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Henry VIII vs. Henry VIII

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Posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 11:46 am

Will the real Henry VIII please stand up.

What did the famed British Monarch look like? What did his children, his six wives or the people of that time for that matter actually look like? We have art to give us as near an approximation as possible.

Lately, I've been watching the HBO series “The Tudors” about Henry VIII and family. The Missus and I are interested in British history, and alongside the aforementioned acclaimed drama, we've also been watching the BBC's “Elizabeth R,” a mini-series that aired in 1971, and we have plans to watch many more historical dramas and documentaries.

During one scene from “The Tudors,” Henry requests a painting of potential fourth wife Anne of Cleves. His delegate asks the painter to fudge his work to make Anne more appealing. The artist, like any true craftsman, balks at the suggestion. 

There was definitely a Roman influence in the paintings of the 1500s from that region. So it made me think, is that what she looked like? The sketch of Anne (played by singer Joss Stone) in the show intrigues Henry, and he cannot wait to meet her. Yet, when they at last come face-to-face, he is repulsed by her, calling her a horse.

What did Henry VIII look like? There have been many portrayals of the man (Charles Laughton, et. al), and there are plenty of paintings of him throughout his life. However, if you ran into him on the street, would you know him?

Jonathan Rhys Meyers, the actor who portrays Henry in the show, does a fine job of making the monarch both likable and detestable at the same time (though mostly detestable). And he convinces the audience that this is how the king would have stormed about his realm and appeared to others.

We're it not for cameras, I wonder how even the last 50 years of history would be interpreted if painting, sketches and sculpture were the only means of recording images we had available.

Zac Efron would probably end up playing Richard Nixon.