Sir Walter Raleigh wrote: “If all the patterns and pictures of a merciless Prince were lost in the world, they might all again be painted to life, out of the story of this king.”
Henry VIII came to the English throne in April 1509 and during his life and after his death in 1547 there have been may representation of the king in the portraits, theatre, in film and in television. Shakespeare’s play Henry VIII was not first performed until around 1612, safely after both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had died, however the Prologue still informs the audience right at the start ‘How soon this mightiness meets misery’.
The residual character of Henry VIII comes down to us as a powerful and dreadful ruler, marrying six women, divorcing two [telling his first queen Katherine, during the divorce ‘…to settle the whole matter in such a way that it would be satisfactory to God and her own conscience, to the glory and fame of her own name …rather than risk the danger of a sentence….considering how great her grief and trouble ‘ and beheading two, one of which he constantly wrote to as ‘Mine own sweethart’, calling her ‘Darling’, ‘My mistress and my friend’ in letters ‘Written by the hand of his that longeth to be yours…‘. Even his close friends and advisers felt his wrath – Cardinal Wolsey once received many letters from a king who signed them ‘…with the hand of your loving Soverign and Friend, Henry R’, only to find himself some years later out of the king’s favour, deprived of the Great Seal, and reduced from once being Chancellor to a broken man signing letters written to Mr Crumwell [Thomas Cromwell] ‘Thus, with wepyng terys, I byd [you] … [Sou]thwell, with [the trembling hand of] …”
Later representations in film follow the king’s charcter a similar pattern. Ingnoring the difficulties and intricacies of renaissance foreign and domestic politics, religious reform, the flourishing of renaissance music and literture at Henry VIII’s court, Alexander Korda cast Charles Laughton in 1933 with a more boisterous approach in The Private Lives of Henry VIII . In 1966 A Man for all Seasons starred Robert Shaw as a more dangerous Henry VIII, with Paul Scholfield as memorable Thomas Moore in the film version of Robert Bolt’s play by the same name, and in 1972 came the portrait of the king Henry the VIII and his Six Wives, starring Keith Michell, looking back over his life from his death bed.
More modern screen productions have been Henry VIII powerfully realised in 2003 by Ray Winston, with a less historical Henry VIII by Jonathan Rhys Meyers in 2007. The ulitmate parody has to be Sid James and his Carry On team in Carry On Henry from 1971.
If you would like to find out more about Henry VIII, please see the links below…
Henry VIII – J.J.Scarisbrick
Political Identities in Changing Polities – Charles Tilly
The matrimonial trials of Henry VIII – by Henry Ansgar Kelly
Loughborough University Library also has access to many journals and e-resources which contain information about the life of and times of Henry VIII and the time of the Tudors.