There’s nothing quite like a proper full-blown David Starkey series on a famous Tudor and I have been thoroughly enjoying his new 4-part documentary on Henry VIII – one of many programmes celebrating the 500th anniversary of his accession to the throne. Starkey has been approaching these programmes in just the sort of way that highlights why I love history so much, i.e. returning to the original documents, filming them and drawing conclusions from them. It’s quite a traditional style of documentary, with plenty of calligraphy and actors voicing the original letters written by the historical figures.

Henry viii and his world are long gone, or at least it can seem that way. But hidden in the world’s great libraries are magical objects that can bring that world vividly to life once more. They are the books, manuscripts, plans and letters that Henry and his contemporaries read, touched and wrote. Through them the dead can speak again

That’s the best thing about history in my opinion: that we can look at objects and documents that Henry VIII actually read and touched! For example, in the first episode, Starkey went to film a written account of Prince Henry’s Knight of the Bath ceremony and whilst looking at it, he found that Henry had actually annotated and corrected the document years later. The fact that things like this can still be found even now is incredible and shows that history is by no means a dead subject!

In the first episode, I also enjoyed Starkey’s analysis of Henry’s handwriting, concluding that his mother, Elizabeth of York, must have had a hand in teaching her son to write as their handwriting is so similar. And you can really see why he believes this, when you look at the way they each wrote their ‘y’s for example.

Handwriting sample of Elizabeth of York Handwriting sample of Henry VIII
Left: Elizabeth of York, Right: Henry VIII

The basic direction it seems that Starkey is coming from is that Henry grew up in a female dominated world and always loved to have women around him when King. He was more emotional than might be expected and it was this combined with his entanglement with Anne Boleyn that turned him into a tyrant.

The more I study Henry, the more I’m convinced that the answer doesn’t lie, at least to begin with in the seismic political and religious conflicts of his reign. Instead it came from closer at home. The conflicts in his own heart and family

We still have the last episode to look forward to, which is on Channel 4 next Monday.

Watch previous episodes online:
Prince (1485-1509)
Warrior (1509-1525)
Lover (1526-1536)