Henry VIII – How We Can Never Understand Him

Jun28,2013 #Henry VIII #tyrant

NPG 496; King Henry VIII after Unknown artistOK, time for a controversial soap-box article…

Today is Henry VIII’s birthday so Henry VIII is being discussed on various Facebook pages and one link which is being shared is Sky News’ article “Henry VIII would be a modern day psychopath” in which Henry “scored 174 against a ‘starting’ psychopath score of 168” according to Professor Kevin Dutton. Dutton goes on to say that “He scored very highly for emotional detachment and cold-hearted ruthlessness – both characteristics of dangerous psychopaths.”

Now, I do not condone the atrocities carried out in Henry VIII’s reign – the executions of the Carthusian martyrs, the framing of Anne Boleyn, the massacres of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the execution of the elderly Margaret Pole etc. etc. – but I do have a problem with a sixteenth century monarch being labelled a psychopath. Surely a psychologist actually needs to spend time with someone before diagnosis, surely they need to understand the context in which they lived… I am baffled by this “diagnosis” and it’s just plain wrong in my eyes.

Whatever we feel about Henry VIII, we can never fully understand the context in which he lived and the pressures that were on him. We have the freedom of living in the 21st century whereas Henry VIII lived in a society where men ruled, which was both religious and highly superstitious, and where it was believed that a monarch was God’s anointed and appointed sovereign. The Tudor dynasty was also in its infancy. It was not long after the Wars of the Roses, so Henry VIII felt that his duty was to secure the throne and the succession; in short, he had to have a son, and that ‘duty’ affected how he treated Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. From my research into Henry VIII, I’ve come to believe that his beliefs were not borne out of convenience, he truly believed that the lack of a male heir pointed to a problem with his marriages: God was not blessing him because there was something wrong. What we have to remember is that this was a time when a strawberry birthmark was thought to be caused by a pregnant woman eating strawberries or drinking red wine, and a harelip could be caused by seeing a hare while pregnant. Our 21st century thinking, our understanding of the world and the world of science, make it impossible to understand Henry VIII, the way he thought and the way he viewed the world.

Henry VIII was a product of the world in which he lived and he was a successful King; he passed the crown to his son, Edward VI, without war or rebellion. Whatever we believe about his role in the fall of Anne Boleyn, we cannot judge him because we have not walked a mile in his shoes and we can only go on what was said about him, the letters he wrote, the actions he carried out… We have not got the man in front of us and we do not know the full story. He was what he was and I am what I am; I cannot judge him. Does God have a sliding scale of sin? Are his sins any worse than mine? Hmmm….

On Henry VIII’s birthday, I choose to remember the man who had a brilliant mind, the humanist, Renaissance Prince, the sportsman and jouster, the musician, the man who Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour fell in love with, the man Thomas More had so much hope for when he was crowned in 1509… Bluff King Hal. Whatever you were/are, Henry, you are still causing debate over 500 years later and we remember you. We delight in your story and you will live on.

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52 thoughts on “Henry VIII – How We Can Never Understand Him”
  1. I completely agree with you. I also think that Henry had some very smooth talking advisors that influenced him greatly though many of his decisions were his own. I think people today would be shocked at the other atrocities and “barbaric” actions other rulers in the 16th century took to prove to their subjects and other rulers that their word was law and they were not to messed with.

    1. One of the hallmarks of a psychopath is his or her ability to place responsibility for their actions on others (“You made me do this”). Henry was very crafty in the use of his advisers. They were smooth-talking, and he used them well, pitting them against each other and then blaming their bad “advice” for his worst atrocities.

  2. In my book about future science I have a discussion with Henry.
    I am quite able to get him to understand, metal ship, rockets,even moon landings.. But
    He refers to my talk on radio and television as “works of the devil and black magic”
    As Donald Rumsfeld called them “unknown unknowns”!

    No one can understand Henry from this range in time. He was who he was, when he was.
    In 500 years from now, what do you think that person would think about your opinions.

    How about you guessing what the unknown unknowns will be?
    GOD save the king!


  3. Yours is a very interedting incte into the mind and thoughts of Henry VIII. To all of us, this Saintly Prince turned into an ogre as a man, and although I cannt forgive many of his acts, I can more clearly understand them.

  4. I completely agree with many points of this post, Claire. Very well-expressed.

    In order to fully understand Henry and his mindset, beliefs and decisions, it would be necessary to:

    – Completely detach ourselves from our own world, all the learning, enlightenment and discovery that has come about in the last 500 years.

    – Mentally recreate Henrican society, a brutal world where men rule and even thought can be a crime, and punishments that we now consider barbarous were meted out without a qualm.

    – Most importantly, and counter-intuitively, while mentally recreating all we know about Henrican England, it’s necessary to completely forget everything that happened post- the moment you want to recreate. Else every conclusion drawn is coloured by convenient hindsight.

    All that must be done before one even attempts to get inside Henry’s mind, to evaluate how his childhood might have shaped him and how his thought pattern might have gone.

    But I think this is what we love about the Tudors – it’s a world so very far removed from our own, but the basic human experiences of love, death, jealousy, betrayal, excitement, etc, all ring true for us today. Intangible, but tantalisingly close.

  5. Henry was not a product of the world he lived in, Henry was a product of his own delusions. There were plenty of monarchs with the same problems, Henry I didn’t try to get rid of Adeliza when she couldn’t give him another son after he lost his heir. Henry VIII’s treason laws clearly display his growing paranoia.
    And I can quite comfortably say Henry’s sins are far worse than mine.

    1. I’m not trying to condone his actions, I just feel that there’s no way on earth that we can understand him living in today’s world. What we see as delusions were obviously 100% real to him, we do not live in a world where death is everywhere and which is highly superstitious.

      Re sins, we’ll have to agree to disagree, to me sin is sin full stop and God is the judge.

      1. Delusions are always real to the person having them – that’s what separates delusions from daydreams. The problem is, even Adolf Hitler thought he was doing what was right – he wouldn’t have thought of himself as evil.

        Self-perception differs from external perception, because you know your own intentions, whereas the rest of the world only sees and judges based on your actions.

        1. But I don’t think they were delusions to Henry. His throne was at risk – look at the pretenders who’d challenged his father’s claim – and he had to secure the line with a living son. He also had to cope with negotiating with France and the Empire, and keeping England safe.

          Hitler is within living memory and so we are able to judge him within context, but none of us can appreciate what it was like being a King in 16th century England. The challenges Henry faced, the beliefs and superstitions of the day… they’re beyond what we can understand, I feel.

    2. Only God can judge us on the question of sin. You are hopefully not in a position to rule and so have the power to order and execution. Rulers believed that they had the right and the expectation to punish those who committed treason, and Henry acted within the law. But it is not sin that drove him as he saw it, but righteous actions. I may not agree with that assessment, but I can see his point of view. I would not get too cocky though about having sinned or not: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

  6. I agree we can never understand Henry, and that he can’t be diagnosed psychopathic by using the gift of hindsight. But no matter which era you are born in, and whether you are born a prince or a pauper, you have to bare responsibility for your actions. If those actions go beyond what should morally be accepted of anyone, then why shouldn’t we judge? We can’t just reevaluate brutal and barbaric actions over time. Henry committed judicial murder time and time again. He may have tried to condone what he did, but so have many evil men in the course of history. It doesn’t make them right.
    So no, I don’t understand Henry, but I think I’m entitled to judge him by his dreadful actions.

    1. Yes, you definitely have to take responsibility for your actions but I still feel it’s impossible to judge a 16th century character by today’s morals/values. But that’s just my opinion, you can judge away!

      1. I suppose that is what the study of history is all about – trying to understand people who lived in a different age. It is very difficult to judge what made them tick. In Henry’s case, we can only compare his behaviour with that of other European monarchs of the time, and even then their circumstances would have been different. What strikes me about Henry though is his apparent emotional detachment from his actions even when the victims were close lifelong friends. This does not seem normal behaviour to me. As for sin, I agree that only God can judge this.

    2. In our world now, yes its morally wrong what Henry did. But I don’t know what morals or values where taught in Henry’s time period. The only way you or I have morals and values is because we where taught to have them by our parents and by age with wisdom. As far as the comments about “sin” from what I understand God says “sin is a sin, there is no sin greater then the other” Henry was King and he believed as being King he had the right to do as he pleased because God made him King. He believed God wasn’t pleased with his 2 marriages because he wasn’t being blessed with sons and so he got rid of one and beheaded the other. I do believe he wanted rid of Anne and was behind the false charges made against her and yes in our world now he murdered Anne but in his day it was treason and she was punished according to the law.

  7. I believe he was a psychopath even in the context of the times. To send Anne Boleyn to the block on trumped up charges was not necessary. He could have divorced her and sent her to a nunnery or set her up like Anne of Cleves in her own household. He allowed his advisers to lead him astray when it suited him. I do not believe his daughter Elizabeth I was psychopathic. She kept violence to a minimum and was greatly troubled by having to execute her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots.

    1. Although I believe that Henry was responsible for Anne’s fall, we don’t actually know. Many historians, for example, Eric Ives, believe that Cromwell was responsible and that Henry believed that Anne was guilty and therefore deserved her fate. It’s hard to figure him out when there’s so much we don’t know. I wish we had the answers!

    2. Elizabeth executed her fair share of people. She caused massacres in Ireland and she executed over 700 after the so called Northern Rebellion 1569: three times the number of Henry in the P of Grace! She executed well over 300 people including 187 priests for being Catholics and she had her share of political executions: including Marie Queen of Scots: whom she had executed illegally, despite her despair, and her lover after he rebelled: Essex. There were several others, including the Duke of Norfolk. I too believe that Cromwell had reasons to get rid of Anne Boleyn: she was politicllly inconvenient. Henry may have given the order and authorised her investigations and trial, but Cromwell provided the fall guy in Mark Smeaten and the rest fell into his trap. I believe that the evidence was presented in such a manner that Henry believed it, went into shock and then left everything to Cromwell. I do not believe any Tudor monarch was bloodier than the others: they were all the same as each other.

  8. Interesting, but IMO, even though Henry’s goals are reasonable by the standards of the era, the means Henry used are psychopathic when compared to others of his own era.

    For example, it was NOT necessary for him to bastardize Mary to secure his annulment, let alone abusing Mary to accept this. When Henry’s sister Margaret got her second marriage annulled, the papers specified that, due to the good faith of her parents, their daughter, Lady Margaret Douglas, was legitimate, Henry could have pursued an annulment on similar grounds, securing Mary’s legitimacy. A husband for a legitimate Mary could also help secure the succession … if Henry didn’t have a son, the throne could go to his grandson. Furthermore, if Henry died before Edward’s birth, his handling of events made civil war a certainty that could have been avoided by protecting Mary’s legitimacy and providing her with a husband Henry’s goal of a male heir is properly judged by the standards of the day, but even applying those standards, his insistence on the heir being his son (rather than a grandson) and the tactics used to secure that son are way out of line.

    Henry’s handling of the Pilgrimage of Grace is another example. Other monarchs had to handle uprisings, but they managed without wholesale slaughter. Kett’s Rebellion during Edward’s reign was not followed by a Henrecian-style bloodbath, and the wrongly called “Bloody Mary” was surprisingly merciful after the Lady Jane Grey matter (she was more merciful after Wyatt’s Rebellion than Henry was after the Pilgrimage).

    That the title “Bloody” is given to Mary, but not to Henry, is one of history’s greatest injustices. Not to defend her, but Henry was a lot bloodier than she was!

    1. But what about Henry VII and the way he and his advisers, in Thomas Penn’s word, “stretched the laws to their limits” and fabricated charges against people to obtain fines from them? Henry VII also backdated his accession so that anyone fighting against him at Bosworth was a traitor and then we have the Cornish Rebellion which was very bloody. Then there’s the executions of Anthony Woodville, Lord Rivers, Richard Grey, and Thomas Vaughan on the orders of Richard III, apparently without trial… No monarch is blameless.

      I’m not condoning him or even defending him, I just have a problem with a psychologist diagnosing him as a psychopath when he hasn’t even met Henry. It’s quite a label to give someone you don’t know and can never know.

      1. There are differences between a monarch being blameless, a monarch wrongfully killing someone, and a monarch being psychopathic. Richard III is a perfect example; while there was a hearing of sorts before Northumberland for Rivers, etc., Richard was not blameless for ordering the execution of Hastings without trial. However, this action — effectively, the murder of one man is not enough for a diagnosis psychopathy. Richard III did not have a bloodbath after Buckingham’s rebellion similar to what Henry VIII did after the Pilgrimage, for example.

        Similarly, Henry VII stretched the law to fine people, not to kill them. Not blameless, but still not psychopathic.

        Henry VIII, OTOH, took bloodshed to new limits, and, it was not necessary and/or not justified by the standards of the day as shown by other cases in the same time period.

        1. Yes, definitely, I agree but I still don’t see how anyone can label someone a psychopath without examining them in person.

    2. 226 people were executed in Yorkshire, after hearings and trials. 171 were executed in Lincolnshire and elsewhere in total. There was not a bloodbath!

  9. Just discovered your website through my daughter’s post on FB. What a delight!
    I have to agree that Henry had psychopathic tendencies but I don’t believe one can diagnose at a distance, either. Even Elizabeth was, according to recent research, more violent and vengeful than her reputation, the result of centuries of hagiography. One must also understand the lack of what we consider normal child-rearing practices: early separation from parents, imposition of adult self-control at a very young age, lack of playtime, the adulation of royalty reducing the possibility of forming healthy relationships at any age. The unique status of royalty, existing somewhere between Heaven and Earth must have interfered with normal development, e.g., when princes misbehaved, another child was punished (whipped) in their place, which would have confused any child. Henry could only have believed that the accepted rules of conduct, even of right and wrong, did not apply to him. This intellectual/moral split is evident in the pamphlet he wrote which led the pope to declare him “Defender of the Faith. Intellectually gifted, he still saw no paradox in defended Christianity without “walking his talk” (the sacrament of marriage seems the sole exception).
    I look forward to exploring your site. Thank you for sharing all your work.

  10. I’ve always said how crazy it must have been to grow up believing that, with divine right, you were ordained by God to rule. Therefore any decision you make has to be right since it is through God you are in a position to rule. While I”m sure Henry was quite adept at justifying his actions to himself, there were also people constantly in his ear, with their own agendas, confirming that he is the king and his will is God’s will. And I think the common people very much believed in Divine Right and so felt that to defy their king was to defy God’s will. I personally can’t imagine that kind of power.

  11. Personally, I think Henry VII and Henry VIII were paranoid (and Henry VIII about the need for an heir) goes back to the fact that they were not the legitimate kings of England. The Yorks and Plantagenets had more claim to the throne. That’s why Henry VII married Elizabeth Plantagenet to legitimize his claim. And that’s why they were so hell-bent on killing all of them. All that killing is bound to make someone off-balance. I agree that 500 years ago, there were different mores. But evil is evil.

    1. This is a good point, There was justifiably a total question of legitimacy throughout the Tudor dynasty. Even Elizabeth had her concerns.

  12. As a mental health professional, I agree that it is difficult to diagnose someone without actually talking with them and observing. I don’t see Henry as a psychopath. I am not a doctor, but we know that blows to the head can cause personality changes, and while beliefs and worldviews have changed radically, the human body not so much-except to get bigger and stronger and live longer. He must have been in terrible pain at the end of his life from his leg and it must have been humiliating for someone who had been a good athlete to be lifted on to a horse with a crane. In my historical novel group, we often discuss how we can’t really get into the minds of people in past ages. One member wanted to know how people could go to Mass, take communion, and then go out and kill people. I have my own theory of Richard III’s behavior at Bosworth. He could have fled the battlefield and gone north where his support was, but instead charged into the midst of Henry’s army. He may have believed that God had abandoned him; he had lost his wife and his son, so perhaps he was wrong to take the crown. We don’t know.

  13. There were no masacres in the Pilgrimage of Grace! The evidence points to 226 people in total being executed, some correctly, others well may-be not so, and the only other people who died did so when they attacked Carlisle. This includes 76 people who were hung in one area, as examples. Just because a letter exists when Henry ordered Norfolk to hang them in every village and so on, does not mean that actually happened. In fact the evidence shows that Norfolk stopped short of much of the punishments he was to inflict. He did not dismember many of the bodies for example. In Lincolnshire 171 people were executed. This falls short of the hundreds and hundreds shown in the Tudors and often claimed by writers who do not bother to look up the actual numbers or to count the actual executions. There were no full scale attacks or masacres. Yes, a few hundred were executed. That was how the Tudor and other Medieval regemes handled rebellions. It does not point to Henry being a sociopath or a pyschopath and typical of Sky to come up with such rubbish!

    Henry was a product of his time and the many changes in his life, religious, political and personal and to the idiot who thinks that they do not sin as much as Henry: that is for God to jusdge not them. If you claim you are not guilty of sin, then you are delusional, not Henry. He did not say that he did not sin. In fact he started down the path he was to take after 28 years of so because he believed he was not right with God. He was very conscious of the possibility that he and Katherine may have sinned by marrying and their marriage not being blessed by God. The rest followed as a consequence of that decision. Henry was affected by a bitter divorce, the lack of a son and heir, the fear of civil war, the threat that the Pilgrimage of Grace had on his government, the personal turmoil that he went through with Anne Boleyn, the betrayal of his wife and his friends, (innocent or not) the loss of his beloved Jane and the fear of leaving Edward as a child to rule a topsy turby England.

    His mental state may have been affected by his fall from his horse. You land on your frontal lobe and have a tank fall on top of you and lets see if it does any damage of not! It obviously did! He became more paranoid and more intense in his religious beliefs, his sense of righteousness and his concerns for the Kingdom. He began to take a keen interest in the affairs of state and that forced him even more to change things that he saw as not right, reforming our way of government. In his mind Henry left England secure and more of a Kingdom that could look to her own destiny. It was a very different England than the one he had inherited, but in many ways it was a greater one, and one that would rule the world.

    May the spirit of King Henry the Eighth Live forever more! Amen.

  14. If Henry is to be considered a Psychopath, then so must most, if not all of those powerful men at his court too.
    Howard, Buckingham, Seymour, Wolsey, Cromwell etc. they all vied to topple those who stood in their way without any empathy or remorse for their victims or families.

    The word Psychopath is usually applied to serial killers who physically commit the most heinous of crimes.

    So taking it in that context, what about the executioner, was he a Psychopath too? to chose to decapitate, hang draw and quarter someone as a job is not what we class as ‘normal’ behaviour is it….but it was then…

    So which defines the Psychopath in its general conception, he who orders the death, those who plot the deaths, or he that chooses to carry out the deaths in such gruesome ways?

    It is also said that not all Psychopaths physically kill, and that many walk amongst us, therefore putting Henry back in the Frame again by our modern understanding and placing him in our time.

    Some of the of personality disorders of a Psychopath are also shared by the Sociopath, and it would take an expert in this field to decide which applied to the individual. It is also thought by some experts now that there is no difference at all, saying a Psychopath is someone with a sociopathic disorder…very confusing.

    Henry was not born a monster. Babies are born blank canvasses, for life to paint a picture on. As you grow you behave accordingly to what you have seen, experienced, been taught etc., and not everyone responds in the same way even if they have experienced the same things, making the deciphering of the mind complex.

    We can not fairly judge Henry by our values, of course we are shocked and outraged by the things we read about, but until you have walked in another’s shoes or lived in their time, how can we condemn…

    But I do believe he had begun to develop a psychosis though, stressing about no heir, the unsurety of his dynasty, his impotency, starting off the paranoia.

    The focus and pity always seems to be with the mother when a baby is miscarried, stillborn or dies, but what about Henry, was he so inhuman all the time that he didn’t feel the pain and loss of his children, as a father, not as a King who wanted an heir. I think he suffered deeply too. All these things add up to create mental strain.

    His physical health started to deteriorate quite rapidly, as did his mental state, and yes, that ‘old chestnut’ again, after that final jousting accident it seemed to be the key point of his spiral downwards. I am convinced that this accident did damage to the brain, it is a large portion of the brain with less restricted movement than other parts. Even with the best of motorbike helmets that kind of impact would not stop the brain from moving inside the skull, so a loose, unpadded metal helmet would do nothing at all except protect the outer head and face. I believe he suffered frontal lobe damage, this causes many problems concerning decisions, consequences and judgement, personality changes, mood swings, some of these can be seen as sociopathic traits.

    No one could ever be 100% sure about the actions/mind of a man 500 years ago, we can surmise with the understanding there is on mental illness today, and the knowledge of the out come of brain trauma from accidents, and say what we think and believe, but I think Psychopath is the wrong description for Henry.

    Maybe we should ask the FBI Profiling team to judge whether Henry was a Psychopath or not, they are dealing with them all the time. They did one on Jack the Ripper some years back.

    1. I must disagree heatedly about babies being “blank canvasses.” All babies are born with distinct personalities that emerge and develop over time, e.g., passivity/reactivity and resiliency, to name just two. There are hundreds more. Epigenetics (the “paint a picture on” influence) does play a huge role. Life experiences, treatment by caregivers, and physical or emotional abuse, again among many other factors, turn on or off normal gene expression, modifying inborn personality traits over time. Anyone can be turned into a psychopath with enough mistreatment, I’m sure, but the degree will always be modified by innate character. Our major problem is that we have no way of judging character or the magnitude of epigenetic changes before they manifest.
      I agree that physical and psychological pain both can contribute to personality change. Henry’s wounds must have influenced his actions (his leg, which suppurated for many years emitting a revolting odour, and his head blow). I agree the blow to his head may well have contributed to an aggressivity that was already well-developed.

      1. I wasn’t implying that babies are born without a personality, but they are born without the knowledge of life, and it is this, as you righty say, and what I was saying, plays a huge role in how that personality evolves as the child grows.

        I did also say that , ‘not everyone responds in the same way even though they have experienced the same things’, (I see this within my own siblings) therefore agreeing with your comment of ‘the degree will always be modified by the innate mind’.

        I also agree with you saying that we have no way of knowing how a character will develop regarding their circumstances, that comes with hind-sight.
        Though there was an idea in the 90’s that the Behavioural Science Unit in the FBI be forwarded all data from hospitals, those who had suffered head trauma of all ages and any personality changes that had occurred, which would help them develop pre-profiling with the aim of preventing anti social/criminal behaviour, rather than catch them after it had already occurred. Whether this happened or not I don’t know, as I haven’t read anything on this subject for a long time. In theory it sounds like a good conception.

        I don’t doubt that Henry had the ability to be aggressive but of a more controlled nature perhaps, and as I said above I personally think he had begun to develop a psychosis possibly increasing that darker side of him and decreasing this control. The accident I believe was the ‘finishing touches’ to the tyrant he became.

  15. Well said Claire. I completely agree ! You can not judge a 16th century monarch ny 21st century standards!

  16. I would just like to add that if Henry is going to be judged by his actions concerning his brutality during his reign, I would just like to mention King Richard I, (Lion-heart).

    How many deaths was he responsible for on his Religious Crusades. If records are right he massacred over 2000 Saracen prisoners in Acre in one day. Richard also rebelled against his own father, after this failed he concentrated on putting down revolts by the Nobles of Aquitaine and Gascony with increasing cruelty.

    The exact figure on how many people were killed over his crusades, I would imagine would be hundreds of thousands…so was Richard a Psychopath too? Was his religious wars more justified?.
    He was also a product of his time and to be judged accordingly.
    Though Richard is mostly considered a Hero, a warrior, but why? because he killed abroad and not at home….History is littered with blood, Queen Victoria created the British Empire through bloody wars and massacres it wasn’t something invented by Henry VIII.

  17. It was a brutal time. Henry VIII was a product of that time. All the points made by other posters are aptly put.

    The injuries he suffered would certainly have played a part in the changes observed in his personality and sensibilities.

    Failur to produce a living, legitimate son even after two wives no doubt caused talk amongst his countrymen; as King of England, it must have seemed a special punishment meted out to him and him alone. To suffer having his virility in question must have cut him to the core of his being and galled him to no end.

    Unless we could somehow time-travel and be right there, with him, we simply can not fathom his life. The 21st century does not have a spotless record of loving kindness to all humans; there are still beheadings, lynchings, infants and young children tortured to death by their own parents, and so atrocities are not something the human race has ceased doing. We are all fallen away from God, we are all flawed and ugly sinners.

  18. Henry wasn’t a psychopath, his problem was that he had the emotional maturity of a spoiled twelve year old girl who had romantic delusions about life, love and marriage. Couple that with absolute power and scheming courtiers and you get the monster of a man he became.

  19. I think we’re too quick to associate the term “sociopath” with “bad person”. Many sociopaths never commit a crime. Some are undetectable by laymen. Many of the most evil persons in history were not sociopaths.

    In my mind Henry is the ultimate self-victimizing bully, the guy who cries victim when he bruises his knuckles on someone’s face. That doesn’t make him a sociopath.

      1. Not exactly from a medical standpoint (well, both terms have fallen out of use but sociopathy has been basically renamed as anti-social disorder.) Using the common definition of either one, he doesn’t match. A sociopath feel emotions much different than normal in a more cold, reserved way, while traditional psychopaths feel the same emotions with an added instability. Out of the two, he fits with psychopath the most, but that doesn’t mean anything since most people score somewhere on the ever-changing-scale. Just trying to get that cleared up!

        Really, the original article was based on out of date medicine and broad assumptions, so thank you for writing this one!

        1. No they don’t. Some people in the mental health field in the past have used them interchangeably but most define them differently now.

    1. Exactly, Henry is so far away from sociopathy that I can’t imagine anyone calling him one with even a rudimentary level of psych medicine. Sociopaths are cold and work based on logic and reason- definitely not Henry!

  20. I believe that the primary reason for the bad reputaion Henry receives is due to a TBI, traumatic brain injury, that he suffered after his fall whilst jousting. His actions may seem a bit selfish before the fall, to some, but after the fall he became a different man. And I believe that he was still in love with Anne until his dying day. The fact that he caused it ,but could not accept the blame/loss must have been devastating.

  21. One thing I have learned from corresponding with social workers in the UK, the terms we use have different meanings on each side of the pond. So, it is possible the psychopath and sociopath are used interchangeably somewhere. I don’t know if professionals in the UK are condemned to use the DSM for diagnosis, probably not. Anyway……back to history. I am much happier in the 16th century.

  22. Anne Russell – your last sentence says it all for me!!! I sometimes spend entire days there.

  23. It’s Sky News…. Are you really surprised that they came up with an entertaining yet factually unsound read?

  24. Clarie said, “Whatever we feel about Henry VIII, we can never fully understand the context in which he lived and the pressures that were on him.”

    I have been an avid Anne Boleyn researcher for forty years, [and married a man in whom I was deeply in love with, who happened to also be born on June 28th].
    At the suggestion of my much loved Doctor Gallagher, I read a book of fiction, whose writer exactly captures Henry’s mind set, feelings, misconceptions, and moods. Of course the book is fictional, it is titled, “The Autobiographty of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Sommers”. But the Author, Margaret George studied Henry VIII for fourteen years before writing this, her first novel. She knows her subject, and if you know Henry, you will see his personality, and thought patterns come alive in this excellent book!

  25. I remember reading that book a number of years ago, while on a Caribbean cruise. It was very pleasant sitting in a deck chair in the sun and being in the 16th century. It must have been really historically correct because I don’t remember wanting to throw it over the side.

  26. Good debate. Interesting points. Combination of variety of factors: Henry’s underlying desire to secure a male heir, his beliefs in divine right, his beliefs around the provision of a son affected by God’s supposed attitude to his marriages. What has always struck me is that, even if he hadn’t divorced Catherine and married Anne, Jane came into his life not long before Catherine’s death so he would have secured his male heir. However, there would then not have been Queen Elizabeth who proved to be a profoundly great monarch and who established the character of the CofE, that theological compromise supreme. Otherwise we would have the Scottish Stuart Monarchs continuing the work of Queen Mary in reverting the country to Roman Catholicism half a century earlier. There might not then have been the English Civil War in the following century…..

  27. Henry lived in an age of intolerance and superstition he was also King and needed a son to secure the rather shaky Tudor Dynasty, it is easy for us with our 21st c eyes to see him as a much married tyrant who was fond of sending people to their deaths but that wasn’t the case, the trouble he had to go through to divorce his first wife, the deaths of many of his close friends for example, Wolsley and Moore, then the threat of civil war in order to obtain it, then the optimism he had when eagerly awaiting the births of sons with his second wife, the crushing disappointments that followed, the head injury and the wound on his leg that never healed, all these factors contributed to making him the man he later turned into, I think Henry deserves some sympathy and some understanding , whilst not condoning his beheading of two women of course, and many others who died because of him, he was in his youth very amiable cheerful and must have come to the throne with high expectations, sadly life was unfair to him which he found out the hard way.

  28. Of course there are problems with labelling long dead people as ‘psychopaths’ or with any other mental disorder. In our own time, it’s been questioned that mental illness exists at all, and some would say that classifying people as having personality disorders is unhelpful.

    I can’t go along with historical relativism though, because it’s like moral relativism. some people would seriously say that those who stone innocent people to death in Islamic State should not be judged harshly. They are not doing anything wrong in their own opinions.

    But then, why not have personal relativism? Why not say that the Yorkshire Ripper should not be judged to be a bad person? After all, it was apparently his genuine belief that he was following advice from God.

    I think it should be uncontroversial to say that Henry viii was a cruel, self pitying bully, and I can’t understand why some people above have expressed admiration for him. But while that is a fact, there are mitigating circumstances.

    According to Steven Pinker in ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’, the capacity to behave in an empathetic, controlled and reasonable way, is something that has developed in human beings only gradually and slowly. He mentions the advent of reading novels in the eighteenth century as something that enabled people to put themselves in other people’s shoes.

    In the sixteenth century, it was not unusual to be unthinkingly brutal and to have poor impulse control. This has been put down to all sorts of things from wetnurses weaning children by putting vinegar on their own breasts to cruel childhood games such as throwing missiles at a hen buried up to its neck in the ground.

    I don’t think we should excuse Henry. That would be disrespectful to his victims. The human suffering he caused was real. On the other hand, he was not as unusual for his time as he would be in ours. What complicates the issue is that some of his victims – Cromwell, Thomas More, perhaps even Anne Boleyn – were not very nice people by present day standards either.

    It’s not good to blame the victims, but perhaps most sixteenth century people would be considered to be psychopaths or to have other severe personality disorders by today’s standards. Does that mean the labels are useless? I don’t know. I just think we should acknowledge the suffering Henry caused, and not give him a free pass. At the same time, we should recognise that he was a product of his age.

    Someone above mentioned that even some medieval kings did not behave as badly as he did. So, should brain damage go to mitigation? Not when you consider that he coldly executed Empson and Dudley, to whom he had every reason to be grateful, as a 17 year old teenager. This was long before he suffered brain damage.

    I might add that his need for a male heir was perceived, not real. Elizabeth was adequate as a monarch and so was Catherine of Aragon’s mother in terms of competence although she was a monster.

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