Henry VIII was very much a conformist with regards to his beliefs. His main belief was that God had had created society as it was and that this society should not change or be challenged. Henry believed that women were inferior to men and that those who were born into poverty were there because that was the way God ordained it to be. In this sense, Henry was very black and white with regards to his beliefs – very much a traditionalist.
Henry expected as a matter of duty that his wives should honour and obey him. He never forgave Catherine of Aragon for contesting their divorce and positively celebrated her death in 1536 despite having had many years together. Probably what eventually sealed Anne Boleyn’s fate was the fact that she was willing to stand up to Henry – something the king could not accept. Jane Seymour fully accepted that she was inferior to Henry and played out the part of the docile and all-obedient wife during their short marriage. Anne of Cleves also played the submissive female even after the end of their marriage – and lived out a comfortable life even after the divorce and remained on good terms with Henry who referred to her as his ‘sister’. The same was true for Catherine Parr. Despite an argument regarding religion, which led to her arrest, Catherine threw herself at the mercy of Henry who forgave her and she became passive and subservient to his death. For Henry, Catherine Howard’s betrayal of him was almost the greatest of all sins – a young lady going against the will of her husband and having a mind of her own.
Henry fully believed that the social order of England had to be maintained at all costs. For him, civilisation itself would have been threatened if there was any challenge to this or any threat to the social distinction that existed. Henry reacted with great anger to any group that he perceived was challenging this – as those on the Pilgrimage of Grace found out to their cost. Henry was certainly not unique in these beliefs – the highest social orders throughout Europe would have held the same beliefs and would have reacted in the same manner to any challenge to this order.
Henry VIII had a very different work ethic to his father. Henry VII had worked very hard at government and governing. His approach led to many viewing the king as a boring man whose sole task was bettering ways of governing his people. Henry VII tried to keep as many aspects of government in his hands and this meant that he spent many hours a day working on this. He had a fearsome work ethic and the Tudor monarchy benefited according as Henry VIII’s inheritance showed in 1509. Henry VIII had no such approach to day-to-day living. He believed that it was perfectly acceptable for others to do the work his father had tried to do. Henry believed that his subjects would expect him to lead a grand, joyful life – one befitting a king. Therefore, Henry VIII had no qualms about many hours spent hunting, feasting etc. This, he believed, was what his people expected of him. An overriding sense of loyalty would ensure that those who worked for him would do so to the best of their ability. Once they had been briefed by Henry as to the direction of policy, they were trusted to act accordingly. This did not mean that Henry did not take part in government – just that he expected others to do what he required for him. Historians do believe that Henry was also capable of absorbing the major aspects of government with some ease and that he could easily participate in governmental issues when required. However, Henry did believe that it was more important to act like to a king – first, this allowed him to do as he wished and second, it was, in Henry’s mind, what his subjects wanted.
Henry had a great belief in honour. He believed in others being loyal and obedient but above all he believed in honour. In documents written by Henry, two issues seem to have been of greatest importance to him when deciding upon a course of action: ‘what was the honourable way for him to act?’ and ‘was any action taken by others an affront to his honour?’ As a child Henry was brought up on tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The whole issue of honour would have been engrained into him at an early age. That he viewed his treatment of certain people as honourable shows the complexity of the man.