Worst Monarch Ever? Historical Writers Say it's Henry VIII

By / Sep 9, 2015 (National Maritime Museum)

A new Historical Writers Association survey has made it official: Henry VIII of England was history’s worst monarch. To avoid following in his footsteps, check out what the organization says are his biggest leadership failings.

Henry VIII may have been good enough for Herman’s Hermits, but for true historians, he was a bust.

That’s according to the Historical Writers’ Association (HWA), which asked 62 writers to select the “Worst Monarch in History.” The survey was conducted ahead of next month’s Harrogate History Festival, a key event in the historical-literature space.

Henry VIII earned 20 percent of the survey’s votes, topping Edward VIII (14 percent) and John I and Charles I (8 percent each).

Why Henry Was So Terrible

So what was Henry VIII’s big problem? The English king, who ruled between 1509 and 1547, may be best known for executing tens of thousands of people, including two of his six wives.

The English Reformation, which formally separated England from the Roman Catholic Church, began during Henry’s reign. It was driven by his personal agenda: a wish to end his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

The survey’s respondents had few nice things to say about Henry, calling him “obsessive” and “syphilitic” and referring to him as a “self-indulgent wife murderer and tyrant.”

Robert Wilton, author of The Spider of Sarajevo, said Henry VIII was a “gross man-child, willfully and capriciously dangerous to everything around him, including the country.”

“[He] barely made it out of infancy, let alone adolescence, and ruled with little more policy than petulant self-gratification,” Wilton added.

HWA’s survey is a pretty good starting point if you’re looking for a leadership style to avoid—one best described as tyrannical.  But for a leader to emulate, look no further than Henry VIII’s daughter, the first Queen Elizabeth, whom survey respondents deemed the “Best Monarch in History.” She earned 36 percent of the vote.

“Her win should mitigate everyone’s secret fear that they’ll someday grow up to become their parents,” Mental Floss writer Kirstin Fawcett joked.

Patrick deHahn

Patrick deHahn is a contributor to Associations Now. More »


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