Thursday, August 14, 2008

Question from Meredith - Henry's deathbed fears

When henry was on his death bed did he show any indication of fear at meeting his god after all the evil he had done?

[Ed. note: I'm assuming Henry VIII here, but I guess some could see it applying to either Henry?]


Anonymous said...

I am not aware of any authentic account of Henry VIII directly expressing his feelings on "meeting his god" as his death approached.

There is, however, some circumstantial evidence that he experienced some level of anxiety. In my opinion, it is significant that as Henry entered his last years and months and as it became ever more clear to him that his own days were numbered, he retreated back into many of the religious beliefs and practices he had cast aside in the 1530s. Perhaps he was feeling the need for a little spiritual reassurance and sought comfort in the religious forms that he had known for most of his life, rather than in the newer forms. For a man of Henry's bravado to retreat into his own past suggests to me that he had some regrets.

Foose said...

In his will, allegedly signed a month before he died (I say allegedly because a number of historians think that the surviving Tudor power-brokers tinkered with the codicils to award themselves offices and lands), Henry VIII ordered quite a lot of Masses and prayers for his soul, confirming phd historian's assertion that he was reverting to traditional religious practice. Masses at his tomb were to continue "as long as the world shall indure." It might indicate a guilty conscience, but these types of requests were fairly typical of Catholic monarchs of the time, so he might just have been requesting what was considered appropriate. I don't know if these bequests were carried out; it would seem very unlikely that Edward and Elizabeth would countenance the performance of Catholic ritual. Mary may have arranged something, though.

He was speechless on his deathbed; the watchers sent for Archbishop Cranmer, who asked Henry to give some sign that he trusted in God through Jesus Christ (which has a Protestant flavor to me, although it's just a guess) and Henry "gripped his hand firmly." No final confession, no last words, no evident remorse or repentance. I've read that he mumbled "Monks, monks!" as his last words, but the sources are suspect. I don't know why monks would especially be on his mind; he destroyed the monasteries, but you'd think that memories of other victims -- personal friends, wives, close relations, the infant grandson of Lord Montague, etc. -- would have preyed on him more.

Elizabeth M. said...

Is it true that not long before his death, King Henry expressed some remorse over the judicial murder of Anne Boleyn. I can't remember where I read that, but I did read somewhere that he expressed some remorse about the trumped up charges. I find that highly suspect myself, perhaps something made up to please Elizabeth when she came to the throne. But does anyone know for sure?

Foose said...

I've never read in any scholarly publication that Henry publicly repented of executing Anne. Although the motif might crop up in what I call "Tudorfic," the popular novels that are written about the dynasty, I don't think there's any actual evidence to show he regretted it.

I think this might be partly because in Henry's mind Anne was an active politician of the period, with her own affinity and patronage. She had been made Henry's favorite on the understanding that she would accomplish certain goals. Henry may have come to think of her as one of his failed public servants, like Thomas More, Wolsey or Cromwell. He did sort of repent about Cromwell, at least to the point of berating the post-Cromwell council and its leader Norfolk, accusing them of destroying "his most faithful servant." Anne didn't even merit that accolade, having failed to provide the son she promised.