Henry VIII: Enemy of the people

Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger

The king was a genocidal megalomaniac Bluebeard, a Caligula

By Phil Hall



A beloved and ailing aunt, a great artist and a generous and beautiful soul, someone loved by nearly all living things (from turtles, cats and dogs, to the husband of a favourite niece) woke up in the middle of the night and called London with an urgent question, from 9,000 kilometres away.


Did Henry VIII ever do anything good in his life? She asked from her bed.

Well, did he?


Year after year, my daughters would come home from school and I would ask them what they learned about history.

Did they learn about slavery, about British colonialism, about China, the Middle East, the Americas? No. It was the Tudors. Over and over again, for three years running, the main topic of their history lesson was the bloody Tudors. And always with a rosy nationalistic glow. And always making excuses for Henry VIII.


Henry had between 57,000 and 72,000 people executed. He was the original Bluebeard. He destroyed Britain’s monasteries, debased its currency, chopped down its woods and executed all his opponents – including Saint Thomas Moore. Henry was very fond of extra-judicial murder. As the salacious and unreliable History Channel describes it:


Under the ‘bill of attainder’ Catherine was sentenced to death with no formal trial. It is rumoured that on being first arrested the hysterical Catherine was dragged screaming down a corridor at Hampton Court. Incarcerated at Syon Abbey in Isleworth, Middlesex during a bitterly cold winter she was later transported to the Tower down the Thames and beheaded on Tower Green


He was an extravagant, extraordinarily self-indulgent, vain wastrel. He enclosed the land, taking it away from the commoners. If British people have lost their intimate connection with the land they live in and are confined to living in small plots in cities, then it really all began with the larceny of Henry VIII.


When Henry suppressed the monasteries, he destroyed the public health care system of the poor. When he suppressed the monasteries, he got rid of social welfare for the poor. When he suppressed the religious houses, he made thousands of people homeless. He destroyed England’s system of social housing. He destroyed its welfare system.

Henry destroyed England’s welfare system.

Henry destroyed most of England’s libraries too. This was a huge cultural loss. For example, Worcester Priory had 600 books of which only six remain.

Over 1,200 religious buildings, and the vast lands the church owned, were taken away from uses that often benefitted ordinary people. These lands were redistributed to the king and his aristocrats. Isn’t this all beginning to sound a little familiar?


Beloved places like Glastonbury are all just ruins that dot the landscape, and all the art they contained was destroyed and disfigured. Measure the love of the English for these places by the loss that we suffered.


In his impossible arrogance, he made himself his own religion just because he wanted to fu** Anne Boleyn. He was a megalomaniac. When people begged to differ and say that Henry was not the legitimate, divinely appointed head of the English church, he killed them. He had the monks of the London Charterhouse hanged, drawn and quartered.


He enjoyed hunting and killing animals, and violent blood sports of all kinds, including the human variety. He was a bully, a paranoid slanderer, a gambler and a hypocrite and he loved playing with guns. He had a vast collection of them.

He wasn’t a jolly, happy, portly chap who happened to love women. He was a femicide and a mass murderer.



Henry expanded royal power, he didn’t share it with any form of representative government whatsoever, and this is centuries after the signing of the Magna Carta. He established the so-called divine right of kings. It was Henry who began the great religious persecutions in England, the reformation. Before then, everyone shared the same religion.


He was also useless. Henry lost all his battles, and he dominated and controlled the Irish with his policy of surrender and regrant.

Henry was an extortionist who stole from others with the threat of death to back him up. Hampton Court was not a gift, it was in exchange for protection. While English people hungered and paid his taxes, he blew his money on one huge party after another, throughout his long reign. Hampton Court was full of kitchens working at full blast. Life for Henry was, literally one long party.


What good did Henry do, if any? Henry was the rot. He wasn’t a jolly, happy, portly chap who happened to love women. He was a femicide and a mass murderer. Britain’s most prolific serial killer, Dr. Harold Shipman, only managed to kill around 250 people.

Henry was not a jolly fellow. That’s not a card. That’s on a par with the worst killers in the whole of human history.


As Eddie Izzard said about Hitler:


‘He was a mass murdering f**khead … we can’t even deal with that. I think we think that if somebody kills someone it’s murder and you go to prison. If you kill ten people, you go to Texas, they hit you with a brick. That’s what they do. Twenty people you go to a hospital and they look through a small window at you forever. Over that, we can’t deal with it. Somebody kills 100,000 people, we are almost going: ‘Well done! You killed a 100,000 people? You must get up very early.’


Tell me if Henry VIII did anything of any worth, please, so I can pass it on to my sainted aunt.

And no, I don’t think Henry composed Greensleeves. He probably plagiarised it, executed the composer and roasted and ate him for dinner.