My latest novel, Tea with Henry (release date: late September 2015) , is a labor of love. I say this because Henry VIII is one of the most, if not the most reviled and least understood monarchs of all time. What I cannot understand is why he committed some of the more heinous acts that characterized his reign. After all he sent more individuals to their death than any other monarch in history.
I explore who he really was in Tea with Henry. Let’s be honest. If you love Tudor history, you watched the HBO series, The Tudors. It’s okay, I did, too, although I marveled at the radically-inaccurate portrayal of the monarch’s appearance, among other things. It’s fair to say, however, they got the attitude correct.
Let’s start with a basic fact: his height. People think that many actors are tall, especially the men. Not so. Anyone who works in “the business” will tell you even some sets are altered to make the leading man appear larger than life, literally. Likewise, in history, people assume those who lived further in the past must have been super tiny. Maybe not Lilliputian, but somewhere between dwarf and petite.
Reality check: Henry VIII was 6’2″ – that’s six-foot-two-inches tall. Not too shabby, eh? Being five-foot-ten (5’10”) myself, I like that differential. He would tower over me. So, all you erstwhile readers of Tudor love stories, now you know Henry was closer in height to Liam Neeson and Chris Hemsworth (Thor). In his day, he was a hot property and it wasn’t just about the money.
Hair color? Not almost black as portrayed in the Tudors. Nope Henry sported reddish blond locks. The “official” portraits were sort of like P.R. shots celebrities have done today. Airbrushed and fixed to hide flaws and emphasize, well, you know. Anyway, as is the case today to a degree, red hair was viewed as a weakness of spirit. Elizabeth I changed all of that, but Henry’s portraits were altered to suit the public’s idea of what a king should look like. Bizarre, isn’t it?
Eye color? Hmmm…trickier than you might imagine. Faded oil paintings; fanciful imaginings in oil paintings…I am guessing here since I have yet to locate an actual written description by his contemporaries…blue-grey. That one’s still up for grabs.
Was he always huge? When Henry VIII died, he weighed almost or a little over 400 pounds. When he was young, and into his 40s, however, he was a Studley Do Right to be sure. The man played sports like none other: tennis, jousting, hunting, archery, javelin throwing (?!), riding, bowling. The king was a jock. In the end, however, he had a 51-inch waist. Ouch.
Like many politicians today who sport makeup to hide their flaws; dye their hair; pluck their eyebrows; maybe hide the fact they’re in a wheelchair, the monarchs had to maintain a strong appearance to keep the support of their people. After all, who would want to be ruled by someone whom the people perceived as anything short of fabulous? They don’t want it today (witness the harangue about Christie’s weight) and they didn’t want it then. Personally, I think that attitude is shallow and stupid but hey, that’s me. Not to mention that the Tudors’ actual entitlement to the throne of England will always be questionable. Henry was a player and an actor. He made himself look pretty even to the bitter end. Now that’s hubris to be sure.
It’s time to do a monumental myth busting on this man. Consider this a start.