Henry VIII by Cornelis MatsysHenry VIII may have been a great English monarch in many ways but there’s just no getting over the fact, in my opinion, that he was a tyrant.

But how and why did this promising, virtuous, Renaissance Prince turn into a monster and tyrannical king?

Was there a turning point?

Is there a reason?

Let’s look at some of the theories put forward by historians, authors and psychologists:-

Psychological Reasons

  • Pscho-sexual theory – Psychologist J. C. Flügel believed that Henry VIII had an Oedipus complex in that he wanted to get rid of his father and “succeed to his father’s place of authority” and possess his mother, and that this affected his marriages and the way that he treated women. He had conflicting tendencies: 1) He desired, but also hated, a sexual rival; 2) He was attracted to the idea of an incestuous relationship but horrified at the same time and 3) He also insisted on chastity in a wife. It seems that he was torn between a “whore in the bedroom” and an angelic, pure wife who reminded him of his mother, and, as Flügel says, “that which Henry was impelled to do by the operation of his unconscious desires he was equally impelled to oppose, by the operation of (an often equally unconscious) resistance to these desires.”1

  • God complex – As a result of the break with Rome, Henry made himself head of the church in England and may well have begun to identify himself with God. According to J C Flügel, his God complex found expression in the “breaking up of the monasteries, his prohibitions against the worship of saints and images, the consistent exclusion of clerics from the higher posts of state which they had hitherto occupied, and the endeavors to define the orthodox faith and produce – by force if necessary – a general uniformity of religious belief within his dominions; all measures tending to prevent the possibility of opposition or rivalry to his quasi-omnipotent power in the religious sphere.”2
  • A mid-life crisis – In “1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII”, Suzannah Lipscombe quotes a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Miles F Shore, as saying that “Henry VIII’s childhood separations from his parents, and alternating adulation and brutality, contributed to a midlife “crisis of generativity”, extreme narcissism, grandiose fantasies, and transience in relationships.”3 In the mid 1530s, when his behaviour started to change, Henry was in his mid 40s and we all know men who have had a midlife crisis, left their wife and children and done rather stupid things. Well, Henry was not only in his mid 40s but he had also had a brush with death (a serious jousting accident in 1536) and so had suddenly been faced with his own mortality. He may have been king and second only to God (or so he thought) but he was mortal. Shore also says that “the reality of middle age failed to live up to his fantasies”4 and I think that causes many a midlife crisis!
    Sir Arthur Salisbury MacNulty MD, a medical expert5 who examined Henry VIII’s medical history, points out that 1536 marked the approach of Henry’s old age as it was the year he turned 45, an age considered to be the start of old age in Tudor times. Perhaps Henry suddenly reviewed his life and panicked about being mortal.
  • Second son syndrome – Peter Morgan, scriptwriter of the ITV series “Henry VIII” (2003) described Henry as a “neglected second son… there’s a vulnerability to him…a wounded character”6. Did he feel the need to make up for being the second son, the “spare”?
  • He lost his soul – Ray Winstone, the actor who played Henry in “Henry VIII” said “Once [Henry] got rid of his first wife, who was his brother’s widow, he lost a bit of his soul. Once you do that, you can’t get it back. And each [wife] became easier to get rid of.”7 Did Henry spiral out of control?
  • The need to surpass his father’s achievements – Perhaps Henry was determined to prove himself no matter what.
  • Fame – David Starkey, in “Henry Virtuous Prince”, quotes from Lord Mountjoy’s letter to Erasmus in 1509: “Our king does not desire gold or gems or precious metals, but virtue, glory and immortality” and makes the point that Mountjoy was spot on, Henry wanted “to be famous, to make a mark on the world – in a word, to be great.”8 Well, he is famous but is it for the right things?!
  • Frustration at the end of his sporting life – Henry was a sportsman, he loved to joust, play tennis and hunt, but his jousting accident of 1536 ended his sporting career and also took away his one opportunity to show his courage and masculinity, through jousting. Henry must have felt so angry and frustrated to have the things he loved taken away from him and must have grieved for his old life, but he also must have felt the need to show his courage, masculinity and dominance in other ways.
  • The corruption of power – They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely so perhaps this happened with Henry VIII.
Perkin Warbeck, the Pretender


  • Threats – J. C. Flügel makes the point that “we cannot but suppose that the difficulties and dangers which surrounded his father’s throne must have exercised a powerful influence over the younger Henry’s mind.”9 The Tudor line was newly established and Henry’s father, Henry VII, had to deal with many threats to his throne, including the pretenders Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel. Henry VIII knew that the Tudors were still viewed by usurpers by some and so had to be strong and proactive and squash threats before they got underway.
  • The Break with Rome – J. C. Flügel says: “From the time of his split with Rome, Henry’s character underwent a marked transformation. He became vastly more despotic, determined to rule as well as to reign; more intolerant of any kind of limitation of his power, and dependent on his own decisions in all matters, great and small, instead of submitting to the advice of councilors, as he had hitherto so largely done.”10 His triumph over the Pope, “in the face of severe obstacles”, and the Royal Supremacy may have gone to Henry’s head.
  • His father’s legacy and the need to have a son – Ray Winstone said that he also felt that Henry had been left a legacy by his father, the instruction to “have a son”11, the need to carry on the Tudor line, and that this consumed him. We can see this desire and almost paranoia in his abandonment of Catherine of Aragon, who had become barren, and Anne Boleyn, who miscarried a son.
  • Responsibility to God – As I said in my previous post, monarchs were believed to have been appointed by God and, as such, were answerable to him and responsible for order in their realm. In a time when crime was seen as evidence of sin “painful and spectacular punishment was thought necessary both to defer others and to cleanse society from the disorder and pollution of the criminal’s sin.”12 Perhaps this is why Henry felt the need to execute people who did not obey him and the laws of the land.
  • The Tudor belief in the weakness of women – In Tudor times, women were seen as the weaker sex and more prone to sin. It was believed that they were “the source and cause of sexual sin”13 so that may explain (partially) why Henry was so brutal in his treatment of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.
  • The events of 1536 – 1536 was the year of Henry’s serious jousting accident, the death of Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn’s miscarriage, Reginald Pole’s book attacking the King, the fall of Anne Boleyn, the death of his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, and the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion. Suzannal Lipscombe says of 1536: “The damage that this year made to Henry’s physical, and less tangibly, his psychological health, appears to have started a chain reaction, tapping into his propensity for high self regard and exaggerating it into a brutal, egotistical obduracy that had terrible consequences.”14 and that it was the “year of threats… of things going wrong, of betrayal, rebellion, grief, age and ill health.”15 Is it any wonder that Henry changed after such an awful year, particularly if he believed in Anne Boleyn’s treachery? Lipscomb goes on to say that “The impact of the year can be seen immediately in the course of 1537 when Henry cracked down on those who had rebelled against him, oversaw further dissolution of the monasteries and commissioned from Holbein the Whitehall mural, an important projection of his masculinity and power. This was truly a year that defined, changed and created the character we think of as Henry VIII.”16
  • The Fall of Anne Boleyn – Lipscombe points out that Anne’s betrayal, combined with the rebellion of the Pilgrimage of Grace, “cut right to the core of how Henry VIII saw himself as a man”17. It all depends on what you believe regarding Anne’s fall, but if Henry really did believe that he had been betrayed and cuckolded then he would have seen it as a challenge to his honour and his masculinity.


  • 1524 Head Injury – In 1524, at a joust, Henry VIII forgot to put his visor down and he was struck above the eye. Sir Arthur MacNulty MD18 believed that this injury resulted in headaches which worsened around the year 1527 and led to behaviour and character changes. Living with constant headaches is bound to make you moody, impatient, intolerant and quick-tempered
  • Leg Ulcer – Henry VIII had a serious jousting accident on the 24th January 1536 which opened up a previously healed leg ulcer. This leg ulcer was to plague Henry for the rest of his life, both physically and mentally. It meant that he was no longer able to prove his masculinity and courage in the tiltyard, and it caused him to become obese. Eventually, his obesity and leg injury led to him having to be carried around on a special chair – how humiliating for a once active man! Not only that, his leg ulcer also gave off an awful smell, a real embarrassment. Suzannah Lipscombe says that “the combination of this recurrent and excruciating pain, together with the unprepossessing nature of his running sore, seems to have gradually manifested itself in the personality of the king and Henry became increasingly anxious and irascible, easily irritated and prone to rage.”19 Poor man, he was in pain, he was losing his youth and good looks and he smelled to high heaven!
  • Osteomyelitis, to do with the leg ulcer – Sir Arthur Salisbury MacNulty is of the opinion that Henry was suffering from osteomyelitis, a chronic infection of the bone or bone marrow. In 1541, the French ambassador, Charles de Marillac, wrote of a complication to do with Henry’s leg ulcer and a previous complication in around 1536 which was very serious, and Lipscombe writes that MacNulty wondered if this was “a thrombosis vein with detachment of the clot causing pulmonary embolism, with intermittent fevers thereafter as a result of septic absorption from the wound, as for example, in 1544.”20 You’ve got to feel sorry for the man when the treatment in those days was to keep the wound open and he suffered in such a way. I defy anyone to be sweetness and light all of the time with this kind of condition.
  • Brain damage – After the jousting accident of January 1536, Henry was unconscious for around two hours. Biographer Robert Hutchinson, historian Dr Lucy Worsley and medical doctor Catherine Hood, made a documentary entitled “Inside the Body of Henry VIII” and spoke of the repercussions of this accident. Dr Worsley said: “We posit that his jousting accident of 1536 provides the explanation for his personality change from sporty, promising, generous young prince, to cruel, paranoid and vicious tyrant. From that date the turnover of the wives really speeds up, and people begin to talk about him in quite a new and negative way… After the accident he was unconscious for two hours; even five minutes of unconsciousness is considered to be a major trauma today… Damage to the frontal lobe of the brain can perfectly well result in personality change.”21
  • Combination of health problems – Hutchinson, Hood and Worsley stated how Henry VIII’s doctors had recorded that he was suffering from leg ulcers, fading eye sight, an inability to walk and that he was plagued by melancholy and paranoia. It is also thought that he contracted malaria at around the age of 30 and that he suffered recurrences of that disease.22 Not only did these health problems affect the King mentally, they must also have brought home to him just how mortal he was.
  • Old age – Historian Lacey Baldwin Smith23, looking at Henry’s behaviour in the early 1540s with reference to Catherine Howard, commented that studies into old age have suggested that a person “casts off a portion of the protective shield hammered out during childhood and adolescence and reveals the raw personality beneath.” So, perhaps Henry was simply showing his true colours.
  • Syphilis – Although some historians in the past have pondered whether Henry VIII suffered from syphilis and whether this caused his behavioural changes, there is just no evidence to back up this theory. In Henry VIII’s extensive medical records and expenses there is no record of him being treated with mercury, the standard Tudor treatment for syphilis, or suffering with the illness. Also Henry did have three perfectly healthy legitimate children, as well as at least one healthy illegitimate child.

Anne Boleyn

  • Henry the cuckold – Whatever the truth of Anne Boleyn’s fall in 1536, to the public it looked like the King had been cuckolded. Suzannah Lipscombe24 points out that Anne’s adultery, her sexual immorality, could be seen as evidence of Henry’s inability as a man and monarch, his lack of honour. In Tudor times, it was believed that there was a link between a wife’s infidelity and the husband’s sexual prowess and potency. Henry needed to show the world that he was powerful and virile and Lipscombe believes that this could explain Henry spending time with ladies, while Anne was in the Tower, and also marrying Jane Seymour so quickly. It may also explain some of his tyrannical behaviour – he needed to prove that he was powerful.
  • Frankenstein’s Monster – Was Anne Boleyn like Victor Frankenstein? Did she create a monster that she then lost control of? Anne introduced Henry to William Tyndale’s “The Obedience of a Christian Man” which gave Henry the idea of royal supremacy, a conviction which he then used to justify his later behaviour, after all, he was only answerable to God.
  • Betrayal and disillusionment – If Henry really did believe that Anne committed adultery and incest then he would have surely felt grief and disillusionment. Such a betrayal, and the fact that she was alleged to have slept with his friends and her brother, would have broken his heart and wounded his pride, if he thought it was true. Love turns to hate doesn’t it and once somebody has hurt you like that you can become mistrustful and paranoid. Did Anne’s fall make Henry lose his ability to love?

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons for Henry VIII’s tyranny but I don’t feel that any of them, except brain damage, can be used as an excuse for his cruelty. We all know people affected by severe health problems or people who have been betrayed and treated badly, but it is possible to rise above all this, to still be a good and loving person. We all have choices don’t we?

To those who argue that Henry VIII was not a tyrant, I use Plato and Aristotle’s definition of a tyrant: “one who rules without law, looks to his own advantage rather than that of his subjects, and uses extreme and cruel tactics – against his own people as well as others”25. Henry may well have ruled with “law” but he made it up as he went along to suit him. He used the law for his own purposes and he was extreme and cruel.

Notes and Sources

  1. Article “On the Character and Married Life of Henry VIII” by J C Flügel
  2. Ibid.
  3. Miles F Shore, quoted in 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII, Suzannah Lipscomb, p14
  4. Ibid., p24
  5. Sir Arthur Salisbury MacNulty, in Lipscombe, p43
  6. Peter Morgan, in Lipscombe, p14
  7. Ray Winstone, in Lispcombe, p14
  8. Henry: Virtuous Prince, David Starkey, p284
  9. J C Flügel
  10. J C Flügel
  11. Ray Winstone, in Lispcombe, p14
  12. Lipscombe, p21
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid., p26
  15. Ibid., p46
  16. Ibid., p46
  17. Ibid., p49
  18. Ibid., p24
  19. Ibid., p60-61
  20. Ibid., p60
  21. The Jousting Accident that Turned Henry VIII into a Tyrant, article in The Independent, 18 April 2009
  22. Ibid.
  23. “Catherine Howard” by Lacey Baldwin Smith
  24. Lipscombe, p88-89
  25. Article: “Why Tyrants Go Too Far: Malignant Narcissism and Absolute Power”, Glad, B. (2002, March).

Related Post

24 thoughts on “Why was Henry VIII a Tyrant?”
  1. It was a very interesting article.I always thought that he had many mental problems and in combination with his old age(and his narciscism)made him the way he is known.Also I believe major role to this played the woman who has changed his life,Anne.I do agree with the theory that she created a monster that she couldn’t control.In her persuit of the wedding ring and the crown,she show him all the power he could have,all the means to get rid of an unwanted wife and that his actions were answerable only by God.When it was her turn to be cast off,since she didn’t gave birth to the sought after prince,Henry gave to his councilors the power to destroy their Queen.He wanted an annulment but her enemies saw it as a chance to get rid of the Boleyn circle….When Henry was informed off her “betrayals” it is possible that he did believed them and thus his discontent with Anne became hatred.He had done everything for this one single woman and he believed that she betrayed him.This is why he became a monstrer and destroy not only her but other women too.He hated women afterwards.Anne’s fall had ruin his narciscism,his masculinity but most important,when Anne died,with her died all that was left good in Henry…His love made him mad but the rejection and ridicule he felt later made him insane

  2. Claire – What an excellent resumee although I have only really looked at closely the pyschologal reasons and all are so well laid out by yourself and all completely valid in my point of view.

    With reference to Anne Boleyn, she who fiired his passion by possibly being the firstperson to say “no” to him, may be gullty also of firing that tyrannical trait.

    I know that there was the obsession for a son – but for H8 to turn against Anne as he did still raises a lot of questions. If he could be faithful to Catherin of A. (well more or less) for almost 24 years, the question is, that after 7 years of waiting for Anne, why did he get rid of her so quickly and on such stupid trumped up charges!!!!

    I asumme he was an arrogant bastard – so actually “acceptinG” and going through the motions that she had “cuckhoided” him with a number of men including her brother still does not make sense to me. I am sure there could have been a number of other reasons to get rid of Anne, such as “spying for the French”, etc. etc.

    1. I have just discovered this wonderful article and string of comments! Jenny, I couldn’t agree more — it has never made any sense to me that H8 turned against Anne so quickly after waiting for her for 7 years. And it doesn’t seem that he could have really believed the charges that were trumped up against Anne. I just don’t understand it.

    2. Jenny. Interesting. why didn’t H8 have Anne condemned for spying for the french, or not obeying him, or anything else other than what she was condemned for

  3. I truly believe with all my heart that Henry was a product of his environment. When raised as a royal child, he was sent away for someone other than his mother to raise. He was raised with strangers to nurture him and bond with him which in itself is dysfunctional. There could have been physical and even sexual abuse going on which would explain his attraction to youth, Due to religious dogma, he was under the uneducated assumption that he had to marry a virgin and that. would prevent his wives from cheating on him. Obviously with grown men marrying teenage girls, pedophillia was in full swing back then and not seen as destable. All these factors would explain why it was so easy for him to detach himself from one woman who was either exiled or slandered then murdered. Really he is no different from men today who trash a woman’s reputation when they want to get rid of them to ease their conscience to sleep around with their friends and family members. Only Henry killed his victims which made him in my book a psychpath.
    However the APA might classify him as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder coupled with Borderline Personality Disorder. Not an attractive package even if he was rich and famous. It must have been ghastly for all those teenage girls to have to sleep with him and smell his weeping sores that never healed, not to mention have all those pounds of flesh pummeling their bodies like a tank. Yuck!

    1. Sounds like someone has been watching too many reruns of ‘The Tudors!’ Henry was “attracted to youth?” I hope you don’t mean he was attracted to young girls, because nothing could be further from the truth. Apart from his midlife crisis with Kathryn Howard, Henry was NEVER attracted to pubsecent girls, even when he was a teenager himself. He was always attracted to intelligent, compelling, accomplished WOMEN. When he came to the throne, he had the choice of any princess in Europe – he chose a WOMAN 7 years his senior. He had literally hundreds of pretty, emptyheaded girls at court who would have been happy to fall into bed with him without a thought – he CHOSE to pursue a 25 year old WOMAN who summarily rejected him. When he rejected her, he chose a 27 year old WOMAN to replace her.
      Recall, women didn’t live terribly long in those days – his choice of women was practically middle-aged for his times, but that’s what he wanted.
      Henry may have become tyranical, but everything in his life was motivated by his very real need to sire a legitimate son -everything he did was borne of that obsession, not an Oedipus complex.

  4. Very interesting! I’m sure it was probably a combination of many (if not all) of those things. He sure did have a lot going on in the mental health department, didn’t he?!

  5. Henry VIII’s character became dominated by anger, mood swings, erratic behaviour and extremes following the jousting accident of 1536. I personally, think there is little doubt the brain damage from this accident exacerbated potential damage from 1524 accident. I also believe there were traces of this behaviour in his character all along. Like a child accustomed to getting his way, Henry was adored by the people in his early life and courted their adulation. He may have suffered from the inadequacies experienced by being the “spare” but he got to be King. Henry was used to getting his way. Until 1536 he had not, with the exeption of Rome and Catharine’s stubborn refusal to let him go, had much disappointment. He took these in stride as challenges to be conquered. However, the instances of 1536 were not so conquerable. I think the supressed anger over all those occurences (Henry Fitzroy’s death, Anne Boleyn’s betrayal and perhaps his own guilt in his part in what he set in motion, his accident and inability to perform his beloved sports, illness etc.) raged and became uncontrollable. For someone used to always getting their way, being thwarted later in life does not sit well as they do not have the skills one would have usually acquired for dealing with disappointment, loss, rejection, shame, etc. His privileged life protected him from these. I would guess Henry was always a sore loser. Until Anne Boleyn came along, Henry used to win at all games, but she did not throw games so the King’s ego would be flattered. 1536 would have been a tremendous blow to his ego, self-concept, sense of self, etc. I believe he bought into the conspiracy theory about Anne, but realized shortly after just what advantage he had given her enemies when he wanted her “gone”. They made sure he would not change his mind about her, as he had already illustrated at Easter etc. The guilt of that would drive a sane person mad. How do you live with yourself after that? And when you are not well anyway, and you are dealing with both internal and external trauma, the chance of having life-long behaviour changes — even if you didn’t have extensive brain damage from the jousting fall– would be great. Henry was a complex, damaged, sheltered man who happened to be a brilliant scholar, athlete, musician, statesman and King…. who really lost it all in 1536. Who really ran the kingdom after that fateful jousting accident? It certainly couldn’t have been Henry.

  6. It has been argued that time and place make the ruler. Most would agree that we are all products of our time. Henry VIII ruled in ways that he perceived was called for given the geopolitical realities he was faced with. Perhaps a more grounded king–not suffering from an oedipal complex and multiple health issues–would have been a failed king, ineffectual; the wrong man for the times. The fantastic globe-spanning English Empire resulted from much of the ground work carried on by this fascinating king.

  7. Claire, what an amazing article. YOu certainly covered all possible bases for an explanation of his behavior. I think it was a combination–he was raised, as the second, around his mother and sisters. His mother was truly a warm, loving woman from what I’ve read and when she died right as he entered puberty, this must have had an enormous impact on him. As the only boy, he was petted and spoiled.
    Of course, his health would have also impacted his behavior. I believe that once he treated Catherine so miserably (and always at a distance where he didn’t have to see the consequences of his actions) it became easier to rid himself of Anne and then, the others were really easy. I do think his head injury might have had an effect and the leg also. But it must have been in his nature to be tyrannical at some level. Great analysis!!

  8. Very impressive, well thought out article. Very enjoyable reading! I have always thought tat being the second son, somewhat over looked as a second son by a mother that he obviously loved, and then, the inexorable march of time that I think flummoxes the best of us as we can no longer do the things we so loved to when we were younger had to have played into his tyrannical mode. Henry VIII was, I think a tyrant in later years and I think that he also felt that he had to live up to his Father’s ambitions for the Tudor dynasty. Sad really but still and all the Tudors shone brightly upon the history of Britain – even though I would, I suspect, have been a Yorkist at the time!

    1. BRAVO indeed — thank you, Claire, for such a well-thought-out and comprehensive article. And I think your conclusion is spot on — Henry WAS a tyrant. His medical and psychological problems and the fact that he was, especially after Anne’s death, surrounded almost entirely by people who gave him bad advice and counsel and manipulated him, cannot excuse that.

  9. Dr. Anne Boleynstein? It’s possible, especially given the hostility heaped upon her prior to and after her death.

    She introduced him to books that he had banned as heretical, and which tempted him into going against his upbringing and instincts. It gave him a lot of power, but at some point, I wonder if maybe he thought that by reading, and adopting the ideas from these heretical writings, maybe Anne was the temptress to make him fall from grace. I’m sure Katharine, Mary, and Chapuys probably thought so.

    But she gave him a glimpse of the power that was possible for him to wield as the Supreme Head of the Church, and he embraced it, so that he could embrace her. When she “failed” to give birth to a son, he allowed her enemies to concoct a story against her, bolstering it with all sorts of questionable evidence, and allowed her to be executed. After her death, the few times he referred to her at all, it was as the witch/whore who had betrayed him, which still blackens her name today. I don’t believe for one instant that Henry DIDN’T know what was going on in that whole sordid mess.

    I don’t think it was Anne’s intent to do anything, really, by showing him those books, except to perhaps enlighten with a different interpretation of the Scripture than the standard Church line. But Henry interpreted things TOO literally, and the God-complex mentioned fits in nicely. The Pope was too far away to actually wield his authority directly over Henry, and did not seem all that strong anyway, since he was, in effect, being held hostage by Katharine’s nephew, Charles V. IF the Pope were the true leader of the mighty Church of Rome, in Henry’s eyes, he would have been above any petty, worldly squabbling, and not sitting on the fence between two powerful monarchs. The Pope would have wielded the authority granted to him by God, and settled things.

  10. Wow! After reading all about his physical pressures combined with all the other stresses, it makes me wonder how he made it at all? Maybe his egotistical self-absorbed personality was what kept him from crumbling? Of course at the same time, it made him into the monster we all know and (love)?

    How can you live your life in the exalted, revered, elevated, and worshiped, environment that the King of England lived in and not have it go to your head? I doubt Henry ever heard the “truth” from anyone, especially the kind of truth that reveals our faults and helps us to become better persons. No one dared to tell him when he made poor decisions. How easy it became to blame others and to take out his frustrations on those around to him. Can you ever imagine him apologizing to anyone for losing his temper?

    And how could he live with all those wrongful deaths on his conscience without blaming those crimes on someone else? Guilt is a hard thing to withstand. That alone would have been a contributor to his warped personality. He was like a “child with a chainsaw” and out of control.

    So to make others (and himself) believe that he was a loving caring person he would throw himself into his marriages, pretending to love and adore his wife/wives. And then suffer tremendous sorrow when he thought he had been betrayed; only to move on to the next wife who would offer him a bright future and on whom he would bestow expensive gifts to relieve his guilt for beheading or eliminating the previous one.

    Can anyone withstand those kinds of temptations and pressures without God? He even tried to make himself believe that God was on his side because he was annointed to be King … when he should’ve been concerned about whether he was on God’s side.


  12. Excellent article Claire. It really covers all the bases.
    I think the endless fascination of Henry is that he was such a mass of contradictions and such a complicated personality, that we can only speculate about his true motives and influences.
    However. I’ve always leaned towards the brain damage theory. It’s also easy to imagine how humbling and humiliating it was for him to see his physical prowess dwindle away into ill health and obesity and how tempting it must have been to lash out, knowing that no one could hit back.
    I think that each act of cruelty took something away from his inner self and each wife or friend that he turned on must have haunted his unconscious mind for the rest of his life; yet he could not be anything other than monstrous. Chilling.

  13. I watched the documentary Inside the Body of Henry VIII and they demonstrate just how serious the jousting accident was in 1536. Frankly, the fact that Henry survived at all is a miracle in itself based on the force of the blow to his head.

    They also bring up the theory that he may have suffered from type 2 diabetes in his later years and I can speak from experience how varied the mood swings can be depending upon whether a person has too much sugar or too little. My husband is a type 2 diabetic and when his sugar is high, he can be crabby, short-tempered, and volatile. When his sugar is low, he can be so confused it is as if he is driving the moonbuggy and doesn’t know he is on planet earth.

    I can only imagine how bad Henry’s moods could be with a disorder such as this, he ate the wrong foods, did not watch the sweets he ate, was unable to exercise due to the leg injury so all of these things exacerbated his problems and probably made him almost impossible to live with.

    Kudos to his later wives and courtiers for putting up with him.

  14. Mary Ann, I saw parts of that show on You Tube but could not find the whole show. I was fascinated with how bad his diet was and all the accidents he had. I’m amazed he made it to 55 years old. Poor health must have made being around him a nightmare at times, but I don’t think it is the only cause of his tyrant like behavior.

  15. Was Henry V111 a tyrant or misunderstood by History. He i think was no different to many Kings in the past they had power over their advisers and subjects. His treatment of his wives especially Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn was to my mind very cruel. They did not produce a male heir so they were thrown on the scrap heap. Henry also banned Mary and Elizabeth from his court declaring them bastards. Henry’s desire to divorce Katherine after many years of marriage and come into conflict with the catholic church and the Pope and make himself defender of the faith in this country also had another agenda by doing this he would be top dog and not have to be told what to do by Rome. The sacking of the Abbey’s etc gave Henry more money for the royal coffers during the reformation to spend on wars. Henry’s stance on bringing Lutheran doctrines to this country could i think have caused a civil war it did divide the country to a degree. Henry’s six wives including Jane Seymour were to my mind pawns in a political and religious struggle when women had to bow to the opinions of men especially the King. The legacy which Henry left regarding his children was more religious problems as Edward his son followed Lutheran beliefs and when Mary came to the throne her Catholic stance caused many innocent people to be burnt at the stake including Archbishop Cranmer if my menory serves me well. Then Elizabeth carried on her fathers faith not without problems during her reign.

  16. There are most likely a variety of different circumstances that explain Henry VIII and his change into a more tyranical nature in the last few years of his life. I believe it all started with his determination to divorce Katherine and marry Anne, and he was scarred by the entire process. His becoming Head of the Church in England was a functional means to an end at first that was then taken further to enable Henry to further his will against those who refused to say his marriage to Anne was valid.

    However, this would never have happened in Scotland! The King would have been subject to the Reformation and to the enforcement of the reform under Scripture. We would never have accepted Henry or anyone else as Head of the Church as in Scotland Christ is the only KIng: no-one else. There was no Convocation in Scotland, just the Congragation and the Commission and they enforced God’s Law and even the King was subjected to it as a sinner and a member of the Church. When James VI and I came back to Scotland with the fancy ideas he had picked up in England after learning how far the Headship of the Church was enshrined in law here; he was given a tough time and told what to do with his ideas. He was not able to enforce them in Scotland. I doubt that Henry VIII would have got as far as he did there either had he have ruled both countries.

  17. True to that when you have Diabeties it can get very difficult to handle people with diabeties can be moody volitale intolerant angry sad and even cry sometimes but every body is different so not all have the same symtoms my late mother had diabeties and was bipolar so I know how many mood swings they get to put up with someone like that can be at most very difficult to handle maybe with having health issues and personal demons there’s only so much a person can take that’s why it made him and emotional difficult tyrant I’m not excusing that but I’m only suggesting with that combined with everything else no wonder he was such a tyrant and don’t forget the lack of a mothers love which he lacked of I hope we can find out for sure what really made him a monster maybe annes betrayal was to painful if it was true only Henry and Anne know the truth kind regards maritzal

  18. Hello Claire, this is my first comment on the Anne Bolyen Files and i would like to say i absolutely love it! I read a comment on youtube claiming that Henry was a tyrant because his father and paternal granmother were both evil, they backed it up with absolutely bogus evidence which included the following;
    1) They murdered the princes in the tower
    2) They blamed the murder on Richard II
    3) They poisoned Edward IV
    4) They killed a matyred Richard II in battle
    Absolutely bogus!

    1. Although some rumours leaked out that Edward iv had been poisoned at the time, most chronicles agree that he died of natural causes. Margaret Beaufort had nothing to do with his death and his father, Henry Vii, was in Brittany when Edward iv died.

      We don’t know what happened to the Princes in the Tower, let alone if or who killed them and so you can’t blame the Tudors or Richard iii.

      Richard ii died in 1399 so how could he kill the Princes in the Tower? The accusers probably said Richard iii, but yes, quite bogus.

      Richard ii was left to die of starvation by the new King, Henry iv so I hope they didn’t say Richard ii.

      Richard iii was not killed by Henry Tudor but was defeated by him, after he was betrayed by Lord Stanley. He did die, fighting in the middle of his enemies, he was valiant and he was treated appallingly afterwards. Maybe not bogus but certainly a mixed up view of history.

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