Henry VIII: the boy who would be king

Historians have long believed that very little evidence exists to inform us about the early years of the little prince Henry, says David Starkey. In this 2009 article from BBC History Magazine, Starkey tells David Musgrove why the untold story of Henry VIII's childhood is crucial in understanding his attitude to women, and his early success as king…

Henry, who would would later accede to the throne as Henry VIII, as a baby. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

For the wives of Henry VIII, “he was a very considerate husband, until he cut your head off”. That may sound like a consummate TV sound bite, but it’s one of the main messages that David Starkey is trying to get across in his reconsideration of the much-studied Tudor monarch – in two books, a TV series and an exhibition at the British Library. Starkey believes that Henry’s upbringing imbued him with a surprisingly positive view of women, given that this is the man who famously had six spouses.

You might think that there really can’t be much more to say about Henry VIII. Surely we’ve gleaned all we can from the archives, and all that’s left to do is turn over the same hoary old sources searching for new angles to theorise over? Not so, according to Starkey. Historians, he says, have long believed that very little evidence exists to inform us about the early years of the little prince Henry. That’s because they have been looking in the wrong place, by restricting their search to the records of the royal chamber. Academic orthodoxy has it that this is where the centre of royal finance was based, and so that’s where we’ve got our evidence about the life of young Henry. However, historians have forgotten that the royal chamber only takes centre stage in 1492 when the boy’s father, Henry VII, invades France.

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