Henry VIII's children

Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I

Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I

All three of Henry VIII's children became queens or kings of England. They played an important role in both British history and the history of the royal palaces. 

Each of Henry’s three children also stayed at Hampton Court Palace.

Header image: Detail of The Family of King Henry VIII, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

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.

Edward was extremely well educated by a set of forward-thinking Cambridge scholars, who instilled in the prince a desire for religious reform. Even before he was 10, Edward was, apparently, fairly fluent in Latin, Greek and French. 

Image: Portrait of Edward VI as a child, circa 1538, Hans Holbein the Younger, ©National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA/Bridgeman Images

Edward VI (1537-53). The young prince wears a russet satin gown with hanging sleeves, trimmed with velvet, embroidered with gold thread and lined with lynx fur.  Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The young king

Edward was crowned aged 9 although his uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, acted as the young King's governor and lord protector of the realm until he was deposed in 1550.

Edward's reign saw the foundations laid for one of the great transformations of English society, the English Reformation, but the King did not live to see the successful realisation of many of his religious plans. Falling ill in 1552, probably with tuberculosis, he finally succumbed on 6 July 1553, aged only 15. 

Image: Portrait of Edward VI (1537-53), probably completed not long before the King's accession on 28 January 1547. Attributed to William Scrots (active 1537-53). Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Illustration of King Edward VI

‘The duke …had his head cut off upon Tower hill, between eight and nine o’clock this morning’

Entry in Edward’s journal, coolly recording the death of his uncle, Edward Seymour. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

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.

Reportedly pretty and privileged, she received a scholarly education, partly directed by her staunchly Catholic mother.

When Henry divorced Katherine, Princess Mary’s royal future looked doubtful, and she was demoted to the status of ‘lady’, no longer a princess.

When her younger brother became king, Mary became a focus for conservative and catholic opposition to the reforming protestant ideas of Edward VI and his ministers.

Image: Queen Mary I by Master John, 1544, © National Portrait Gallery, London

‘While my father lives I shall only be the Lady Mary, the most unhappy lady in Christendom’.

Princess Mary, complaining that her father Henry VIII had not managed to find her a husband, because of the constantly changing politics of the last years of his reign. © National Portrait Gallery, London

'Bloody' Mary

Mary I was the first Queen of England to rule in her own right. As queen, Mary became determined to return the country to the ‘old religion’.

Her persecution and execution of protestants earned her the title ‘Bloody Mary’ but this must be seen in the context of the eventual triumph of the Church of England and later writers’ successful attempts to destroy her reputation.

In 1554 Mary married Philip II 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.

Image: Queen Mary I after Anthonis Mor (Antonio Moro), © National Portrait Gallery, London

Portrait of Princess Elizabeth (I) Attributed to William Scrots

Elizabeth I, born 1533, reigned 1558-1603

Elizabeth was the only daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. 

After the execution of her mother on charges of adultery and treason when Elizabeth was only 2, the little princess found her royal status threatened.

In the later years of Henry VIII’s reign, his three children were all once again included in the succession, and so – eventually – Elizabeth became queen after both her brother Edward and her sister Mary died childless.  

Image: Portrait of Princess Elizabeth, c.1546.  Attributed to William Scrots (active 1537-53), Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

One of the most important surviving images of Elizabeth I, this portrait was almost certainly painted from life, and the resulting pattern for the queen's face was to be repeated for the remainder of her reign.

The 'Virgin Queen'

Elizabeth’s sympathies with religious reformers meant she became the focus for opposition during the reign of her sister, Mary I.

At one point, Mary imprisoned her in the Tower of London on suspicion of treason.

Elizabeth’s shrewdness and coolness under questioning demonstrated a growing political maturity, skills which were sorely tested during her own extraordinary 45-year reign.

As queen, Elizabeth presided over a golden age of English literature and drama, but political and religious troubles remained an ever present challenge.

Elizabeth, the ‘Virgin Queen’, famously never married. The Tudor dynasty died with her in 1603.

Image: Queen Elizabeth I by an unknown continental artist, circa 1575, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Browse more history and stories

Explore what's on

Children looking over Tower wall

Join historian Lucy Worsley to find out all about the world’s most famous divorce!

21 April 2018

Tower of London

Events Member only

Doors open at 13.45 for a 14.00 start

A live interpreter dressed as a Tudor Lady and a Live Interpreter dressed as a Tudor Gentlemen are kneeling on either side of a padlocked chest in the Great Watching Chamber. They are arguing.

Step into the dangerous declining years of Henry’s VIII’s reign. Choose your enemies, choose your friends, but choose wisely.

Daily until 15 April 2018

Hampton Court Palace

Events Families

11:00, 12:45, 14:30

Join Siobhan Clarke at the Banqueting Hall for an exclusive tour of this revolutionary building.

21 (sold out) and 27 July (12pm tour sold out) 2018

Banqueting House

Events Member only

Starting promptly in the Undercroft at 10:30 and 12:00