Saturday, January 23, 2016

Henry VIII: Reformer and Tyrant

Derek Wilson holds Henry VIII in contempt.  I've read biographies where the author doesn't seem to like the subject, but I'd never before read one where the disdain drips off the page.  Maybe Wilson felt he needed to be so obvious in his dislike because Henry is so popular, but I found his jaded view a bit distasteful.

Henry's reputation does exceed his accomplishments.  Giles Tremlett makes the convincing argument that Catherine of Aragon was a more competent diplomat and leader, and Henry left the country in debt.  Wilson argues, though, that even Henry's reputation as a musician and thinker (he was, after all, originally the "spare" raised to be a courtier and high-ranking clergyman) is the result of sycophantic PR and that he was an unpredictable tyrant from his youth instead of becoming a despot through ill health (and possibly a brain injury).  Is Wilson right?  It's possible, but I'm not sure I agree with his reasoning.  Wilson seems to believe that Henry was a terrible leader (and musician, and thinker) for one reason.  Even when he was young and sexy, he wasn't particularly good in bed.  Wilson uses his wives low fertility and the presence of a single acknowledged illegitimate child as evidence, along with Henry's habit of falling in love with his mistresses instead of just sleeping with several women at court.  While Henry's last two wives did  not conceive while married to him, he was by that point morbidly obese and most likely suffering form heart disease and diabetes.  It's possible he was unable to even consummate those marriages.  Catherine of Aragon, however, conceived several times, and Anne Boleyn conceived at least twice in three years.  As for his habit of falling in love rather than rutting like an animal, I don't think that's a sign of weakness.  IF true, it makes Henry more enlightened than most of his contemporaries.  Henry VIII: Reformer and Tyrant is an interesting take on a fascinating character, but a bit too Freudian for my taste.

No comments:

Post a Comment