History vs. Henry VIII – Mark Robinson and Alex Gendler


He was a powerful king whose
break with the church of Rome would forever change
the course of English history. But was he a charismatic reformer
or a bullying tyrant? Find out on History versus Henry VIII. Judge: Order, order. Now, who do we have
here? Looks like quite the dashing fellow. Defense: Indeed, your honour.
This is Henry VIII, the acclaimed king who reformed England’s
religion and government and set it on course to becoming
a modern nation. Prosecutor: I beg to differ. This is a
cruel, impulsive, and extravagant king who had as little regard for his
people as he did for his six wives. Judge: Six wives? Defense: Your honor, Henry’s first
marriage was arranged for him when he was only a child. He only married Catherine of Aragon to
strengthen England’s alliance with Spain. Prosecutor: An alliance he was willing to
toss aside with no regard for the nation. Defense: Henry had every
regard for the nation. It was imperative to secure the Tudor
dynasty by producing a male heir – something Catherine failed to do in
over twenty years of marriage. Prosecutor: It takes two to make an heir,
your honor. Defense: Ahem. Regardless, England needed
a new queen to ensure stability, but the Pope refused to annul the union
and let the king remarry. Judge: Sounds like quite a pickle.
Can’t argue with the Pope. Prosecutor: And yet that’s exactly
what the king decided to do. He uprooted the country’s
religious foundations and broke the Church of England
away from Rome, leading to centuries of strife. Defense: All Henry did was give the
Church honest domestic leadership. He freed his subjects from the corrupt
Roman Catholic establishment. And by rejecting the more radical changes
of the Protestant reformation, he allowed his people to preserve
most of their religious traditions. Prosecutor: Objection! The Church had been
a beloved and popular institution that brought comfort and
charity to the masses. Thanks to Henry, church
property was seized; hospitals closed, and precious monastic
libraries lost forever, all to enrich the Crown. Defense: Some of the funds
were used to build new cathedrals and open secular schools. And it was necessary for England
to bring its affairs under its own control rather than Rome’s. Prosecutor: You mean under
Henry’s control. Defense: Not true. All of the king’s
major reforms went through Parliament. No other country of the time allowed
its people such a say in government. Prosecutor: He used Parliament as a rubber
stamp for his own personal will. Meanwhile he ruled like a tyrant, executing
those he suspected of disloyalty. Among his victims were the great
statesman and philosopher Thomas More – once his close friend and advisor – and Anne Boleyn, the new queen
Henry had torn the country apart to marry. Judge: He executed his own wife? Defense: That…wasn’t
King Henry’s initiative. She was accused of treason
in a power struggle with the King’s minister,
Thomas Cromwell. Prosecutor: The trial was a sham and she wouldn’t have been convicted
without Henry’s approval. Besides, he wasn’t too
upset by the outcome – he married Jane Seymour
just 11 days later! Defense: A marriage that, I note,
succeeded in producing a male heir and guaranteeing a stable succession… though the new queen tragically
died in childbirth. Prosecutor: This tragedy didn’t deter him from an ill conceived fourth
marriage to Anne of Cleves, which Henry then annulled on a whim and
used as an excuse to execute Cromwell. As if that weren’t enough, he then
married Catherine Howard – a cousin of Anne Boleyn –
before having her executed too. Defense: She was engaged in adultery
to which she confessed! Regardless, Henry’s final marriage
to Catherine Parr was actually very successful. Prosecutor: His sixth! It only goes to
show he was an intemperate king who allowed faction and intrigue
to rule his court, concerned only with his own
pleasure and grandiosity. Defense: That grandiosity was part of the
king’s role as a model for his people. He was a learned scholar and musician
who generously patronized the arts, as well as being an imposing
warrior and sportsman. And the lavish tournaments he hosted enhanced England’s reputation
on the world stage. Prosecutor: And yet both his foreign and
domestic policies were a disaster. His campaigns in France and his brutal
invasion of Scotland drained the treasury, and his attempt to pay for it by debasing
the coinage led to constant inflation. The lords and landowners responded
by removing access to common pastures and turning the peasant
population into beggars. Defense: Beggars who would soon
become yeomen farmers. The enclosures made farming more
efficient, and created a labor surplus that laid the foundation for
the Industrial Revolution. England would never have become the
great power that it did without them …and without Henry. Judge: Well, I think no matter what, we can all agree he looks great
in that portrait. A devout believer who broke
with the Church. A man of learning who executed scholars. A king who brought stability
to the throne, but used it to promote his own glory, Henry VIII embodied all the contradictions
of monarchy on the verge of the modern era. But separating the ruler from the myth
is all part of putting history on trial.

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