Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant (Channel 4): David Starkey’s Investigation into the Making of a Bloodstained King

Is there anybody who doesn’t know about Henry VIII? In the history of Britain he is the one of, if not the, most famous (and infamous) monarchs for his problems with the church, the unsubtle approach he took to marital crisis and his obese appearance. The story of him and his six wives is known by most school children and there are countless films, books and television programmes chronicling his legacy.

Surely there’s nothing else to learn about the man but not according to David Starkey, TV’s top Tudor expert, in this “search for the real Henry”. Starkey has written numerous books and presented other shows about the Tudor king but here he attempts to dive into the mind of the man behind the legend to mark the 500th anniversary since his accession to the throne.

The Young Prince Henry VIII

Most of this first episode of Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant, which focused on the young Prince Henry before he became the autocratic ruler, featured a lot about his family and the political structure at that time more than the boy himself perhaps as a way of setting the scene for what is to come in this series.

But there were some interesting conclusions made in this opener. After his thorough investigation of early letters and documents held in library archives Starkey’s theory is that the transformation from a joyful youth to the bloodstained tyrant came from conflicts in his own family, saying that in the 16th century “politics and family are the same thing”.

Starkey sees the turning point as the moment his mother – who was also his teacher – died at childbirth when he was only 13. It could be viewed as a dull hypothesis to simply blame the parents and his loneliness when seen as less important to his older brother Arthur but it makes a refreshing change from the usual presumption that the responsibility rests on his falling out with the church in Rome.

David Starkey as an Authoritative History Presenter

Although David Starkey looks like he could play Penfold in a live action Danger Mouse special he is an authoritative presenter whose precise delivery smacks of legitimacy to the point that he could state that black is white or Piers Morgan is a national treasure and you would believe him. His words were cut wonderfully with shots of the priceless manuscripts and cartography that played as a backdrop to the scenes with actors as important figures such as Henry VII or scholar Erasmus.

Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant was easy to follow without being dumbed down. Starkey’s ability to tell history how it is while still throwing out terrific phrases such as “fiscal tyranny” is the sight of a master at work and helped construct an insightful documentary that could be enjoyed by a mainstream audience.

More to Henry VIII than his Size

The next episode, about Henry dealing with his reign as a young king, looks like could be pulled straight from Jonathan Rhys Meyers’s starring vehicle The Tudors except with historical accuracy and the added effect of actually being any good. Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant has set a high standard already, if it keeps up this pace it could be the stand out series of this month. Here’s hoping Starkey reaches an original finale from this so that people remember more about Henry rather than his size and temper.


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