The history of the English throne almost plays out like a real-life Game of Thrones, with several fascinating figures taking their desire for power to extremes and changing the future of the country in the process. Two of the most famous, or infamous, historical figures from English history are King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn, whom he had executed.
Travel to the various royal sites across England and you’ll learn all about these two royals and the actions that kept their names echoing throughout history. Check out some facts about them below!
10 Henry VIII: He Never Expected To Become King
Henry VIII is one of the most famous figures in English history. His decisions changed the course of England forever and had a long-lasting impact on Britain and the world. It may come as a shock, then, to discover that Henry never actually expected to become king.
He only inherited his throne when his brother Arthur, the rightful heir, died unexpectedly. Henry was only 17 years old when he ascended to the throne of England in 1509. At the time, he’d had hardly any tutoring in subjects that were crucial to rulers of the monarchy, like politics and government.
9 Anne Boleyn: She Remained Loyal To The King, Despite His Betrayal
Anne Boleyn is perhaps the most famous of Henery VIII’s six wives. In the beginning, Henry truly did love Anne, but those feelings weren’t strong enough overpower his want for a male heir. After Anne gave birth to a stillborn male child in 1536, Henry sought an annulment. According to Biography.com, he then had Anne detained in the Tower of London on false charges.
When she was eventually executed at the Tower, Anne appeared to remain loyal to the king who had betrayed her. “I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never,” were some of her last words before her decapitation.
8 Henry VIII: He Was A Poet And Musician
The world remembers Henry for many things, but the arts aren’t normally on the list. Interestingly, he was a musician and knew how to play the flute, the lute, and the organ. He also wrote poetry and was said to be a keen reader. Historians believe that he owned nearly 1000 books in his library.
Aside from being a poet and a musician, Henry was also an athletic man in his youth. He liked to play all kinds of sports, including hunting, jousting, real tennis, and riding. It was during riding that he later sustained a permanent injury that prevented him from exercising at all.
7 Anne Boleyn: She Took The Role Of Queen Seriously
Though history remembers Anne Boleyn in a sympathetic light now, she was not popular among the British public. In fact, she was one of the least popular queens and was never taken seriously. Instead, she was viewed as promiscuous and a social climber because the public was loyal to Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
Even though she wasn’t well-liked, Anne did take the role of queen seriously. She tried to focus on helping the poor and was also known for sporting a stylish wardrobe at court and following the proper English etiquette. Despite her efforts, she never won the hearts of the people.
6 Henry VIII: He Had A Relationship With Anne Boleyn’s Sister
It’s well known that Henry didn’t believe monogamy was for him. And the standards he held for himself were quite different from those he held for his queens, but that’s another story. In addition to his six wives and many mistresses, the king was also said to have had a relationship with Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary.
Both Boleyn girls spent their youth at the French Court, and Mary was sent back to England first in 1519. She became one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting and Henry’s mistress before Anne arrived in England.
5 Anne Boleyn: She Refused To An Affair With Henry
When Henry first fell in love with Anne, he wanted to take her as a mistress. One of the letters he wrote her said, “If you … give yourself up, heart, body and soul to me … I will take you for my only mistress, rejecting from thought and affections all others save yourself.”
Anne rejected this, though, saying that she didn’t want to become his mistress. “Your wife I cannot be, both in respect of mine own unworthiness, and also because you have a queen already,” she told him in response. “Your mistress I will not be.”
4 Henry VIII: He Annulled His Fourth Marriage Because His Wife Wasn’t Pretty Enough
Most people know that Henry liked to dispense of wives the way he dispensed of dirty laundry, but it’s generally thought that the only reason for this was because he was so desperate for a male heir. But in the case of his fourth marriage to Anne of Cleves, Henry had the marriage annulled after just six months because his wife wasn’t pretty enough.
He agreed to the marriage because it was a smart political decision, with Anne being a German Protestant Princess. Once he saw her in real life, he told courtiers that he couldn’t consummate the marriage because of the way she looked. He also referred to her as a “Flanders mare.”
3 Anne Boleyn: She Nearly Died Of Sickness
Before Anne Boleyn lost her head, she nearly died of another cause. She contracted what was called the sweating sickness. It is thought that this was a type of influenza that could kill any victim, no matter how young or healthy they were.
Henry sent her away to Kent to avoid catching the sickness himself, according to History Extra. But he did send his second-best doctor to care for her. Luckily, Anne survived the illness, but several members of the Court who were also sick did not.
2 Henry VIII: He Became Depressed When Catherine Howard Cheated On Him
As you may have gathered, it was fine for Henry to take mistresses and throw away his wives, but it was not fine for the same to happen to him. By the time he was married to Catherine Howard, he was no longer the athletic specimen he was in his youth and had gained a considerable amount of weight. He was also crippled from a horse accident.
During their marriage, Catherine continued her relationship with Thomas Culpepper, a former lover. Henry was said to have cried openly and been inconsolable, according to Historic UK. He then had her arrested for adultery and executed for treason.
1 Anne Boleyn: Her Daughter Went On To Become One Of England’s Greatest Queens
Anne Boleyn lucked out when it came to having a husband who would love and care for her (and not cut off her head). But Henry did give her a daughter who would go on to be Elizabeth I, Queen of England. Today, Elizabeth is remembered as one of England’s greatest queens.
Never marrying, Elizabeth was loyal to her country, defending England against the Spanish Armada. During her reign, she also restored England to Protestantism, expanded trade, and won the favor of the public. Today she is considered one of the best female monarchs and a fine end to the Tudor dynasty.