Who Was Henry VIII?
Suzannah Lipscomb looks beyond the stereotypes that surround our most infamous monarch to ask: who was Henry VIII and when did it all go wrong?
We all think we know Henry VIII (r. 1509-47) and all there is to know about him. The Holbein portraits, the profusion of television dramas and films, the novels and histories set in his world make him ubiquitous. A whole set of clichés, truisms and fallacies accompany that famous silhouette. As a character, the king both repulses and fascinates us. His vast girth, larger than life persona, grandeur, pomp, arrogance and appetites make us strangely proud of this hyper-masculine, fabled monarch.
Yet much of what we think we know about Henry VIII is just that - fable. We think of him in stereotypes. In 2007, in her column in The Observer, Victoria Coren wrote with heavy sarcasm: 'If you type "wife-killing" into Google, the first listing is a reference to Henry VIIl, of wife-killing notoriety. Oh, that Henry VIII.' Popular perceptions of Henry VIII, according to focus groups consulted by the market research agency BDRC for Historic Royal Palaces, are that he was a fat guy who had six, or maybe eight wives, and that he killed a lot of them. In April 2007, next to a tomb in Oxford's Christ Church cathedral, where the heads of female figurines had broken off, I heard one man comment to another, 'Henry VIII has a lot to answer for, hasn't he?'
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