Friday, May 1, 2015

I Am Henry the 8th, I Am

The Brits love their Henrys and we love the Brits, Henry the 8th especially. You know, that ill-tempered, rotund rascal who couldn’t keep his fly zipped; the red-head who started out thin and tame as Charlton Heston and grew to be rapacious and ravenous as chubby Charles Laughton and by that time couldn’t even see his own pecker. The monarch routinely beheaded his friends and lovers without even a royal blush. Everyone needs a hobby, I suppose.

With Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning books now on Broadway as well as Masterpiece Theater, Wolf Hall, I’m up to my eyeballs with the stuff. Henry (can I call you Hank as in Hanky-Panky?) the 8th seems to have had a particular preference for Catherines and Annes. It all started with Catherine of Aragon and ended with Catherine Parr. In between he had another Catherine (Howard) and a couple of Annes in Boleyn and Cleves and then there was Jane Seymour. Of such stuff regal soaps are made.

All this fuss just to get a Henry the 9th. And he did in Henry Fitzroy but the poor chap was illegitimate as opposed to Mary, from his first wife, who was legitimate until she lost her legitimacy. Kings could do that and if you protested your head might become delegitimized from the rest of your body. Two of his wives lost theirs. Poor Henry the 9th, who became one of the richest men in England, died at age sixteen before Parliament could legitimize him.

Hank didn’t know a worthy heir when he saw one. Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn, reigned long and well, even fought and won over the Spanish armada. As armadas go, theirs was a mighty one and for the next several centuries Britannia ruled the waves.

Henry got his little legitimate boy in Edward who never saw his 17th birthday. After another family squabble Elizabeth (Bette Davis, Flora Robson, Judith Anderson, Jean Simmons, Glenda Jackson, Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, Beverly Sills... et al) assumed the throne.

I’m thinking that the monarchy is not such a bad thing. It's a bargain at 40 million Euros a year to support the royal family which works out to a mere 56 pence per subject. Look at all the bodice-ripping movies, mini-series, even operas we've had to enjoy, all that sound and fury of the Hanks and Dicks followed by Jimmie and the Chucks. We Americans have our own royalty to worship in celebrity-athletes and entertainers. Ours come and go. Theirs seem to have achieved immortality. If they bask in past glories we flame out fast with our brief candles. For the most part British actors are professionals who put our pretty faces to shame. Remind me again, why did we revolt?

And then there is the Herman Hermits' song:

I'm Henry the 8th I am
Henry the 8th I am, I am.
I got married to widow next door.
She's been married seven times before,
and every one was a Henry (Henry).
She wouldn't have a Willy or a Sam (no Sam).
I'm her 8th old man, I Henry
Henry the 8th I am.

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