get in the way of that minor conversation. Henry probably thought himself to be beyond reproach not just in life but in death too. Yet, it was deemed wrong not to offer him some sort of prior warning. It was left to one man Sir Anthony Denny who approached Henry and told him to prepare. This would be now his opportunity to repent any sins. Henry replied that the mercy of christ would pardon him of all his sins.
Henry asked to speak with Thomas Cranmer, but only after he had a short sleep, and then only if I feel myself. Those words are the last recorded of Henry. The word was sent to fetch Cranmer, who was in Croydon at the time. yet, upon his arrival, the King could not speak, and shortly after 2 am, King Henry VIII gave up his long struggle and quietly slipped away from this world.
Henry was placed in a lead-lined coffin and placed in state at the presence-chamber in Whitehall. Henry was moved a few days later to the chapel. After the ceremony, he was taken to Windsor. His carriage was driven by black horses, his coffin covered in velvet and gold cloth. He was buried in the vault next to his third wife, Jane Seymour, the mother of his heir. Remarkably, It would take 16 men of the Yeoman of the guard to carry and lower him into the vault The tomb Henry wanted was never completed; work ceased when Edward VI died in 1553, a lack of funds being the reason.
Henry VIIIs tomb was unmarked, and not the fitting resting place for a monarch, you'd expect him to be placed in. In 1813, it was discovered by accident. His coffin had fallen, his skeleton clearly outside and able to be seen. the coffin of Jane Seymour by his side was still intact. but also discovered were the lost coffins of Charles I and an infant of Queen Anne, which were apparently hastily interred in the 17th century. By 1837 a slab of black marble was placed on the tomb by William IV.
Whatever you think of Henry, he was undoubtedly a legend in his own lifetime and one that still causes much discord and consternation to this day. He was a man who had created many religious divisions. His handling of people was the most extreme of any monarch executing at will anyone who dared reproach his authority. He found a new church and steered England in a direction that would stir upheaval and religious revolution. The country was changed forever, yet Henry can rest assured that all his work still signifies one era of history many of us are very unlikely to forget.