Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant (2009– )

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 Cardinal Wolsey (3 episodes, 2009)
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 King Henry VIII (3 episodes, 2009)
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Tyrant or Tortured?
3 November 2010 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

A well researched documentary by British historian, David Starkey, in four episodes, outlines Henry VIII's early life, growing maturity, love(s) and aging tyranny. It makes good use of extant documents in European libraries, most especially in Britain that shed light on Henry's interests, obsessions, upbringing and political affairs. It brings into sharp contrast the second son's education in 16th century England to the first, and where it can or may have played no little role in Henry's adulthood.

While the emphasis is on Henry VIII, his associates and family members proved so essential within his realm, Starkey elucidates, to some measure, their history with regards to the King, and how they informed the reign, in particular, his father and mother, and court counsellors.

The documentary draws no specific conclusion regarding the mind of Henry, called tyrant, but rather searches for how a man described by Sir Thomas More as "perfect" could develop into a ruler with little restraint and often callous disregard for life or limb, in both the literal or figurative sense.

Some blame Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn; others challenge Katherine of Aragon's persistent refusal of Henry's entreaties to give up her wifely and queenly titles, and others still blame one or another of the King's advisors: Wolsey, Cromwell, More or even the Duke of Suffolk, a childhood friend.

But in the end, none of us know what motivates the other, and even with the exhaustive research of a seasoned historian, Starkey makes it no clearer how the sensitive King of 1509 who wrote poetry and songs, laughed, loved and inspired, became one of England's most ruthless monarchs.

This failure does not detract from the documentary, but rather makes for more inquiry or self examination of individual temperament.


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