Henry VIII – Birthday boy and psychopath

Henry VIII – Birthday boy and psychopath

Well, it was the birthday of Henry VIII the other day, 28th June. He was born in 1491.

By a strange juxtaposition of events I also read, the same day, that some recent research has suggested he would score incredibly highly on the scale of ‘psychopathy’. Perhaps we should not be surprised at this revelation; he has something of a reputation as a tyrant, after all. So, to be truthful, I have no desire to wish him a happy birthday.

The stories I read were on Sky News ( http://news.sky.com/story/1108966/henry-viii-would-be-a-modern-day-psychopath ) and in the Independent newspaper (http://www.independent.co.uk/i/page-3-profile-henry-viii-king-of-england-8677560.html ). One extract explained that the characteristics shared by psychopaths were:-
■Machiavellian self-interest, persuasiveness, physical fearlessness, emotional detachment, rebelliousness, feelings of alienation, carefree spontaneity, and coolness under pressure.

Certainly sounds like the Henry we all know!
■Self-interested, to the extent of changing the religion of a whole country in order to change wives.
■Persuasive, to the extent of getting the parliament to pass regulations making bastards of the children of two of his discarded wives.
■Physically fearless enough to keep jousting well into his 40s, when he fell off his horse and knocked himself out.
■Emotional detachment, to mount a (false?) case for treacherous infidelity against his second wife just after she had miscarried a son.
■Rebelliousness enough to reject the power of the Pope, who wouldn’t annul his first marriage.
■Alienated, because the Pope would not annul his first marriage!
■Carefree and spontaneous – you just have to read the tales of his Christmas parties, with “disguisings”, in which he usually took a personal, often flamboyant, part.
■Coolness under pressure. Stories from his French campaign 500 years ago in 1513 attest to this quality. Perhaps the most useful of these qualities for a monarch!

In the study, undertaken by Professor Dutton, Henry VIII was the only one, of ten famous people, who scored consistently highly on all the characteristics above. Other members of this illustrious group included Byron, Churchill, Newton and Darwin. Henry scored 174 (or 178 said the Independent) on a scale where dangerous psychopaths would score at least 168 to register as psychopaths. These would include people, such as Moors killer Ian Brady in the UK, or Ted Bundy and other mass-murderers in the USA.

Henry VIII certainly ordered the deaths of a very large number of people during his 38 year reign, including two of his six wives, and quite a few other people who were related to him in some way. Estimates by historians, of the numbers he had had killed, vary between about 50,000 and 72,000. Several hundred of those were despatched following the Lincolnshire Uprising and the subsequent Pilgrimage of Grace, both of which happened towards the end of 1536.

1536 a tumultuous year

1536 was a tumultuous year during the latter part of King Henry’s reign.

To start with, his first wife Catherine of Aragon, from whom he was, by then, divorced, died in January. According to modern medical expertise, she probably died of cancer of the heart, but the doctors who performed her autopsy suggested she was poisoned – but who really knows for sure?

On the very day Catherine was being buried in Peterborough Abbey, Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, miscarried of a male foetus. One possible cause of the miscarriage was that Anne had had a surge of bitter anger when she found one of her ladies in waiting, Jane Seymour, sitting on Henry’s lap. A second possible cause, put forward for the miscarriage, was that she was so worried when Henry fell off his horse and was knocked unconscious. You choose which to believe!

Whatever the cause, the Machiavellian Imperial ambassador to the English court, Eustace Chapuys, was apparently overheard, saying, “She has miscarried of her saviour”. Anne Boleyn had already made an enemy of Thomas , Lord Cromwell, over France and other issues, so it rather seems that Henry and Cromwell may have cooked up a lot of false claims about Anne’s supposed ‘treacherous infidelity’. This gave them an excuse to cut off her head. She was executed on May 19th 1536 and very soon afterwards, on 30th May, Henry VIII married Jane Seymour.

In July of 1536, Henry Fitzroy, bastard son of Henry VIII and Bessie Blount, died, aged only 17. Did he die of natural causes, or might he have been poisoned, as was also rumoured at the time?

In the meantime, throughout the year of 1536, Cromwell, as the newly installed Vicar-General of the Church in England, was busy closing down monasteries and other religious houses at great speed. He was, perhaps, seeking to refill the declining coffers of his master, King Henry VIII.

By September he had already closed more than 50 Houses in Yorkshire and more than 50 in Lincolnshire, as well as smaller numbers in other counties around the kingdom. He had abolished Purgatory, and decreed that around 20 Holy Days should no longer be held for their Saints. So, everyone was obliged to celebrate all these saints on the same day just after Michaelmas. Ordinary folk were clearly upset because this deprived them not only of Holy Days, but also of holidays as well!

Then the rumours began that Cromwell would soon start stealing the silverware from all the rich churches around the country. Some churches responded by selling their silver and converting the riches into less pilferable items. In Hull for example they used the money to buy Yorkstone paving for the town.

In Louth, Lincolnshire, the reaction was different. A shoemaker in the town, one Nicholas Melton, and his friends, all local artisans, persuaded the churchwardens to give up the keys to the church, so that Nicholas could lock the church and guard the treasures against theft by Cromwell’s commissioners. It was a protest that, for various reasons, escalated very quickly and turned into rebellion – according to King Henry VIII, that is…

You can read more about this in the forthcoming novel – Captain Cobbler: The Lincolnshire Uprising 1536

The novel, Captain Cobbler, is due to be published on 1st October 2013 – if you wish to enter the draw for a free copy of the book then… send a TWEET OR EMAIL TO YOUR FRIENDS AND THEN ‘FOLLOW’ THE CAPTAIN COBBLER WEBSITE BLOG (see option to “follow” on RHS of screen) AND I WILL DO THE DRAW END-SEPTEMBER FOR FREE E-BOOK. AT LEAST THREE PRIZES!!


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About Keith Melton - Green Lib Dem

Retired English liberal environmentalist living in Nottinghamshire; spent six years in Brazil. Author of Historical Novel - Captain Cobbler: the Lincolnshire Uprising 1536. Active member of the Green Liberal Democrats - (pressure group in Liberal Democrats) - was Founding Chair of GLD in 1988
This entry was posted in 1513 England and France at war, Birthday, Captain Cobbler, Henry Vlll, History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Henry VIII – Birthday boy and psychopath

  1. Dr Ted Flack says:

    The picture you paint of Henry VIII looks remarkably like all the other successful monarchs of his time. Were they all psychopaths or were they just absolute monarchs who believed that they had a god-given right to do whatever they needed to remain on their thrones?

    • Henry’s daughters managed to do away with rather fewer people – even Mary who was awarded with the epithet “Bloody Mary” apparently only managed to execute a few hundred people as did Elizabeth in a much longer reign.
      Perhaps you have answered your own question?… any “absolute monarch” who “believes” he has a “god-given right” may well qualify as a psychopath??

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