Little Prince Hal Had Lived
Sandbrook, Dominic, New Statesman (1996)
Amid the fascination with anniversaries, one historic date has gone oddly unnoticed. It is almost exactly 500 years since the birth of one of the most important kings in our history, who transformed the appearance and culture of early-modern England.
Born on New Year's Day 1511, Henry of Cornwall, as he was originally known, was the long-anticipated son and heir to Henry VIII. After barely two months, the "New Year's Boy" was struck down by a mysterious illness and almost died. But he pulled through, and English history was never the same again.
At his father's court, little Hal was the star of the show, his father's darling who could do no wrong. His birth consolidated the passionate relationship between Henry VIII and his wife, Catherine of Aragon; indeed, after his baby son's brush with death, Henry was even more strongly influenced by his wife's Catholic piety. Ten years later, when he wrote his Defence of the Seven Sacraments, attacking Martin Luther, Henry dedicated it to his young son. "A gift from God," he wrote, "and a sign of divine love for our beloved country."
Little wonder that Henry VIII is remembered today as such a staunch defender of the Catholic Church; little wonder, either, that his regime was so assiduous in rooting out Protestant dissent.
At Henry's death in 1547, his son took over as Henry IX. At 36, Prince Hal was at his physical and mental peak. …