Henry VIII - A man of extremes

Henry VIII is one of the English most renowned monarchs. He was a larger than life king who established one of the most glittering courts in Europe. However, he was also a spoiled prince used to getting his own way and ruthless when his desires were thwarted.

Henry turned the country upside down in pursuit of Anne Boleyn, changing the nation's official religion, annulling his first marriage and executing once-favoured advisers to secure his marriage to her. However, when Anne failed to produce a son to carry on Henry's legacy, even she wasn't safe. When Henry came to the throne, England was a Catholic nation subject to the Pope in Rome. Henry considered himself a loyal subject of Rome and was given the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ by Pope Leo X after he authored a book attacking the Protestant reformer Martin Luther. However, the Pope’s repeated refusal to annul Henry’s marriage to his first wife Catherine of Aragon put their relationship under severe strain. The king became convinced his power as a prince came directly from God and was not subject to the Pope. Henry breaks from the authority of the Pope and is declared head of the English Church by Parliament. To cancel out the power of the Catholic church in England, he dissolves over 800 monasteries and transfers their wealth and lands transferred to the crown. Years of discord between Protestants and Catholics follow.

Henry VIII is also known as the 'father of the Royal Navy.' When he became king there were five royal warships. By his death he had built up a navy of around 50 ships. Henry also built the first naval dock in Britain at Portsmouth and in 1546 he established the Navy Board.

Henry VIII orders the creation of the first national postal service for royal mail. Called 'The King’s Posts', it was devised by Sir Brian Tuke and commanded all towns to have a fresh horse available for anyone carrying mail from the Tudor Court. This royal mail system was opened to the general public in 1635 by King Charles I - the start of the postal system that is still used today.