Henry VIII was one of the most fascinating figures in English history. Tall, good-looking, charismatic and intelligent, a fine musician and a magnificent sportsman, he was also grasping, unpredictable, suspicious and cruel.
He began his reign as the striking picture of gallant valour, but he ended up as a bloated, stinking whale, despised and feared across the land, but in his determination to protect his Tudor line, Henry changed England in ways that still reverberate today.
Succeeding his father in 1509, Henry ruled during one of the most revolutionary periods in European history, the Reformation, when radical intellectuals were testing the grasp of the Roman Catholic Church.
At first, Henry treated the new ideas with mistrust. The new books were burned in public and revolutionaries against the Catholic Church, who were nicknamed Protestants, were hauled to their deaths.
But then events took an unpredictable twist. The great religious debates of the day became tangled up with Henry’s tortured love life, and then everything changed.
Henry’s father had acquired the crown on the battlefield after years of civil war. So for Henry, nothing was more important than keeping his family’s grip on the throne.
To do that he needed a son, as no woman had ever ruled England unchallenged, and in his desperation, he worked his way through not one or two wives, or even three or four, but a record-breaking six.
As Henry’s wives came and went, from Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour to Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr, England changed with them.
The only way Henry could get rid of his first wife was by severing the link with Roman Catholicism and setting up a new Church of England, with himself at its head.
It was a huge moment in England’s history. For the first time, Englishmen came to think of themselves as a nation apart, separate from Europe, chosen by God to fight for freedom.
More than any other king in our history, Henry really did make a difference, as well as his six wives, whose names have gone down in history, but when it comes down to it, he was an overweight leader with numerous wives, lots of children and a lack of morality – he was born into privilege, aggressive and a narcissistic fool, and thank God people like this don’t lead our wonderful country today.
And I never could understand the romancing of Henry the VIII. He was believed to have had over 57,000 to 72,000 people executed during his reign, although that’s likely to be an exaggeration, but he wasn’t a nice man and was the ultimate dictator.
But what a wonderful and captivating history, and perhaps the descendants of those should ask for reparations.
All royals married not because of love but for strategic purposes, and in Henry’s reign he married so he could have a son to carry on the Tudor bloodline, and some royals still do this today, and all of Henry’s wives were condemned for their lack of giving him a male successor, where we now know that the only person to blame was Henry himself, because clearly, he had a lot of X chromosomes instead of Y ones.
But the life of England’s King VIII is a royal enigma. He was a lusty womaniser who married six times and canoodled with innumerable ladies in waiting in a time before reliable birth control, although he only fathered four children who survived childhood.
He was handsome, robust and relatively benevolent in the early years of his reign, but he ballooned into an ailing 300-pound dictator whose capriciousness and paranoia sent many heads rolling, including those of his two wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.