Much has been made this election of comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. There are some definite parallels between the two; however, serious students of history might find a closer comparison between Trump and England’s King Henry VIII. Not the multiple wives, please. There are deeper and more disturbing similarities.
Like Trump, Henry grew up never expecting a career in politics. His older brother Arthur was the designated heir to the throne. Henry, ironically, was intended for the church. But upon his brother’s untimely death, followed by that of his father, Henry did indeed become king. He relished his new role, and by many accounts, did quite well in his younger days. Unlike Trump, he listened to his advisers. During the latter part of his reign, it was worth your life to try to tell him what to do.
Like Trump, when Henry was young he was tall, handsome, and extremely popular with the public. Although happily married to his first wife, he was quite the ladies’ man, as well. He had several mistresses and fathered at least one child out of wedlock. The similarities continue with Trump as Henry also had an affair with his second wife while married to his first. And had an affair with his third wife while married to his second.
Like Trump, Henry grew up in a wealthy and privileged household, although his father was something of a tightwad. When he came into his own, he made up for lost time His spending was lavish. He desperately wanted to impress his rivals and this desire culminated in a meeting with the King of France in a meeting that became known as the The Field of the Cloth of Gold. The ground was covered with cloth literally spun from pure gold. Henry would have felt quite at home in the penthouse of Trump Towers.
Years of privilege and entitlement led Henry to become petulant when he didn’t get his own way. In order to obtain a divorce from his first wife, Henry laid the groundwork for the destruction of the Catholic Church in England. In his never-ending quest for more money, he ransacked the wealthy monasteries, leaving a wake of destruction in his path. Wise courtiers always let him win at games of tennis and in jousting matches. Times were perilous for those who ran afoul of Henry’s increasing bad temper. Perceived slights or insults resulted in banishment from court at best. At worst, death by beheading.
Like Trump, old age was not kind to Henry. The famous portrait by Holbein shows a corpulent man still trying to retain the glow of his youth. His increasing paranoia isolated him from his children (except his young son) and everyone surrounding him. The most prominent men in the land were not immune. The Duke of Norfolk, the premier nobleman of England, was spared execution at the last minute by Henry’s death. His son was not so lucky.
Of course we no longer live in days of absolute monarchs. But we do live in days where at least one man behaves and acts like one. Is he the person we want directing our country? Do we want to give him the power to lash out at perceived slights or insults with far deadlier results than Henry could have imagined?
One of his contemporaries described Henry VIII this way. “While every inch a king, he never achieved the stature of an ordinary gentleman.” Sound familiar?