“A holy creature, an anointed king, a god-on-earth.” – Henry VIII describes himself in H.M. Castor’s VIII.
I picked this book up for one reason. You see, I am a firm believer that a protagonist must be in some way likeable or at least have a few redeeming qualities. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how any author was going to paint Henry VIII in a likeable manner. Fortunately, for the sake of history, Castor does not share my belief about protagonists at all. She paints the young king as he most likely was: arrogant, self-righteous, and sanctimonious.
H.M. Castor delves into the life of what the future king may have been like as a child growing up with parents who survived the War of the Roses. His father, Henry VII, was a hunted man on the run for years before finally becoming king. That personal history warped him as a king and a father. Henry, who was the second son of Henry VII, is treated as an unwanted burden until the death of his brother, which leaves the formerly unnecessary Henry as next in line to inherit the throne.
In VIII, Henry overhears a prophecy that leads him to believe that God has blessed him to be the greatest king England has ever known. He spends his life trying to fulfill the prophecy, yet always failing. Castor’s book follows Henry from about the age of six up until his death, and the prophecy is the beginning of his descent into madness. Throughout the book, he sees things that are not real, hears voices, and slowly drifts farther and farther from reality. Though most historians believe that Henry VIII didn’t go mad until he was middle-aged, Castor nicely sets up how the delusions began slowly at a young age and eventually progressed as his mind and diseased body failed him.
Castor’s story is well written and, of course, includes all six of Henry’s wives and his three children. It is an interesting theory about his younger years and, since it is told from his point of view, it is an interesting exploration of what drove the mad king to his many bad decisions. I especially enjoyed the twist at the end when the real meaning of the prophecy is revealed. Don’t miss the Q&A with the author. Her answers are insightful and enhance the reading experience.