To mark the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession to the throne, Dr David Starkey travels across Europe to understand the inner life of this feared English king.
Part One: Prince (1485-1509)
David Starkey follows the dramatic events of Henry's childhood, events that shaped his personality and his attitude to kingship.
In 1485, on the field at Bosworth, Henry's father, Henry Tudor, seized the crown from the defeated Yorkist king Richard III. To us, this event marks the end of the Wars of the Roses but to contemporaries it was not clear that this bitter dynastic struggle was truly over. Henry, Tudor's second son, was created Duke of York to link the royal house to the defeated faction.
But Henry had a rival in the shape of Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be the real Duke of York and rightful king. Henry Tudor would have to defend his throne twice in battle, and his son's life depended on the outcome.
The death of his brother Arthur made Henry Prince of Wales, and his father's heir and rival.
I was very excited to start watching this series (and before I say anymore I must thank a dear friend of mine for reminding me that I had this documentary to watch!) I have always admired Dr David Starkey as an historian; I believe he is one of the most knowledgeable people in Tudor history and while he is not my most favourite author I was still very excited to hear his thoughts and views about the life and reign of Henry VIII.
The first part of this series looks at how relatively unimportant Henry was during his early years. He was the second son born to King Henry VII and it was his older brother Arthur who was destined to inherit the thrown. We are then shown the magnificent great hall of Elton where Henry was brought up with his sisters. Starkey talks about how Henry’s mother Elizabeth of York played a large role in educating Henry during his younger years and this seems to have influenced the future King greatly. A stunning example of Elizabeth’s handwriting is shown and Starkey talks about how similar Henry’s writing was to his mothers. Starkey also gives information about the different scholars and educators whom all had an influence on young Henry’s education.
Starkey moves on to give a brief history of England before Henry VIII was born. He talks about the War of the Roses and how there had been a great deal of unrest in England over a long period of time. He provides details of how Henry Tudor and his men fought against King Richard III and his armies and how Henry Tudor was victorious and claimed the title of King to become King Henry VII. Starkey then talks a little on the disappearance of two famous Princes (Prince Edward and Richard Duke of York) in the Tower of London, and also gives some other examples of horrible deaths of highly ranked men.
Moving away from the history of England, Starkey brings us back to young Henry and how he was created a Knight at a very young age. Starkey suggests that this act had quite an important impact upon Henry as when he was an adult he always viewed himself as a strong and chivalrous knight.
When Henry was a little older there was a large revolt which took place against Henry VII. Perkin Warbeck (who was pretending to be Richard Duke of York) and the Cornish rebels challenged the rule of Henry VII, but luckily Henry VII was able to crush them and capture Warbeck. While the fighting was taking place Henry’s mother took him and his sisters from Elton to the safety of the Tower of London. I can only imagine how scary and confusing it must have been not only for Henry but for his sisters and mother.
Next we move on to look at how closely interlinked politics and family life were for royalty during the 16th century. Henry VII arranged for a marriage between his oldest son Arthur and Catherine of Aragon and we are given an insight into the great celebrations held for the marriage of Catherine and Arthur. Unfortunately a short time after their marriage Arthur died and Henry VII is left with only one male heir – his second son Henry. Shortly after Henry’s mother Elizabeth died in childbirth. Henry had now lost his mother and brother before he was age thirteen. It must have been quite tragic for him, especially since it appears that Henry’s mother took an interest in his younger years and education.
Starkey talks a little about the type of man that Henry VII was. He looks at how Henry VII was very tight with his money and used the law and money to tie people to him. Henry VII would charge people with offences and then give them enormous fines, asking more money than these people would ever earn in their lives! He would then turn around and ask for a fraction of the money in payment but hold the rest of the fine over the persons head for the rest of their life so that they were loyal to him! Clever idea, but not one that I would think would lend people to liking Henry VII very much!
We see how obedient Henry had to be to his father and grandmother, not speaking unless spoken to, hidden away with his lessons and education. But he did have a great enjoyment of jousting and although he was not able to participate, he loved to practice and spent time in the field.
Lastly Starkey talks about the demise and death of Henry VII and we are shown Henry VII and Elizabeth of York’s resting place at Westminster Abby. I have visited this place and it is utterly breathtaking! To think that such important people rest there gives one shivers. With the death of his father Henry became Henry VIII, King of England, France and Lord of Ireland. His accession to the thrown is greatly welcomed by the people as he was the son of a Lancastrian father and Yorkist mother and hopefully would bring peace and stability to England. Henry was eighteen years old and so much lay before him.
My favourite part of the this whole part was getting a chance to look at all the original letters, documents, manuscripts etc written during Henry VIII’s early years. Starkey draw upon these original sources to find out more information about the younger years of Henry VIII. The letters, manuscripts etc. were so old and so beautifully written. I wanted to reach through the screen and touch each and every one of them. How magnificent it must be to be able to touch the original paper and ink used by people over five hundred years ago!
I thoroughly enjoyed this first part of Henry VIII – The Mind of a Tyrant. It was a wonderful introduction to the life of Henry VIII and a fascinating look at the younger years of one of England’s most famous kings. Starkey is a fantastic and fascinating historian and is able to present all the information in an engaging and captivating way. I am excited to watch the next part and see what he discusses next!