In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Henry VIII, King of England

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works and Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Digital Sources
  • Digital State Papers
  • General Overviews
  • Biographies
  • Essay Collections
  • Family Relations
  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII
  • Culture and the Royal Court
  • Iconography and Royal Processions
  • Literature
  • Shakespeare’s Henry VIII
  • In Popular Culture
  • Reputation and Afterlife

Renaissance and Reformation Henry VIII, King of England
Sarah Covington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0301


Henry VIII bestrode his era with the kind of imposing confidence that he projected in his famous wide-legged posture immortalized in the portrait by Hans Holbein, and he has never left center stage since. Yet, as G. R. Elton once wrote, “because [Henry] so much succeeded in identifying his personality with his age, the problems of that age leave the king himself still the subject of debate” (Elton 1974–1992, cited under Politics and Government, p. 100). Elton himself denuded Henry of any particular originality of vision, leaving all agency, at least in governmental matters, to his secretary, Thomas Cromwell. More-recent historians have brought Henry back to significance as a political operator—especially of Parliament—in his own right, while others have variously designated him as a hero or villain of the Protestant cause; a frivolous, if wily, incompetent; a flawed hero; a formidable if despotic agent of state; and the founder of the English imperium. Running through these estimations are the pivotal developments that marked his reign: for one, Henry was the ruler who instigated the momentous break with Roman Catholicism by establishing the new Church of England and officially introducing Protestantism into the country, even if he himself held to many important facets of the old faith. Equally important, he oversaw the consolidation of Tudor rule by strengthening the Crown, asserting control (for the most part) over the nobility and instigating legislative and administrative changes that led to a greater bureaucratization of government. Historians have benefited from a wealth of documentation covering these developments, even if they remain divided among themselves over interpretations yielded by the sources. Primary sources are abundant, even if the printed collections are somewhat aged at this point, and the historiography continues on, abundantly, not only with regards to the man, his wives, his government, and his reformation policies, but in popular culture, on television, and in film, which continue to drive audience hunger for knowing the man. The 500th anniversary of Henry’s accession to the throne in 2009 brought about a reassessment of his legacy, but as this article demonstrates, the need to tell the story of this complex and difficult figure displays no signs of abating.

Reference Works and Bibliographies

Students and scholars have benefited from a wealth of resources that offer a guide into the substantial primary and secondary sources accruing around Henry and his reign. Brepolis (Bibliography of British and Irish History) offers a searchable and constantly updated bibliography, though it is by subscription only. Read 1959 is one of the most comprehensive bibliographies and should still be consulted, though its sources extend only through the 1950s. Elton 1970 is dated but is useful for the overview it provides on the sources and the interpretation of them through the centuries. Levine 1968 is similarly dated, though it differs from Elton 1970 in providing a listing of sources. Fritze 1991 is a usable dictionary that offers easy reference to topics and individuals in Tudor England, with Kinney and Swain 2001 doing the same, though it extends to seven hundred individual entries. Finally, Matthew and Harrison 2004 should be consulted for individuals in Henry’s England, all of whom are given biographical treatment by leading scholars.

  • Bibliography of British and Irish History. Brepolis.

    Previously the Royal Historical Society Bibliography of British and Irish History, this is a comprehensive and searchable online database of secondary sources related to British and Irish history, with an enormous offering of entries related to Henry VIII. Available online by subscription only.

  • Elton, G. R. Modern Historians on British History, 1485–1945: A Critical Bibliography, 1945–1969. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970.

    A survey of nearly four hundred years of British history by a leading scholar of Henrician England, this volume is particularly strong in discussing the existing primary sources and document collections, and it devotes a chapter to the 16th century and Henry.

  • Fritze, Ronald H., ed. Historical Dictionary of Tudor England, 1485–1603. New York: Greenwood, 1991.

    A useful reference work on Tudor England, with entries that include individuals, institutions, laws, economics, social history, military issues, popular culture, and Irish and Scottish history. Includes a useful appendix of chronology and a bibliography with each entry at the end.

  • Kinney, Arthur F., and David W. Swain, eds. Tudor England: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 2001.

    Over seven hundred entries representing all facets of the Tudor world, with strong entries on the Henrician period. A handy appendix of bibliographic essays is also included.

  • Levine, Mortimer. Tudor England, 1485–1603. London: Cambridge University Press, 1968.

    A listing of 2,360 sources that cover scholarship on the period up to 1968, including general surveys, constitutional and political history, military and naval history, economic history, and the arts and intellectual history. Usefully categorized and indexed.

  • Matthew, C. G., and Brian Harrison, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 60 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    The beginning point for research on individuals in Tudor England, from the prominent to the most obscure. Available online and in print, this sixty-volume, recently revised work also contains illustrations and helpful bibliographic information from each contribution.

  • Read, Conyers. Bibliography of British History: Tudor Period, 1485–1603. 2d ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1959.

    An exhaustive bibliography, cross-referenced, and including local histories as well as Scotland and a huge range of other subject matter. Remains the best bibliography on the Tudor age, compiled and edited by one of its leading historians, though the sources extend only to the end of 1956.

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