Samuel Rawson Gardiner
1. The New King. 1509.—Henry VIII. inherited the handsome face, the winning presence, and the love of pleasure which distinguished his mother’s father, Edward IV., as well as the strong will of his own father, Henry VII. He could ride better than his grooms, and shoot better than the archers of his guard. Yet, though he had a ready smile and a ready jest for everyone, he knew how to preserve his dignity. Though he seemed to live for amusement alone, and allowed others to toil at the business of administration, he took care to keep his ministers under control. He was no mean judge of character, and the saying which rooted itself amongst his subjects, that ‘King Henry knew a man when he saw him,’ points to one of the chief secrets of his success.
He was well aware that the great nobles were his only possible rivals, and that his main support was to be found in the country gentry and the townsmen. Partly because of his youth, and partly because the result of the political struggle had already been determined when he came to the throne, he thought less than his father had done of the importance of possessing stored up wealth by which armies might be equipped and maintained, and more of securing that popularity which at least for the purposes of internal government, made armies unnecessary. The first act of the new reign was to send Empson and Dudley to the Tower, and it was significant of Henry’s policy that they were tried and executed, not on a charge of having extorted money illegally from subjects, but on a trumped up charge of conspiracy against the king. It was for the king to see that offences were not committed against the people, but the people must be taught that the most serious crimes were those committed against the king. Henry’s next act was to marry Catharine. Though he was but nineteen, whilst his bride was twenty-five, the marriage was for many years a happy one.