Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Six Lives of Henry VIII

I've recently read two plays that deal with the life of King Henry VIII. The first was the Shakespeare play Henry VIII (said to date from 1613) and the second was a play by a guy named Samuel Rowley called When You See Me You Know Me, first published in 1605.

My main motive for reading them was to look for signs that the conventional account of the Henry VIII story was in error. Incidentally, I should mention that my last post concerning the Thomas More painting was part of the same vein of thought. A debate had been raging on the applied-epistemology website about this painting and the various conspiracies surrounding it. I only really published because I wanted to link to the image and needed somewhere in internet-land to upload it to. Hence the brevity and complete lack of context (anyone interested in the story of that painting will find the relevant links in the Who birthed the Renaissance section of the above mentioned site).

Anyway, back to the plays. The Shakespeare play was pretty standard Shakespeare really. Nothing special, but as ever enjoyable enough to read. It told the story of Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn and the subsequent birth of Queen Elizabeth. In fact, I felt the focus of the play was more on Elizabeth than Henry. The play told the story as we know it today - divorces Katherine, marries Anne, Wolsey dies, Cromwell comes along, etc. The play ends with the birth of Elizabeth so none of the subsequent marriages are mentioned or dealt with. In fact, from a historical revisionist point of view the most interesting thing about the play is the fact that it's alternative title at the time was All is True. A title that may suggest there was some contention over what was the truth at the time of writing.

Luckily, however, the second play provided much more canon fodder. This play dealt with the birth of Edward, the death of Jane Seymour and the King's marriage to Catherine Parr. This play was all over the place chronologically speaking. Most bizarrely, Cardinal Wolsey was still alive at the end of it! The conventional account of history states that he died in 1530, three years before Anne Boleyn became Queen. Yet in this play he's managing England's affairs during the subsequent reigns of Queen Jane and Queen Catherine. He himself even states that he was responsible for her execution at one point in the play! Thomas Cromwell isn't mentioned once throughout the entire thing either and is nowhere to be seen.

Another odd thing is the fact that Catherine Howard and her beheading don't even get a mention. It just jumps from Jane Seymour to Catherine Parr. Catherine Howard is completely missed out and Anne of Cleves gets just a single line spoken about her. All very strange.

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