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Q U I C K   L I N K S

Cavendish’s The Worlds Olio was the target of a religious battle-of-the-books initiated by the Catholic writer, Susan du Verger, who reprinted Cavendish’s essay on “A Monastical life” (pp. 28–31), juxtaposing Cavendish’s point-counterpoint passage with her own “humble reflections” defending Catholicism and its institutions. Selections from Du Verger’s polemic are available as an original She-philosopher.​com e-publication. See the digital edition, Lib. Cat. No. SDUV1657.

A brief character of Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I (1533–1603), Queen of England and Ireland, also by Margaret Cavendish, is available in the IN BRIEF section of She-philosopher.​com. Cavendish was more critical of the “vain Favourites” with whom Elizabeth toyed, while approving that Elizabeth “stuck close to her old Counsellors and Favourites, Burleigh, Walsingham, and the rest.”

For more on Henry VIII’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell (c.1485-1540), see the IN BRIEF topic on Thomas Cromwell’s land grab, c.1532. Cromwell was arrested, condemned by act of attainder, and beheaded on 28 July 1540, three weeks after the annulment of Henry’s fourth marriage to Anne, the sister of the duke of Cleves.

For full bibliographical descriptions of any works cited here, see:

• for pre-20th-century works, She-philosopher.​com’s selected list of Primary Sources

• for 20th-century and 21st-century works, She-philosopher.​com’s selected list of Secondary Sources


There is additional material on Margaret Cavendish, one of She-philosopher.​com’s featured “Players,” located elsewhere at She-philosopher.​com. The best way to find it is to use our customized search tool (search box at the top of the right-hand sidebar on this page), which is updated every time new content is added to the public areas of the website, thus ensuring the most comprehensive and reliable searches of She-philosopher.​com.

First Published:  23 July 2016
Revised (substantive):  2 July 2021


An introductory note for the In Brief biography which follows:
   Modern biographers describe the reign of Henry VIII — who “annexed to himself a theocratic kingship which was distinctive and personal” and, in so doing, “uncover[ed] the power of the English crown” — as “enormously significant”:

His rejection of western Christendom in favour of a national church, the mortal wound he gave to traditional Christian life in England, his effective toleration and even promotion of moderate religious reform, his plundering and subsequent liquidation of the accumulated wealth of the church, the innovative use of statute and the resulting change in the qualitative role and importance of parliament, all these left a deeper mark on English history than any monarch since the Norman conquest and any who have followed him. Even more profound has been the consequence of Henry’s decision to require, for the first time ever, that subjects should accept belief as defined by the state. From that point on it ceased to be sufficient any longer to offer the crown loyalty and ability; the monarch needed to search hearts. Ideological conformity and non-conformity became substantial and permanent features of English life.

(E. W. Ives, ODNB entry for “Henry VIII (1491–1547), king of England and Ireland,” n. pag.)

   Stressing “Henry VIII’s monumental selfishness,” Ives argues that

Henry VIII’s policies were essentially personal and not, pace his admirers, conceived of in the national interest. Pollard’s picture of a king galvanizing the national will needs to be upended: the nation was galvanized to express the king’s will.

(E. W. Ives, ODNB entry for “Henry VIII (1491–1547), king of England and Ireland,” n. pag.)

   In her brief commentary on Henry VIII, Margaret Cavendish contends that, in the break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII played such an effective galvanic role because he did not push but “follow[ed] the People”: “the King, Nobility, and Commons, and all had ends in it.”
   Ives makes a related argument that Henry VIII also shared with his loyal subjects “contemporary values of magnificence, military prowess, and ‘force’ or personality”:

For them, whatever they might like or loathe in his policies, Henry was everything a king should be; he had all the monarchical virtues in full measure. The first was magnificence, immediately obvious in his personal appearance, whether excelling in the joust before a crowd of courtiers and commoners or grandly robed to dominate a diplomatic set piece. The reputation of the Field of Cloth of Gold spread throughout Europe, not simply as a vastly expensive exercise in image building, but as regal glory in action. Then there were his palaces. The pièce de résistance of Henry’s Nonsuch challenge to François I was a great statue of Henry himself, with Edward beside him.
   A second contemporary royal virtue was military power and success; apostles of peace like Colet, Erasmus, and Zwingli were very much in the minority. Henry’s fascination with military technology, most notably heavy guns on board ship and the consequent need to encourage cannon-founding, was entirely in the kingly tradition. So was war. No one was allowed to forget Henry’s triumph at the battle of the Spurs, even though it was a skirmish fought in his absence. His armies not only won massive victories which culled two generations of Scottish nobles; in 1544 they savaged the lives of ordinary Scots and ruined the lowland economy. Supremely, with the capture of Boulogne, Henry became the only king to win territory in France for more than a century. A taste for building and a taste for war came together in his huge programme of coastal fortification after 1539, and the creation of the best navy in Atlantic waters. If Henry was not the first warrior of Europe, it was not for want of trying.
   The third thing which impressed Henry’s people was his personality. More than fifty years after his death, London’s Fortune Theatre could put on a play with the simple title When you See me you Know me and be sure that the public would know who was meant, and even that an audience would recognize Henry’s mannerisms on stage. The performance was such a hit that Shakespeare’s company had to reply with Henry VIII. Thanks to printing, and particularly the mandatory availability of the Great Bible, Henry was almost certainly the first English monarch whose likeness his subjects could recognize. Popular ballads celebrated Henry’s fame, while in political circles he was a byword for how a king should be obeyed. His daughter Mary, faced with the tendency of her masculine courtiers to treat the orders of a queen regnant as an invitation to debate, declared that “she only wished [her father] might come to life again for a month”.

(E. W. Ives, ODNB entry for “Henry VIII (1491–1547), king of England and Ireland,” n. pag.)

Cavendish is less admiring of Henry VIII’s military adventures and vast expenditures, because “no great advantage redounded to his Kingdome.” But she applauds Henry’s political savvy, as evident in his power over and manipulation of counsellors. For Cavendish — a keen observer of Tudor and Stuart court politics, whose husband had his own privy-counsellor ambitions which were thwarted by Charles II’s younger favorites — the proper management of “favorites” made “a Wise Prince.” She wrote often “Of Favorites to Princes, or Princes particular Privy Counsellers” (M. Cavendish, The Worlds Olio, 1st edn., 1655, 205), usually advising that heads of state dispense with them altogether, as in the list of “Contracts betwixt the King and People” governing the utopian monarchy described at the end of her The Worlds Olio:

Item, That the Royal Ruler shall have no particular Favorite, they being for the most part Expensive, Proud, Scornfull, and Mischievous, making difference betwixt the King and People, by fomenting Errours untill they make them seem Crimes, and creating Jealousies, by making doubts of the Peoples Fidelity; and Favorites most commonly tread upon the Necks of the Nobility, and ride upon the Backs of the Gentry, and pick the Purse of the Commonalty, justle Justice out by Bribery, and many times unthrone Royalty through Envy to them, which causeth a hatred to the Prince, for perchance perceiving this Favorite neither to have Worth nor Merit, onely a Flattering Tongue, that inchants a Credulous Prince. Therefore a Prince should have no Favorite but Justice, no Privy Counseller but his own Breast, his Intention never to be disclosed but when he puts it in Execution.

(Margaret Cavendish, The Worlds Olio, 1st edn., 1655, 207)

Ornamental border from Thomas Johnson's edn. of Gerard's _Herball_ (1633 and 1636)

[ a In Brief biography ]

Henry VIII (1491–1547),
King of England and Ireland (1509–47)

Opening quotation markOf King Henry the Eighth.

“ King Henry the Eighth was a Politick Prince; for as Favourites make use of their Prince, so he made use of his Favourites; for when they could do him no more service, he turned them over to the Hangman, to satisfie his People; and those that he favoured, had the blame with the punishment, and he received the profit. He was not like Edward the Second, for his Favourites cost him his Crown and Life. I observe, that soft natures are apt to be crusht, and very hard natures are apt to be broken in governing; therefore severe, but not cruel, mercifull or kind, but not credulous, reign happiest. But Henry the Eighth spent great Sums of Money, as that which his Father left him, and that which he had out of France, then the vast Sums he raised out of Monasteries, yet no great advantage redounded to his Kingdome: But his Expence was much to keep Peace abroad, by making Friends in those Kingdomes that were fallen out: But most commonly those that strive to make Peace amongst others, bring War to themselves, although I cannot say he had much War.

“ Of pulling down of the Monasteries in Henry the Eighths time.

“ Some wonder that Henry the Eighth did pull down and destroy so many Monasteries as were in England, which had stood so long, without Opposition: but it was likely that the Opposition could not be great; for first, the People were perswaded in some part, by the Doctrine of Luther, to dislike the Tyrannie of the Pope; for first, it eased their Purses and their Persons, the one from Peter-pence, and the like, and the other from hard Penance; the next, the Gentry and the Nobles thought of the gaining of the Houses, and Lands, and Liberty; the King for the bulk of their Wealth; so the King, Nobility, and Commons, and all had ends in it; and where the King follows the Commons, an Innovation is easy; or I may say, an Innovation is easy where the King follows the People.

 Of Justice in Commonwealths.

 It is to be observed, that there is little Piety or Justice in Cities, or Countryes, or Nations, that are overgrown with Prosperity, or oppressed with Adversity; for Prosperity makes them so proud, as they are as it were above Justice; and Adversity doth so deject them, as they grow careless of Justice, so that either way they grow into Barbarism: But as Virtue is a Mean betwixt two Extremes, so it keeps in the Mean in all Estates, the Virtue of Prosperity is Temperance, and the Virtue of Adversity is Fortitude.Closing quotation mark

: : : : :

SOURCE:  Cavendish, Margaret. The Worlds Olio. Written by the Right Honorable, the Lady Margaret Newcastle. London: Printed for J. Martin and J. Allestrye at the Bell in St. Pauls Church-Yard, 1655. 126–7.

facsimile of mid-16th-century painted portrait
<  Henry VIII (1491–1547), king of England and Ireland, at age 49. Oil painting (c.1540) by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 or 1498–1543), inscribed “• ANNO • AETATIS • SUAE • XLIX •”.

    It was Anne Boleyn who introduced Hans Holbein the Younger to the Henrician court, at which “Holbein appears never to have been fully appreciated and to have been regarded as the equivalent of a superior photographer.” (E. W. Ives, ODNB entry for Henry VIII, n. pag.)
    “Holbein nevertheless created the definitive image of Henry in heroic classical pose. The original semi-profile face mask survives as the head and shoulders portrait of 1537 in the Thyssen collection and in the full-length cartoon of the figure of Henry for the privy chamber wall painting of the following year, showing Henry with his father and mother and Jane Seymour. The realized fresco was destroyed by fire in 1698 but surviving small-scale copies show that Holbein switched to a direct frontal image for the finished work. Numerous later versions of this image survive, head and shoulders, three-quarter length, and full length. Holbein used it himself for the cartoon of Henry and the barber–surgeons and for his part in the associated (but composite) painting.... A miniature by Holbein shows Henry as Solomon and so too a window in the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge.” (E. W. Ives, ODNB entry for Henry VIII, n. pag.)

facsimile of mid-16th-century engraved title-plate
<  Henry VIII (1491–1547), king of England and Ireland. Engraved title-page for the Great Bible of 1539, entitled The Byble in Englyshe, that is to saye the content of all the holy scrypture, bothe of ye olde and newe testament, truly translated after the veryte of the Hebrue and Greke textes, by ye dylygent studye of dyverse excellent learned men, expert in the forsayde tonges. Printed at Paris by Francis Regnault, and in London by Rychard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch, in 1539. Design of the title-page, divided into geometrical compartments, attributed to the School of Holbein.

    “It was the Lutherans of Germany who in the 1520s had seized on these types of title-page as a means of pictorial propaganda for their religious beliefs, and it is in their tracts and in Reformation Bibles that we find the first title-pages whose iconography bears more than an illustrative relation to the text, in that their images are deliberately chosen for doctrinal and controversial significance.” (M. Corbett and R. W. Lightbown, The Comely Frontispiece, 3)
    The Great Bible of 1539, the publication of which was overseen by Thomas Cromwell, was a critical text for the furtherance of the evangelical cause and religious reform. “At the heart of the evangelical message was the total predominance of scripture as religious authority. Its wide availability in parish churches throughout the country meant that for the first time ordinary people would have direct access to the word of God without having to rely on the authority and interpretation of the church. Although Henry slowed the pace of reform after 1538 he was reluctant to reverse it entirely; indeed, subsequent measures included the levying of a fine in 1541 on parishes which failed to buy a copy of the Great Bible.” (H. Leithead, ODNB entry for Thomas Cromwell, n. pag.)

facsimile of detail from mid-16th-century engraved title-plate

^  Henry VIII (1491–1547), king of England and Ireland. Magnified view of upper compartment from engraved title-page for the Great Bible of 1539, entitled The Byble in Englyshe ... (Paris and London, 1539).
     The vignette includes a portrait of Henry VIII, who was strategically placed on the title-plates for both the Coverdale Bible of 1535 and the Great Bible of 1539.
     “Henry VIII’s monumental selfishness was disguised by highly effective propaganda. Holbein’s great painting in the privy chamber at Whitehall extolled Henry’s achievement in driving out the unworthy and restoring true religion. The frontispiece to the Great Bible, set up in each parish church, is dominated by a Henry declaring ‘I make decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the living God’ — a God who is allowed to peep in at the edge [see top center of compartment] to say ‘I have found a man after my own heart who will do my will’.” (E. W. Ives, ODNB entry for Henry VIII, n. pag.)

Ornamental border from Thomas Johnson's edn. of Gerard's _Herball_ (1633 and 1636)

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