I am normally not one for historical fiction, but a couple of years ago I read The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory and thoroughly enjoyed it. So much, in fact, that I immediately went and bought the rest of the series. Now the movie version with Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman is coming out and I'm going to have to check that out to see if it measures up to the book.
The whole thing really roused my interest in the Tudors (The Tudors the TV series is currently in my Netflix queue) and I spent an embarrassingly large amount of time on Wikipedia reading about them. Prior to the books, all I really knew about Henry VIII is that he got married to the widow next door and she'd been married seven times before (I kid, I kid).
In honor of the recent anniversary of his death (January 28, 1547), I give you eight random facts about Henry VIII.
1. Henry was never supposed to be King.
It was always intended that Henry's older brother Arthur would take over from their father as the King of England. While Henry was merely the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the Earl Marshal of England, Arthur held the Prince of Wales title. Arthur died rather unexpectedly at the age of 15, not long after getting married to Catherine of Aragon from Spain. Thus began Henry's rein "“ he pretty much just stepped in and picked up where Arthur left off, including Catherine. Prior to his brother's death, it was assumed that Henry would have a prosperous career with the Church. Pretty funny, considering how cavalierly he played with the Church's rules to suit his marriages and divorces later in life.
2. He apparently compared his fourth wife to a horse.
Fast forward through Henry's annulment with Catherine, the beheading of Anne Boleyn, and the death of Jane Seymour and we have wife #4, Anne of Cleves. His motives for marrying her were purely political "“ she was the sister of the Duke of Cleves, who was Protestant. The Duke was an important friend to have in case the Roman Catholics decided to invade England, and so the marriage was arranged. The problem? The picture that Henry based a large part of his decision on was apparently more than a little flattering. When he met her in person just prior to their marriage, he apparently compared her to a horse. They got married anyway, and by all accounts it was pretty miserable. The marriage was annulled and she received the title of "The King's Sister," which totally baffles me. If anyone can explain this to me, please do.
3. He had an affair with Anne Boleyn's sister.
One of the plots in The Other Boleyn Girl is about Henry having an affair with Anne Boleyn's sister, Mary. This really happened when Mary served as Catherine of Aragon's lady-in-waiting for ten years. Her first two children are rumored to be Henry's, but this was never proven. After her first husband died, Mary wed a commoner with no social status and was thus disowned by Anne. She is the ancestor of Winston Churchill, Princess Diana and Sarah, Duchess of York (among others).
4. He was a sickly fellow.
Henry's health problems were vast. Although he was athletic in his youth, a jousting mishap left him unable to exercise. As a result, his waistline climbed to 54 inches. He had severe migraines and suffered from terrible insomnia. It's speculated that he also suffered from gout, and eventually the jousting wound in his thigh became ulcerated (which may have actually helped to cause his death). Modern doctors suggest that Henry probably had type II diabetes.
5. Supposedly his last words were "Monks, monks, monks!"
This is also the name of a Houston-area law firm (well, almost: Monks, Monks, Monks & Hiran).
6. He was buried with his third wife.
Henry was buried at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle with third wife Jane Seymour. He considered her his only "true" wife, since she was the only one of the six to bear him a son.
7. He could be haunting Hampton Court Palace.
In October 2003, security at the Palace checked their surveillance tapes to see why one of the fire doors kept opening. As they watched, a strange figure appeared in the doorway and closed the doors. The figure appears to be wearing period dress. If Hampton Court is haunted, it's with good reason: Jane Seymour died there after giving birth and fifth wife Catherine Howard was arrested there in 1542 for cheating on King Henry (which was treason at the time). When she found out she was being arrested, she fled down the long Gallery screaming for the King to save her.
8. He left his mark.
Despite his many marriages and his rage issues, Henry left quite a legacy. He, Alfred the Great and Charles II are traditionally referred to as the founders of the Royal Navy. He invested quite heavily in shipmaking, including the Mary Rose, which he named after his sister (although some speculate he was trying to impress Mary Boleyn).
By the way, one of the ways to keep track of Henry's six wives and how they came to be separated from him is to use this little rhyme: Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived (even though they were technically annulments and not divorces).
What do you guys think? Fabulous leader or horrible tyrant? Both?