A week ago I had a simple thought about similarities between Henry VIII and Donald Trump. Henry was in effect controlled by a strong system of government loyal to the king set up by his father. It was the same expectation for Trump’s presidency. He would be governed by America’s strongly democratic institutions of government. Now I’m not so sure but it’s still worth a look at Henry VIII.
Henry was in effect the outsider. He was not brought up to be a future king, his older brother was. Henry was educated in languages, philosophy, music and as a sportsman. Not in the art of governance. His father, Henry VII, gained a divided country in battle. The rulers were the aristocracy who wielded power over both king and parliament. The Wars of the Roses would continue if he didn’t change this pattern. Henry VII introduced a new class of bureaucrat. The middle classes. Men who could rise from humble origins and gain wealth and power. But only at the whim or the will of the monarch. Thus the new men in the government were entirely loyal to the king in a way the aristocracy didn’t need to be. The power of the nobles was reduced and Henry VII founded a stable monarchy which has survived until today (albeit in a modified form).
In 1502 the heir apparent died. Seven years later his father Henry VII died. Henry VIII succeeded to the throne. He was only 18. Why his father didn’t immediately educate his second son to succeed him is a puzzle. Neither did he marry him to Arthur’s widow to secure the alliance with Spain. Henry did that himself when he succeeded his father. Before his death his father seems to have been more concerned with marrying a second time himself and the general feeling was that at 52 he had died prematurely.
The conclusion is that at 18 Henry was unprepared and inexperienced. But not stupid. He understood his father’s policy of surrounding himself with counselors who were dependent on him for their position and wealth. But Henry was dogged by both hubris and narcissistic self justification and insecurity. Henry had to be managed and whoever was managing him wielded the real power. We know that Henry was a tyrant who signed thousands of death warrants. That he was always wanting to go to war. That he destroyed the monastic system largely to fill the royal coffers. But the system of stable government behind him continued, surviving the dramatic fall from favour of his chief advisers and his own death, the succession of a minor and a daughter who attempted to repeal Henry’s chief tenets of law.
With hindsight we know that Tudor England blossomed into the golden age of Elizabeth I. Let’s hope that America survives Trump.