THE OLD TYRANNICAL KING OF ENGLAND

This webpage focuses more on Henry the tyrant and natural born killer and not Henry the Regent.

King Henry Tudor VIII  was born on June 28th, 1491, and died January 28th, 1547, at the age of 56.  He was the King of England from April 21st, 1509, until his death 38 years later, this was exactly 500 years ago at the time of writing this webpage (April 28th 2009)

Henry who succeeded his father, Henry VII was the second monarch of the House of Tudor and also the King of Ireland, he made claims to the Kingdom of France too, his full title nearing the end of his reign was:

Henry VIII, by the Grace of God, King of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith and of the Church of England and also of Ireland in Earth Supreme Head.

Dictators like Henry, with a massive ego and super inflated self esteem often liked to award themselves long titles of eloquent and explicit grandeur.  By comparison, from 1977 to 1979, the Ugandan African dictator Idi Amin, titled himself rather flamboyantly as " His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada,VC, DSO, MC, Conqueror of the British Empire

Henry was a dictator, when he ordered something done, it was done, without question.  There was no democracy and putting it to the vote, if he ordered the death of a few people who annoyed him then they died...simple as.

There is an abundance of information about King Henry VIII on the internet, also in books, DVDS, films and television, so I will not reiterate his well known past here.  What I do  present here though is a unique page about King Henry, King Henry the murderer, King Henry the tyrant and King Henry the paranoid psychopath who was also possibly a delusional schizophrenic.

King Henry VIII held unquestionable and  absolute power of life and death over every man woman and child in England.  Just like the Marvel  comic cartoon character Judge Dredd, his word was the law.  He merely had to mention a word, raise a finger or nod and that would signify the arrest, torture and execution of anyone of whom he deemed offered the slightest offense.

All of histories egomaniacs and megalomaniacs like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Genghis Khan and Chairman Mao all followed the same basic decree...if they bug you, if they are in your way...then simply  "get shut of them, do them in, make them disappear, silence them, remove them, eradicate them, sanction them, get rid them.  Its all the same...kill them ! "

According to Raphael Holinshed who was the famous English chronicler, who lived around 1580 the number of recorded executions attributed to King Henry VIII  during his reign of terror, either directly or indirectly amounted to seventy two thousand people or about one thousand eight hundred and ninety five people every year.  This death toll equates to about thirty six people every week.

This would also calculate as about four or five people executed every day, of course these people did not die every single day, all lined up as it were. We have to consider that  Henry held mass executions of ten, twenty, thirty or more dissidents at a time, as a mass murderer he was indeed on par with Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler.  Life, or rather other peoples was indeed very cheap to Ole Henry.

Take a look at his portrait, he looks quite placid and complacent, but what ruthlessness lay behind those still, calculating, cold and poignant eyes?  Those eyes often stared with a sinister air " Jest with me and I'll have your life"

In 1509 up to his death, that face was a face that was eventually greatly feared by a subjugated and terrified populace, a face that was openly responsible for the horrendous and pitiless deaths of thousands of people.  Henry would exact death to anyone who dared to complain or attest his will or who had incurred his displeasure, be it his close family, friends, acquaintances, employees and associates or even the normal every day commoner.

EXTREMELY RUTHLESS

When Henry heard that a cook by the name of Richard Roose had possibly poisoned some people at a banquet, he was not amused.  With the result of two guests dying of chronic diarrhoea and many made severely ill including the dinners host, the Bishop of Rochester, Henry retorted  "Hanging is too good for that scoundrel,  boil him alive in his own cauldron"  So on April 15th, 1532, at Smithfield in London, the cook was indeed boiled alive in a cauldron of boiling water.  Imagine the agony of being boiled alive, scolded to death! Henry sure knew how to get an audiences attention.

It is thought the victim was tied up (possibly gagged) and placed into a large metal pot of cold water that was then brought to the boil as opposed to being dunked straight into already boiling water.  History, not surprisingly, is a little sketchy on the finer details of this horrendous method of execution.  However, Mongolian Warlord, Genghis Khan, killed several Chinese prisoners by throwing them into a huge pot of already boiling water.  It was apparently Genghis Khans favorite method of execution as it instilled terror into onlookers.

Smithfield in London, England had always been used for the gruesome executions of criminals and religious martyrs.  All throughout the medieval period, Smithfield was the execution capital of England, where methods of death often defy comprehension.  History records the true savage that is within man.  After the death of the cook, Henry, who couldn't keep a straight face when relaying the story, he often joked " Indeed, I cooked the cook! " 

Henry made an Act of Parliament that stipulated that for five consecutive years from 1531 until 1536, that anyone sentenced for the crime of poisoning was to be boiled alive in the same manner and without pity or the slightest mercy shown. This act was passed by Henry because he loved his food, he once even knighted a loin steak dinner, now forever know as Sirloin.

INHERENTLY CRUEL

Even before Henry was King, he was a cruel, harsh fellow.  Whilst he was a growing Prince, a whipping boy...who was kept perpetually locked up, received a flogging for Henry's mistakes. Yes, thrashed and thrashed for all of Henry's mistakes, then locked back up again.

When Henry became King of England, the country was Catholic and religiously governed by the Pope in the Vatican of Rome.  The Pope would not allow King Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon, so the solution was that Henry made himself head of the church and he then proceeded to give himself the divorce.  Basically, all those that didn't like the idea were put to death. Hung drawn and quartered, burnt alive or just hung...if they were lucky.

King Henry  then had all the monasteries ransacked and looted, many were burned to the ground.  All the money and wealth from these monasteries went straight into Henry's personal treasury.  Many of the monks, nuns and all those who worked and lived in the monasteries were left  destitute, although some of the more notables who did not fuss, complain or put up any resistance were given a pension, so it was always a good idea to agree with the King.

During this time of reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries, many of their former inhabitants did indeed put up resistance and complained.  Henry was having none of it, he had five monks hung, drawn and quartered to make a point.  Being hung, draw and quartered was the ultimate punishment.

HUNG, DRAWN & QUARTERED

Being hung, drawn and quartered was deemed as the absolute capital punishment for serious offenders all thought-out medieval England.  It was deemed the absolute capital punishment for good reason, because of its horrific nature.

The victim was dragged to the gallows and hoisted up, where they hung by the neck for a short while. They were then lowered down, revived with vinegar being splashed on their faces and in their mouths, after which they were tied to a bench where their private parts were cut off (emasculation)

They were then disembowelled (drawn), their entrails being burned in front of them. After which they were dismembered (quartered) and finally beheaded.  Sometime during the process the victim died, either from blood loss or shock, whichever came first.

The dismembered pieces of the victim were usually put on public display as a warning to one and all. Being hung, drawn and quartered was intentionally shocking, it was meant to dissuade others from committing the same offences.

Another method of quartering a victim was to strip the victim naked then tie each limb to a rope and each rope tied to a horse.  The horses were then made to trot off in different directions, in so doing...the limbs were pulled out. Death resulted via shock and blood loss.  Usually done in front of a large requested audience, to get the message across "Never incur my displeasure...or else." Henry VIII hated those who complained about him, he really did.

Just to note here that women were never quartered at all in Medieval times, as it was deemed too indecent for public viewing, instead they were either just  hung or burned at the stake.  Women, even witches, were often strangled first, before being burned at the stake.

ACTS OF MERCY

If Henry had a slight liking for you, maybe you were a friend or acquaintance then an act mercy may be granted to you.  Acts of mercy were granted in the form of beheading, either getting beheaded first, before being quartered or just beheaded on the block per sé.  Being shown an act mercy never meant getting let off or a general pardon, unless exceedingly very rare exceptional and  mitigating circumstances applied, which they hardly ever did.

Sir Thomas Culpeper, a dashing and handsome young man, was a close and much revered friend of King Henry, until it was discovered that Culpeper had an affair with Catherine Howard, Henry's fifth wife.  Close friend or not, the upset Henry had him severely tortured and under torture Culpeper confessed to the affair.

Adultery with the Queen was deemed as high treason, thus Henry happily sentenced him to be hung, drawn and quartered.  However, whilst crying and begging on his knees in shear unadulterated terror of the punishment he was to receive, an act of mercy was granted to Culpeper and lucky  for him, the sentence was commuted to beheading.  On December 10th, 1541, at the ripe age of twenty seven, Culpeper was beheaded on the block by the executioners axe.

Another fellow by the name of Francis Dereham was also found guilty to have had, shall we say close encounters  with Catherine.  He also duly confessed under torture..as you do.  Not being as fortunate as Culpeper, no act of mercy was shown and consequently he was publicly hung, drawn and quartered at Henry's behest.

BEHEADING

Aristocracy and royals were usually beheaded as it was seen as the fastest way to dispatch someone.  When a person had their head chopped off, the severed head was then usually held up by the executioner and pointed towards the body and then towards the crowd, as it was believed that a decapitated head was still alive for several seconds and could see its own body.

The actual block that was used to execute people can be seen in the Tower Of London's museum, as seen below. One cannot really see from the photo, but there still remains deep cut marks in the block, made by the axe as it chopped through those unfortunate necks.

TORTURE

As previously stated, Henry also favored the use of torture to help dissuade those who opposed him and many unfortunates were tortured.  A common method was by having their flesh tweaked with red hot pincers or they had boiling oil poured over them.  Pouring molten lead into the ears was also another favorite, along with breaking the victims limbs.  Stretching them on the rack was also common, and to drown them at the same time as depicted in the early engraving below.

You may have had " a pressing engagement " as it were, in that you would be strapped down and have heavy weights, multiples in excess of four hundred pounds or more placed slowly on your chest until your ribcage caved in or you suffocated.  Suffocation occurred as the diaphragm could not expand when trying to breath, you would also be severely beaten at the same time.

Torture is actually a very unreliable method of extracting information from someone, as the victim will inevitably end up confessing to absolutely anything to stop the pain.  If you were going to be executed anyway, then it would be best to just admit the crime beforehand.  However, some historians claim that this did not always stop any planned torture of the victim, as torture was often part of the punishment, so you would get it either way.

OTHER METHODS OF EXECUTION

A group of  monks were naturally still unhappy at having their monasteries burned to the ground, they stated it was unholy and ungodly for the King to do this.  That was enough for King Henry, he had them all arrested and tied upright to stakes in a prison courtyard, and left there with no food, water or shelter.  He ordered his guards "...let them rot "  and so rot they did!

Over many days, they died a slow death of thirst and starvation. They were apparently left there until they started to stink the place out due to natural decomposition. Just a note here, that without water a person will die within a few days, maybe up to a week.

A popular uprising occurred in the north of England known as The Pilgrimage of Grace  and was lead by Robert Aske,  a top and well known London barrister.  The pilgrimage absolutely contested the break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries, forty thousand protesters joined the march to York.  King Henry authorized the Duke of Norfolk to negotiate with them and to promise a general pardon.

Remember what I stated earlier  about general pardons.  The Duke of Norfolk relayed the message to Aske that Henry and parliament would hold serious concessions  in York within a year.  Aske was delighted, believing the Kings word and dispelled all the followers straight away, the protest was over.

 

Henry had not so much barefaced lied but used guile and cunning to break up the uprising, as he would not have been able to muster up enough soldiers to fight an army of forty thousand right then and there.  Henry also wanted to avoid a civil war, which is why political correctness was applied, applied in the time honored political fashion of "Tell them what they want to hear"  However, Henry was secretly out for blood and by God he was going to get it.

When all the hubbub had quelled down a few months later, Henry sent out a small army of soldiers to arrest individual members and leaders of the uprising including Aske, and Lord Darcy.  I could imagine the big frowns on their faces when they were arrested and realised they had been duped.

They were both taken to The Tower of London, where they were tortured into confessing, convicted of treason and executed. Aske's death was more peculiar, in that he was chained up alive in a specially made cage, and hung from the walls of Clifford's Gate, York Castle.  The body remained there for a long time maybe even up to a year until it rotted, as a warning to others.

The death of Aske was depicted by actor Sean Bean the 2003 U.K television series simply called Henry VIII.  In the episode when Aske's death was portrayed, he was merely  hung up by the wrists with no elaborate cage, indeed still left to rot. This may be the more accurate way he met his demise, as one can expect that historians fully researched it for the TV program.

Still in pain from torture as well, his death was very unpleasant and indeed was intended to be, as Henry wanted a loud and clear warning "Never incur my displeasure or else..."

It didn't end there as Henry had 6 abbots, 38 monks and 16 priests all burned at the stake, 9 knights were beheaded and 200 individuals who were connected with the uprising, were selected, then hung or burned alive at the stake.  Henry also ordered that one person from every town, city, village and hamlet across the north of England was to be executed.  This order meant that they were either burned, beheaded or hung, the favorite three as we can call them.

If when arrested, you cursed King Henry and he got to hear about it then your execution may not be as quick as you would prefer.  It was best to not say anything that may offend Henry, even if you were about to be executed at his command.

Slow hanging or hoist hanging was also favored where the victim was hoisted up by the neck rather than dropped from a height to break the neck, thus slow strangulation occurred.  Often they were lowered, revived only to be hoisted up again, medieval cruelty knew no bounds.  To bring about a quicker death the executioner may sometimes swing himself from the dangling mans ankles...if the condemned had paid him beforehand.

Being burned alive would be initially agonizing, but the blaze would also burn up all the immediate oxygen, so a person may suffocate before the heat actually killed them.  Breathing in fire and heat would also sear the lungs, being burned at the stake was not a very nice or quick death, but it was  a crowd puller.  Crowd pulling executions served to teach and spread the word..."Don't upset Henry! "

Father John Forrest of The Order of Observant Friars  was another person who annoyed King Henry VIII.  He basically opposed Henry's marriage to Jane Seymour, so Henry had him arrested and sentenced to be burned at the stake for heresy.

Henry later changed his mind and decided that he would like Forrest to stay in prison for the rest of his life instead.  Father John Forrest still didn't get the picture and continued to oppose King Henry from within his prison cell.  Henry finally got tired of him and an unusual execution was devised, he had him chained up and suspended over an open fire until he roasted to death.

Several friars heard of this and complained at the severity of the execution, Henry had them arrested and burned at the stake for criticizing a royal decision.  As I understand, in those days it was best to keep your mouth shut or pay the consequences of so called free speech.

The notable Doctor William Tynsdale who translated Holy Bible into English, also opposed Henry's divorce with Catherine Howard, saying it was " unscriptural  "  He became Henry's most wanted man because of it.  Tynsdale was finally arrested in Belgium in 1536.  He was tied to the stake, strangled and then burned, Tynsdale's last pathetic words were " Lord, open the eyes of the King of England! "

Image of Tynsdale's death from the movie Gods Outlaw.

Notables like Thomas Moore were beheaded for not recognizing King Henry VIII as the head of the church, it didn't take too much to lose your life under King Henry's reign, especially if you were an unwanted wife...

KEEP IT IN THE FAMILY

In April, 1536, Anne Boleyn was now past her sell by date and King Henry had  his trusty chief minister and henchman Thomas Cromwell, devise a  cunning plan to get rid of her.  Five men were accused of treason in having an affair with her, it was a weak plan considering that the fifth man was George Boleyn...Anne's brother!

Cromwell had them all tortured until one of them confessed, which would not have taken too long to do.  All were then found guilty on this confession and were beheaded on May 17th, 1536.  On May 19th, the same month, Anne Boleyn also lost her head to the executioner.

Henry was a bit particular over Anne Boleyns execution and wanted it done as quickly, efficiently and as painlessly as possible.  An expert executioner was drafted in over from France for a hundred crowns, and he killed Anne Boleyn with a broadsword rather than the traditional axe.

Her head was not on the block, instead she bravely knelt down with her head held up and her hair wrapped up within a cap.  The executioner then lopped it off with a single swipe, as depicted in the image below.  The hair had to be kept out of the way, so the sword would cut cleanly though the neck.  Some historians suggest, that those to be beheaded used to have their necks shaved beforehand as well.

Note: Henry actually believed he was doing Anne Boleyn a favor, probably an act of mercy in having her head expertly lopped off by broadsword.  As axe executions sometimes needed two blows, sometimes even three blows before the head became separated from the torso, as unfortunately happened to Mary Queen of Scots.

One day later with all of Henry's problems presumably solved, Henry and Jane Seymour were engaged and they married ten days later.  Its hard to imagine, a marriage on the foundations of an execution.  Henry's ideals though, have your wife murdered then marry another...what's the problem?

Could you imagine upsetting King Henry VIII, a man who was having his nearest and dearest executed, you would not have had a hope in hell of being let off.  Imagine accidentally bumping into him as you walked passed him in a corridor...Guards...seize him...

Thomas Cromwell always believed that he was " sitting pretty " an untouchable, he was however quite wrong. Cromwell's downfall eventually came about due to the haste in which he later persuaded Henry to marry Anne of Cleaves.  It was an utter disaster, after his first meeting with her Henry shouted out "I like her not! " 

Cromwell took all the blame and was finally arrested for treason.  He pleaded for mercy, begging for a quick death and not some ghastly torture beforehand. Cromwell got his wish, an act of mercy bestowed and he was beheaded  in The Tower of London, his head was then boiled (Henrys delightful side shining through again, bless him) and then the head was impaled on a spike, facing away from the City.  On the same day July 28th, 1540, a very happy and contented Henry married Catherine Howard.

THEY NEVER LEARN

About a year later, Catherine Howard also lost her head, when she was decapitated on the block at Henry's behest.  I would have thought that all these women who wanted King Henry's hand in marriage, would have had some slight suspicion that they would not get half the estate as payment in a divorce settlement, just a block of wood for temporary one time use!

I could imagine King Henry, "Oh I'm fed up with this one now, just lop her head off and I'll have another one . "

Executions of those who continued to displease Henry continued until 1547 when Henry died from a painful infection caused by a broken leg he received some time earlier whilst out jousting.  If there was some justice, Henry died in a great deal of agony as the pain in his leg never abated, especially with such poor Medieval medicines and equally poor physicians.  Physicians who generally relied on leaches and blood letting for the majority of their treatment.

I'm sure that there was a sigh of relief across the land when news was out of  the demise of King Henry VIII of England.  All kings and queens in those days were inherently cruel, having people executed who displeased them.

They were always frightened of losing their position of power, wealth and control.  As Julius Caesar so eloquently stated "Absolute power, corrupts absolutely"  Henry VIII was certainly not out of his league with this.  He utilized his unquestionable authority with great sadistic zeal, that he could have restrained from but it wasn't within his nature to do so.

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Page created April 28th 2009.   Updated November 2nd 2012.