It didn’t surprise me much. His Majesty and I have had a twenty-year-long history together, with periods of waxing and waning interest from both sides.
Yet, this time it wasn’t a fleeting encounter in the halls of eternity. I was captivated by him, but also greatly disturbed by his image ingrained in the popular culture. I had just finished watching a documentary about him, and couldn’t get a bitter aftertaste out of my mouth. How could the historians reduce a great man to a large, festering mound of lard, poke and examine him from head to toe regardless his feelings, and worse still, how could they present only findings that supported the common, simplistic view on who Henry was? I did not like him to be portrayed as a hulk who was not in control of his eating habits, or as a vessel of illnesses and infirmities of all kinds.
Even less I enjoyed reading over and over again that he was a tyrant who only pursued his shallow interests, and in the process ruined lives of six wives.
That image was not Henry as I knew him, and it bothered me more and more.
“You shall write my story, dearest,” a tired tenor voice interrupted my silent seething.
I glanced up from my glass, already knowing whom I would see.
I would love to say I was bedazzled by a man exuding an aura of masculinity, pulsing energy and power. But the man who carefully sank in the armchair I keep by my writing desk for my benefactors was old and jaded. Yet, clad in red velvet and ermine, he still looked royalty. Just as an abandoned shrine is still a shrine, an old king is still a king. It’s enough for me to just narrow my eyes to see him in all his young glory (as you will see him while reading We, King Henry VIII Part 1). That night I had no time for that though. A stifled groan leaked out of his tightly clamped lips, forcing me to promptly offer a footstool to ease his discomfort. I was determined to make him feel better, and I could do my gazing later.
His stiff body posture relaxed a little only when I poured him a glass of wine too. He took it from my hand as a wordless invitation to stay and tell me more. We understood each other perfectly.
“You shall write my story,” he repeated after taking a draught of his drink.
“Why me, Your Majesty?”
“For you see me as I am, and yet you always recognize the virtuous prince in me. It matters not to you whether I am young or old.”
“You see through my masks and mistakes. You know who I am inside.”
“I do see your soul, yes. But I don’t write scholarly biographies, and I would do you disservice if I tried.”
“Nay, write about the man whom you know, not about the King.”
“Your Majesty, you are both.”
“Aye, but now I would I were just me.”
“I know. But there is another obstacle. I don’t write about love a man feels for a woman either. How would we handle the fact that you had six wives?”
“You shall write my story, including all of my wives.”
Let’s just say that Henry is as stubborn today as he was more than half a millennium ago.
That night we let the topic go. I’m not his subject, so he couldn’t order me to write for him. Nor did he try to. But we talked for hours about his world and above all – about him. Long story short: hours turned into days and Henry stayed. Since then he has made a remarkable recovery, so now I’m blessed with the company of a young king who exudes an aura of masculinity, pulsing energy and power just as he did in his life.
He was right that first night. I have written his story for him. But I was right too. It isn’t a scholarly biography and it isn’t a heterosexual romance. It’s a tale of intense love between two men.
It didn’t unfold in Henry’s lifetime in this universe, but I believe it all happened in another one, parallel to ours, where Henry retains his personality, his looks, his social status, his friends, foes, and his wives too. His life there is a mirror image of events in this world, interwoven with incidents triggered by one fateful encounter.
You might be surprised to find out just how much Henry differs in this book from his image in the popular culture. You might even wonder if the man who tells this story has anything in common with Henry as you have thought of him so far.
Well, apart from my many conversations with His Majesty, I researched a vast amount of records about his life ranging from biographies, through the remains of his artistic endeavors (music, poems) to his personal letters. On top of that, I worked with less obvious sources of insight into who Henry was. Numerology, astrology, and lucid dreams all helped me understand his complex personality. Through his story in We, King Henry VIII, he remains true to his inner-self.
“Wait a minute. If he stays true to who he was, how come he loves a man?” I can hear the objection. Doing my research, I came to a conclusion that Henry might in fact have been bi-sexual, though I don’t think he ever went the whole way in his affection for a man during his life. But there are little clues of his fondness for men sprinkled throughout the materials about him.
First, he certainly was a tactile person – to the point that this trait of his was repeatedly mentioned by ambassadors and other people who knew him personally. He touched his favorites often and if you think he limited himself to the contact with opposite sex, it was not the case.
Second, once Henry was betrayed, he punished the offender. Yet, there are two men who escaped the fate: Charles Brandon, the first Duke of Suffolk – Henry’s lifelong closest friend; and Thomas Culpeper – a Gentleman of Henry’s Privy Chamber. Despite a promise given to his king and friend, Charles secretly married Henry’s sister which might have cost him his head. Instead he was fully forgiven. Thomas Culpeper, the very man who cuckolded Henry had his punishment commuted to a simple beheading, while Francis Dereham who was Catherine Howard’s sexual partner before she had become a queen was hanged, cut down still alive, disemboweled, dismembered and finally beheaded. A huge difference inexplicable otherwise than that the king held affection for Culpeper and not even the cuckolding had fully erased it.
Third, in his late years Henry did not tolerate heresy. Yet, when his favorite poet Sir George Blagge was accused of heresy, found guilty and sentenced to be burned (all without the king’s knowledge), Henry learned of his fate in time and his rage wreaked upon the Chancellor ensured that the poet was promptly released. Whether or not George Blagge actually was a heretic, I don’t know, but it certainly did not seem to play a role in Henry’s charge to his rescue.
Fourth, while under Henry’s reign the Parliament passed the infamous Buggery Act which made sodomy a crime punishable by death, there was just one case in which sodomy was pressed as the only charge. The offender was released from the Tower after a year of imprisonment.
All in all, I believe that Henry could have loved a man. Whether he did in his real life, I don’t know. But he certainly does so in We, King Henry VIII.
Now I hand over to him. He’ll tell you his story in his own words. Click the link to get your copy: We, King Henry VIII Part 1