Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quote of the Day (Lord Mountjoy to Erasmus, on New Hopes for a New Head of State)

“I have no fear but when you heard that our Prince, now Henry the Eighth, whom we may call our Octavius, had succeeded to his father's throne, all your melancholy left you at once. What may you not promise yourself from a Prince with whose extraordinary and almost Divine character you are acquainted? When you know what a hero he now shows himself, how wisely he behaves, what a lover he is of justice and goodness, what affection he bears to the learned I will venture to swear that you will need no wings to make you fly to behold this new and auspicious star. Oh, my Erasmus, if you could see how all the world here is rejoicing in the possession of so great a prince, how his life is all their desire, you could not contain your tears for joy."-- Lord Mountjoy, in a letter to Desiderius Erasmus, May 27, 1509 on promising young English monarch Henry VIII, quoted in Robert Lacey, The Life and Times of Henry VIII (1972)

Well, I guess we all know how that one turned out, don’t we?

Henry VIII (pictured here at the time of his accession to the throne, well before he became the bloated, gout-ridden, perhaps syphilitic-ridden fellow we know today), looked like he’d be such an improvement over those who came immediately before him: his skinflint of a father, Henry VII, and Richard III, the murderous tyrant (I don’t buy the revisionist theory that poor Richard was the victim of Thomas More’s Tudor propaganda) that his father overthrew.

I could go on, offering chapter and verse on how the teenage Henry turned out—but then again, I already have. In any case, Mark Twain, the great enemy of royalty, put it far better than I (or, indeed, anyone else) ever could, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: “My, you ought to seen old Henry the Eight when he was in bloom. He was a blossom. He used to marry a new wife every day, and chop off her head next morning. And he would do it just as indifferent as if he was ordering up eggs.”

(Okay, young Huck got a little confused after this—describing the Duke of Wellington, for instance, as Henry’s father—but, as we all know from our English classes, his heart was in the right place, which is more than you can say for Henry.)

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