Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Henry VIII, Man, Myth or Monster

Greetings my well regarded readers, all several of you.  In between putting up the first chapters of Red Ned’s very first novella The Liberties of London, and prior to its launch, I thought we’d have the first in a series of discussions of prominent Tudor characters and how we perceive them now.
Prior to that I’d just like to repeat my message from the last post.  If at all possible I ask you to assist one of the aid programs for those displaced by the Japanese Tsunami.  As we’ve seen, the news on that multiple tragedy is not improving.  As an example my dear partner and most excellent Uber editor suggest this one for the crafty amongst you. or So far four hundred and sixty people from around the world are participating.  This originally started as a response to the floods in Queensland (Australia), but has grown since then .  This just goes to show that there are many ways for us to help.  

Now on to character number one, Henry VIII.  This Tudor monarch is perhaps the most well known figure of all the sovereigns of England.  In general knowledge quizzes he even beats William the Conqueror.  Now it may appear a simple and redundant question, but why?
Was it his larger than life stance in the royal paintings, the sheer presence of his armour with the not inconsiderably sized cod piece?  Maybe it had to do with his frenetically diverse interests, which ranged from building to theological debate to ship design.  Or was it his signal, triple time failure in that most English of pursuits – the Conquest of France.  No wait, it wasn’t any of those reasons.  It was the six wives he ‘went through’ of which, as we know from the popular rhyme, he beheaded two and divorced two.  As everyone knows of the remainder, one died of relatively natural causes, while his last wife was a lucky survivor.  So, of all his achievements it is good old King Henry matrimonial endeavours that are best remembered!  Well that and the little disagreement with the Pope over his first marriage and divorce, but after all, who cares about that, when you have all that sex and bloodshed!  Through out the intervening history Henry’s reputation has oscillated like a yo-yo.  According to the Victorian period historian, William Walton the Tudor monarch was

"That spot of blood and grease on the pages of history."

while one contemporary historian, Robert Hutchinson calls Henry ‘psychotic and ruthless’ in his first sentence. Lacy Baldwin Smith in his Mask of Royalty tries to give us a darkly psychological profile of the last decade of Henry’s reign a view of an aging monarch, racked by injury, disease and mental trauma.  The famous British writer Peter Ackroyd seems to imply that Henry was guilty of the most heinous crimes and wrenched a devout people from the bosom of Holy Mother Church, unleashing a veritable Dark Age of church destruction, the murder of Sir Thomas More being but one example.  Those are just a small selection of the more extreme views of those tumultuous times.  Others like Starkey and Loades have been more restrained, endeavouring to provide some balance from the hysteria, loathing and shrill condemnation.  Starkey’s The Virtuous Prince is one very good example.  In fact read that and then the Mask of Royalty and it is as if you are looking at each side of a Dorian Grey painting  or a version of Jekyll and Hyde.

The interesting thing about Henry is that he was always a complex character.  As many have said he ended his reign racked by rampant suspicion and paranoia, lashing out in fits of absolute rage in an orgy of executions against rivals and perceived enemies.  However it isn’t as if, like a latter day Caligula, he started out ravishing the daughters of Roman senators.  Or, as some triumphant victor, commonly riding past mounds of skulls of his enemies as did Genghis Khan.  Then if we want a more contemporary comparison, how about Pol Pot who literally the day after he gained control of Cambodia ,began a genocidal remodelling.  So for a monarch who was the very model of a Renaissance prince for over twenty three years, how did Henry VIII become transformed into a veritable monster who’d, it is claimed slay any one who displeased him and go through a six pack of wives?
So from Shakespeare to The Tudors which one of these is the real Henry if indeed any of them. 

Well lots of questions, and in this blog we will see what we can come up with.  The views, reasons and rancour are just some of the themes we will explore. One recurring viewpoint will be that of Master Red Ned Bedwell, the ubiquitous foot soldier at the sharp end of the changes in royal directions, and the observer of that tumultuous period of Tudor history.  Ned has a unique position to report on events, in that he serves the men (and women) who serve the King.  It is Ned’s duty to enact suggestions, commands, writs and statute, whether he does that willingly or not is a measure of his own personal battle between his better angel of conscience and his daemon of ambition.   So see how Ned fares and what he thinks of those above him.


  1. Greg, Lyn from History of Royals here. I wanted to thank you for posting the links to the sites that are helping Japan. I am a crocheter, and plan to help out in that one.

    Now off to read your article on Henry!

  2. Second comment. Good post on Henry. It touches on some of the questions that I have always pondered. I have never read either The Virtuous Price or Mask of Royalty, but am enough of a devil's advocate to love reading totally conflicting accounts of a story. I will be putting those to on my list of books to read.

  3. Thanks Lyn I think that a better highlighting of Henry's shifts in action and thought need a more realistic review.

  4. You pose some interesting questions about Henry VIII. I think people often forget that it's not all a black or white question. There is no denying that Henry was an immensely intelligent, well educated man. He was also malleable due to his sentimentality and conscience. He was also vain and arrogant to the extreme. He was also in an immense amount of pain for a very long period of time. That is not to mention everything else that was hidden from the public eye, which we may never know about.

    I'm interested to read your interpretation of this complex man.

  5. Thank you Ash I will keep you updated with the continuing Tudor saga.
    Regards Greg