Henry the Great or Henry the Tyrant? You Decide
Posted By Claire on April 28, 2009
I’ve been having a bit of a discussion about Henry VIII’s personality with Andrew over at “Tudor Stuff”, arguing over whether Henry was great or a tyrant. Andy posted an article by Jill Hamilton about the fact that some historians want to bestow the title “Henry the Great” on this Tudor monarch.
Of course, I’m a biased Anne Boleyn fan and the video below pretty much sums up how I think of Henry, but Jill’s article is well thought out and she and Andy (in his comment back to me on the blog) do make some good points.
Here are some of the reasons why Jill and Andy think that Henry may be deserving of the title “Henry the Great”:-
- Henry was chivalrous – He wanted to be a new King Arthur and we know he loved the chivalry of jousting.
- He married for love – Henry married Anne Boleyn for love, whereas all other English monarchs have married for political and diplomatic reasons.
- His second daughter, Elizabeth I, was one of the greatest monarchs the world has seen and heralded in a Golden Age.
- Henry VIII changed laws and broke with Rome in order to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn – He risked his reputation, the threat of war, the wrath of the Pope and the risk of purgatory to get his own way.
- Henry VIII was a patron of the Arts.
- He was the first monarch to authorise an English Bible.
- He had a major impact on history and is still instantly recognised today from his portraits – Would people know what Henry V looked like?
- He defended the monarchy and kept his throne.
Other reasons why Henry VIII could be seen as great include:-
- The fact that he and Catherine of Aragon were successful in defending England from the Scots and driving off the French in the Battle of Spurs.
- He protected England from invasion from France and Emperor Charles V’s troops.
- He squashed uprisings such as the Pilgrimage of Grace.
- He “united” England, Wales and Ireland.
- He created a navy which Elizabeth I was able to use to defeat the Spanish Armada.
- He devised a parliamentary system.
- He built the most beautiful palaces and buildings – Including Hampton Court Palace, Whitehall, Nonsuch and Beaulieu.
OK, so looking at all those reasons, I must admit that Henry VIII had a pretty successful reign, but does that means he was “great”. No, I don’t believe so.
Here are some of my reason for not bestowing such a title on Henry VIII:-
- He was corrupt – He went from being a virtuous prince who wanted to end the financial corruption of his father’s reign to actually being just as corrupt himself and stealing from monasteries!
- Henry VIII was responsible for the Dissolution of the Monasteries – The melting down and burning of religious sculptures, icons and works of art and the destruction of many old and beautiful buildings, all in the name of religion, yet he didn’t seem sure whether he was catholic or protestant.
- Henry VIII was a killer – As I said in a previous blog, “Did Anne Boleyn Create a Monster?”, one chronicler puts the number of executions during Henry VIII’s reign at around 72,000, far more than many historians believe were killed in the 350 years of the Spanish Inquisition! Henry also executed two of his wives, his great friend Thomas More, his chief adviser Thomas Cromwell, and framed Anne Boleyn and men from his court for crimes that they did not commit.
- Henry VIII was cruel – For example, he duped Robert Aske (Pilgrimage of Grace) into going to London and then arrested him and killed him slowly by hanging him with chains, a death that is said to take a slow 5-6 days. He tortured a confession out of Mark Smeaton by racking him and tying an ever tightening rope around his head and one eye. When Jane Seymour begged him to stop his destruction of the monasteries, he reminded her of what had happened to Anne Boleyn. He banished Catherine of Aragon from court and then separated her from her daughter, Mary. These are just a few of his cruel acts!
- He turned on people when things didn’t go his way – Just look at Wolsey, More and Cromwell.
- He tried to create some kind of middle ground between the Catholic faith and Luther’s New Religion, but ended up executing many protestants and catholics and creating religious instability and conflict.
- He needlessly executed Anne Boleyn – The marriage had been made invalid and annulled so why the need to execute her for treason and adultery?
- Henry VIII was weak – He let people influence him (like Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell) and then blamed them for the results of his actions.
Those are some of the reasons why I believe that Henry VIII was more “Henry the Tyrant”, rather than “Henry the Great”, but please let me know what you think by leaving your comment below. You can also join my discussion on this at the AnneBoleynFiles wiki site – click here.