Saturday, December 06, 2008

Question from Trezza - "Madness" of Henry VIII

I have heard reference to the "madness" of Henry VIII. Is there any evidence that he was "mad", or was his behavior acceptable for a monarch at the time?


Mike said...

This is a very interesting hypothesis, though I'm quite sure Henry VIII was not "mad". Although his behaviour is definitely not acceptable toady, it would still not acceptable for his time period either, even the the times have changed. However, his behaviour would be less odd then than it would seem today. It would plausible if Henry was indeed mad thought, because of "royal inbreeding"; however, I do not think any trace of madness concerning Henry VIII has been documented.

Then again, I could be wrong, considering I'm not expert :)


Bearded Lady said...

where did you hear this reference? I guess it depends on how you define "mad." I don’t think he was insane. Tyrannical. Yes. Extremely grumpy. Yes. And maybe during his final years – a tad depressed.

Lara said...

There was a program on The History Channel (I think?) a while back called "The Madness of Henry VIII", so this might be the reference.

djd said...

I thinkhe had a narcissitic personality disorder myself. LOL.

Anonymous said...

Lara, it was the National Geographic Channel. available at Don't waste your money though. I saw the program and thought it was garbage.

Anonymous said...

The scholar Erasmus met ten-year-old Prince Henry and described him as a charming and intelligent child; the two would correspond for many years. In his teenage years Henry was praised for his good looks, wisdom, affability, musical ability and prowess in the joust.

Is it possible that the many falls he must have had while jousting could have altered his personality? We know he suffered concussion on more than one occasion.

Foose said...

There were several occasions when Henry was accused of being mad, although most of the instances seem like typical 16th-century
blackguarding or diplomatic exaggeration. Martin Luther wrote a book attacking Henry's Defense of the Seven Sacraments, in which he apparently called Henry mad, causing Henry to write a frosty letter of complaint to the Dukes of Saxony in 1524, in which he haughtily remarks that he "does not mind being called mad by a madman."

The Anne Boleyn entanglement prompted several observers to call the king mad. In 1531, the Cardinal of Osuna wrote to Charles V:

The Pope said to him, among other things, that at the interview King Francis would accuse him to the Emperor of being the cause of what had passed about the Council and in England; but [the Cardinal] assured [the Pope] this was not true, and he would have given much money if the King [Henry] had not fallen into this madness, and now would give it if he would leave his madness; and the agents of both Kings have never heard anything else from him.

Also from 1531, following Henry's persecution of the London Charterhouse monks, the French ambassador Du Bellay reported that he "is of [the] opinion that, whatever [King] Francis may do so as not to be alone(i.e., diplomatically isolated), he is so impressed with the instability, madness, and impiety of the King [Henry VIII] that at some time he expects, without fail, to have him as an enemy ..."

In 1536, Reginald Pole, who had written a book against the Divorce with several passages helpfully pointing out the king's character flaws, wrote a letter to a friend saying, "Soft words are of no use, for gentleness and dissimulation have driven [the king] on to this madness ..."

The only incident where I think Henry may have been genuinely at least temporarily unbalanced came in 1541, when Kathryn Howard's misconduct was revealed. The French ambassador Marillac gave his report:

Although [Francis] understands the trouble in this Court through these changes of Queens, there is one particular which one king may know of another, and which a servant ought to write to his master, viz., that this King has changed his love for the Queen into hatred, and taken such grief at being deceived that of late it was thought he had gone mad, for
he called for a sword to slay her he had loved so much. Sitting in Council he suddenly called for horses without saying where he would go. Sometimes he said irrelevantly (hors de propoz) that that wicked woman had never such delight in her incontinency as she should have torture in her death. And finally he took to tears regretting his ill luck in meeting with such ill-conditioned wives, and blaming his Council for this last mischief.

Anonymous said...

Madness...I guess the reference is in relation to a mental illness?

I can see Henry being called 'mad' by people who were reacting to his rages, his opinions, his actions, and anything else with which they didn't agree.

For example...being called 'mad' for running outside during a snowstorm to get something out of the car without first putting on a coat. Mad or crazy, yes...but not a permanent mental condition.

Anonymous said...

A clipping from the British Library's publicity for the forthcoming Henry VIII exhibition (April - September) 2009.

"The exhibition will also include audio recordings, interactive features and film footage from the Channel 4 documentary, 'Henry VIII: The Mind of a Tyrant', presented by David Starkey and due for broadcast in April 2009."