Traces of Henry VIII in Game of Thrones: Similarities Between Henry VIII and Robert Baratheon


Initially, I resisted the idea of there being any similarity between Robert Baratheon and Henry VIII. (In  Robert Baratheon May Be Edward IV’s Older Half,  I compared Robert Baratheon to Edward IV but I did say I thought Robert Baratheon had a tinge of Tudor.) While getting my Tudor on this week – these days I’m more of a Plantagenet gal – I reread some of my old Tudor books and saw striking similarities between Henry VIII’s finer points and Robert Baratheon. To show that Robert Baratheon isn’t exclusively inspired by Edward IV, this article also contrasts Henry VIII with his grandfather, Edward IV.

Here are some of the ways that Robert Baratheon parallels Henry VIII and some of the fascinating real-life history that may have inspired George RR Martin to create such a deadly political atmosphere at King’s Landing:

Henry Loved Tournaments

Early in Game of Thrones, at the tournament to celebrate Ned becoming hand, Robert Baratheon snarls: “I’ve been sitting here for days. Start the damn joust before I piss myself!” Ned rejected this joust saying he wanted nothing to do with it. Really, for Robert, it’s any excuse for a joust, regardless of the cost. Robert ordered the joust because he likes them and he is impatient for it to start.

In fact, in “The Wolf and the Lion” episode, shortly before he dies, Robert is adamant about fighting in the joust. It is only because Ned tells him that he is too big for his armor and that it wouldn’t be a fair contest – the other knights would just let him win – that Robert gives up.

While Edward IV probably liked jousting just as much as the next medieval guy, Henry was noted for his obsession with jousting and combat. It seems possible that George RR Martin found inspiration in one of Henry’s underexplored sides. One ambassador even wrote the young Henry never missed an opportunity to see combat. Henry training frequently for the tilt (a type of jousting where you unhorse your opponent or split their lance) and never missed an opportunity to see any form of combat. Contemporaries described Henry as one of the best, if not the best, jouster at his court.


Henry VIII jousting as “Sir Loyal Heart” in the Westminster tournament to celebrate the 1511 birth of his short-lived son. Catherine of Aragon looks on from the stands. Henry wears the letter “K” on his horse’s colors and his lance breaks, indicating he won the bout.

This is not to say there wasn’t any benefit to Henry participating in tournaments – quite the opposite. It was an excellent PR move. In an age that only respected powerful war-like kings, participating in tournaments and other public displays of martial prowess helped convince the public Henry was fierce enough to be their protector and leader.

Still jousting was extremely dangerous, and Henry barely escaped death in a 1524 joust. Not to mention the leg injury he sustained while jousting in 1536, which became septic and never properly healed. During this joust, Henry fell “heavily” from his horse at full gallop and was out cold for two hours. Anne Boleyn attributed her miscarriage, which arguably contributed to her downfall, to her fear Henry might die. Some historians argue this fall fundamentally changed Henry’s personality, making him more tyrannical and paranoid, and damaged his health. See this article for further details.

Henry Loved War


Henry VIII’s gilded armor. Licensed under creative commons.

Robert Baratheon loved to reminisce about on war. There are scenes in Game of Thrones in which he reminisces about his first kill. Although Robert claimed the throne through his grandfather’s marriage to a Targaryen, he liked to tell people he got the throne through right of conquest (his warhammer was his claim). Robert was never happier than on the battlefield or jousting.

Amidst all the discussion of Henry VIII and his wives, one thing that often gets lost is that Henry truly loved the martial arts. Young Henry sought military glory above all else. Henry wanted to be like King Henry V, the Agincourt hero. Ever the ambitious king, Henry VIII sought greatness above all else. Henry wanted to recapture lost French territories and once again restore England’s place in France.

Henry loved any pastime that let him explore or further his dream of military glory. Hunting, jousting, dueling, and combat were all great substitutes for the real thing (war). But, it seems likely he loved all things military. Henry had enormous collections of handguns, knives, rapiers, crossbows, and other weapons. He was eager for ways to improve the accuracy and distance of guns and cannons. (Weir p. 189)) Henry loved armor so much he established an armory staffed with German and Flemish craftsman so he could have armor made locally that rivaled that of the best continental armorers.

Henry Left Ruling His Kingdom to Others

At his first small council meeting as Hand, Ned is shocked the councilors want to begin without the king. Ned then learns that King Robert never takes part in the small council meetings. “Winter may be coming, but I’m afraid the same cannot be said for my brother,” Renly dryly responds. Diplomatically Varys adds, “His grace has many cares. He entrusts some small matters to us that we might lighten the load.” And, Petyr Baelish notes, “We are the lords of small matters here.”


Henry VIII’s writing desk. Image source: linked from Flickr.

English medieval kings used a small council, known as the Privy Council, to advise them before they made decisions. This wasn’t an early form of democracy: the kings weren’t obliged to listen to the councils’ advice and the council could only discuss topics the king presented to it.  Until Henry VIII’s time, most medieval kings were closely involved in not only ruling their kingdoms but also administering them – that is, overseeing all the dreary everyday tasks (tax collection, policies, etc.) that made sure they continued running. Ledgers still exist that show how Henry VII personally reviewed and initialed most of the Crown’s financial transactions.

When the exuberant teenaged Henry VIII came to the throne, he eschewed spending his days on administrivia the way his predecessors had done. Instead, he chose to spend most of his time on athletic pursuits like hunting, jousting, and combat training with his favorites.

Henry was a “big picture person”; he appears to have disliked administrative details and routine tasks. Henry had his secretaries and attendants do his reading – they’d write summaries – and writing for him. Henry rarely read more than short letters. In a typical day, at the beginning of his reign, he only worked on kingly administration in mid-morning while he heard mass and late at night after dinner.  In stark contrast to Edward IV and Henry VII, Henry barely reviewed accounts forget checking them.

Not surprisingly, Henry usually avoided attending the privy council meetings. He let his councilors execute the finer points of policy and finance. As a result, the Privy Council was left somewhat to their own devices – provided they followed the instructions Henry gave them.

Henry was not an easy man with whom to work. Henry’s councilors had trouble extracting his signature from him. In fact, Henry disliked it so much he had a metal stamp made of his signature. (The stamp indented the parchment and then a skilled scribe would color in the impression with ink.)

Learning and relaying Henry’s wishes was also tricky. Since Henry was often away from Westminster, where the Privy


Cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s first “Hand”

Council meetings were held, somebody had to be rowed up and down the Thames to learn his wishes. The great lords and magnates who sat on the council had no desire to go to this much effort. As a result, a relatively messenger type function arose in which a junior person had to schlep to whichever palace the king was currently at, learn his instructions, and return to the council.

Wolsey, initially a junior councilor (the Almoner), performed this task. Through these duties, Henry came to trust Wolsey. In Henry VIII’s reign, access was everything – and Wolsey’s power grew. Over time, the council came to be deadlocked without the king present. They needed a leader who could represent Henry’s wishes and a power vacuum resulted. Eventually, Wolsey, whose power had grown over time, stepped into his leadership role as a principal minister in charge of  day-to-day administration.1

On a side note, George RR Martin’s decision to use the name “small council” is probably a smart translation of the function of the medieval English privy council. In Henry VIII’s day, there were two councils: the Privy Council and the Great Council. The Great Council was a large assembly of councilors – all the nobles in the realm (that is, the lay people and church nobles (aka bishops)). Kings rarely called Great Councils – although Henry did call them for first his wedding to Catherine of Aragon and then the coronation2 .

Henry Wasn’t Exactly Thrifty

At Ned Stark’s first council meeting, Renly passes Ned a scroll of instructions and announces Robert’s directive to hold a tournament (“tournay”) in honor of Ned becoming Hand. Robert wants huge prizes – presumably to make the occasion even more splendid and aggrandize his friend’s appointment. Robert wants a total of 100,000 Gold dragons for prizes, a sum which the kingdom will have to borrow.3 Master of Coin Petyr Baelish shocks Ned by revealing that the Iron Throne is a staggering 6 million Gold Dragons in debt. The king’s brother, Renly, notes that Robert has limited interest in financial matters, which the king dismisses as “counting coppers.”

In contrast with Robert’s other likely inspiration (Edward IV), Henry VIII was a big spender. Like Robert, Henry wanted what he wanted and the cost didn’t matter. Initially, Henry inherited a lot of wealth from his father and grandmother. Henry quickly blew through this money by spending on wars, clothing, palaces, disguisings, tournaments, and other entertainments. Henry spent a staggering £8,000/year in medieval money on clothes –as much as £113,600,000 ($182,641,143 USD) when a typical noble’s income was £750 per year.4 He also loved building new palaces; by the end of his reign, he had 55 palaces. In 1513, he spent roughly £2.5 million (about £5.6 billion today) trying to seize Tournai, at the time a little French town.

All of this wasn’t cheap. To pay for it, Henry debased the currency by reducing the gold and silver content in the coins. He also profited when by seizing church lands during the reformation; the church owned about 25% of lands. When Henry died, he was about £ 3,000,000 in debt, which is very close to the amount Robert Baratheon owed the Lannisters – assuming a Golden Dragon to English pound equivalency of course ;>)  .

Henry VIII “Got Fat”


Robert is unable to fit into his armor in “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things.” © HBO image linked via Wikia.

When Robert Baratheon, arrives at King’s Landing, the Starks and their household line up to receive him. As Robert dismounts from his horse, all of Winterfell is kneeling. He gestures for Ned to rise and when he does, Robert takes the words out of Ned’s mouth: “You got fat.” In response, Ned arches an eye brow. There’s little he can say: his friend is now king. In the nine years since he last saw Robert, Ned’s king has become notably fat and there are several references to this throughout Game of Thrones. (Remember when he commands Lancel to find the “breastplate stretcher” when his armor doesn’t fit?)

Although Edward IV was overweight in old age, he wasn’t as famous for his girth as his grandson. At the end of his life, Henry’s waist measured 54” (138 cm) – based on his last suit of armor.

Henry VIII’s Wife Allegedly Slept with Her Brother

Robert Baratheon prefers the company of prostitutes over the bed of his wife, Cersei. When he is with Cersei, he often is so drunk he can barely perform or remember. Cersei chooses her brother to father her children, and, in this regard, she resembles a counterfactual Anne Boleyn. (That is, an Anne Boleyn where all the dark rumors and charges are true.)


Anne Boleyn

If Robert Baratheon is a hybrid of Henry VIII and Edward IV and even Henry VI, it seems possible that Cersei is a hybrid of their wives. In other posts, I’ve discussed how she parallels Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville.

For some characters, it seems like George RR Martin took the darkest rumors about a historical figure and brought them to life. And, why not? It’s fun. For example, Joffrey Baratheon may be the rumored version of Edward of Lancaster, who was only recorded in history as wanting nothing more than to chop off men’s heads. This story, although not implausible, may be contaminated by Yorkist propaganda: although Edward may have suffered from the “princeling problem,” it’s fishy he was recorded so unidimensionally.

For Cersei, George RR Martin seems inspired by the charge Anne slept with her brother when he breathed life into Cersei Lannister. Perhaps, he asked himself the counterfactual or alternative history question, “What if the rumors about Anne Boleyn’s incest with her brother George were actually true?” The story goes that Anne, desperate to conceive a son, got the only man she could trust to keep her secret safe, her beloved brother George, to sleep with her.

In the last four years, the National Archives placed once secret copies of Anne Boleyn’s May 1536 trial transcripts – the King’s Bench – online. These Latin transcripts describe the charges against Anne, including the allegation that she allegedly “tempted her brother with her tongue in the said George’s mouth and the said George’s tongue in hers.” The charge continues to state that Anne lured her brother with jewels and presents before they slept together “contrary to all human laws.”5

Some sources allege that Anne Boleyn told her ladies-in-waiting that Henry was impotent.6 This vaguely parallels Cersei’s comment that Robert Baratheon only comes to her bed when he is so drunk that he can barely perform.

To be very clear, most historians believe the incest charges against Anne Boleyn were poppycock– a trumped-up fabrication to rid Henry of a now tiresome queen who hadn’t produced a son. George RR Martin is creating fiction, so for him the veracity of the charges doesn’t matter – it’s just a juicy story he can leverage.


  1. David Starkey. The Reign of Henry VIII: Personalities and Politics 1986 p. 27 []
  2. Starkey p. 41 []
  3. From Season 3, Ep. 3 “Walk of Punishment” ~6:49 []
  4. See Henry had the largest tapestry collection on record.((“Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Henry VIII” by Megan Meaghan Haire in Time magazine []
  5. Salacious claims of Anne Boleyn’s incest in Henry VIII documents placed online” in April 7, 2009 The Telegraph   []
  6. See Julia Fox’s biography about Jane Boleyn amongst others. []

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."


  • Reply February 6, 2014


    Henry Tudor was, unsavory of a human being as he was, generally a lot smarter, trickier, and more effective and attentive ruler than Robert Baratheon, and in a struggle of royal wills and intrigue between the two, Henry VIII would almost certainly win. On the flip side of that, of course, Robert was the warrior that Henry Tudor only wished he was. Robert Baratheon was certainly a more violent personality in general; there seems to be no evidence that Henry VIII ever struck any of his six wives, at a time when that would have been understood and accepted by his society. Also, Henry could literally not envision anything but being a king, and truly saw himself as God’s vicar…Robert hated the royal occupation and freely admitted that he just happened to be the victor in the right war. In other words, there’s a lot of differences too, but hey..GRRM freely admits to not sticking to one inspiration.

    I suspect that Cersei’s incest owes more to Lucrezia Borgia than the Anne Boleyn charges, but there is probably some of that as well. It’s also very possible that some of Cersei’s personality comes from the darker commentaries on Anne Boleyn as well, although this would mix with Margaret D’Anjou and, again, Lucrezia Borgia. All in all, though, I think we see more of Anne Boleyn in Margaery Tyrell, especially her good qualities, the queenly ambition, and the relationship with her own brother Loras. To put it another way..I don’t think it is 100 percent ironic coincidence that Natalie Dormer got the job.

    Interestingly enough, the Cersei-Anne Boleyn possibility raises another possibility: Is there any of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk in Tywin?

    • Reply February 9, 2014


      “Robert was the warrior that Henry Tudor only wished he was”
      His greatest military victories were achieved when he was out of the country – both times he was losing to France while his wives were left as Regent.

      Actually I don’t agree that Henry was an attentive ruler, he had some clever and shrewd men about him. Henry spent most of his time squandering the treasury – it only took him three years to get through the millions his father left behind – and dreaming of what a chivalrous and just ruler he was. His “Defender of the Faith” title was achieved from a rather reluctant Pope because Henry was jealous of everyone else’s fancy titles and he spent all that time writing his little book, probably with a great deal of help from More, only to then break with Rome when he couldn’t have his way.

  • Reply February 8, 2014

    Jaime Adair

    SPOILER ALERT: Robert Baratheon might be a blend of Edward IV and Henry VIII, so I agree with your comment about Henry VIII. Henry VIII was prudish; Robert Baratheon liked whores. Edward IV liked whores, but he was a very good business man and very good with money. He’d never fritter away money on tournaments (or go into debt for them) unless they helped boost national prestige or served a bigger diplomatic purpose, Bottom line: I definitely think Robert Baratheon is a blend – and he’s also a character unto himself.

    I’m assuming you’ve read the novels? Without giving away anything that hasn’t aired yet, if you didn’t know what happens in later books would you still see parallels with Anne Boleyn?

    • Reply September 2, 2014


      Just want to mention that Martin has admitted at the recent Edinburgh Festival appearance that Robert Baratheon is a blend of Edward IV and Henry VIII, with a bit of Falstaff thrown in. (Took him long enough.)

      • Reply September 3, 2014

        Jamie Adair

        Ha. Jun, thanks! I meant to mention that when I wrote my mega-long comment.

  • Reply August 21, 2014

    Yoel Arnon

    Thanks for this post! Indeed when I first saw Robert, I immediately thought Henry VIII – however the following events pointed more and more towards Edward IV, so I guess he indeed has some of both.
    Interestingly, Staniss Baratheon also has some Henry VIII in it – he has one daughter (Shireen = Mary Tudor?) and his wife brought only stillborn sons. He is now passionate about a new religion, brought by another woman – Melisandre (Anne Boleyn?) and he prosecutes all the believers of the old religion, including his most loyal friends. Of course, it is hard to see the fat and extravagance Henry VIII in slim and Spartan Staniss, but the events are similar nonetheless.

  • Reply August 21, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    This does not pertain to Robert himself so I hope I’m not going off topic. Maybe not book Margaery so much, but show Margaery made me think of the public persona of the late Diana, Princess of Wales (I didn’t know her private persona obviously as I didn’t and don’t mix in such circles). I am thinking of the charitable works (in Margaery’s case, the visit to the orphanage for example) in this regard.

  • Reply August 23, 2014


    I think it’s also important to remember that Anne Boleyn was known for her charitable deeds as well. Her records indicate that she gave more to the poor than even the pious Katherine of Aragon. Margaery’s deeds could still be a nod to Anne Boleyn.

  • Reply August 25, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    I had a “left-field” thought. What if, besides Edward IV and Henry VIII, Robert had something of Charles II (Stewart) in him – he was known as the “merry monarch” after all. Of course Charles (Second) Stewart was not a medieval monarch, though his father had been beheaded. I did a history course where the teacher said that the later years of Charles’ reign (after he had outfoxed Clarendon and the Whigs) indicated that he would have ruled absolutely throughout his reign if he could, but in the earlier days he was curtailed by Parliament so decided to have a good time. In the last few years of his reign though Charles had bad health although he had more power then (some historians think he may have had an “STI”). Charles certainly had an eye for the ladies (and had numerous illegitimate children – though our teacher said not all the ones accredited to him may have been his) but he was very astute. One might say he was clued up on how to play the “Game of Thrones”. Lots of “A” level papers had questions in the vein of “Why did Charles II retain his throne while James II lost his?” (For those unfamiliar with British History, Charles II’s younger brother, James II converted to Catholicism at a time when that branch of Christianity was very unpopular. James inherited the throne in 1685 but he was not as shrewd as Charles II had been, and was deposed three years later).

    • Reply May 28, 2019


      It’s Stuart, not Stewart.

  • Reply August 28, 2014


    Hello Jaime!
    Thanks for a really enjoyable article. I’m often led to wonder what a modern psychoanalyst or even psychiatrist would make of Henry Tudor ( VIII, as opposed to VII- the old miser, his father). I’m not being flippant here.

    We could say- well, he is a renaissance King. He believes he is God’s anointed, he’s wealthy, spoilt, he has unlimited power..etc etc.
    But, for me, his behaviour is sometimes so appalling beyond even those ’causes’ that one could cite. You and others mention the jousting accident – and we all know about the effect on his leg. Could there have been brain damage also, as a result of this?
    I hesitate to make any form of medical or psychiatric assessment- but I have my theories as to a diagnosis that could be made for this man.
    His lineage is fascinating – both genetically and psychologically. As you say :

    “Henry VIII was prudish; Robert Baratheon liked whores. Edward IV liked whores, but he was a very good business man and very good with money. ”

    In a conversation the other day, a few of us agreed that Henry seemed to have inherited some of the worst aspects of his forebears. Both physically and mentally: His father’s tendency towards paranoia, his paternal grandmother’s obsessive and fanatic traits- the prudishness and parsimony of both Henry Tudor ( the VII) and his own mother, Margaret Beaufort.
    Coupled with these, we have the maternal grandfather’s ( Edward IV) physical tendencies to obesity and sexual incontinence.
    I look at Henry ( VIII’s ) upbringing too, for clues. He’s a classic second son, only coming to prominence after the death of his brother Arthur. Any extreme ‘jealousy’ factor of being the lesser son is then ended but it also means the curtailment of Henry’s freedom. He is in the spotlight and must ‘behave’, as the befits the heir to a Kingdom. God has ‘chosen’ him…..

    Following the death of his mother ( and I think there’s a whole article in itself on Henry’s relationship with and attitude to his mother, Elizabeth of York) he may have been without a ‘softer’ restraining maternal figure in his life. Henry is said to have been such a lively and energetic individual as a young man, but is then raised by a cold, distant father and a much older, ascetic, fervently religious grandmother. Following their deaths, there was no one to rein in Henry’s behaviour or desires. He could now do just as he wished…..
    (In fact, his father died first, and his grandmother ‘hung on’ until Henry came of age.
    In – some might jest- a typically planned and controlled Margaret Beaufort fashion, she died a few days after her grandson’s coronation.)

    On a sidenote ,and to end this ramble of mine.. there was also an agreement that Elizabeth the 1st ( the only Tudor I have any liking for..) had inherited the best characteristics of her forebears!

    • Reply September 2, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Hey Martine —

      Sorry it took me so long to reply. First of all thanks for this marvelous comment. I really enjoyed reading it and the subject is one I find fascinating.

      >>”In a conversation the other day, a few of us agreed that Henry seemed to have inherited some of the worst aspects of his forebears.”
      I’d never thought of this before, but I think completely agree with you. I also completely agree with your comment about Elizabeth I.

      I agree 150% with everything you wrote, including the rivalry with another heir, his father’s paranoia, his grandmother’s prudery. I might even add to that his grandfather (Edward IV’s) self-centered, kingdom shattering matrimonial choices. (I do like the romance of the Elizabeth Woodville/AB courtships, but I both caused a lot of problems.) And, you’re right about the infidelity and corpulence.

      I do have a few other thoughts to add… I really like this topic.

      Admittedly, all of this is going by memory so I may be getting the finer points wrong. (I’m basing it on (in part) an old book I read years ago about Henry VIII’s childhood.)

      Several years ago I spent a lot of time reading about Henry VIII’s childhood. I was trying to answer the question, “Was Henry VIII a sociopath?” (In actuality, I probably meant malignant narcissist maybe – I think that’s the term.) Even if you can overlook the fact that “sociopath” might be an anachronistic term, this is a tough question to answer;

      To a certain extent, I believe that Henry VIII fell into the classic “princeling” pattern. (I discussed that in an old post and some people found my take pretty controversial — spoiled, entitled, lacking in conscience.) But, I feel that many of the hereditary rulers never developed respect for lives other than their own.I feel like so much attention was placed on the survival of the heir that the heirs came to believe that their own life was more important than any other and that perspective typically had disastrous consequences.

      In Henry’s case, I believe we see evidence of his “sociopathology” early on. Specifically, I believe he just executed his father’s unpopular ministers (Empson and Dudley) to make himself more popular with his new subjects.

      Before Henry’s accession, and after his brother and mother died, his father basically kept Henry locked away like a priceless object he was terrified might disappear. I seem to recall that Henry VII felt Henry VIII was ill prepared to rule. If I remember correctly, one chronicler implied that Henry VII thought Henry VIII was incorrectly educated for kingship — and I think his father was trying to have him caught up on kingly types of subjects (statecraft???) maybe. Henry VII may have thought that Henry VIII had the incorrect temperament for kingship and spent time in the last six months of his life trying to fix this, which led to a decline in their relationship.

      I believe that his father – who lived life on the run – instilled in Henry a deep fear of the Wars of the Roses resuming and killing Henry VIII and his family. I think it is easy for us to forget that they didn’t know the Wars of the Roses was over. There was no reason to believe that the old noble infighting couldn’t reignite into another bloody coup.

      In fact, I’d argue that the Wars of the Roses wasn’t over and it didn’t end until the late 1530s when Henry executed Margaret de la Pole – not that she was a threat.

      i read a book about cults once and the author described how cults could come to kill (e.g., Charles Manson’s cult). The author argued that if you could change somebody’s world view you could make anything possible. If you come to believe that killing 30 people is the only way to stop the world from ending, killing those thirty people might not seem so evil after all.

      Perhaps, if you can make a man believe that killing his wife because she is a traitor and because that act will prevent the kingdom falling into civil war (e.g. new queen = heir), then it isn’t hard for him to go from husband to murderer. Perhaps if he comes to believe (over the years) a strong male heir is the only way to protect the kingdom, his wife’s life ceases to matter.

      I think Henry came to see his life as a bulwark against civil war. I think he also came to see having a son and heir as not only something that would help prevent civil war but also something that would protect his own life. As soon as medieval kings had male heirs (and IMO Henry VIII is medieval but that’s a matter of opinion), it solidified their reign and reduced the usurpation attempts of rivals. This happened with both Henry VI and Edward IV.

      I think that Henry’s father’s early programming made Henry VIII paranoid, or exacerbated an underlying feeling from early childhood that he wasn’t safe. When Henry VIII was young, strong, and healthy, he probably had some immunity from these dormant fears. But, just like us when we feel sick, Henry became more paranoid as his health changed and possibly as he came to understand the sycophantic nature of noble courtiers.

      I also think that Henry’s earliest memories and his relationship with his mother exacerbated his feelings of not being safe. I would assume that one of Henry’s most powerful and earliest memories would be fleeing through the streets of London during the Cornish rebellion and sheltering in the Tower of London. This must have been terrifying for a young boy – especially if he could hear the thunder of marching(?) through the streets, battering rams (?), and cries for every man to put on his armor, etc.

      Given Elizabeth of York’s own experiences being under siege, she could have been a lot of comfort or exacerbated Henry’s fears (by expressing her own anxieties, through flashbacks to her experiences in 1471. etc.) .Was she a pillar of strength or somebody who increased his fear?

      Either way, it is possible that Henry would have been told or realized that if the rebels breached the tower, he would likely be killed or taken hostage. Terrifying for a small boy of five nearly six (I think it was).

      In some ways, what Henry inherited might not have just been genetic. You could argue he was the heir and victim of his parent’s ghosts.

      I don’t this legacy lets him off the hook though. He was basically the Bluebeard of the Middle Ages if you throw in the dissolution of the monasteries, scores of judicial homicides, reckless spending, etc.

      Like you say, I/one probably shouldn’t even try to psychoanalyze him at a 500 year distance! But I do find it very interesting. 🙂

      • Reply September 5, 2014


        Marvelous analysis on Henry VIII. “It is easy for us to forget that they didn’t know the Wars of the Roses was over.” That pretty much nails it.

        I also think we should try to understand the motivations and rationale of historical people, which is something I learned only since reading ASOIAF. The problem is the danger of our own modern assumptions that we are not even conscious of. It’s really hard to imagine living in a world where the Humanistic concepts that we hold dear, such as democracy, equality, and the value of non-noble human life, were not drilled into everyone. In fact, most people did not even read or have access to a book at all. So a modern person might look at perfectly reasonable (or at least somewhat understandable) choices in that context and find it appalling. The difference is the frame, but it’s really hard to see it.

        Also I very much agree with the long shadow cast by the Wars of the Roses. A traumatic event in a person’s life tends to have lifelong effects on the way he thinks and feels (without psychological intervention). I have come to believe that the psychological effects may be more profound and prolonged left by collectively traumatic events on a society. A prolonged war or chaos distorts people’s mind about what is “the norm.” I look at the enlightened thinkers and the bloody French Revolution and see the fingerprints of the previous civil war between Catholics and Huguenots. I listen to Americans today and hear the psychological scars of slavery (on everyone, even immigrants!) that ended a hundred and fifty years ago. I have come to believe that people are all the same, and the reason why cultures and social structures differ from each other lies in their different pasts.

        For individuals, one can reorganize and resolve the memory of trauma and move on through successful psychotherapy. There is no such help for societies, even though most societies seem to sorely need some. Every society is the product of its unique history. Without understanding the burden of its past, one can never truly understand it is so today.

      • Olga Hughes
        Reply September 5, 2014

        Olga Hughes

        I always enjoy psychoanalysing the tyrant. I tend to think Henry thought he had been forsaken by God. His mother-in-law and his own mother had been quite successful in the childbearing department, so why could he not sire any children (not that it would have occurred to him it may have been his own fertility that was the issue). I would say he was relieved when Anne got pregnant so quickly the first time, as it reinforced his belief that his first marriage was invalid in the eyes of God. So the subsequent miscarriages stirred up the old anxiety again.
        He was also hugely preoccupied with procreating, he made a mention of children he may have with ‘other wives’ in his will, as if he was even capable at that point.

    • Reply May 28, 2019


      Interesting, Henry 8’s life and rise to power plus squandering of wealth resembles Emperor Han Wudi, born Liu Che. In his reign, warring with the xiongnu barbarians he sought allies, his envoy Zhang Qian failed in that task but it did lead to the silkroad taking root… Wudi’s father died before his grandmother so it’s like Henry’s early reign, he’s the ruler now but in truth his grandma pulls the strings, he has to be conservative and yes like Henry he was big on action and at least in the big budget chinese tv series based on this, from adolescence he was preparing to war with the barbarians to rid of them terrorising their kingdom for good. (In the tv show at least not sure if it’s reality but is very possible, his sister was given to the xiongnu king as a tribute when he was a child and freeing her from that was a deep incentive.. Ironically when they did win the dreadful, costly war his sister saw her place as the queen of the xiongnu/huns rather than chinese and they fled outwards from China) Once his long lived grandma died (She outlived both her powerful sons, her favourite the younger brother of the emperor she wanted him to rule but firstborn typically assume that rule of course) however the gloves were off and Wudi in earnest let his ambitions run wild, he was very big on expansionism surpassing Rome’s scope as an Empire but at a cost that was crippling, their dynasty never recovered… Though at least with his squandering of wealth he achieved far more than Henry ever dreamed of with dealing with their barbarian problem and moreover establishing the early silkroad.

      What I have read of him, no mention of him being fat hehe but he did have a horrid temper and was prone to rages, he lived longer and reigned longer than Henry despite living near 2000years earlier, reigning from age 16 till his death at 70. His father played safe, appeasing the barbarians with tributes even his own daughter but the son broke the cycle of political pleasing and went to all out war, what Henry 8th dreamed of but failed to achieve.

  • Reply September 5, 2014


    Oh Jamie, that was a stunning response! I’ve already read it twice and shall do so again.
    I love your thoughts and your writing- always.
    There isn’t really anything I can add. Even though many historians argue against using modern psychology to analyse historical figures, I feel that’s it valid- it’s certainly fascinating.
    Two things jumped out especially for me in your wonderful response:

    “….If you come to believe that killing 30 people is the only way to stop the world from ending, killing those thirty people might not seem so evil after all.”

    Tywin’s defence of the Red Wedding immediately came to mind!
    And also

    “In fact, I’d argue that the Wars of the Roses wasn’t over and it didn’t end until the late 1530s when Henry executed Margaret de la Pole – not that she was a threat”

    I heartily agree. The awful and ignorant ‘accepted narrative’- both of the education system and the popular media here in the UK – have it that Bosworth was some invisible ‘cut off ‘ line .
    It’s wasn’t, In my view. Not for the Wars of The Roses or, as you say, the medieval period.
    Of all the women Henry VIII killed, I would say that the murder of Margaret De la Pole was the most savage and shameful.

    No medieval /renaissance monarch was ever going to be saintly. But for me, Henry VIII always went that ‘extra mile’ of monstrosity.

  • Reply September 5, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    A bit off topic, but I had a work colleague whose children went to Cardinal Pole school in east London (UK). The Cardinal after whom the school was named was the third son of Margaret de la Pole (due to my upbringing I know her better as “Blessed Margaret Pole”). Elizabeth I (Henry VIII’s daughter) may have had a ruthless streak but at least under her rule the composer William Byrd retained his head despite being a life-long Catholic. To be honest I didn’t know a lot about Margaret Pole’s story though (I’ve just had a quick look on Wikipedia and she was nearly 70 when she was executed so it was hardly Henry’s finest hour [if he had one]).

    • Olga Hughes
      Reply September 5, 2014

      Olga Hughes

      There’s strangely not that much information on Margaret Pole Watcher (it is Pole btw, de la Pole is a different family). Reginald actually had a lot to do with his mother’s fall, indirectly, He had been in exile for years defying Henry’s annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and I have always thought Henry was punishing Reginald by destroying his family.
      It was Henry’s worst hour, without a doubt. Margaret had already suffered her father’s execution when she was a girl, then later her brothers, and she stayed loyal to the Tudors for decades.

      • Reply September 5, 2014

        Jamie Adair

        Henry’s worst hour. Huh. That’s almost like a challenge. 😉 So many to choose from… The execution of his lifelong friend (Thomas More) – although Thomas wasn’t exactly kind to heretics, the dissolution of monasteries that left thousands of people homeless who had given up their means or had none, and the execution of Norfolk’s son the earl of Surrey (admittedly that one doesn’t rival the Countess of Salisbury (Marg Pole) are definitely up there. My personal favorite: the execution of his father’s loyal servants when Henry became king, Empson and Dudley. However, given what I’ve read lately about how taxes were collected from peasants, maybe this want so misguided.

        I agree by the way about Henry punishing Reginald. I think henry was also trying to put pressure on him. However, I read part of a book once about this and I think the pope was considering putting Reginald forward as an alternate heir to Henry – or something and then backed out. Arguably the Poles were bystanders or collateral damage of the feud between Henry and the Pope.

        • Olga Hughes
          Reply September 6, 2014

          Olga Hughes

          It’s difficult. And I forgot the Carthusian monks. But what he did to Margaret was appalling.

          Henry didn’t give a stuff about the peasants, he was collecting taxes himself for his (doomed to fail) military campaigns as soon as he squandered the treasury. It was a popularity move. More wrote him a lovely poem for his coronation as well while Henry basked in the glow of the insults heaped upon his dead father.
          Stop it, I know you’re trying to get me riled up 🙂

    • Reply May 28, 2019


      I live close to that school, it’s in the borough of Hackney to be precise.

  • Reply September 6, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    I know the basics of how human fertilisation works but am not an expert in the subject, but I always felt that – with twentieth century and now twenty-first century knowledge that it is the sperm cell (which of course comes from the male) that defines the sex of any unborn child – it was terribly unfair that Henry VIII’s wives (and other wives of the period) were blamed if they did not give birth to boys. Of course there may be other factors at work. I seem to remember reading something in a paper that the degree of acidity in the vaginal vault could have something to do with whether a male or female sperm cell was likely to reach the ovum first. As I say I’m not a scientist and I do hope I don’t come across as crude mentioning this – or as a total twit as I am writing about something in which I am not an expert and writing from memory and an old memory at that. Back in the days of “Bluff King Hal” scientific knowledge was, naturally, much less.

    • Olga Hughes
      Reply September 7, 2014

      Olga Hughes

      Katherine actually gave birth to three boys, their first child (Henry Duke of Cornwall) lived for 50 days. The other two boys died possibly within a few hours of birth.
      I’m not sure Henry blamed his wives so much. I really think he thought that he had been forsaken by God, and that’s why he kept claiming the marriages that didn’t produce boys must have been invalid under canon law. But I am just speculating here.

      They had some very odd ideas about both conception and childbirth back then Watcher. I suppose the idea that the woman was responsible for such things was a religious one as well as superstition.

    • Reply May 28, 2019


      For reptiles the temperature determines the sex, I have not looked into if this applies to mammals. Higher temperatures equals females for turtles, anyhow one of the first things I ever learned of Henry 8 in school was his 6 wives and how 2 were beheaded so automatically and to this day I regard him as a villain. History is full of many characters, some stand out more than most but there’s some like movie or other media creations that universally are labelled heroes/villains. I’ll always perceive Stalin and Mao as villains as well emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (To date not a single depiction of him I’ve seen has made him a good guy). For fiction, Emperor Palpatine and the T1000 I’ve despised from first sight!

      I read a very good book called Battle of the sexes, this parental war of who is the progeny of whom makes and breaks life for all kinds of animals, male birds must chaperone females as they can store sperm so unlike us it’s not the first man that gets in who is the father of what comes out. The ostrich however are very selfless, they’ll rear all chicks in their nest indiscriminantly.

  • Reply September 7, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Yes, you are quite right Olga. I had heard about the princes who died – but they had gone off the radar in my mind. And of course those days were centuries before Louis Pasteur discovered microbes.

    • Olga Hughes
      Reply September 8, 2014

      Olga Hughes

      I think we forget about them because Henry never mentioned them Watcher. It is really strange that while we have records of his predecessors reactions to their children’s death – Richard III and Anne when Edward died and Henry VII and Elizabeth when Arthur died – we have no real record of public grief on Henry’s part.

  • Reply September 7, 2014


    Now don’t shoot me down if I quote Philippa Gregory here!
    I know that her take on history is not always universally liked and I often have ‘differences of opinion’ with the good lady, shall we say….. However, I’ve seen her speak on a couple of occasions at Hay On Wye Literary festival and find her a fascinating woman, as well as a hugely charismatic and charming speaker.
    Anyway- to actually get to my point! – here is part of a Facebook post made by Ms Gregory about Henry VIII. It is in the context of the execution of Anne Boleyn. I felt that this was both pertinent and powerful within the context of Jamie’s article and of our posts:

    “I think her ( Anne’s) trial and death was part of the darkening atmosphere of the Tudor court as Henry slid towards tyranny and madness. Our cheerful picture of the jolly fat Tudor king must be revised to see him as a serial killer, a domestic abuser, and a political tyrant. “- P. Gregory

    • Olga Hughes
      Reply September 8, 2014

      Olga Hughes

      Philippa’s alright. I have always thought her depictions of Henry are interesting. And yes it is about time someone mentioned that murdering your wife falls under domestic violence.

  • […] Series: Margaery, Cersei and Melisandre‘. Acesso em 11 de Maio de 2014. ADAIR, Jamie. ‘Traces of Henry VIII in Game of Thrones: Similarities between Henry VIII and Robert Baratheon‘. Acesso em 11 de Maio de 2014. KLEIN, Lili. ‘Margaery Tyrell & Anne Boleyn: More […]

  • Reply September 8, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Martine, I have never warmed to Mrs G’s work but I am not the book police so I don’t presume to tell people what they should or shouldn’t like or read. I have not met her as a person so can’t judge her character. I know many people do like her work – including people with degrees. I’m reasonably well educated but I don’t have a degree and don’t have a spare nine thousand quid to try for one part-time. As for shooting people down, in my case it’s more been the other way round, Mrs G’s fans look at me askance when I say I am not too keen on her books. She’s not the only historical novelist who put her own twist on history to try and make it more interesting but for some reason she infuriates Sincerely Thine more than most. I guess it’s just “horses for courses”. I don’t like blancmange but I can’t put into words why I don’t like it and it’s a bit like that with Mrs G’s work where I’m concerned. I suppose the Charles Laughton film, “The Private Life of Henry VIII” back so long ago it even pre-dates me, has something to do with encouraging the picture of funny “bluff King Hal” – though I don’t for a moment think everybody took that film as gospel. I did enjoy seeing it on TV when I was but a lass though. My understanding is that Mrs G was a successful journalist before she became a successful novelist so she obviously has a brain. Her work just isn’t for me, that’s all – but you mention that you are not speaking about her work in general, but about some talks she gave that you attended and something on her Facebook page. The extract from her Facebook page relating to Anne Boleyn doesn’t entirely seem to tally with her opinion of AB in TOBG (though I must admit I didn’t finish the book as it made me cross). Maybe Henry was more Bully King Hal than Bluff King Hal – perhaps his reign gives an indication of what ASOIAF’s Joffrey might have become……


    …if Lady Olenna had not taken the step she did.

  • Reply September 8, 2014


    Yes Olga, Ms Gregory is a very intelligent and incredibly successful woman and writer. I love that she champions the stories and role of women in history, even if I don’t always agree with some of her conclusions.
    There is a faint hope that ‘accepted narrative ‘ history will one day be discarded. At the moment the same tired, old versions are trumpeted by both a lazy world media and in school curricula. It’s the age of ‘soundbite history’, it seems
    Perhaps one day all will actually recognise which particular British monarchs were the real monsters, and not merely follow historical routes which have been laid down by inherited propaganda. I still live in that hope…..

  • Reply September 8, 2014


    Watcher- I wasn’t referring to you. At all.
    I was making a general comment which was relevant to Jamie’s original article about Henry VIII. I do apologise if you found that offensive in some way. ( ?)

  • Reply September 8, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    No offence taken at all, Martine. It was more of an observation that different people have differing opinions. I was more saying that while I personally have scant affection for Mrs G’s writing it is not for me to decree what other people should or should not like…which is instinctive anyway. In my time I have looked at other GoT sites and I hate the attitude some, not all, readers of the books have that anybody who likes the show must be thick. Regarding Mrs G, I am a big girl now and I am free not to read her books so people who like her can go their way while I go mine.

  • Reply September 9, 2014


    Well Jamie, I truly found this a fascinating topic. Thank you!
    As regards people in history, characters in the novels of GRR Martin or even those one encounters in every day life, a question that so often springs to my lips is:

    ‘What would a psychiatrist make of them and their behaviour?’

    • Reply September 9, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      You’re welcome. Thank you for your wonderful comments. I actually have a few thoughts about your original comment, which I haven’t had a chance to reply to yet. (I’ve been on a rather intense corporate retreat.)

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