The Cruel Story of King Henry VIII

By: Lisa Lee | Last updated: Jun 03, 2022

There are several famous (or infamous) kings and queens in the history of Great Britain, but one of the most notorious monarchs in the nation’s vast history is inarguably King Henry VIII.

A lot of changes happened in the country during King Henry VIII’s reign, but what this giant-sized king is most famous for is that he killed most of his wives and he was morbidly obese. What made this tyrant so notorious? Let’s dive in and learn more about the guy who historians call the worst monarch in England’s history.

Getting Rid of the Church

King Henry VIII was a larger-than-life figure who had a reputation for his unquenchable lust for meat, ale, and women. Henry VIII was known as a cruel tyrant who used an approach similar to that of a dictator. For one thing, he got rid of the Pope’s authority in England to make himself the head of the church, creating the Church of England. Few things have changed the course of history as much as this move.


Moreover, Henry VIII was also known to be a bit of a spendthrift. All of these things are true, but there was much more to Henry VIII than his erratic behavior.


Henry Was a Very Ill Man

Henry was a complex human being, and many historians believe that an injury he sustained later in life may have been the cause of some of his erratic behavior. It was late in his life that Henry VIII became morbidly obese. For one thing, he was tall for his time, clocking in at at least 6’2″ tall and perhaps even taller.


Because he was a huge guy and had a lot of power (not to mention his famous temper), he was probably a very intimidating man. But early in life, Henry was a very handsome man.

He Wasn't Always Obese

In 1509, young Henry became king when he was just 17 years old. At that time, he was in excellent physical condition. Apparently, he inherited the noble and handsome good looks of his grandfather, King Edward IV. At the beginning of his reign, Henry was an athletic monarch. In fact, one historian who knew him described Henry VIII as a sort of Adonis.


Also, he was athletic, often competing in jousts. Armor exists that Henry wore as a young man, and the sizing on this armor indicates that Hery had a 39-inch chest, a 32-inch waist, and he probably weighed less than 200 pounds.

13 Meals Per Day

Henry VIII was in his 40s when he began to gain weight. In 1536, he suffered a leg injury during a joust. The wound was serious, and it failed to heal properly, eventually becoming ulcerous. Because of his injury, Henry became less active and started turning to creature comforts such as food and drink. Also, several historians believe that he may have had diabetes as he grew older.


As if all of this wasn’t enough, Henry also ate an astonishing amount of food. Reportedly, Henry ate up to 13 meals per day, most of it being lots of meat. In addition to all of that food, Henry supposedly drank up to 10 pints of his favorite ale each day.

Henry VIII's Many Ailments

While being overweight was just one of Henry’s health problems, he also had other physical maladies going on. These included repeated infections, severe constipation, migraine headaches from a jousting injury, malaria, smallpox, strokes, syphilis, possible Cushing’s syndrome, and sores all across his body. Towards the end of his tumultuous reight, he even became “mad” or mentally insane. The sore on his leg was a horrible situation. As a result of his many illnesses, Henry became a hypochondriac.

The doctors of the time didn’t know any better and cut it open, and every time it started to heal, filling it with gold pellets so the sore would continue to run. They believed that it needed to drain. While his early set of armor was made for a thin and fit man, Henry’s last set of armor showed that he was a huge guy who weighed about 320 pounds. His waist measured between 58 and 60 inches. At his heaviest, he probably weighed about 390 pounds.


Was Henry VIII Really a Ladies Man?

Was Henry VIII really a notorious ladies man? According to historians, the fact that Henry had six wives indicated that he wasn’t so smooth with the ladies. As a monarch, he was a catch on the surface. And when he was a young man, Henry was handsome and athletic. His hair was a stunning reddish-blonde. Henry was also a man with musical talent, playing the lute and being an adept singer.

Nevertheless, Henry wasn’t that much of a ladies man compared to other kings in history. He was married to Katherine of Aragon for 22 years, and that marriage ended when she couldn’t give him a son. In short, he spent the prime years of his life married to one woman even though he had countless affairs and even an illegitimate son.


One Cardinal Killed, Another Installed

In 1525, Henry fell in love with Anne Boleyn, although the lady appeared to be uninterested in him at first. Historians believe that she was playing the classic game of “hard to get” so that he would become even more fascinated with her. It worked because Henry pursued a divorce so that he could marry Anne. When one cardinal refused to give him a divorce, Henry had that man executed and replaced him with another man.

Unfortunately, the replacement also refused to allow Henry to divorce, and that’s when the king broke with the church to create his own church.


Marriage Chaos Begins

At that point, Henry had his marriage to Katherine annulled and married Anne Boleyn. However, Henry was disturbed that Anne appeared not to be the virgin she had claimed to be. Because Anne also could not give him a son, Henry ended up having Anne executed so that he could marry Jane Seymour. Anne may have been the love of Henry’s life, and it’s tragic that she died a few weeks after giving birth to Henry’s first son.

He then married Anne of Cleves in a political marriage, but that marriage didn’t last long because he fell in love with Catherine Howard and got a divorce from Anne. Catherine came to a tragic end of her own because she had extramarital affairs. An irate Henry VIII had her executed. The infamous Henry VIII married once more to a woman named Catherine Parr. Although Catherine was in love with another man, she was faithful to Henry and they were married for four years before he died in 1547.


A Poor Military Leader

In spite of being famous for his marriage, what else do we know about Henry VIII? For one thing, he wasn’t a great military general. He was unable to understand that his actions had long-term consequences and he enjoyed playing, hunting, gambling, drinking, and cavorting more than he enjoyed governing.

Because he became so obese, he couldn’t ride a horse, having to instead be carted around on a litter. Fortunately, he had a sharp intellect and exceptional memory, so he was able to make quick decisions when needed. It’s important to note that England spent most of Henry VIII’s reign at war.


A Tyrant to the End

While it can be easy to try to defend Henry VIII’s actions because of his many health problems, the fact is, that this king was always a tyrant. Mental illness only made him worse as time went on. When he made himself the head of the Church of England, he stole all of the wealth from England’s monasteries and spent it. He also spent all of his inheritance because of his court and wars.

When he died, he was deeply in debt. Notably, Henry VIII also killed more people than any ruler in the history of Great Britain.