Henry VIII: The Mask of Royalty

By Lacey Baldwin Smith | Go to book overview

XI
Preparing for the Worst

Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.

Eccles. 4:13

FOR THE TWENTIETH CENTURY Henry's death is merely an oft-recorded fact--two o'clock on the morning of January 28, 1547--for his contemporaries, however, it was a deeply frightening proposition, something between an intellectually accepted possibility and an emotionally explosive probability. To within a month of his death, the King was still goading his great body into action, riding to the hunt, appearing in his chair, being carried from palace to palace, and ignoring his doctors' pleas for rest and quiet. It was difficult to imagine that such a sovereign was really dying, but if ministers were to survive they had to prepare for the political vacuum which would inevitably follow the old King's death. A legal heir to the throne existed, but the source of human power was terminating and no one as yet had clear authority to step into the breach. This fact alone added an almost Stalinesque quality to the final scene.* No plan was secure, no prediction reliable, no friendship dependable so long as the unknown at the core of political life remained: exactly when would Henry die? Only when the central question had been answered could its corollaries--who would speak for the boy King and what changes would ensue--be meaningfully stated, for both propositions were dependent upon the men who managed to retain their positions by the side of a dying but unpredictable monarch.

____________________
*
The similarity between the last years of Henry's reign and those of Stalin's rule deserve study. In neither case was the heir apparent the real successor to power. Moreover, it was extremely dangerous to mention or in any way be associated with the ruler's approaching death (note the fate of Stalin's doctors).

-236-

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Henry VIII: The Mask of Royalty
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Author's Note vii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xi
  • I - The Faces of Death 1
  • II - The "Old Man" 15
  • III - The Emperor's New Clothes 40
  • IV - Behind the Mask 66
  • V - The Conscience of a King 91
  • VI - The Moral Commonwealth 111
  • VII - In Search of a Moral 139
  • VIII - Honor Saved 163
  • IX - Youth Renewed 188
  • X - The King Must Die 221
  • XI - Preparing for the Worst 236
  • XII - The "Old Fox" 259
  • Notes 277
  • Bibliography of Printed Books Cited in the Notes 313
  • Index 325
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