Henry VIII had six wives, and his reputation for disposing of them is no secret, but when it comes to highlighting the days of his reign, one series comes to mind, The Tudors. Were they accurate?
The Official Summary Of The Tudors Series
The Showtime drama focuses on the early years of King Henry VIII‘s nearly 40-year reign, 1509-1547, of England. The series looks at Henry’s famous female companions like Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.
And delves into his relationships with important figures like Sir Thomas More, Cardinal Wosely—head of the Catholic Church of England during its break with Rome—and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who was Henry’s best friend and unofficial adviser.
My Summary Of The Tudors Series
The Tudors series can easily fall into the soap opera category done in a renaissance setting. From the beginning, we can enjoy the end of an era, the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. The tension is already present between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Without effort, the setting and scenery engross us in the story.
The series revolves around Henry VIII’s physical and mental health deteriorating, his friends versus his traitors, royal allies against noble enemies, his desire to become more powerful than the Church, and his paranoia growing with the years. King Henry was a cruel king, and we witness his cruelty gaining more power with each season of the show.
The Tudors mainly occurred within the royal hall and what went on within Henry VIII’s castle and its landmark. We go on his journey to other places and attend some of his most lavish festivities and enjoyment of jousting. However, while most of the series happens within the castle’s walls, we see two of his most cruel commands: the slaughtering of the Pilgrimage of Grace and his attack on Boulogne.
While a period soap opera, The Tudors show us that there might have been more than just Henry VIII’s decision. We don’t always know what happens behind curtains, and the show took some artistic liberties to adjust some historical events. While not entirely historically accurate in facts, The Tudors still show the fundamental aspects of Henry VIII and his closest people’s lives.
Who Was The Real Henry VIII
While I am a history nerd, sadly, the Tudors weren’t a subject I delved into until recently because of an article about his wives. Let’s face it, Henry VIII‘s popularity or infamous reputation revolves around his wives. It is the number one aspect of his reign that people around the globe know him for. However, other acts he committed made him the king he was.
King Henry had six wives, but the one that put him on the map and separated him from many other kings was Catherine of Aragon. His first wife, Catherine from Spain, gave him his first child, Mary Tudor, who became Bloody Mary. However, this isn’t why his first marriage went down in history. It marked his reign due to his determination to have his marriage seen as void by the Church.
The constant rejection of the annulment of his marriage led to his second outrageous decree: the English Reformation. This undertaking separated the Church of England from the Papal Authority of the time. King Henry declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England and ordered all convents and monasteries to close. This endeavour had the king excommunicated by the pope.
For the radical change in the English Constitution, his desire to bring forth the divine right of kings rather than papal supremacy brought much death upon his reign. While expanding his power as king in England, King Henry used whatever means necessary to silence anyone opposing his religious belief. Execution without fair trials was frequent, and his way of wanting names and religious gatherings was torturous.
On a happier note, King Henry became ‘the father of the Royal Navy’ for his investment in the navy by increasing its size to over fifty ships. He also made possible the Navy Board.
The Other Face Of Henry VIII
They made his achievements possible because of his chief ministers, who, despite their success, ended up executed or banished. This would happen when they would lose his attention or deem no more help to him. The most notable are Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Richard Rich and Thomas Cranmer. All of which were from his administrative council.
King Henry lived a luxurious life and used proceeds that should be for one cause for his personal usage. Yet, despite rerouting money to his crown, England remained on the verge of financial ruin. His countless unsuccessful wars against King Francis I of France, James V of Scotland, and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V were expensive and had no reward.
According to history, King Henry was an attractive and quite educated man for his time. He was described as “one of the most charismatic rulers to sit on the English throne.” Meanwhile, his reign was described as the “most important” in English history. As an author and composer, he also enjoyed art and saw its value.
After he fell from his horse in the 1536 jousting tournament, his leg injury caused chronic pain and morphed into leg ulcers. He couldn’t sustain his active lifestyle and gained weight because of his leg injury and neuroendocrine. The jousting injury suggests that he suffered from traumatic brain injury. That accident could be the cause of his mood swings and adiposity.
As King Henry got older, his physical health deteriorated with his leg ulcers, pus-filled boils and gout. He became severely overweight. Some say up to a hundred and eighty-two kilograms (four hundred pounds.) His pain was tremendous, and he suffered from scurvy. King Henry was a germaphobe with signs of early paranoia that only grew over the years linked to the jousting incident. In his later days, he became egotistical and shameless and turned into a tyrannical monarch.
The Accuracy Of Henry VIII In The Tudors
While watching the series, we do witness King Henry going through the stages of his mental descent into tyranny. It is also clarified that he suffered from gout and leg ulcers, which, left untreated, can quickly spread physically and painfully. Because of the time, the physicians—if you can really call them that—still used bloodletting as a primary method of treatment. However, they drain the ulcer.
As for his extravagant life, The Tudors show the lavish lifestyle of the royal court and King Henry’s desire to shower those he loved, his wives, with gifts. The building of ships, the construction of castles, the cost of wars, he stopped at nothing to spend money to defy any other kingdom. In The Tudors, the king of England wanted to be the king of the world.
Regarding the main events of King Henry VIII’s life, The Tudors didn’t miss a beat. We clearly see a king who stopped at nothing to get what he wanted. However, the cruelty shown to his wives was romanticised and not as accurate for ‘soap opera’ needs. However, the overall recollection of the reign of Henry VIII remains true to documents and theories from historians.
Vanity and pride were Henry VIII’s downfall. Fed with paranoia and heavy depression, without medical help, he grew evil. He believed to be King Arthur‘s descendant and wanted to go down in history as the greatest king for his accomplishments. He reached certain realisations, but other monarchs before him reached higher triumphs.
The Reality Of The Supporting Tudor Cast
King Henry surrounded himself with people close to his wives. But some had their place because of the clergy or friendship. Throughout the four seasons, we see a rotation in those roles because of execution and treason or King Henry’s mood swings.
One character in the series that I believed was fictional but was, in fact, part of history and Henry VIII’s best friend was Charles Brandon or Duke of Suffolk. His role wasn’t as prominent as I would’ve liked since he was King Henry’s best friend, but when present, his character’s arch would show and often for a reason.
Out of all the male characters in the show, aside from Thomas Cromwell, Brandon is the most likeable. That is for how they both treated people around them, including women. How accurate their depiction of their actions toward people and women remains a mystery. But I believe that at least two men in the royal court were more evolved.
Looking at all other names, it seems The Tudors followed the major lines of history and showed how they lived and perished. Few survived King Henry’s reign in his council aside from the Duke of Suffolk, who seemed to have learned to say, “Sir, yes, Sir,” and move on. But to what cost? I’ll have to research this Charles Brandon, as in the show, we see him going through post-traumatic stress syndrome and possible night terrors induced by trauma.
Thomas Cromwell is a historical character shown in The Tudors, rightfully so, that I loved. He played an essential part in Anne Boleyn‘s downfall and other matters important in the king’s history. His last days at court to his last breath are troubling and disturbing. I will also do research to bring forth what he did during King Henry’s reign.
My Last Thoughts On The Tudors
The theme song of The Tudors already sells the show as a soap opera. However, the morbid gothic girl I am, loved the depiction of actual torture when shown. The show doesn’t hold back when darker days occur to depict a cruel moment in history. Despite The Tudors romanticising Henry VIII and his court, the crucial sections of his reign are present. Morbidity is part of it, and so are diseases and drama.
What I deplore about The Tudors is their stubbornness not to show Henry VIII’s physical accuracy. He was a handsome man in his younger years, but toward the end, he gained weight because of his condition, and it is historically documented. I understand conserving his appearance for soap opera reasons, but the last few episodes could have been more accurate.
I believe The Tudors aimed for six seasons, one season per wife, but the show wasn’t renewed. So, we meet all six wives in four seasons, and the last three are coming in and out. That is also when we have most of the speculations and maybe less accurate information concerning his love life and filling gaps with artistic liberties. But overall, it is quite impressive for a soap opera to maintain historical events.
They made everything in the series to pull the viewer into the reign of Henry VIII, and it does it well. Considering the series played between 2007 and 2010, the meticulous attention to detail and the acting are quite impressive. We see many actors who were already big names and many making it big soon after.
My Last Two Cents About Henry VIII
Historians seeing King Henry VIII as one of the greatest kings in English history have me questioning their criteria. But I only partially agree after watching The Tudors series and through my research in books and online. I take into consideration the era and years of his reign.
Henry VIII did more cruelty in his time by ordering the deaths of countless of his subjects than exemplary achievements. It doesn’t add up when balancing the deaths of innocent people and the lie he spread to have people killed compared with a few advancements he made for his kingdom.
King Henry’s popularity lies on the heads of each of his six wives. It is what he deserves to have recognition for, as he was cruel and too proud. He made some advancements, but not enough to compete with his cruelty.
However, for The Tudors, I highly recommend watching the series. It is a captivating show revolving around a cruel time in England’s royal history. Incredible acting, superb storytelling, and fantastic scenery. It is the perfect recipe for a wonderful storytelling and great for binge watching.
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