Henry VIII's children

All three of Henry's children went on to become kings and queens of England.

Portrait of Edward VI as a child.  National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA / Bridgeman Images

Edward VI, born 1537, reigned 1547-53

Edward, born and christened at Hampton Court Palace was the eagerly-awaited son of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. Henry is said to have wept with joy as he held his infant son, then wept again a few days later when the queen died from post-birth complications.

As a little boy Edward was spoiled and indulged, he even had his own fighting bears. He was extremely well-educated by a set of forward-thinking Cambridge scholars, who instilled in the prince a respect for religious reform. Even before he was 8, Edward was fluent in Latin, Greek and French.

He was crowned aged 9, although his uncle, Seymour, acted as his protector until he was deposed in 1550. But sickly Edward had little time left to carry out any of the great religious reforms he wanted. He finally succumbed to tuberculosis in 1553, aged only 15. 

Queen Mary I by Master John, 1544.  National Portrait Gallery, NPG 428

Mary I, born 1516, reigned 1553-58

Mary Tudor was the only surviving child of King Henry VIII’s 24-year marriage to Katherine of Aragon. When her mother fell from favour, her Princess Mary’s own future looked doubtful, and she was demoted to 'Lady Mary'.

As queen, Mary was notorious, and seemed bent on revenging her Catholic mother and returning the country to the 'old religion'. Her persecution of over 300 Protestants earned her the title 'Bloody Mary' and the nursery rhyme 'Mary Mary, quite contrary' is thought to refer to her attempt to re-impose the Catholic faith upon England.

In 1554 she married Philip of Spain. A year later, it was thought the queen was pregnant, and the court gathered at Hampton Court Palace to await the birth. However, no baby ever came. Mary’s swollen belly was possibly the result of a psychological phantom pregnancy.

Elizabeth I, born 1533, reigned 1559-1603

Elizabeth was the only daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. The little princess’s life was thrown into chaos aged nearly 3, when her mother was executed. Elizabeth was declared illegitimate and banished from court. She was brought up in Hatfield House in Hertford, but reinstated at court after Prince Edward’s birth.

Protestant Elizabeth appears to have been clever and quick-witted; talents she put to good use when as a young woman she was perceived as a threat to her Catholic half-sister Mary. At one point, Mary imprisoned her in the Tower of London on suspicion of treason. The courage and coolness under questioning she demonstrated augured well for her extraordinary 45-year reign. Elizabeth, the 'Virgin Queen' famously never married. 

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