Weird History
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Small Details About Henry VIII’s Reign That Are Extreme - Even For Him

Updated October 29, 2020 18.1k votes 4.1k voters 294.1k views12 items

List RulesVote up the moments from Henry VIII's reign that you can't believe really happened.

Henry VIII is perhaps best known for being a terrible husband, but marrying six times wasn't the only thing about him that was extreme. A closer look at small King Henry VIII reign facts reveals the larger-than-life English king to be an even more intense, over-the-top monarch than previously imagined.

Henry VIII succeeded his father to the throne in 1509 when he was only 17 years old. Over the course of his multi-decade reign - which lasted until 1547 - Henry upended the religious landscape of England and expanded the monarchy. He also indulged himself in everything: his ego, his pleasures, his temper, his tastes, and even his romantic beliefs. These Henry VIII extremes could be found in virtually every aspect of his life, from the political to the personal.

Whether getting rid of inconvenient political agents or going to wild lengths to prove his mettle on the world stage, there was nothing that Henry VIII wasn't willing to do to get what he wanted.

  • Photo: Hans Eworth / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Out-Executed 'Bloody Mary'

    Henry VIII may be best remembered for executing two of his six wives: Anne Boleyn in 1536 and Catherine Howard in 1542.  But Henry executed significantly more people.

    He actually began his sovereignty as a teenager by executing two of his father's advisors. Deeper into his reign, Henry's victims ranged from perpetrators of rebellions to religious protestors. The early modern historian John Stow estimated that Henry VIII ordered no less than 70,000 executions, though many scholars quibble with this number.

    Though Henry's daughter Mary I is remembered by history as "Bloody Mary" for her condemnation of Protestants, her father oversaw significantly more executions than she did.

  • Photo: Henry Nelson O'Neil / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Denied His First Wife Access To Their Only Surviving Child

    In 1533, Henry annulled his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, to whom he had been married for 24 years. The queen was then forced from court.

    Though Catherine had delivered six children for Henry, only one survived: Mary. In the aftermath of the separation, Henry forbade Catherine and Mary from seeing one another. It was a calculated move meant as a "fierce reprimand" for Catherine's refusal to submit peacefully to a separation.

    The separation likely brought grief for both Catherine and Mary. Henry, however, was unmoving in his resolve. Even as Catherine's final days, Henry did not let Mary visit her.

  • Photo: From The Popular History of England: An Illustrated History of Society and Government from the Earliest Period to Our Own Times by Charles Knight / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Executed His Father's Ministers Because It Was Convenient

    When Henry became king in 1509, the 17-year-old monarch moved quickly to distance himself from his father Henry VII's reign. 

    One of his first acts was to arrest Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, two of Henry VII's ministers. Both Empson and Dudley weren't particularly well liked, so they were perhaps an easy target for the young king. Empson and Dudley were executed for treason "in the interests of political expediency," as biographer Alison Weir put it.

  • Photo: Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Ate Like A King By Consuming 5,000 Calories Per Day

    Food was an important feature of court life during Henry VIII's reign. Feasts and banquets featured a variety of dishes, including savory delicacies and sweet treats. For holidays and celebrations, Henry spent lavishly - in 1509, Henry marked his first Christmas as king by spending £7,000 on holiday feasts that included swan and peacock.

    It's likely that Henry VIII consumed around 5,000 calories on days that he wasn't fasting for religious purposes. Though he consumed a lot, he probably burned a lot of calories, too, since he was very athletic in his youth. Later in life, a series of injuries and health issues prevented Henry from being as active as he once was, and he weighed around 400 pounds.