charles william stephens

Kings of England

Reacting to a post I just read in which Henry VII was described quite rightly as seriously underrepresented in historical fiction and more interesting than his son Henry VIII: You know what I don`t get?

Why people - that is books, television shows etc., which must have a market - love Henry VIII so much. Not just why he is inexplicably the Tudor they all focus on, why he is the one King of England they deem worthy of attention. I mean, yes, certainly, he had six wives and had two of them killed, but that just means the man was crazy. And usually that`s all the focus is on. Henry VIII and his sex life. Not even Henry VIII and his crazy wavering on religious issues plunging the country into turmoil, Henry VIII and the time the north of England rose against him, Henry VIII and the other time the north of England rose against him, Henry VIII and the time he failed at campaigning while Catherine of Aragon managed just fine, but Henry VIII and his sex life.

Why? What`s so great about Henry VIII? Even if you want crazy sex stories, I can easily name three English kings who had more interesting stories and did not kill their wives. But for real, as far as interesting stories go, why don`t people go for:

(1) William the Conqueror. William the fucking Conqueror. The bastard son of the Duke of Normandy, whose mother was about as low on the social ladder as you could get and whose father died when he was seven, and who still managed to become this ultra-powerful magnate first and then straight-up went and declared himself King of England and won the title? Who was ruthless and powerful and whose invasion changed just about everything for the country?

(2) Henry I - a man with about 20 bastards, if you`re interested in historical sex stories - who went about making kingship hugely powerful and subordinating the church a bit. Who lost his only legitimate son in a shipwreck and spent the rest of his life trying to father another heir and convincing his nobles that, lacking that, his daughter would make a good queen.

(3) King Stephen, with his badass wife, who both fought strongly so he could keep his wrongly aquired throne. Who was apparently a failure as a king but universally regarded as actually a fairly nice guy, who gave his rebelling first cousin once removed money so he could return home after a failed rebellion and didn`t even demand it back when the guy didn`t leave him in peace after that.

(4) Henry II, generally regarded as one of the best medieval kings England had, who had an extraordinarily turbulent life, first started leading armies at fourteen, accidentally had his best friend murdered, spent the better part of the second half of his life fighting against his own sons and still maintained control over the Angevin empire, and was the most powerful man in all of Europe since Charlemagne. He also was rather promiscuous.

(5) King John, who had to fight against pretty much everyone in his life and had the odd habit of being constantly forgiven. Who did an astounding lot for the justice system, especially regarding his poor reputation, and was yet so unpopular the nobles managed to force Magna Carta down his throat. Who then - having just pacified his nobles and having a French invasion looming - had the courage or perhaps the lack of common sense to renounce it. A story full of twists and turns. For the obligatory sex, he was notorious for seducing the wives and daughters of his nobles. The women never complained, though their husbands and fathers were less than pleased.

(6) Edward II, a man who had such fascinating hobbies as thatching and rowing and talking to people of low standing and generally being agreeable to them, but who couldn`t understand why his nobles kept being on his case. Who very likely had a relationship to one Piers Gaveston, who seems to have gotten on well with his wife, and had a pretty good relationship with his wife as well, until another royal favourite and possible lover was given so much power she kind of lost it. Who was then overthrown by his own wife.

(6) Henry VI, unsuited for kingship and still hanging on to it for an astoundingly long time. A king who seems to have wanted to be a monk. I mean, there`s a story in that right there. This guy was used to having ridiculous amounts of power since about the time he could think, and all he wanted was to be a monk. Who was several times found singing near a battlefield when his men waged battes against his enemies.

(7) Edward IV. For further information, I think I posted a lot about him already. 

(8) Richard III. For further information, I definitely posted loads about him already. (Although, to be fair, he gets a lot of coverage.)

(9) Henry VII. I already stated why a couple of weeks ago, but just as a reminder: This guy decided to go against a king who was known as a successful warrior, and won. That`s a story worth telling alone. To say nothing of the fact he managed to cling onto his throne despite Margaret of Burgundy, Francis Lovell, and lots of difficulties. And his relationship with his wife also deserves a balanced portrayal that shows they seem to have been quite loving.

(10) Charles II, who managed to gain the throne 11 years after his father had lost it alongside his head, mainly by charming everyone who so much as crossed his path. His nickname “the Merry Monarch” pretty much showed how he took life, and he had plenty of mistresses as well, but keeping the throne took quite a lot of political skill nonetheless.

And now can someone please tell me what makes Henry VIII have prominence over any of them in popular presentations? What makes him more interesting than them? Because I don`t see it. Any given one of them I find more exciting than Henry VIII.