The King Is Dead

The King Is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII
Suzannah Lipscomb

Suzannah Lipscomb’s little book doesn’t aim to be much more than a footnote in the family history of the despicable Tudors, but it’s still a treat. Among historians there’s long been a suspicion that the will of Henry VIII was tampered with in some way, but Lipscomb looks at the evidence and sees no grounds for believing in a conspiracy. In the family power politics of the time it was pretty clear even to court observers at the time that the Seymours were going to be in and the Howards out after Henry died.

Nor was it all that surprising where Henry’s succession plans went awry. Could anything have been more predictable than Edward Seymour attempting to take over as Lord Protector and set himself up as de facto king? Given the nature of politics in the sixteenth century I don’t think it likely that conciliar rule was going to work.

Did Henry think it would? Power does that to people. “What is most striking,” Lipscomb concludes, “is the disjunction between [Henry’s] professed belief that he would be obeyed and loved – that even after death, he would leave a forceful imprint on his closest companions – and the reality that they so quickly, and thoroughly, shrugged him off.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the will became wastepaper though. It was invoked successfully by Mary against Lady Jane Grey, and the only reason the Stuarts eventually came to power was because of the surprising barrenness of Henry’s direct line. Instead, like all such attempts to map the future – think of the money laid aside for prayers to be said for Henry’s soul, or modern naming rights to sports stadiums – it had a diminishing shelf life.

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