Seeing the People Behind Historical Myths: Henry VIII as a Man

I’m expecting to release Tea with Henry in time for Halloween, my favorite time of year. This novel was seven years in the making. One night to conceive the idea. Five years to dink around and forestall writing it. One NaNoWriMo to commit the core ideas to paper, and one year to rework it, have it professionally edited, and perfect it. The idea came to me when I asked a simple, “What if…” question. Where it led, how, and why are questions I can’t answer. The unexpected aspect of writing the novel, however, is that it led me to delve deep into the personae of the characters, particularly Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

Right now we’re watching the presidential debates or descent into infancy (if one follows Trump and his crew) and we’re affixed to the t.v. and media coverage of the events. Much as in Tudor times, we are only permitted to “see” what the candidate wants us to. It’s hard to imagine that historical figures were just as adept at spin as modern-day politicians. I would posit that they were better at it because access to “instant” messages and images did not exist. That gives us the portraits of Henry VIII appearing much more imposing and imperial than he actually was. Likewise, Anne Boleyn, if we even have an accurate portrayal, is shown as mysterious, dark, almost sinister.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, Henry didn’t leave much behind regarding his personal life. Anne Boleyn wrote copious journals that were destroyed by the Crown following her execution. When I was confronted with how to portray these larger-than-life personae, I had quite the task to undertake.

Here’s an example: did Henry VIII have pets? Would PETA want to murder him for cruelty to animals or did he love them? Logic would tell us if he enjoyed hunting, then he enjoyed horses and the dogs that would accompany the hunt. Chalk one up for he probably had a pet. We know that his daughter, Elizabeth I, had a little lap dog. They were popular, but what about Henry? I imagine he would want something larger, something with as big a personality as his. Can’t you picture it? What about Anne? I don’t know but I kind of see her as a cat person, although I doubt many people in the royal circles would own cats due to their association with witchcraft. I see her having a lap dog.

As it turns out, I was correct. Henry loved dogs and favored, according to Alison Weir, my favorite source for Tudor history, “his dogs, especially beagles, spaniels and greyhounds; the latter were considered a particular noble breed…Henry’s own dogs wore decorative collars of velvet – permitted only to royal dogs – and kid, with or without torettes (spikes) of silver and gold; some were adorned with pearls or the King’s arms and his portcullis and rose badges. His dogs’ coats were of white silk, and the dogs had their fur regularly rubbed down with a ‘hair cloth’. Sixty-five dog leashes were found in Henry’s closet after his death.” As for Anne, according to The Anne Boleyn Files blog (a great resource) , “Anne Boleyn had two dogs: a lap dog called Purkoy and a greyhound called Urian.” Can’t you picture this? The name Urian is interesting as it comes close to Uriens of Gore, one of the Arthurian kings who hails from the legendary land of Gore.

In other words, Anne and Henry both loved and cared for their dogs much as we do today. It could be said that Henry mollycoddled his. That speaks volumes of his character. People who are inherently selfish and evil don’t tend to relish more attention on third persons let alone animals. Catherine of Aragon was portrayed sitting with a monkey.

How about their food? What a person favors at table is as interesting as the physical things they did. The Tudors favored fruit as a sweet. It is also common knowledge that the royal Tudor table was a carnivorous one. Henry brought apricots to Britain, and planted them at Nonsuch, his magnificent palace that is no more. He liked artichokes and ate vegetables, kind of, when he wanted them. He and Anne favored strawberries, Damsons, plums, and pears. Heck, so do I. Sugar had also come into the royal foodosphere (yes, I made that word up) with a vengeance. Dental issues far beyond what already existed exploded into everyday reality if you were wealthy enough to afford the sweet stuff. Beverage of choice? Ale or wine. Henry had outlawed beer and often requested nothing made with hops. That changed over time. Water? Are you kidding? Plech.

By researching the human aspects of Henry VIII and his court, I was able to lend reality to my characters rather than satire and/or stereotype. I think my readers will relate to Henry and Anne and perhaps view them with a little more kindness than history traditionally affords them.

Read more: Alison Weir, Henry VIII: The King and his Court.

About authorlisaadams

Love to write and read books. Became an attorney - not sure why. Surfer, world traveler, vague bohemian and a general outside the box individual...and I like it that way. Makes life interesting and also makes for some good stories.
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