On June 24th 1509 – 500 years ago – King Henry VIII was officially crowned King of England in a glorious coronation ceremony, alongside his new bride, Catherine of Aragon. Not that the crown did her much good years later, but that’s a different story.
Do I feel odd “celebrating” this day in history, considering my obvious sympathies for Catherine Howard and how Henry was really quite integral to the girl’s downfall? Not really…though I remember experiencing a strange moment of pause in the gift shop of The Tower of London (an odd concept right there, if you think about it) over a teddy bear dressed like King Henry. As far as I know Catherine’s ghost did not follow me and teddy henry home to haunt me for the purchase.
But was Henry was a tyrant? He certainly had plenty of tyrant-like qualities, especially in the latter (and infamous) part of his reign. He had a knack for changing the law to suit his current whims. Perhaps he confused what was best for England with what was simply best for himself (though I don’t trust his judgment in his personal life, either). But what about earlier in his reign? To think of Henry as an enormous, scowling king gnawing on a turkey drumstick shows only one dimension of a very complicated creature, not to mention a reign that lasted nearly 40 years. Being king was, I think, a lonely business. Henry was surrounded by ambitious courtiers who had their own – not the King’s, not England’s – best interests at heart. Who was there to look out for him, or to try to tell him the truth in the midst of his mania?
In honor of the anniversary of the coronation, I choose not to think of the aging, unwieldy king that Henry became later in life, putting aside his devoted wife of many years in his single-minded quest for an heir. Instead I choose to think of the Golden Prince he was on this day, 500 years ago, with his beautiful queen at his side. When the royal crowns were set upon their heads, I’m sure they looked like England’s future, and the future looked very fresh and bright, indeed.