Sir Walter Ralegh on Henry VIII

Ralegh waited until Elizabeth was long dead before he committed his thoughts on her father to paper. This brutal analysis of Henry VIII’s moral and political shortcomings comes from the Preface to Ralegh’s History of the World,written during his imprisonment in the Tower of London and published in 1614.

If all the pictures and patterns of a merciless prince were lost in the world, they might all again be painted to the life out of the story of this king. For how many servants did he advance in haste (but for what virtue no man could suspect), and with the change of his fancy ruined again; no man knowing for what offence! To how many others of more desert gave he abundant flowers from whence to gather honey, and in the end of harvest burnt them in the hive! How many wives did he cut off and cast off, as his fancy and affection changed! How many princes of the blood (whereof some of them for age could hardly crawl towards the block), with a world of others of all degrees (of whom our common chronicles have kept the account), did he execute! Yea, in his very deathbed, and when he was at the point to have given his account to God for the abundance of blood already spilt, he imprisoned the Duke of Norfolk the father, and executed the Earl of Surrey the son; the one, whose deservings he knew not how to value, having never omitted anything that concerned his own honour and the king’s service; the other, never having committed anything worthy of his least displeasure: the one exceeding valiant and advised; the other no less valiant than learned, and of excellent hope. But besides the sorrows which he heaped upon the fatherless and widows at home, and besides the vain enterprises abroad, wherein it is thought that he consumed more treasure than all our victorious kings did in their several conquests; what causeless and cruel wars did he make upon his own nephew King James the Fifth! What laws and wills did he devise, to establish this kingdom in his own issues! using his sharpest weapons to cut off and cut down those branches, which sprang from the same root that himself did. And in the end (notwithstanding these his so many irreligious provisions) it pleased God to take away all his own, without increase; though, for themselves in their several kinds, all princes of eminent virtue.

NOTE: If you are interested in my other posts on Ralegh, they are here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

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