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Twisted Neo-Con Values: That Henry VIII was one hell of a guy!

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I have a friend who is a tour guide in the UK. As such, he's always meeting interesting people, many from the US. Awhile back, he related the following story about a proud Republican and Dubya-supporter from Texas he met on one of his tours. This outspoken fellow made several noteworthy comments, the first being that President Clinton had "the morals of a sex-starved alley cat." Not surprising, but later in the week this same gentleman said something that left my friend and me rather dumbfounded. After my friend shared some historical tidbit about the infamous Henry VIII with the tour group, Mr. Texas remarked that "Henry VIII was a hell of a guy."

Hmm. So this guy obviously hates Clinton, but admires a historical figure best known for his six marriages, of which two ended with the beheading of the bride? I suppose that kind of thinking is a product of the same "logic" that allows Bush's neo-con supporters to consider themselves "good Christians" while overlooking the fact that pretty much everything Bush has done during the past six shameful years blatantly violates Christ's most basic teachings. Anyway, since I'm not exactly an expert on British history, I decided to learn more about Henry VIII. Maybe he did some truly great things, worthy of Mr. Texas' admiration; that have simply been overshadowed by his love life.

On the positive side, Henry seemed to have quite an appreciation for the arts and sciences. According to Wikipedia, his court "was a Mecca for scholarly and artistic innovation." The discovery of the New World along with the publication of the world's first modern map, which accurately depicted the American Continent and a separate Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, allowed him to be among the first European rulers to learn about the true geography of our planet. He reportedly took full advantage of this atmosphere of exploration and discovery in the arts and sciences both in his court and as a part of his daily life. I'd imagine that he saw it as an advantage to be informed on all of the latest discoveries; knowledge truly is power. I can think of a few modern politicians who would be wise to take a page out of old Henry's book, with regard to his interest in scientific advances. But that's another story.

He's also known as one of the founders of the Royal Navy. He made large royal investments in shipbuilding, dockyards and naval innovations, such as the use of cannons onboard ships. This important contribution was not a formal "navy," however; rather, it was more a collection of ships. The Royal Navy of today is largely a product of the Anglo-Dutch naval rivalry of the seventeenth century. Still, creating the beginnings of a navy showed foresight and helped pave the way for later advances.

A more dubious accomplishment was the fortification of Britain's defenses. To guard against a Spanish or French invasion, he strengthened costal defense fortresses, and built new defense "castles," or Device Forts along Britain's southern coast. These achievements are colored by the fact that good old Henry brought the threat of invasion upon himself by his break from the Catholic Church in Rome; and his new castles were mainly built from materials obtained by demolishing monasteries.

Okay, so maybe he wasn't all bad. But now let's look at his marriages, of which one led to his break from the Catholic Church and much civil unrest. His first wife was Catherine of Aragon, due to the fact that his father was in a marital alliance between England and Spain. Their only surviving child was Queen Mary I. However, Henry was convinced that a mail heir was necessary to secure the throne, so he began to pursue Anne Boleyn.

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Henry wanted to divorce Catherine and marry Anne, but Pope Clement VII would not grant him an annulment. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey sent representatives to Rome on Henry's behalf. The Pope sent them back with a commission authorizing the marriage, but the restrictions imposed made it practically meaningless. Long deliberations followed. Angry about the delay, Henry charged Wolsey with prĉmunire, undermining the King's authority by agreeing to represent the Pope, and stripped him of his wealth and power. He died on his way to trial. Henry married Anne, Parliament made her queen, and the Archbishop of Canterbury declared that Henry's marriage to Catherine was void and the marriage to Anne was valid. Sir Thomas More accepted Parliament's authority to make Anne the queen, but would not acknowledge its religious authority. He was charged with high treason and beheaded. As for Catherine, she became the Dowager Princess of Wales, and her daughter Mary became a "Lady" rather than Princess.

The Pope excommunicated Henry and declared his new marriage void. This was followed by religious upheaval and the passage of several Acts that enforced the break from Rome, including the Act of Succession 1534, which validated the marriage between Henry and Anne. Any adult who refused to acknowledge the Act's provisions was liable to imprisonment for life. The publisher or printer of any literature alleging that Henry's marriage to Anne was invalid was automatically guilty of high treason, and could be punished by death. Opposition to Henry's other religious policies was quickly suppressed as well. Several dissenting monks were tortured and executed, and in 1536, an Act of Parliament allowed Henry to seize the possessions of monasteries with annual incomes of £200 or less.

But by this time, Henry was getting bored with Anne. After the birth of a daughter, the Princess Elizabeth, Queen Anne had two pregnancies that ended in either miscarriage or stillbirth. Henry found wife number three, Jane Seymour, and needed to get rid of Anne. Possibly with the help of Thomas Cromwell (the Karl Rove of that day?), Henry had Anne arrested on false charges of using witchcraft to trap him into marrying her, of having adulterous relationships with five other men, of incest with her brother, of injuring the King and of conspiring to kill him, which was considered treason. In May 1536, the Court condemned Anne and her brother to be burned at the stake or beheaded; King's choice. Anne's other four alleged boyfriends were to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Anne's brother was beheaded soon after the trial ended; the four other men had their sentences commuted from hanging, drawing and quartering to decapitation. Anne was also beheaded shortly thereafter.

A few days after these happy events, Henry married Jane Seymour. She gave birth to a son, the Prince Edward, in 1537, and died two weeks later of childbed fever. Henry considered her to be his only "true" wife, being the one who had finally given him his only male heir. However, the young prince may not have been a very healthy child, and so Henry sought to marry again, hoping for another male heir. Cromwell suggested Anne of Cleves. After seeing a very flattering portrait of her and hearing the complimentary description of Anne given by his courtiers, Henry decided to marry her. But much to his disappointment, the portrait hadn't shown her pockmarked face. Henry found her so unattractive that he privately referred to her as a "Flanders Mare," but he married her anyway.

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Not long after the nuptials, Henry wanted to end the marriage. Not only did he find his new wife ugly, but her father, the Duke of Cleves had become engaged in a dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor, and Henry wanted no part of it. Anne was smart enough not to cross Henry. She testified that her marriage was never consummated, saying that Henry came into the room each night and simply kissed her on the forehead before sleeping. Henry got his annulment and Anne got to keep her head. She received the title of "The King's Sister", and was given Hever Castle, which had previously belonged to Anne Boleyn's family. Cromwell fell out of favor for his role in arranging the marriage, and was beheaded on July 28, 1540.

That same day, Henry married Anne Boleyn's first cousin, Catherine Howard, who was 30 years younger than him. She had caught his attention during her time as Anne of Cleves' lady-in-waiting. While I'd imagine that Queen Catherine was a pretty young thing, she must not have been very bright, because shortly after marrying Henry, she began an affair with Henry's favorite male courtier, Thomas Culpeper. She also hired her former fiancé and lover, Francis Dereham, as her secretary. Eventually, evidence of Queen Catherine's activities was brought to the King's attention. Henry originally refused to believe the allegations, but he allowed an investigation to be conducted, which resulted in Queen Catherine's implication. Culpeper and Dereham were executed in December 1541, and Catherine was executed a few months later, on February 13, 1542. She was about 18 at the time.

His last wife was a wealthy widow named Catherine Parr, whom he married in 1543. She was a Protestant, and argued over religion with Henry, who was still Catholic. She helped him reconcile with first two daughters, the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth, who were later placed back into the line of succession. Henry remained married to Catherine until his death in 1547.

Outside of his six marriages, Henry was also reported to have had several mistresses, including Mary Boleyn (Anne's sister) and Elizabeth Blount, with whom he had had an illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. He may also have had illegitimate children with other women, including Mary Berkeley, Joan Dyngley, Agnes Blewitt, and possibly other short term, unidentified mistresses. Yep, that Henry VIII was one hell of a guy, all right.

Although his break from the Catholic Church and the series of Acts that followed are probably what he's best known for (other than his marriages), he took several other actions that help show what kind of ruler he was. Shortly after his ascension, he had two of his father's ministers imprisoned in the Tower of London and later beheaded. Their "crime?" Imposing heavy arbitrary taxes on the nobility. While his father favored peace, Henry was said to have a "constant willingness for war." He also granted his assent to the Laws in Wales Act 1535, which legally annexed Wales, uniting England and Wales into one nation, and making English the only language for use in official proceedings. He continually persecuted his religious opponents. In 1538, the good king sanctioned the destruction of shrines to Roman Catholic Saints; and the following year, England's remaining monasteries were all dissolved, and their property transferred to the Crown.

Upon this examination of the life and loves of Henry VIII, I can see why he'd be an acceptable role model for the neo-con types. First of all, he abused and twisted religion to suit his own agenda, even declaring himself "the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England." Not accepting him as such was treason. He was the "decider" in all matters of both church and state, and was merciless with those who dared disagree with him. Religious uprisings ended with the executions of those involved. I'll bet there are many among Bush's neo-con fascist friends who wish the government had the same power today. He could make up false charges against whoever he wanted to execute, even the queen. George W. Bush wants to do something very similar to anyone he decides is a "terrorist." He exempted the wealthy from paying heavy taxes. The people who helped him were rewarded with fancy, important titles, like Thomas Cromwell, who was created the Earl of Essex. All in all, his reign seems to have been one of corruption, dictatorship and brutality. He ruled with an iron hand. Seem familiar?

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Now let's consider President Clinton. He's an educated man who received a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, and a Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School. He served as Governor of Arkansas for 12 years, establishing a moderate "New Democrat" record, before becoming the 42nd President of the United States.

According to Wikipedia, "Clinton's presidency included the longest period of economic growth in America's history." He made it a priority to cut the deficit by reducing spending and raising taxes on the wealthiest 1.2% of Americans. This budget package also extended the Earned Income Tax Credit, providing economic relief for low income families by reducing the amount they paid in federal income and FICA taxes. Thanks to the improved economic conditions this budget helped create, in 2002, for the first time since 1969, the nation had a budget surplus. This surplus was used to pay down the national debt, and in February 2000, the US was on track to be debt free by 2008. It seems unimaginable, doesn't it? Too bad Dubya had to come along and destroy that legacy. Clinton also expanded financial aid programs and lowered interest rates on student loans, helping to make higher education more affordable. Economic times were good. Here are some statistics, taken from Wikipedia:

• Average economic growth of 4.0 percent per year, compared to average growth of 2.8 percent during the previous years. The economy grew for 116 consecutive months, the most in history.
• Creation of more than 22.5 million jobs-the most jobs ever created under a single administration, and more than were created in the previous 12 years. Of the total new jobs, 20.7 million, or 92 percent, were in the private sector.
• Economic gains spurred an increase in family incomes for all Americans. Since 1993, real median family income increased by $6,338, from $42,612 in 1993 to $48,950 in 1999 (in 1999 dollars).
• Overall unemployment dropped to the lowest level in more than 30 years, down from 6.9 percent in 1993 to just 4.0 percent in January 2001. The unemployment rate was below 5 percent for 40 consecutive months. Unemployment for African Americans fell from 14.2 percent in 1992 to 7.3 percent in 2000, the lowest rate on record. Unemployment for Hispanics fell from 11.8 percent in October 1992 to 5.0 percent in 2000, also the lowest rate on record.
• Inflation dropped to its lowest rate since the Kennedy Administration, averaging 2.5 percent, and fell from 4.7 percent during the previous administration.
• The homeownership rate reached 67.7 percent near the end of the Clinton administration, the highest rate on record.
• The poverty rate also declined from 15.1 percent in 1993 to 11.8 percent in 1999, the largest six-year drop in poverty in nearly 30 years. This left 7 million fewer people in poverty than there were in 1993.
• The surplus in fiscal year 2000 was $237 billion-the third consecutive surplus and the largest surplus ever.
• President Clinton reached across the aisle and worked with the Republican-led Congress to enact welfare reform. As a result, welfare rolls dropped dramatically and were the lowest since 1969. Between January 1993 and September of 1999, the number of welfare recipients dropped by 7.5 million (a 53 percent decline) to 6.6 million. In comparison, between 1981-1992, the number of welfare recipients increased by 2.5 million (a 22 percent increase) to 13.6 million people.

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