Management & Leadership

Three Leadership Lessons from King Henry VIII


Updated on 20/6/2023


When you think of Henry VIII, you probably think of all the juicy controversies surrounding his name – from the wives, he beheaded to the wars he started. Yes, Henry VIII was brutal, selfish, and at times, very unpleasant. But despite this, it’s hard to deny that King Henry VIII was a very accomplished leader. He achieved a great many things during his reign as King of England between the years 1509 and 1547. For example:

  • King Henry VIII established the Church of England. His motives may have been questionable, but how many Monarchs managed to achieve complete religious reform and establish a brand new religion that is still going strong 500 years on?
  • King Henry VIII multiplied the number of ships in the country’s Navy by 16. He had a penchant for war, which saw him directing the production of 55 new ships across the course of his reign. In fact, this marked the beginning of England’s permanent Navy. An achievement not to be sniffed at!
  • King Henry VIII successfully defended his country against every single French invasion between 1545 and 1546. Sure, he may have provoked their attacks… but at least he kept his country safe!

Henry VIII’s achievements were successful thanks to his high level of strategic thinking and his keen skill for influencing and leading other people.

Although you may not necessarily approve of many of his actions, there are definitely lessons to be learned about leadership by examining some of the finer details of Henry’s reign:

1. Develop a Skilled and Diverse Management Team

Henry VIII quickly learned that if he relied too much on any single point of failure, things tended to go wrong. As his reign progressed, he began to assemble a diverse team of leaders, each of which he assigned to specific areas of country management. For example:

  • Thomas Cromwell was Henry’s, Chief Minister. Cromwell went on to mastermind solutions to many of Henry VIII’s politically-sensitive issues, including his divorce from Catherine of Aragon.
  • Thomas Cranmer played an important part in Henry’s reign, shaping and directing many of the religious movements, in his role as Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • Thomas More, an English Lawyer and Statesman, was an important part of the justice system during King Henry VIII’s reign. He was appointed as Lord High Chancellor in 1529 and became well-known for how quickly and efficiently he dispatched cases.

If you try to do too many things yourself, or if you create leadership “bottlenecks” where too much responsibility is given to any single person, then you will find yourself struggling to tread water. But if you assign different areas of leadership to people who specialise in those specific areas, you will be more likely to lead your team further forward, faster.

2. Build an Environment that Inspires

King Henry VIII’s court was made up of over a thousand people. This is a large workforce even by modern standards, and as such, managing the working space of his court was a tricky issue.

Henry had many different palaces over the course of his lifetime, and he was well known for turning them into wonderful places of work and play for his court. For example, when he moved into York Place, he redesigned and extended the building to include a recreation area, a bowling green, a tennis court, a jousting yard and a cock-fighting pit. He also built many gigantic kitchens to satisfy his gigantic appetite.

Sure, many of these developments may have been selfishly driven. But Henry’s court was a well-oiled machine of pure efficiency – and this is perhaps, in part, thanks to how well he catered for their needs as well as his own.

3. If at First, You Don’t Succeed…

Henry famously went through multiple marriages and multiple daughters in his quest for a male heir to his throne. Eventually, he succeeded, and his son Edward took his place as king when he died.

In our modern age of equality, his goal seems a bit silly in retrospect. But the fact is that he continued striving for it, no matter how difficult it seemed.

As leaders, we should not let mishaps and setbacks stop us from reaching for our goals. We should be inspiring our teams to constantly look for new ways of hitting our goals!

Rich Newsome
By Rich Newsome Digital Content Writer

Rich is a content writer at Access PeopleHR and has a wealth of experience within the tech space, including HR software. Passionate about providing website visitors with informative and easy-to-understand content, Rich is committed to helping SMBs find the best solutions for their needs. With a flair for writing, Rich's content engages and educates readers, guiding them towards informed decisions.