We caught up with Robert Hutchinson ahead of his talk, Henry VIII: The Decline and Fall of a Tyrant, at our Kings and Queens Weekend in March…
Q: What can audiences look forward to in your talk?
A: In our own time, Henry VIII has been defined more by his six marriages and sometimes trite television programmes, rather than by who he truly was. Much of the drama and intrigue of the king’s last years has been lost sight of, as well his achievements and painful failures.
You will discover that historical truth is stranger than any fiction – and just as gripping.
Q: Why are you so interested in this particular monarch?
A: My talk will focus on Henry’s last seven turbulent years. The athletic Renaissance prince had long since withered away, leaving a paranoid and psychotic monarch with a dangerous hair-trigger temper, suspicious of everyone, including those close to him. The vultures of disease were now roosting about him as he fought and lost his final frustrating battle against geriatric decay. This is a new, unfamiliar Henry VIII; a vulnerable, frightened and lonely old man for whom time was running out to achieve his childhood’s cherished dreams of battlefield victory and personal glory.
He may be England’s most famous king, but he was also a totalitarian tyrant, reigning over subjects living in mortal fear of his retribution, as well as a royal court locked in febrile, dark conspiracy by those jockeying for influence or power. Obsessed by the need to continue the Tudor dynasty, he was determined to pass on a secure realm to his precious heir, the precocious nine-year-old Prince Edward, no matter at what cost to those who might stand in his way.
Despite his reputation, foul deeds and cruel sense of humour, it is difficult not to feel a scintilla of sympathy for the old ogre, thwarted in almost everything he planned… even down to the completion of his own megalomaniac monument.
For more information about our Kings and Queens Weekend and Robert Hutchinson’s talk on Henry VIII, click here:
Q: Tell us something that might surprise or shock us all about this monarch’s life?
A: Henry had little respect for the tiresome protocols of diplomacy and was happy to employ violent, clandestine means to achieve his objectives.
He plotted to kidnap his nephew, James V of Scotland, as well as sundry troublesome papal emissaries. Henry financed the assassination of Cardinal David Beaton, archbishop of St Andrews, although he was careful that his role in the conspiracy was well hidden. Such business, he declared with breathless hypocrisy, was “not meet for kings”.
The king also hired a number of assassins to murder traitors who fled to Europe, particularly Cardinal Reginald Pole, who was the target of the elegant but utterly ruthless Italian gangster, Ludovico da l’Armi.
Q: What’s your favourite little known fact from history?
A: The confrontational layout of today’s House of Commons, with government and opposition benches facing each other, dates from 1547 when the royal chapel of St Stephen at Westminster was dissolved during the Reformation.
After the dissolution of chantries, it became the Commons’ first permanent debating chamber with the Speaker’s chair placed on the altar steps and MPs seated in the choirstalls on either side. Arguably, the tradition of MPs bowing to the Speaker on entering or leaving, is a throw-back to when the high altar still existed in the chapel.
Q: Which three historical figures would you invite to a dinner party, and why?
A: Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and the minister’s arch-enemy, Thomas Howard, third duke of Norfolk. Knowing the last two guests’ hatred for each other, swords and daggers should be left outside the dining room.
I am sure there would be no awkward silences, given the forceful personalities involved, but I would have up my sleeve four conversational topics, in the unlikely case that any of them felt shy or inhibited, or if we all survived the meal to drink a glass or two of port:
- Should Britain leave or stay in the European Union?
- Should the state religion remain Protestant or return to Catholicism?
- What do you all think of President Trump?
- Have any of you any particular regrets for your actions?
Of course, the food and drink would have to be tasted by the catering staff beforehand for poison.
Q: If you had to live in any historical period, which one would you choose and why?
A: It has to be the golden age of the Edwardian era. I have always enjoyed excess.
Dr Robert Hutchinson is a Tudor historian and archaeologist, whose critically-acclaimed books have been translated into eleven languages. He is a regular broadcaster on British, American, German, Japanese and Australian television.
He will be speaking about Henry VIII at our Kings and Queens Weekend on Saturday 2 March 2019.