Top 10 Unsung Villains

John Rentoul

henry viii 300x168 Top 10 Unsung VillainsMy “Top 10″ in The Independent on Sunday this week was Unsung Villains – people in history who have not had as bad a press as they deserve. The idea was suggested by Tom Doran, who also nominated Erich von Ludendorff, possibly the best on the list.

It was only after it appeared that I realised that there were no women on the list. Gavin Jackson suggested replacing Henry VIII with Elizabeth I. I didn’t agree with that: she may have done some rough things, but nothing as bad as her father.

Indeed, Joe Skeaping, who, along with Will Cooling, nominated Henry VIII, had plenty more to add to his charge sheet:

Henry VIII, who I feel never gets the credit he deserves for his regime of megalomania and terror, always instead being presented as more of a cartoon villain, a lecherous man who stood up for England.

He should be remembered instead (I think) as a genuinely terrifying and unpredictable egomaniac. His break with Rome was an entirely cynical attempt to save his historical reputation from the disasters of his early reign, and it was implemented without regard for the consciences of his subjects or England’s diplomatic position. Long-standing royal servants like Wolsey and More were executed for failing to comply with Henry’s wishes, he publicly humiliated his wife of over twenty years and his daughter, Mary, introduced new treason laws, provided over show trials and evicted and plundered religious communities that had existed for centuries.

His foreign wars consumed the treasure looted from the Church, leaving England bankrupt and politically isolated. The reign’s sole constructive achievement was to give Henry the immortality he craved.

That seems about right. The only doubt about Henry VIII is whether his villainy is unsung enough.

Postscript: Sir Walter Ralegh’s view of Henry VIII is here, via Mathew Lyons.

But if you can think of women who should have qualified, please nominate in the comments.

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  • Ostercy

    Tony Blair

  • Hill244

    You beat me to it!

  • Hill244

    Women? Thatcher. You have the name wrong it is of course “von Ludendorff”.

  • Pacificweather

    Mary Queen of Scots must surely deserve a mention.

  • Whyshouldihavetoregister

    Why do you want to claim credit for being an unimaginative, unfunny bore?

  • Colin Rosenthal

    How about Bonar Law, who as leader of the Opposition went about inciting troops to mutiny in opposition to Irish Home Rule?

    Charles II is another. The man had clearly learnt nothing from the Civil War that cost his father his life, repeatedly dissolving Parliament whenever he disapproved of its decisions and creating the poisoned atmosphere which reached full fruition in the revolution that overthrew his brother.

  • mightymark

    For many people I know the list of “Villains in History” begins with David Starkey and ends with Mary Beard. Oh well, at least there’s one woman!

  • Hill244

    One can see why anonymity is to be banned on HuffPo

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