Now Playing: I'm Henery the Eighth, I am
I always used to think of Henry VIII, who was born on the 28th June 1491, as a particularly unpleasant monarch: a womanising, selfish, over-eating and cruel man. It seemed that he was responsible for so much evil during his reign. He turned against the Pope in 1532 and proclaimed himself Head of the Church of England so that he could 'divorce' his wife, Catherine of Aragon (the marriage was actually annulled) and remarry. He dissolved the Roman Catholic monasteries, stole their chattels and their lands, vandalised and destroyed churches. During his reign, about 150,000 of his subjects were executed including his second wife, Ann Boleyn, and his fourth wife, Catherine Howard, who were both beheaded. Each of these unfortunate ladies had their marriages to the king annulled prior to their executions.
However, he is widely believed to be the composer of that lovely tune, "Greensleeves" and, without doubt, he was an accomplished musician. He was highly educated and could converse in Latin, French and Spanish. He owned a large library of books, many with notes written in the margins in his hand. He was himself an author, publishing the Assertio Septem Sacramentorum in 1521, and he wrote poetry. He was very tall for Tudor times (six feet two) and, in his youth, excelled at sports such as Hare Coursing and Royal Tennis.
So, what went wrong to turn him into such a tyrant in his later years? A sad, bloated old man, weighing around 28 stone, who trusted no one fully with the possible exception of his court jester, Will Somers.
The young Henry Tudor never expected to be King of England. He was the second son of Henry VII and as such probably destined for the church. However, his brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales and heir apparent died at fifteen shortly after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. At the time, Henry's father was very keen to secure an alliance with Spain and he was probably responsible for 'encouraging' the young Henry to seek a dispensation from the Pope to marry his brother's widow. Within fourteen months, the two were betrothed. However, by 1505, Henry VII had lost interest in an alliance with Spain and the young Henry was forced to declare that the engagement had been arranged without his agreement. Nevertheless, when Henry VII died, the King of Spain insisted on the marriage taking place and Henry married Catherine on 11th June 1509. They were both crowned at Westminster Abbey on 24th June 1509.
Did you know that they had a son, Henry, Duke of Cornwall? He was born on 1st January 1511 and died on 22nd February 1511. In fact, Catherine had six or seven pregnancies in all but only one child survived infancy, her daughter, Mary. It was when it was apparent that Catherine was too old to have any more children that Henry, who up to then had fathered at least six illegitimate children, decided he needed a male heir and resolved to marry again. History would have been so different if the baby Duke of Cornwall had lived!
I used to believe that Henry died of syphilis although there was no evidence of this disease in any of his children. Then I read an extremely interesting article in the April 2005 issue of the BBC History Magazine which reported that new research suggests that Henry may have suffered from an endocrine abnormality called Cushing's Syndrome. The symptoms are: obesity, a 'buffalo' hump on the back, a swollen face with fat deposits beneath the eyes, irritability, depression, mood swings, paranoia, headaches, fatigue, aggression, impotence. This disease would have turned him into a psychotic paranoid with an erratic temper and could explain why he so often turned against those closest to him. He died on 28th January 1547, a feared and despised old man - a sad and ignominious end for one of Britain's most famous kings.