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The 18 year old who was crowned ...was a slim, beautiful, elegant, musical, poetical, reasonable, charming, sweet-tempered young man who’d married for love. How does he turn into the Henry who is the horror, the Henry who is the tyrant?
~ “Henry VIII: The Mind of a Tyrant”, David Starkey
Is it better for a king to be feared or loved?
~ King Henry VIII foreshadows his ruthlessness as a ruler

King Henry VIII as played by Jonathan Rhys-Myers is the villain protagonist of the historical drama TV series The Tudors. Though the protagonist and not a perpetually cruel man, Henry is nevertheless an utterly ruthless monarch, obsessed with his own personal goals and caring little for the needs of others. When he becomes taken with the lovely Anne Boleyn, he divorces his first wife, splits from the Catholic Church, beheads the dissenting Thomas Moore (and outright says "there can be no compromise"), and when his second wife fails to give him a son, he has her killed on trumped up charges along with several innocent men as scapegoats.

From there, Henry continues his brutal rule, mercilessly executing a large number of characters throughout the course of the show for all manner of reasons (but usually because they defied him in some way). He even has hundreds of men, women, and children executed during the Pilgrimage of Grace uprising, and also having the leader executed in a particularly grisly fashion and then leaving his gory remains as a warning to his others. He also has his own loyal advisor Thomas Moore executed (though this act at least he regrets). Misogynistic as well as ruthless, he pursues any woman who catches his eye, beheads another of his wives after he catches her committing adultery, and earlier decried his fourth wife as "looking like a horse".

He finally dies of old age, right before he does being visited by the ghosts of his first three wives who each take their turns condemning him for his actions against them; his first wife Catherine points out that their daughter has still not married, Anne Boleyn throws his cruelties against her and his fifth wife in his face, and Lady Jane Seymour expresses her cold disappointment with him, and that their son will die young (which he does).

Trivia

  • King Henry VIII's asking if it's better to be feared or loved is possibly a reference to Niccolo Machiavelli's novella The Prince, in which Machiavelli posits that the correct answer is the former.
  • Coincidentally, King Henry VIII's characterization in The Tudors is not totally dissimilar to the characterization of another fictionalized King Henry, King Henry II in Becket. Like Henry II in Becket, Henry VIII is portrayed as a moody, temperamental, and egomaniacal king who resents the attempts of the Church to impose any authority or limitations over him. He is also like Henry II in an unhappy first marriage, is openly misogynistic, and has no problem bedding random attractive women in his kingdom who catch his eye.