On this day in 1509, the not-quite-eighteen-year-old became Henry VIII. He took two actions very quickly. First, he married his older brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon (spoiler alert – while they were happy together for some twenty years, it didn’t end well…). Second, he gave us a glimpse of the tyrant he would become.
Three days after his accession, Henry called for the arrests of Sir Richard Empson and Mr. Edmund Dudley, two trusted members of his father’s Privy Council. These two men were widely hated by the English people. Henry VII had imposed heavy taxes and Empson and Dudley, in charge of collecting those taxes, had become lightning rods for public resentment. They were executed for “constructive treason,” that is, conduct that was treated as treason even if it didn’t rise to that level – and the conduct in question was widely believed to have been made up. The move cemented Henry’s popularity among his people, securing his throne. Sound familiar? Take out the names “Empson and Dudley” and substitute Anne Boleyn, and there you have it. Savage ruthlessness well before Henry’s fight with Rome, before he got into the habit of executing those who disagreed with his policies – like Sir Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher, and two dozen Carthusian monks….