Sussex professor finds Henry VIII was ridiculed behind his back
A BIZARRE letter sent to King Henry VIII by “the Antichrist” shows the ruler was ridiculed in his time for his wandering eye.
The 16th Century letter offers the monarch an impossibly vast dowry of 8 million gold sovereigns, plus an empire in the east and the cross on which Christ was crucified, if he will just marry the sender’s daughter.
The note is signed by a man named Balthasar, who describes himself as the Emperor of Babylon and Steward of Hell.
It is thought the letter is a reproduction of one written in about 1540, around the time of the collapse of the union between King Henry VIII and his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves.
This unhappy marriage lasted just six months and she was given a house in Lewes when the marriage was annulled. The letter was uncovered in the British Library archives by University of Sussex lecturer Professor Matthew Dimmock as he completed research for his article, Tudor Turks: Ottomans Speaking English in Early Modern Sultansbriefe.
The professor of early modern studies said: “This letter is bizarre, curious and funny. It’s a savagely satirical take on Henry VIII’s reign, and in particular his many marriages. It suggests that the situation with the King’s love life has become so ridiculous that he might as well marry the Antichrist’s daughter. There’s also ridicule for Henry’s break with Rome, showing that while he was undoubtedly feared during his reign, writers could generate plenty of humour at the king’s expense.”
The king changed England’s official religion from Catholicism to the Protestant faith to allow him to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and assume the role of the head of the Church of England.
This took authority away from the Pope in Rome.
King Henry VIII was notorious for squashing satire at his expense in brutal fashion.
It is reported that, for a variety of reasons, more than 57,000 people were executed during his 37 year reign.
As a result, he is often remembered as a severe and humourless monarch.
So, the fact that this letter writer was willing to put their life on the line to poke fun at the king is quite extraordinary, and shows that there was laughter in the latter years of Henry’s reign.
The letter-writer is said to have carefully mimicked the style of international diplomatic correspondences at the time.