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Conflicting Views of Henry VIII

This paper is an examination of the conflicting views of one of England's most famous monarchs, Henry VIII. While the king with six wives who threw the Pope out of England and established the Anglican Church is a familiar figure, historians disagree energetically on his true character. Some argue that he was a dissolute playboy, ruled by his advisers and his whims. Others contend that he was very much aware of everything around him and always completely in charge of events. While the truth appears to be closer to the latter, Henry's case demonstrates how contemporary views can affect interpretations of historical events. Actions that were completely accepted during Henry's time can be made to seem damning in modern eyes. Henry's case is especially interesting because so much historical and interpretative material exists. Therefore, this paper will not attempt to provide an exhaustive analysis but will instead use a number of specific examples to investigate the effect of modern interpretations of historical events.

One point to begin an examination of Henry VIII is through the paintings and other artistic representations made of him during his lifetime. David Starkey observes: "To all appearances, he stands as the very model of a strong king. Certainly, this is how he saw himself; more importantly, it is how Holbein, the greatest of his court painters, chose to represent him." Holbein's portraits may be the best-known images of Henry: gartered legs akimbo, a massive (and massively dressed) torso, one hand hooked in his belt, the other clutching a sword (or a leg of lamb), a strong face with a ruddy complexion set atop a thick neck, and an expression that is usually both fierce and slightly mischievous. Starkey writes, "Nor was the image wholly false. Physically Henry fitted the part to perfection . . . [and] he was both ruthless and selfish." Jasper Ridley calls him "perhaps the most formidable and famous King who...

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Conflicting Views of Henry VIII. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 20:06, June 19, 2019, from