A poll of historical writers has named King Henry VIII as the worst Monarch in history. 62 writers were surveyed by the Historical Writers Association (HWA), and more than 20% of the votes were given to the second Tudor King, out of Sovereigns from across history and across the world.
Henry was called ‘obsessive’, ‘syphilitic’ and a ‘self-indulgent wife murderer and tyrant’ amongst other things by participants.
Robert Wilton, author of The Spider of Sarajevo, called Henry ‘a gross man-child, wilfully and capriciously dangerous to everything around him including the country’. He also said that, psychologically, Henry ‘barely made it out of infancy, let alone adolescence, and ruled with little more policy than petulant self-gratification’.
Despite being responsible for over 50,000 deaths as King, it is Henry’s eldest daughter, Queen Mary, that has been remembered for executions, earning her the title ‘Bloody Mary’. Estimates vary up to the figure of 72,000 people died on Henry’s orders, and yet Mary was responsible for little more than 300 lives, something of a moderate compared to her father.
The survey was carried out by HWA to mark the Harrogate History festival, taking place 22-25 October; the festival will feature big names in the field including Melvyn Bragg, Ken Follett and Kate Mosse.
Edward VIII was named the second worst to sit on the throne, despite never being crowned, with 14% of the vote. John I, also called John the Bad, and Charles I came in joint third, earning 8% of votes.
In a bid to find the best Monarch, Elizabeth I triumphed with 36% of the writers’ votes. Alexander the Great came in second place, earning it with 10% of the vote. Elizabeth was responsible for the triumphant English Navy, as well as ruling on her own merit, refusing to have a man validate her role as Queen.
Author Elizabeth Buchan said that Elizabeth ‘held this country together at a time when religious factions could have torn it apart. This would have been no mean feat for a King. For a woman at that period it was unprecedented’.
The Lost Duchess writer Jenny Barden said she ‘epitomised the spirit that we today identify as quintessentially English’, and Elizabeth Fremantle, author of Queen’s Gambit, called Elizabeth ‘deeply flawed yet impressively in control and a woman to boot’.
Henry II was placed third in the positive rankings, with 6%; the King began the conquest of Ireland, tried to bring the church under command of the Monarch, and survived a rebellion from all three of his sons.
Just one writer, SD Sykes, author of the historical novel Plague Land, voted for Elizabeth II as the best Monarch. She said The Queen ‘does the perfect job of being a dutiful but detached and neutral head of state’. She added that ‘as hereditary monarch, I’m happy that she keeps her opinions to herself’.
Writers were quizzed about their favourite lesser-known Monarchs, too. Here, Matilda, Queen Anne, Queen Aethelflaed of Mercia, and Athelstan (the first king of all England) were listed.
“Though never crowned, [Matilda] was effectively Britain’s first female King, and refused to conform to expectations demanded of the ‘gentle sex’,” said author Lydia Syson.
ID Roberts chose Eadwig, King for just four years in the 10th century. “Apparently his coronation had to be delayed to allow Bishop Dunstan to prise Eadwig from his bed, and from between the arms of his ‘strumpet’ and the strumpet’s mother – he was only 16 at the time,” said Roberts.
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