252 Henry VIII – Judgement Day and results

Posted on 5th August:

Results now in! It was very close as the table below shows. But int he end, the History of England listeners declared that while Henry VIII may be a less than likable character to modern eyes, he and his reign delivered notable achievements.

Poll prizedraw winners were

  • somebody whose email suggests an interest in Pinot Noir
  • Somone who’s email suggests they might be called Paul Baker

and Quiz prize draw winners are:

  • D. Coster and
  • Hugh Brodie


HVIII Poll Result


Alternative views of the Big Man presented  in this mega-sode.

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Poll Prize CoinsExplanation of the poll and prizes

Members remember you have a Henry VIII Quiz and second prize draw as well. Gosh, the privileges of membership, if you don’t want to miss out Become a Member.

Four famous historians and experts on Henry VIII give their views on Henry VIII. Your task is to choose one of these in the poll at the bottom. Although the prizedraw is over you can still vote

Which historian's assessment of Henry VIII comes closest to your view?

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49 thoughts on “252 Henry VIII – Judgement Day and results

  1. I was torn between between Loades and Elton but I picked Elton but I ultimately picked Elton because I just really dislike Henry VIII. I recognize his historical importance but it’s hard to get past the way he treated the people closest to him.

    1. ah yes! I think that’s the thing. There’s no getting round it – he’s just not very nice! Especially when viewed from our time. But I think the argument is important that he was a king at a time when kings and princes were set apart, Henry had been set apart all his life. I suppose though that at very least he failed to rise above his upbringing…

  2. I agree that it is important to view both the man and his actions with the kens of his time. Far too often we judge historical actions based upon our present day views of what is right and wrong. I chose Loades even though I personally find many of Henry’s actions abhorrent.

    1. I found it difficult to separate the undeniably unlikeable personal characteristics with the context and actions, which I think is what Loades tries to do.

  3. I voted Loades. I think people judge Henry to our present times! I don’t hate him, I realize other people don’t feel that way, but i do. My passion for Henry comes from the view that i believe other circumstances played a role in his behavior especially in his older years. I love the fact of his courage! I’m sorry folks but i love Henry!

    1. Yes, i also cannot help think there’s more than a bit of judging yesterday by the standards of today too!

  4. The definition of a ‘tyrant’ and your description of Henry’s tyrannical characteristics sounded a lot like the behaviours of the current American president which certainly influenced my vote. It may be judging the past by today’s standards, but objectivity be damned, there’s a lot of material pointing towards Henry as a 16th Century version of Trump.

    1. I had the same issue, Stephen, especially in the first section of the podcast.

      I’m still pondering my vote, but I’m not sure that the fact that Henry permitted the good works of those around him to happen is enough to absolve him in my eyes. Perhaps he was just too preoccupied with whatever woman he was after at that time to really care what his ministers were doing (ok, slightly tongue in cheek)!

    2. I thought the same thing. In five hundred years, will people give Trump credit for things that by luck or other people’s efforts didn’t collapse?

    3. I take exception to this. Henry was smart enough to bring in the best and brightest to work with him. Trump does exactly the opposite—unqualified lackeys get positions of power just for licking his boots. They may be similar in having zero idea how to have a coherent foreign policy plan…but that’s about it.

      1. But I think that’s the point of Marc’s question: from our vantage point, Trump looks like an egomaniacal monster who chooses boot-licking incompetents as executors of his policies. But Henry also may have looked that way to his contemporaries. Some post-moderns admire Cromwell for some of the Henrician achievements; depending on what happens, future generations might think similarly about some of Trump’s minions (though, to be honest, I have a tough time identifying which one could be seen that way).

  5. Elton….

    I know it’s unfair to judge the long-dead by modern standards, but even by the standards of his day, Henry VIII was at best amoral. His own whims and fancies were not only more important to him than the health, happiness and the lives of the entirety of his subjects, the health, happiness and the lives of the entirety of his subjects never crossed his mind.

    1. He would have been horrified at the suggestion; Henry would have considered himself the well head of his subjects good fortune, his successes and well being their well being, he was at the head of the chain of being after all. But I think that’s what Scarisbrick’s getting at; what revolts us about Henry is that while he might casually think that, he lacked any genuine concern or empathy.

  6. I’m quite torn as I feel the case was made fairly well that much of what we today find repugnant about the man and king were very much in line with and a product of the times. However, it seems to me that he largely failed to capitalize on his successes and leave England in a significantly better position than when he took the throne. I feel that this should be the true measure of a leader. The amount of wealth squandered alone is just unforgivably vast. The first three options all note on his assumed moral failings for which I have apparently forgiven him. It’s a head-scratcher.

  7. I keep coming up against the fact that yes he was not a nice guy and I definitely would not have wanted to be a young woman around him that he was not as bad as most and that even though it was rigged (validation of beheadings etc) his going to parliament to validate did set up precedent for a continuation of a democratic England. I also think that his obsession with a male heir and gold, did give a result for Protestantism that would not have happened otherwise. The long term effect of this I selfishly thank since it means the colonies are not created Catholic and result in what at least starts out as a freedom from religion, one might argue this has not aged well here in the states but that is another discussion.

  8. I don’t care for statements that are absolute to either end of the spectrum. It’s too easy to generalize and make people as one dimensional as a Hollywood character. The best person has flaws. The worst person probably has some redeeming value. At least their dog probably thinks so.
    The same can be said for Henry. David I love how you caution people to consider everything in the context of the time in which he lived. There is no hiding Henry’s failings as a person. Yet despite it all there were good things that came out of his reign.
    That said I voted for Loades statement.

  9. There are so many versions of the story of Henry VIII. In some he’s the hero and others he’s the villain and occasionally he’s both. It is a bit like Robin Hood: there are so many versions its hard to know which to believe. Fortunately there are more verifiable facts about Henry VIII but there are so many things we don’t know. Thanks for giving it your best shot, from several different angles.

    1. You are right – and it’s not just the facts, it’s the interpretation. So many people interpret the same story in so many different ways!

  10. David, I am still pondering my vote on this, but let me just say how excellent your Judgment Day podcast on Henry VIII was. Really first-rate. Sophisticated, knowledgeable, and deftly written. Bravo.

    1. Thank you Allan, that is very nice of you! It was very interesting to write, and even quite Cathartic!

  11. I suspect that there is a recency effect in that the most popular statement was the one implied by the last half of the podcast so that it was the position that was heard last. Even so, the middle two statements account for over 80% of the choices. “Moderation in everything” rings out once more. The reasoned response after listening to a yearlong discussion is that there was good and bad in the king. Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt because he does have a foul odor even beyond his rotting leg.

    1. Yes, the Hinge and Bracket approach to life – everything in moderation. The thing is I cannot help feeling that we judge Henry VIII using a modern eye to evaluate his personality, and thus judge him more harshly that we should. On the other hand, it is now awfully difficult to view (as he once was, mind) as a great paragon. Which then tends to the middle in my mind, anyway.

  12. I just go back to my thoughts over the years about Henry and Catherine of Aragon. Where would England and Europe be today if they had a “happy” marriage and stayed together for 40yrs or so?. The reason they didnt is entirely the fault of Henry. Thats is his biggest failure in my view.

  13. No idea who that second bloke was in the debate – but he actually changed my mind. Very persuasive fellow and rather easily demolished your anti-Henry arguments, I’m afraid. He should get a podcast! 😉

  14. I voted Loades. It’s plain truth, I think, that rotten persons can still do useful and good things. Plus, you made an excellent point about taking him in the context of his times.

  15. I came into this podcast entirely sure that Henry VIII was a monster. David’s cogent and fascinating summaries might change my mind. However, one particular argument (no idea which scholar was being presented) raised my eyebrows: the supposition that Catherine Howard knew the game she was playing and should have been prepared for the consequences. Boleyn, perhaps to a degree, but Howard? What evidence malice or murderous ambition Is attached to her?

    1. I think the only way I may have presented this is int he context of Catherine’s affairs, rather than anything political, if you are referring to something I have said? On the former, there can be no doubt, surely, that in meeting with Culpepper, Catherine was well aware she was taking a dreadful risk and would have been aware that the consequences of discovery would be disastrous. I’ve never read, nor do I think, that Catherine ever had any ‘murderous ambition’, I would certainly agree with you.

      1. Pretty sure you were quoting. It was a general statement on persons around Henry who should have been aware of consequences. She was lumped together with the likes of experienced courtiers and Anne b. It just struck me that she was a different case. I see your point though, that she should have known better….a question just occurred to me. How old would have Howard been at the time of Boleyn’s death? I wonder how “real” that lesson was for her.

        1. No it was me; I had a look back at the script and here is what I said:

          “Aha, but the saintly Thomas, the brave Anne Boleyn, the loyal Cromwell, what of them? Here surely is tyranny? Without doubt in cases like these Henry expected a conviction whatever the truth, and justice was not done, however much the process of the law was followed – though I might point out that Thomas More was only trying to get off on a technicality, but I concede the point. But we must see all of these in context again, and in proportion. Once again, all of these people knew the rules of the game. They played for high stakes and they knew the potential penalties; even poor Catherine Howard. We cannot praise and celebrate Anne Boleyn for her skill as a court politician without then accepting that she knew and must accept the consequences. Margaret Pole is a hideously unfair piece of brutality it must be said. However, while it doesn’t make us like or admire Henry at all, all of these high profile deaths are morally complicit. All of them manoeuvred and schemed to have each other destroyed and executed – all of them were every bit as ruthless as the man they were trying to manipulate. They lived by the sword and could hardly complain if they died by it after they’d tried to cause their opponents death.”

          I must admit that the statement could be read as be accusing Catherine Howard of playing the political game – in which case I apologise to her shade. I meant in the first part of the statement that she would have been aware of the consequences of her playing with fire with Culpepper, and then carelessly did not exclude her from the second part – because you are quite right, Catherine was not guilty of playing factional politics in any way like the Anne or the Thomases. Hopefully I made that clear enough when I focused on Catherine in episodes 243 and 244.

  16. I feel that Henry got rather too caught up in trying for a male heir. Who can blame him after the chaos when Matilda was named as heir to the throne (sorry but can’t remember who she was supposed to succeed!). In other ways he was no worse than most of his contemporaries. His notoriety mainly comes from his treatment, and number, of his wives; not from his treatment of his enemies, trainers, rebels etc.. Love the podcast!

  17. I went for Elton. I wanted to be convinced, but the second half, to my mind, spent time stating that what happened in Henry’s reign was his responsibility even when it wasn’t directly his decision (even if he was an interested party). Clearly this is also true in the first part, although not so clearly stated there. I know that I don’t have the same reading that you do, David, but Henry, I’m afraid, comes across as the traditional spoiled child – give me what I want or I’ll have a tantrum/chop your head off. He stayed within the rules (Catherine of Aragon) except when, in extremis, he simply decided to break them, no matter the consequences. Yes, the reformation may well have happened regardless, and Henry’s approach may well have protected England from the worst excesses of Europe, but that wasn’t his intent; merely a happy accident. The same is arguably true of the navy – who wouldn’t build up a decent navy when there was the real possibility of being invaded by sea? To not do so wouldn’t just be incompetent, it would be suicidal. However, I do not believe, had the threat not been there, that what became the naval board would ever have existed. And I’d argue that the effective bureaucracy of things like the navy board in the latter part of his reign was learned from those people whom, in the earlier part of his reign, he’d had brutally killed for their service. He learned the value, but I don’t think he ever learned the lesson.

    In the end, Henry was, at best, reactive. No Anne Boleyn, no reformation; no Catherine Howard, no retrospective edicts; no French invasion, no navy; no need for money, no dissolution. Yes, that’s simplistic, but arguably, that’s how it reads because that’s how it is. His capacity for self-deception and the retroactive rewriting of history is unrivalled in kings who are listed under the ‘sane’ category. His ministers were more than competent and far more than he deserved and he terrified everyone. Yes, they all played the game of thrones, but he not only wrote the rules, but he changed them all the time as well. And yet he still repeatedly lost.

    I’m not going to argue that good things didn’t come out of his reign, but I would absolutely argue that it was despite, and not because, of the ruler. Imagine what Elizabeth I would have done with the starting point that Henry had.

    (That was much longer than I expected. Please understand the strength of my feeling when I say that I’ve typed the whole thing one-handed as I’m holding a sleeping child in the other! Thanks for the episode and, indeed, all of the Henry story, as well as the discussion.)

    Best wishes,


    1. Imagine what you’d have thought of Henry if said 5 year old had woken up! Thanks for the comment – very interesting and of course impeccably argued.

  18. I voted Elton. Henry VIII comes across as a narcissist, definitely more self absorbed than self aware. While some may argue that he should only be viewed by the lens of his times, there is a danger that in doing so would be rationalizing his motives. How would have Anne Askew answered the quiz?

    1. Quite possibly, Anne would have argued that while she could not but believe what she did, as the annointed king Henry had the right to have her executed – I’m busking, but it is far from impossible – and Anne was tortured not by Henry of course, and not at his orders, and not with his knowledge. I take your point though, and agree Henry was very much the narcissist – but he was a king, in a time that meant his will was supreme., It’d be difficult not to have your head turned. Surely we must rationalise his motives – otherwise characters in history are reduced to puppets, with no will of their own in our view. And what may happen to us in the future? That’s my view anyway – sometimes its difficult, but we must judge by the standards of the day. or so I think anyway!

  19. I voted for Loades, but it was a tough choice. All of the quotes seemed to me somewhat un-nuanced. I think the Loades quote at least gets at the point that even “bad” people may do things that have “good” results. If this was the reason you chose them, bravo!

    I want to address one thing that you said during the podcast, though: that we must judge Henry by the standards of his time. I don’t entirely disagree, but I think it’s worth stating that there should be some standards that we hold that ought to be applied even to the pre-modern era. For example, judicial murder is wrong and the person who connives at it is tainted by that connivance. I grant you that Anne B. played the game of thrones (pretty adroitly) and can’t be judged as an innocent, but in my opinion Henry caused her to be judicially murdered when, for whatever reasons, he decided to be rid of her. Even if every monarch of the era did exactly the same thing — and, of course, they didn’t, which is one of the things that fascinate us about Henry — it would still show him to be monstrous. We need to hold some basic moral principles and be prepared to apply them to the past as well as the present, otherwise we lose the ability to judge anything or anyone.

    I agree with the consensus that the wrap-up show, as well as the series on Henry generally, was excellent. Very cogently and fairly argued. Well done, sir!

    1. Thanks Lisa. I have to say that I think we should always judge people by the standards of their time. We might then make a judgement that we reject those standards for our time, and use past examples as to why we want to order our society differently. However, I think this allows your requirement that judicial murder is wrong. Anne Boleyn’s death was in all probability a put up job, with falsified evidence. By the standards of 16th century England, this was wrong, and Henry is rightly condemned for it. All I am saying is that many of those judicially murdered were complicit in this perversion of the standards, guilty themselves of trying to have their political enemies removed by the same means.

  20. I note that many of the best things you had to say about H8 were the unintended consequences of his decisions. To me, this is not a reason to praise him. I agree, completely, that he was not nearly as amoral (or immoral) as we may view him from the early 21st century; and family relations were as much political as familial for him and his class than they are today. So, long and the short of it, he probably should be praised for laying the groundwork for a true navy, but condemned for most everything else – failed at any meaningful foreign policy (though he did not have too much opportunity), furthered religious chaos through indecision, perpetuated an environment of “to the death” power struggles within his advisors (although he picked good ones), and squandered his father’s endowment. Rubbish.

  21. Elton! Of course, H8 may (or not) have been a rubbish person as judged by his contemporary standards. But as a king, he pursued personal goals without regard to public good (tyrant). He came to the throne with a surplus, realized the immense revenue from the dissolution of the monasteries, and left an indebted realm with little gain to justify the expense.

    Just because some cherry-picked accomplishments may have worked out for the better (parliamentary democracy, naval board, etc) does not excuse the overall quality of his reign.

    1. Interesting – and I share your view a little I think;l what had you expected – more on the Scarisbrick, or more on Pollard’s quote?

  22. I reluctantly voted Loades. I think Henry was horrible, and I think anything positive that came out of his reign was stumbled into, and definitely not by design, but there was some positive stuff, and I don’t think it was all due to others, so that pretty much ruled out the first 2 quotes.
    And I’m incredibly bummed that I just missed the deadline for the drawing (I was a bit behind and only listened to the episode this morning). Hoping you haven’t actually done it yet and might find it in your heart to squeeze my name in there with the others…

    1. I am sooo sorry. I literally just did the random number generator thing, and I don’t think I should break the rules. Thanks for voting anyway – I’m going to leave it up. I think Henry was pretty horrible too. But I suspect some at least of the things I dislike derive from the fact that he was a king in a time when that meant he was at the head of the great chain of being; that would probably have turned my head too. Personally I would have gone for C.

  23. I find it fascinating that 94% of the vote is on the two quotes that essentially say ‘some good turned out, but not for great reasons’. The only real distinction between Elton and Loades is that the latter ascribes to Henry the successes and the former states ‘despite’. Whichever way, he ends up as neither astounding success nor desperate failure, but somewhere in between, where the shadows lie because we cannot truly, from this distance (or arguably any distance) accurately interpret and assign intent. Which is probably why he is, and will probably always remain, so utterly fascinating. I think the reason that there are so few on the Scarisbrook and Pollard is that they are fairly absolutist views, and the reason the discussion is so interesting is that it’s nigh-on impossible to be absolutist about Henry.

    (Incidentally, and I know it’s due to rounding, but it amuses me hugely that, at the time of writing this, 101% of people have voted – 48%, 46%, 5% and 2%. Well done, you extra percentage of the population!)

    Best wishes,


    1. I guess when you boil it down that’s true; though I felt that the nuance of Elton was more negative. His is description of Henry (‘ego monstrosity’) would get you into trouble down the pub on a Saturday night (try it maybe?!), and Loades is quite specific about the dramatic impact Henry had. I quite agree,m at this distance it is difficult to assign intent; though G W Bernard seems to have proved that the Reformation was driven by the king.

      You delivered the highjest score on the quiz by the way. Whoop! And yes,m it;’s nice isn’t it – the History of England listeners gave it 101%…

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