Behind the Mask
Above all things our royalty is to be reverenced, and if you begin to poke about it you cannot reverence it. When there is a select committee on the Queen, the charm of royalty will be gone. Its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic.
Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution
HENRY HAD BECOME, in the rich but unflattering imagery of the French Ambassador, "not only a king to be obeyed on earth, but a veritable idol to be worshipped." 1 What Monsieur de Marillac did not perceive, however, was that it is far easier to worship a statue than to obey a flesh-and-blood monarch. In being transformed by society into the graven image of majesty, Henry, as a man, was in effect the first victim sacrificed upon the altar of his own divinity. Luther missed the point when he said that "Junker Heintz will be God and does what he lusts." 2 The gods are not free agents; they are owned by their worshipers and are slaves to their reputations. The paradox was neatly presented by Stephen Gardiner for the benefit of his sovereign when he wrote that "increase of wordly things make men poor and not rich, because every worldly thing hath a need annexed unto it." 3
Royalty was a glasshouse, for the cloak of majesty could only be seen when on display; remove the spotlight and kings stood nude and quivering like other men. If the rules of adulation for the devotees were minutely regulated, the behavior of the idol was even more carefully prescribed, and in the end Henry became the prisoner of the mumbojumbo and liturgy designed to translate the will of a man into the word of a god. That wonderful independence and absolute power of which he boasted were figments of the imagination. The divinity that doth hedge a king was dazzling silver for those who viewed it from afar,