Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Four interesting facts about Henry VIII

Part of a blog series about 'I am Henry,' the new novel and award-winning short film of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, by Jan Hendrik Verstaten & Massimo Barbato

During the period we were writing ‘I am Henry,’ we stumbled upon some interesting facts. Some of them made it into the book as part of a conversation or a scene, while others were just interesting to us. Here, we want to share some of those facts.

1. Henry VIII was a loyal friend to his horses

It did not surprise us that as a king, Henry VIII would have an interest in horses, but what we did not know was that despite his reputation of being quite a selfish and at times brutal man, he was actually quite attached to his horses. For him they were like real friends. He visited them long after their retirement, and made sure they were well taken care of. Not an obvious soft side to the man. 

Henry single handedly brought classical dressage to England. He himself trained the horses for many hours and showed a lot of patience with the horses.

During the celebrations after the birth of his son, Henry, the Duke of Cornwall in January 1521, he showed off his dressage skills to Catherine during one of the most lavish jousting tournaments of his reign. In the novel, we re-imagine a terrifying joust Henry must take part in.

2. To wear a beard or not to wear a beard?

Henry VIII was not only vain, insecure and vulnerable to flattery, he was also extremely competitive. He would always look how he would measure up to others and would demand foreign visitors to describe the physical appearance of their kings and masters. It turns out that in 1519 he had no beard but his planned meeting with Francis I the Field of the Cloth of Gold changed all that. The set date was not suitable for Henry and he wanted to delay it.

As a token gesture of goodwill, Henry VIII promised not to shave until they would actually meet. Francis I was pleased with the arrangement. It created a kinship between the two kings. The only person unhappy with the change, was Catherine of Aragon. She hated the beard, and it is claimed she gave him a hard time about it. In 1520, Henry VIII and Francis I met at the summit where Henry personally wrestled Francis - and lost. After that encounter, Henry's beard became one of his defining features, and he keeps it in the novel.

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3. Henry VIII authored one book only. It was an attack on Martin Luther, the German Reformist

Despite being seriously talented and accomplished in many areas, Henry VIII is not known for his writing skills. As a result there is not much written material left of his. He wrote only one book and, ironically, it was an attack on the German Reformist Martin Luther. 'Defence of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther’. It was published in the summer of 1521, years before the dissolution of the monasteries, which features dramatically in the novel. 

In the book he called Luther ‘this one little Monk weak in Strength, but in Temper more harmful than all Turks, all Saracens, all Infidels anywhere.’ It has been debated if these words were actually written by Henry himself but they certainly seem to mirror his temperament. The book provided the reason for Pope Leo X to award Henry the title 'Fidei Defensor' (Defender of the Faith).


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4. Henry gave away Anne Boleyn's ancestral home, Hever Castle, to Anne of Cleves as part of the divorce settlement.

We all know in what a terrible way Henry VIII treated Anne Boleyn and how George Boleyn, Anne’s brother, was also beheaded as a result of the accusations of incest and treason against them. After the death of their father, Thomas Boleyn, in 1539, Hever Castle became Henry VIII’s property and he bestowed it upon his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves in 1540, as part of the settlement following the annulment of their marriage. Whilst Hever Castle appears in the novel, Anne of Cleves, although she is briefly mentioned, is the only wife of Henry's who does not make an appearance.

Were it not for Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn and her family would have been almost entirely erased from history. There were Mary Boleyn’s children of course - Catherine and Henry Carey. They were Elizabeth's cousins, although Catherine was rumoured to have been Henry VIII’s daughter. This was never acknowledged, but Elizabeth I was certainly fond of her cousin and elevated her as one of the most senior ladies-in-waiting. 

Catherine’s daughter, Lettice Knollys, also served Elizabeth as a Maid of the Privy Chamber, but upset Elizabeth by marrying Lord Dudley, the queen’s favourite, in secret. Elizabeth 1 has a very special role to play in the novel.

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I am Henry' is an innovative retelling of the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Due for release in paperback and e-book format by MadeGlobal Publishing, in April 2023. 

For more information about the novel and the short film go to

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