The Sussex author and Tudor historian Robert Hutchinson has just launched the latest book in his popular series on the Tudors – ‘Henry VIII – The Decline and Fall of a Tyrant’.
I meet Robert in the village of Amberley where he has lived for some 43 years. I ask him why the timeless appeal of the Tudors still holds such a fascination for us today. He replies “The Tudors are like us, vain, greedy, social climbers – risk takers.”
The current book, ‘Henry VIII – The Decline and Fall of a Tyrant’, combines an extraordinary depth of scholarly research with a rich and accessible narrative. Robert says “The painstaking Tudor administration left behind thousands of paper documents creating a window into their age.” Each chapter provides a series of vignettes in which the players on this historical stage are portrayed with a rare three-dimensional quality so that we, the readers, are invested in the individual characters and their stories.
The book brings together the key threads of the later years of Henry VIII’s reign – his desire to secure the Tudor dynasty with an heir against the turbulent backdrop of the Reformation, his later marriages, court intrigue, threats of invasion, debt and ill health.
This processional book begins in 1539 as the Vatican moves to align Scotland, France and Spain against Henry VIII. Robert comments “Out of this crisis a grand strategy was born. Henry wanted to fight a war with France and recover the tribute owed to him, with the chance to fulfil the ancient claim of English monarchs to the French Crown. He sought to neutralise Scotland by making his son King Consort to the infant Mary Queen of Scots. After he declared himself King of Ireland Henry almost created the United Kingdom more than 250 years before the Act of Union was passed”. Most of his potential triumphs would be snatched from him through ill-fated alliances, finances and ill health.
Henry’s malevolence and brutality is central to the story casting a shadow over not only his dealings with his perceived enemies but also with those close to him. Robert reflects “Henry’s long-held principle that ‘fear begets obedience’ is reflected in the despotic quality of his reign. He had a mordant sense of humour and delighted in toying with his advisers, like a cat with a trapped mouse.” The book highlights Henry’s manipulative nature as he publicly humiliated those he sought to control at court.
Interestingly Robert examines the medical notes made at the time and questions whether Henry did actually die of syphilis. He argues that Cushing’s syndrome may be a more plausible reason for Henry’s increasing irritability, depression, anxiety, insomnia and mood swings in his later years. There can be little doubt that his obesity and ulcerated legs added to his decline.
Henry VIII died with most of his objectives, his hopes, unachieved. Despite the despotic nature of Henry’s reign this gifted writer brings us to a point of sympathy for this most famous King as we are led through the terrible sufferings of his last years.
I have barely been able to put the book down since I started it. Robert Hutchinson’s ‘Henry VIII – The Decline and Fall of a Tyrant’ is a must read!
By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.