Everlasting Glory … For a While

Henry VIII's coronation was greeted with a sense of hysterical optimism. As Lauren Johnson shows, it would not last.

Henry VIII in 1531

The dawn of Henry VIII’s reign was greeted by court writers with almost hysterical optimism. The 17-year-old was hailed as the ‘everlasting glory of [his] time’, equal to Adonis and Achilles and 1509 was to mark ‘the [end] of our slavery, the beginning of our freedom’. As Steven Gunn explored in his article Portrait of Britain in 1500 (2000), Henry’s accession coincided with a period of revitalisation for his country. ‘Living standards were comparatively high’, Gunn noted: England was under-populated, pastoral farming was thriving, serfdom withering, literacy expanding and an English builder’s wage in the 1500s ‘bought more food than in any decade until the 1880s’. After 50 years of royal ‘depositions, two murders and a death in battle’ the peaceful succession of an (almost) adult male to his father was remarkable. The last time it had occurred was 1413.

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