When Henry VIII came to throne in 1509, he represented fresh hope to a nation still reeling from the bloody Wars of the Roses. Not yet eighteen, the new king had already distinguished himself as a scholar, musician and athlete. So how did this glamorous young Renaissance prince become this country's greatest tyrant?
It began with a longing for stability. Desperate for a son to cement his claim to the throne, Henry quickly became frustrated by the lack of a male heir from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. His impatience increased after he became infatuated with the beautiful Anne Boleyn. When Anne refused to become his mistress, a desperate Henry was forced to take measures more extreme than anything previously imagined and that would set the course of British history for the next 500 years.
Forbidden by the Catholic Church to have his marriage annulled, Henry ordered his lifelong friend Thomas More to implement religious changes that would allow the besotted king to remarry. It was a move that would have fateful consequences for all involved. More's loyalty to the Catholic Church led to his execution, while the establishment of the Church of England catapulted Henry to the height of his personal power. Catherine was dismissed from the royal bed, Anne was ushered in, and so began the bloody cycle of marriage, divorce and execution for Henry is still remembered today. And yet behind this brutal history was a man deeply traumatised by bitter divorce and the abandonment of the principles he once held dear.
David Starkey's concluding biography of this most complex of British kings, published to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Henry's accession to the throne, tells the bloodstained story of his remarkable shift in character - from humanist prince to all-powerful despot - during one of the most vivid and significant periods of British history.