Henry VIII – Henry the Great or Henry the Monster?

Posted By on June 28, 2017

Henry VIII is an iconic figure who divides opinion. Whenever I post anything about him here on the Anne Boleyn Files or on social media, I always get a very mixed response with some saying that he was a tyrant and monster, others saying that he was a great king, still others saying that he started out as a good king but ended his reign a bad king… very mixed views.

In an article Henry the Great? back in 2010, I discussed some of Henry VIII’s achievements and I quoted David Starkey, who, in his book Virtuous Prince, talks about there being two Henrys: the youthful virtuous prince and the old tyrant. We have this Henry:

“Holbein’s Henry is the king of his last dozen or so years, when he was – in Charles Dickens’s glorious phrase – a spot of blood and grease on the history of England. This is the hulking tyrant with a face like Humpty Dumpty of nightmare, who broke with Rome and made himself supreme head of the church; who married six wives, of whom he divorced two and divorced and executed two others; who dissolved six hundred monasteries; demolished most of them and shattered the religious pieties and practices of a thousand years; who beheaded nobles and ministers, including those who had been his closest friends, castrated, disembowelled and quartered rebels and traitors, boiled poisoners and burned heretics”

but

“This is also the king who reinvented England; presided over the remaking of English as a language and literature and began to turn the English Channel into the widest strip of water in the world. He carried the powers of the English monarchy to their peak.”

I concluded that article with a Harry Potter reference (I do love Harry Potter!). It’s like when wandmaker Garrick Ollivander tells Harry Potter that Voldemort did “great things” with his wand, “terrible, yes, but great”. It is hard to reconcile Henry’s achievements and his generosity with the man who was responsible for the executions of people like Thomas More, Bishop Fisher, the Carthusian monks, Anne Boleyn, Margaret Pole… Perhaps we just need to consider that nobody is all good or all bad, and we will never be able to get into the mind of a 16th century king or appreciate the context of the times. I don’t know!

What do you think? Share your view by taking part in this poll:

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35 thoughts on “Henry VIII – Henry the Great or Henry the Monster?”

  1. Diana Daskalos-Chesny says:

    Henry VIII was all those things and more. For better or worse he is and will continue to be one of most talked about monarchs of all time. Henry and the Tudors changed the world in ways that still affect us to this day. He facinates us to no end yet we love and hate him at the same time. Great? Probably. Terrible? Probably. He was simply The Henry.

  2. Beth Hallman says:

    I feel that the severe head injury suffered by Henry, in his ill fated joust, had a lot to do with his behavior in his later years. So I can say,. that I think personally, that the first two choices do not apply……………

    1. Regina Porter says:

      I agree with you. The jousting accident changed Henry. Who knows what King of King he would have been. Now days we know a head injury like his will likely cause some sort of brain damage, so it’s had to put Henry in a category,; he’s just Henry.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I think modern readers of biographies of Henry VIII make the mistake of judging him by 21st century morality and laws. We cannot do that as the world of Henry was a different time and place. I think Henry was a great king because of some of the things he did. His actions changed the world, and we are still living with the consequences of what he did (English Reformation, Church of England, producing Queen Elizabeth I) almost 500 years after his death. Henry VIII was a great and terrible king, and that is why he is immortal.

  4. Kate says:

    Ah, Henry. Such a complex and facisnating man. So much to admire and so much to despise. I think that is why he continues to interest me – because I cannot make up my mind if I love or loathe him!

  5. Caro says:

    I never ever get tired of reading about him. He is never boring! I agree with all the above that there are two Henry’s and he was a King of his time. He took power and did good and evil with it.

  6. Stephanie Francis says:

    In my opinion, Henry VIII was a person and human that had to make horrible decides. We as ordinary people will never know what it´s like being a monarch over a country. We also have to think that Henry never probable though when he became king that he would marry 6 wives and executed two of them I don´t think Henry thought his life would go that way. It has become more a subject now, that Henry suffered from a mental illness in a time where the word mental illness did not exist, and I myself have a mental illness so no I don´t hate Henry yes he did bad things and a lot of people hate him because he executed Anne Boleyn I also did that for many years but I realized that Henry was human that went through many terrible experiences and suffered many years with his mental illness and I myself understand that better than anyone, my mental illness started when I was 9 and over the last 11 years has gotten worse, I actually realize that Henry could actually be in my group therapy with me. Please before you start judging people from the past remember you have no idea how they lives were like.
    Don´t judge, so that you won´t be judged.

  7. Ana Gomez says:

    I think Henry the VIII is a fascinsting figure ! Larger thank life!Certainly cannot be judged by present Day standards – i think he became gross – fat – and cruel – because he was in a state of permanent frustration with HIS Great matter for very long – that he was used to getting his own way ALLWAYS – that he started blaming everyone for his frustrations – that he wanted a make heir – that he was irritable most of the time – because of his increasing physical ailments- and that he had a cruel tendency in his nature as time went by- and it was a cruel age – but then today is also a cruel age and the World has been cruel since the beginning of time…..

  8. Renita Peeler says:

    I agree with David Starkey that there were two Henrys: The younger Henry who did many good things, and the older Henry, who did some very questionable and bad things. He was
    definitely a mix of the two. I also agree with some of the other comments that something must have happened to cause his personality to shift as it did. Either way, he is an iconic figure in British history.

  9. Esther says:

    In characterizing Henry as a young man, people often forget that, as soon as he was crowned, Henry VIII beheaded Empson and Dudley, who did nothing but obey Henry VII in figuring out methods of transferring g other people’s money to the king. While the young Henry VIII seemed like a virtuous prince, the cruelty and ruthlessness were always there. Furthermore, did Henry VIII ever do anything that benefitted all his people, instead of just the nobility? His early wars in France cost him all the money his father had gathered, making it necessary to take the wealth of the church (or raise taxes). Thomas Cromwell, at least, recognized that, with the attacks on the Church, poor relief would need to be a government function; Henry didn’t do anything for the poor except take away the one safety net they had. (Cromwell drafted a poor law in 1535 that wasn’t enacted until years later — his work was similar to the Elizabethan poor law of 1596 — that lasted 300 years)

    1. Conor Byrne says:

      Esther, you are so right. I sometimes think that people fall into the trap of believing that until he met Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII was a chivalrous, gentle and kind figure capable of doing no wrong, and it was her pernicious influence that led to the ruin of the king’s close friends and advisors – including Wolsey, More and Fisher – and the repudiation of Katherine of Aragon (and the bastardisation of his daughter). But as you say, the warning signs were ALWAYS there and Henry, like most human beings, was complex: he was capable of great kindness as well as acts of unspeakable cruelty and brutality.

      I am also not convinced that the 1536 joust ‘changed’ Henry in the sense that some people think it did; the reports we have for it are contradictory, it is also questionable whether he was actually unconscious for two hours (the source for that is unreliable). No, I would say that Henry’s ruthlessness was evidenced much earlier than 1536. Of course, that year was a crisis for the king, as it saw the deaths of two wives and the loss of a possible heir (Henry Fitzroy) as well as the bastardisation of another (Elizabeth), coupled with rebellion (the Pilgrimage of Grace) and shifting foreign alliances (the mooted Anglo-Habsburg alliance in the spring and summer of 1536).

      No, what we have here is Henry’s growing uneasiness and concern for the succession, even more so than in 1527-8 when he first attempted to end the marriage to Katherine. Sixteenth-century writers regarded forty as the onset of old age. Whether Anne Boleyn’s fall represented a crisis in gender relations – as Suzannah Lipscomb argues – is open to debate, but certainly her swift downfall and execution, to me, reveals how concerned Henry was by that point about the future of his dynasty, and whether he would ever have a living male heir. Of course, by October 1537, he did have a male heir, but even so. We shouldn’t impose a misleading divide between the early years (ie. 1509 to c1520) and the last decade of his reign (ie 1536 and afterwards).

    2. Banditqueen says:

      Asking if Henry did anything to benefit his people is interesting. I doubt Kings actually did very much to benefit the poorest in society, who still struggle even now. However, he did make some attempts to protect farming and common land from enclosure in the early parts of his reign. He also encouraged learning at all levels, with numerous Kings schools for the poor during the period 1512 to 1528 springing up all over the place. He endowed University places and made them more accessible. His building and industrial projects benefited local communities with employment and in the 1530s there were attempts at poor relief. However, the biggest safety net in many ways were the monasteries because monastic farms provided small scale tenancy agreements and employment from which the farm and monastery benefited. Lay brothers were employed as builders and to do repairs and in crafts and they had what we would today call a number of local business interests, all of which vanished with the religious community. The buildings were not taken over for good causes and fell into ruin and associated schools and hospitals also closed down. Henry realised this after a series of complaints reached the Privy Council who by the mid 1530s were meeting every day as a proper form of government. From 1538 grammar schools and Kings schools had to be reformed and endowed as did hospitals and other institutions in order to plug the gaps left by the dissolution. The Vagrant Act 1536 meant that the state took on responsibilities for the unemployed and homeless in theory, but it also punished beggars. If you were licensed fine and genuinely deserving of help, if you are able bodied and not licensed severe punishment could follow for fraud. It was swings and roundabouts with social reform and the Pilgrimage of Grace was not just about the closure of the monasteries. New taxation hit hardest in the North and Midlands and enclosure did begin to be allowed of monastic land by private gentry, who were gaining more power causing farm land to vanish or be taxed. This was one of the complaints of the northern rebellions, which we know were dealt with harshly although not with the greatly exaggerated massacre in the Tudors. Tudor rebellions were always dealt with severely, no matter who was in charge, Darling Elizabeth I included. It was almost a fact of life. The King was in charge and it was not acceptable to raise arms and challenge his authority, even if you had a good reason. You were meant to present a petition and ask the King for a remedy. There were other benefits from Henry’s reign, however, like the protection of English goods and regulations on shipping against piracy and fraud. There was also compensation against loss. However, Henry’s war in France was also very expensive and the money he spent obviously benefited the gentle classes more than the ordinary person. Henry had the potential to be far more enterprising than he was but well his own obsessions blinded him to the true nature of Kingship.

  10. Lisa says:

    Henry did not have to kill, debase, manipulate or torture any of his wives or his innocent subjects. He used the crown to do what he wanted. He was an ego filled narcissistic self-centered bully, even when his damaged leg was stinking up the court, everyone had to act like they didn’t notice.

    Mental illness or not, if he was such a great Monarch and was politically smart about things he wouldn’t have been such a murderer of many innocent people.

  11. Globerose says:

    Interestingly, according to the Guardian (2015) Henry VIII was voted worst monarch in history, whilst his daughter by Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, was voted The Greatest with 36% of the vote cast by 60 writers surveyed by the HWA. One author called him, “a gross man-child, wilfully and capriciously dangerous to everything around him.” So perhaps a consensus of modern historians fails in finding Henry ‘great’ or anything like it, and possibly even …worse than John I!! But of Henry’s legacy, others are more lenient, and make him appear almost Great. Ipso, Henry Magnus, greater in legacy than in deed or intent?
    Claire, never quite got what made Voldemort ‘great’.. Is it possibly that he was, or his deeds were, considerably greater than other wizards. And in this sense only, was he great and terrible?

    1. Claire says:

      Globerose,
      I think Ollivander was commenting on Voldemort’s intelligence and skill, which he obviously used for evil rather than good. Great talent, shame about the usage. That’s what I take the comment as meaning anyway.

      It’s going all the way back to 2007 that Alison Weir argued for Henry VIII being England’s greatest monarch, over Queen Victoria and Elizabeth I. Her argument, which I quote in my article “Henry the Great?” was that Henry was:

      “A true child of the Renaissance – a gentleman in the knightly, chivalric sense, an intellectual who read St Thomas Aquinas for pleasure, an expert linguist, a humanist, an astronomer, a world-class sportsman, a competent musician and composer, an accomplished horseman, and a knowledgeable theologian. He could turn his hand to anything from designing weapons to mathematics or technology, from making up medicines to drawing maps or brick-making. But Henry’s true greatness lay in his practical aptitude, his acute political perception, and in the self-restraint that enabled him to confine – within limits acceptable to his people – an insatiable appetite for power.”

      You can read her conclusion and see the list of achievements she listed at https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/henry-viii-henry-the-great/
      I think he did make significant achievements, but, for me personally, he was a tyrant. Iconic and fascinating, but cruel and fickle.

      1. Globerose says:

        A-ha! Now I see the parallels! Jolly good read too on this, my birthday – yes, just missed out on being born on the same day as the Great Henry! This has really been a most fascinating topic and it’s given me loads to mull over, lots of insights. Thank you Claire and everyone who commented!

        1. Claire says:

          Happy birthday! Are you doing anything special to celebrate? Have a great day x

        2. Banditqueen says:

          Happy Birthday, Globerose. Hope you did something nice.

  12. How close do you think “The Tudors” series came to depicting the truth? I loved the series, but I too was baffled on how they just beheaded or tortured people because of what they perceived as disrespect to the King. But perhaps this went on in other Kings before Henry and was akin to sending people to jail in today’s world for breaking a law..

    I think he was right in his struggle to break free of the dominance of the Catholic Church and the Pope, etc.. — They had much too much power.

    1. Janice Bone says:

      I do feel that we will never truly understand how Henry thought, as he thought as a 16th C King…not as we do in the 21st C. He did awful things, but he also did amazing things…as previously said.
      If you take just one of his acheivements.ie the fortification of our coast by building forts to protect us from European invaders……there is not doubt he did everything well. the forts are still standing. If you balance it against an awful atrocity–he even did these things well and so thoroughly. He excelled in all he did. I do not condone his faults but accept them and think he was one of our greatest Kings. ( the greatest Monarch is Elizabeth 1 )

  13. Laura says:

    I think that Henry not realising he was going to be king as he was the second son didn’t gain much respect for people and their value. I think Henry was cruel executing women, most notably Margaret Pole, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Jane Boleyn. I think Henry really wanted a relationship that replaced his mother. Henry was punishing and cruel yet as mentioned he built fortifications and also build grammar schools.

  14. Christine says:

    Henry V111 was a complex man and I think the truth lies somewhere inbetween, he did free England from the shackles of Europe and lay the foundation of a modern church, he also built the navy and his court was described as the most glittering in the world where scholars and humanists, men of learning would congregate, apart from that he personified Kingship at its mightiest, he towered over most of his subjects at six foot two, being exceptionally tall in an age where the average person was about five foot four to six, he looked like a king and behaved like a king being endowed with striking good looks and a magnificent physique, which he kept due to the hard excercise he undertook every day, he also had a cultural mind and wrote as well as played music, he could read Latin and French and took a diverse interest in the arts as well as astronomy which he shared with Sir Thomas More, he was also pleasure loving which showed itself in his generosity towards others, he would put his arms about the poorest subject never mind if others found this unseemly of a prince, this is one of the aspects of his character I love, it shows he didn’t think he was above treating his subjects like human beings, what I feel happened to this dazzling prince is tragic, a series of unfortunate events that darkened his character and changed him from a benevolent King to a tyrant, he was fond of jousting and this was an extremely dangerous sport, it had maimed and killed many a young man, the had two severe head injuries due to his love for this sport and it may have affected his character as he grew older, he married Katherine having cherished a romantic love for her I believe, when he escorted her up the aisle to her wedding to Arthur, he could have been envious of his older brother, Arthur was the heir apparent and he had a beautiful bride to enjoy, Hemry being the second youngest must have yearned to be in his shoes, then suddenly Arthur died and Henry was his fathers heir, he loved to see himself as a Sir. Lancelot rescuing a damsel in distress, he wooed Katherine and they were married, he had a childlike love of masques and loved to dress up as some one else and go amongst his subjects, then declaring to the astonished people he was their King, he was King Arthur the legendary King of Britain that was how he saw himself and wanted others to see him like that also, chivalric, handsome benevolent and generous, but he had a dark side to, he was also quick tempered and had the habit of blaming others if things went wrong, his conscience which he referred to again and again distanced him from reality as he could never see himself as he really was, he was gods anointed, in that divine age of kings they believed that everything they did was ok with their maker as they were chosen by him to rule, but Henry was fond of using that as an excuse for the atrocities he committed during the middle and latter years of his reign, the dissolution of the monasteries I feel was shocking, beautiful treasures were stolen and despoiled, these beautiful buildings which had been a house of refuge for the poor and sick and homeless were sacked and burnt, he changed the whole religious structure and caused civil war, the aftermath which carried on into his childrens reign, if you measure the awful things he did against the things he did achieve what carries more weight, it’s upto the individual to decide, he murdured Bishop Fisher and his great friend Thomas More who he had known for years, suddenly the affable prince was becoming a bit of a despot capable of killing anyone who got in his way, the world was shocked by their deaths especially More was had been greatly admired and respected, and then his second wife joined them, his fifth wife also became another victim, what made Catherine’s death so dreadful was her young age and then the awful execution of Lady Margaret Pole, both these deaths were needless and tainted Henrys reputation further, he was at this time becoming increasingly paranoid and bad tempered which was caused by depression at his increasing infirmity, like people suffering from paranoia they think everyone’s talking about them and they become very mistrustful, he was still capable of being generous and kind yet ill health was responsible for his black moods, his infected leg must have been very painful for him and he did not think to try to eat and drink a bit less, in his old age he was practically disabled and had to be wheeled about, Charles Dickens sums up his appearance in his rather droll remark, ‘ the Humpty Dumpty of nightmare’ he does indeed look like the child’s nursery rhyme character with his big florid moon face, in Holbeins iconic masterpiece he looks amiable yet in another painting his eyes seem to glare angrily out of the canvas and his mouth is curved in a scowl, this must have been how he looked during his last year, people must have tiptoed around him in dread, had he always had the makings of a tyrant is debatable, people so indulged grow up selfish and self obsessed though they can change with hindsight, I believe his head injuries could have been responsible for his murderous blood lust of later years which was very sad, he caused catastrophe upheaval in his lust for Anne Boleyn and yet had her killed and married his third queen within a few weeks, he changed wives as quickly as he must have changed his socks, and he showed no sentiment towards executing old favourites such as Henry Norris, George Boleyn, More etc, he showed no mercy towards having an old lady of seventy killed, Lady Pole of his young wife a girl of no more than nineteen, it these events that caused a stain on his reign which started of so hopefully, however I dont believe he was truly bad as his behaviour when he was younger testifies, I believe he was a victim of a tragic brain injury that altered his thought patterns, had he not suffered those than who knows he may not be remembered now for behaving so cruelly, history is full of what ifs, he was not blessed with sons which drove him down an obsessive route to get one, discarding wives along the way, fate having endowed him with a great deal of physical beauty let him down on that one, he was a mixture of greatness I feel and tragedy, he could be a tyrant and so I feel he was a mixture of all these things, I certainly would not call him a spot of blood and grease upon England, King John was far far worse yet he did not kill his queen, but he lost all of his fathers Angevin empire he had built up and his crown was given to Philip Of France, his ancestors must have turned in their graves, he allegedly had his young nephew murdured as he contested Johns right to the throne, the barons revolted against him and he was forced to sigh Magna Carta, John was also described as cowardly avaricious and sly, and also he used to mock God which shocked the people as it was a deeply religious age, he would seduce carelessly his courtiers wives and quite possibly resorted to rape a few times, chivalric he was not! What was so sad about Henry V111 was he did have good intentions and also he was quite prudish he didn’t like smutty jokes and he was also very fastidious bathing regularly, he certainly wasn’t an oafish lout like Charles Laughten portrayed him in the Hollywood film, throwing chicken bones over his shoulder yet this is the image so often portrayed, a huge red faced tyrant chasing after the women coarse and vulgar, in truth this image is a mere caricature.

  15. I reckon, after his jousting accident, followed by concussion, Henry viii, acquired a brain injury. This may have led to his personality change. Scientists have shown that a person who has N ‘acquired brain injury’, can have a dramatic personality change.

  16. Banditqueen says:

    There are indeed two Henry’s and we can virtually put up two portraits to illustrate the two sides of the man. David Starkey saw it this way and Susanna Lipscomb sees 1536 as the year which changed or defined Henry Viii. Now King’s and states have to have laws, some of which may require the death penalty for the worst crimes, murder, treason and terrible acts of violence, but Henry and other monarchs went too far. We could say we don’t have the death penalty or need it, harsh jail time has replaced that need and reforms to change people and better social conditions have removed many of the so called crimes of the day. However, we are now back in the reality of the sixteenth century. Henry faced real threats and rebellion was completely disruptive to every level of society so needed harsh deterrence.

    A King, however, was the head of justice. could and should set examples of balancing justice with mercy and we see Henry doing this frequently during his first two decades. Henry’s world was a world of religious change and the word toleration not in the mind set of the day, not yet anyway. However, there are clear differences in the crack downs early in the reign, through the first decade after Luther to the harsher crackdowns and laws in the late 1520s under More and even harsher laws under Cromwell and Gardiner in the 1530s and 1540s. We go from half a dozen fires under More to 30 plus in the last decade. There is one in 1510 and s few spread out before 1527, but the last decade saw many more groups rounded up and fires which followed.

    Any monarch saw direct threats to their reign or authority as treason and they claimed the right to deal with it harshly. Henry Viii was no different, but between 1510 and 1532, there were only four state trials. Now the validity of them and their guilt may be questioned, but by the times they had merit. Henry began by courting popularity by executing the tax extortion agents of his father, not for extortion but treason, but in reality they were punished for his father’s policies. However, Dudley and Epsom were responsible for numerous crimes of extortion in London that the death penalty answered at that time. Already in the Tower at his ascension, technically under a death sentence was the de la Pole heir to the throne, Edmund, Duke of Suffolk (demoted to Earl). Just before going to war with France and partly in response to threats from his brother, Richard in Europe, which implicated Edmund in a plot to escape, Henry had him executed in 1513. In 1521 the Duke of Buckingham, Edward Stafford, the son of the Duke who had rebelled against Richard iii, was arrested and tried for high treason. He was executed in May and his trial has always been controversial.

    Buckingham, like his father had a claim to the throne, although there is no evidence he was actually interested in pursuing that claim. Henry accepted him into his service and he played a prominent time during many ceremonial and important points in his reign, including as his High Constable at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Henry may have had a personal rivalry with Buckingham to do with possibly sleeping with his wife or sister and he also fell foul of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Henry had Buckingham hold the dish to wash his hands at table, a high honour, but Wolsey also put his own hands in, which was insulting. Buckingham threw the water over his robes and Henry made him apologise but the story is that Wolsey didn’t forgive or forget. In 1518, following a lucky escape, Henry went through a period of insecurity. He put Buckingham under the spotlight with Norfolk and Suffolk and then he came up with a plan to trap him once he suspected him of plotting against him. There was a plant placed into the Duke’s household who allegedly reported to Wolsey that Buckingham was plotting to kill the King after the New Year gift giving and he would do it during an audience with Henry. He was also alleged to have the other nobles swear allegiance to him and promise to support him as King. Buckingham had extensive properties in Wales and went on tour of them raising accusations that he was raising troops as he had a large personal troop of retainers. It was further suggested that Henry found his recently decorated home rather attractive but this may be due to the fact that it was confiscated after the execution. Buckingham was a generous and popular man and his trial was disquieting.

    In 1532 the last of these four strange executions took place when the son of Ryse ap Thomas who had supported his father was executed for alleged treason, although it was more likely he was set up by a rival he was investigating for fraud.

    In contrast to these are numerous times when Henry pardoned people and the most famous Evil May Day when some 500 rioters, condemned to death for riots and attacks on foreigners on May Day 1517. Norfolk and Suffolk were sent into deal with it and they brutally executed about a dozen before Henry gave orders for restraint and to have the others brought before him. With dramatic flare Henry was enthroned as mothers cried for mercy, his wife and his two sisters, the Cardinal and ministers knelt before him. He then pardoned and freed them all. This was typical of the sort of man he was in these early decades.

    Henry was changed by a number of things, not just a serious accident in January 1536, which we know affected his personality deeply, but long years of divorce from the woman who taught him how to be a King and was his soul mate for over twenty years, Katherine of Aragon. Henry’s obsession with his need for a son, his quest for an heir with a new wife and obsession, Anne Boleyn. His eventual marriage to Anne in 1533 was opposed by many and had caused his departure from Rome. He now needed legislation to protect his new wife, preventing opposition and ensure his intended heirs with Anne alone were protected by law. It could be argued that this legislation went too far, making thought and speech against Anne and Henry’s marriage punishable by death. Henry went further by declaring himself Supreme Head of the Church and the sanctions were prison and later the death sentence under the Treason Act 1534. A number of people could not accept this and his friends, Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher as well as several friars and abbots were martyed as a result of his laws.

    Henry evolved from this point into the Henry of legend. The events of 1536 and 1537_pushed him towards what some call a tyrant and a monster, although historians disagree on whether he was truly either. The accident which caused his neurological problems rattled his brain around causing severe frontal lobe damage and this may have been only one of several accidents building up to this damage. He lost a son and heir at the same time and five months later he condemned his wife of three years to death. Did he actually believe Anne had betrayed and plotted to kill him with five men or had his mind been turned against her to such a degree that he plotted with Cromwell to remove Anne? His actions are not those of a rational man. Henry became increasingly inactive and in a great deal of pain with his leg, which didn’t stink the place out as he disguised it. A major rebellion which threatened his throne in 1536 and 1537 did nothing to settle down any paranoid thoughts which were becoming quite obvious and he never trusted anyone again.

    The head count increased dramatically in the last eight years of Henry Viii’s 38 year reign but so did some of his biggest achievements come at this time. In this period can we really call him a monster or a man increasingly afraid and tortured within his own body and genuinely suspicious of those around him? Was Henry Viii any more of a monster than his two contemporary monarchs who oversaw wholescale slaughter in their religious and wars of expansion. Francis I used torture and terrible execution to put down two or three conspiracies against him and the German Peasants War in 1525 which Martin Luther told Charles V to suppress left 25,000 dead. A number of estimates for people who were executed because of a wide range of laws under Henry Viii are most probably exaggerated, but it is no small figure as to the real number when cyou think that you could be executed for heresy, murder, adultery if your husband brought a charge of petty treason, for begging three times, for riots, for a witchcraft statue in 1536, for buggary also in 1536 and for numerous offences which were now treason. All of this added to Henry’s reputation, but he could say he acted within laws approved by Parliament.

    It is fair I think to add here some of the positive things from Henry Viii reign and that he was named by some as a great King. A poll on a blog is interesting but it is not the opinion of scholars who have struggled with Henry for years. Henry is regarded as the father of the navy, for his 242_ships and for his navel colleges and formal organizations. He built our defensive coastline and his iron and bronze canon industry are still leaving traces in the Welsh, Southern and mid English countryside today. The kilns of the sixteenth century in Cumbria and the North are part of the landscape. He built many palaces and covered them in decorations from the Italian Renaissance. Unfortunately, although good news for poets, Henry also dissolved the monastic buildings all over the country as he had no money. He also raised England’s status in Europe and he made her independent. The Bible in English was achieved under Henry, albeit a bit reluctantly. Science and architecture flourished under Henry Viii and he was a scholar. The first medical schools were appointed and Henry regulated doctors. The first state grammar schools came about under Henry Viii and we made advantageous maps for our accurate surveys. Henry did debase the currency because of his spending, but he also gave us himself and his daughters to debate and find colourful characters who made a huge impact on our country forever.

  17. Ashley says:

    I have always said that King Henry was a great king, but an awful man. When he put country first, he did many amazing things for England and it’s future. But when his ego and personal agendas were priority, he only brought suffering.

    1. Margaret says:

      Agreed!

  18. Tidus Jecht says:

    Henry was never great. While in the beginning he was ok, later on he became a selfish, cruel, monster.

    p.s. I couldn’t find an actual poll so here’s my reply.

    1. Claire says:

      The poll is at the end of the article above – click on “Vote”.

  19. Mariella Moretti says:

    If only for what he did to Anne, a bright, clever, modern woman, a loving mother to little Elizabeth, and,a faithful wife to him, a tyrant and a monster is not even enough to define him.

  20. Margaret says:

    I think Henry was a spoiled tyrant. I think the paranoia of securing the line consumed him, and may have been influenced by his own father’s (and grandmother’s) paranoia. Henry was always distracted by the “shiny thing in the corner”, and became single-mindedly obsessed if he couldn’t have it. He and his first wife shared a deep love, until the shiny thing he couldn’t have showed up in his court in the form of Anne Boleyn.
    IMO, he ceased being a great king when he started executing long time friends (and wives) and excessive cruelty towards his daughters in order to ease his conscience when pursuing new wives.
    And I do believe he suffered brain damage in the jousting accident, but he was a spoiled man-child well before then.
    One thing I will say for Henry-he gave us a VERY interesting period of time and change to enjoy reading about!

  21. Autumn says:

    I think he started out as a good King, but then became a monster and a tyrant towards the end of his reign. He always threw a fit when he didn’t get his way, and he had Anne executed so he could marry Jane Seymour.

  22. Nora says:

    As an ex boyfriend once told me I am in love with a dead dude. I have been obsessed with this man since the age of 9. I think he is misunderstood. Love him or hate him but we do still talk about him.

  23. Sharon Hutchinson says:

    Henry was on his way to greatness. Look at the quick, bright, intelligent and scholarly young man he had been. Such promise! He let his obsession for a son cloud his judgment; on top of that he suffered that blow to the head that probably damaged the frontal lobe of his brain. It is especially telling that he was unconscious for several hours after the injury, which indicated that the consequences would be serious and life altering.

    Remember that he loved to be active, an avid athlete, and to lose all that was devastating mentally. And the ulcer on his leg was a constant reminder of all that was now gone. It bothers me that way too much time and effort, especially in TV shows and movies, have been put on his six wives, losing the whole picture of this man in the process. I would just, for once, like to see something that concentrated on his making the English navy a force to be reckoned with.

    Breaking with Rome was not all about Katherine and Anne. Europe was starting to tear itself away from the power of the Catholic Church and these movements also influenced Henry to free his country from the grasp of the Vatican. To me it was not a religious question per se, but the idea that a king should be allowed to fully rule his country without bowing to what amounted to a foreign power.

    Yes, I believe he was great, and more needs to be done to bring forth that side of him before a number of devastating illnesses wrecked his body and tore at his soul.

  24. Kaylene Hyde says:

    Considering I’m distantly related to this man through Anne Boleyn I still think he was a monster.

  25. sandra blattmann says:

    Henry was a product of his time. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown and all that! I have given a lot of thought recently to Henry as I try to get my head around the succession from Richard II and the wars of the roses (or Cousins War to paraphrase Sir Thomas More). I had not realised that Richard IIs little Queen Isabelle who was sent home when he was deposed was the older sister of Henry V’s war prize Catherine de Valois ( who went on to be the unmarried bride of Owen Tudor) and thus the Gt.Grandma of our sainted Henry. The father of these two hapless princesses was the mad King of Shakespeare’s Henry V and the mother of Henry VI. Think about it. Madness is genetic. Henry was a nutter. Plain and simple. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. He just had too much power too young and it went to his head.

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