The King is Dead: The last will and testament of Henry VIII

The King is Dead: The last will and testament of Henry VIII

Published by Head of Zeus, November 2015.

Henry VIII’s last will and testament, drawn up a month before his death, is one of the most intriguing and contested documents in British history. Given special legal and constitutional significance by the 1536 and 1544 Acts of Succession which allowed Henry VIII to nominate his successor by his last will, it is unique among royal wills in the extent its author tried to rule from beyond the grave.

It has also been the source of great controversy. It was called on to justify both the erection and the dissolution of the Protectorate of Edward Seymour, was overruled to enable the accession of Lady Jane Grey, and was deemed invalid by the supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots.

In the centuries since, historians, too, have disagreed vehemently over its intended meaning, its authenticity and validity, and the circumstances of its creation.

The prevailing orthodoxy, until now, has been that the will was the product of a conspiracy staged by a reforming religious faction at court led by Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and Sir William Paget. Hertford and Paget are thought to have manipulated Henry into ruling out certain of their enemies from joining the regency council that Henry prescribed for the rule of his son, Edward, and to have tampered with the will to include forged clauses that would facilitate their assumption of power after the old king’s death in the early hours of 28 January 1547.

This book sets out to question this orthodoxy. I seek to demonstrate that the case for a conspiracy is based on some critical historical errors and that the accumulated evidence points persuasively in a very different direction. The inescapable conclusion is that no such elaborate conspiracy theory is needed nor justified to explain the events of the last months of Henry VIII’s life, nor the creation of his last testament. Henry VIII’s will was quite literally his will: the product of his volition alone.



The Times, Saturday 19 December 2015

Lipscomb ‘deserves admiration for taking on some of the heavy-hitters among Tudor historians and for holding her own.

…This is a book that deserves to be read. Lipscomb has produced an entirely credible interpretation of a contentious issue. Her sober but still engaging prose thankfully lacks that sweet sentimentality that so often characterises popular histories of the Tudors. Her analysis of the available documents seems sturdy. With admirable authority, she provides an interesting allegory about how misplaced trust can undermine the best-laid plans of a powerful king.’

Gerard DeGroot