Subhuti examines this Type taking King Henry the Eighth of England as an example.
Okay, here’s a warning for all of you who were traumatized as teenagers when being imprisoned in your school classrooms having to listen to boring history teachers.
I’ve been asked to describe the No. 8 on the Enneagram and the one who stands out above all others lived 500 years ago in England. Purely by chance, he was called “King Henry the Eighth.”
Henry certainly behaved like “The Boss” and proved it by executing an estimated 27,000 people during his years on the English throne. Executions were common, of course, in all European kingdoms in those rough, tough, often brutal days. But, even so, this was something of a record.
Henry VIII had six wives, a ruthless grip on power and extravagant tastes that brought the country close to financial ruin. Some historians consider his reign, from 1509 until 1547, to be the most important in English history. Which is really ironic, because in the first place, he was never meant to be king.
Henry’s elder brother, Arthur, was destined to rule England, but he died of a mysterious “sweating sickness” that attacked the lungs, causing breathing difficulties, rather like our current problems with the coronavirus. Maybe SARS was already among us, even in the sixteenth century.
When Henry’s father also died, just six years later, this left the 17-year-old prince as the only male successor to the English throne. It didn’t take long for young Henry to flex his royal muscles. One of the first things he did, as the newly-crowned King Henry VIII, was to please the public by cutting the heads off two of his father’s ministers, who’d become widely unpopular.
This was a little unfair, since the reason they’d become unpopular was through their task of imposing taxes in order to create wealth for the Crown. But this set the trend for Henry’s reign: anyone seen to be getting in his way was likely to find his head abruptly removed from his shoulders.
So, why do I consider Henry VIII to be an Eight on the Enneagram? After all, it takes more than an enthusiasm for executions to validate his personality type.
Historically, we don’t know much about Henry’s childhood, because he wasn’t first in line for the throne, so the court scribes didn’t write much about him. So, we don’t know what early events pushed Henry into the “Boss” strategy: the understanding that “I need to be strong” and cannot afford to show “my weaknesses” – indeed, to deny that such weaknesses ever existed in the first place.
However, in 1509, when the public spotlight focused on the new king, it revealed a tall, muscular, athletic man who was addicted to sport, quite typical of Eights who need a lot of physical stimulation to generate a sense of vitality and aliveness. Henry loved jousting, a dangerous sport where two armoured knights with long lances charge at each other on horseback and try to hit each other on the head. He also loved the feasting and dancing that followed. In addition, the king enjoyed hunting, tennis, archery, double-axe fighting and throwing the javelin.
Apparently, the only time Henry felt like attending to affairs of state was when listening to morning mass in church or late at night after a few drinks.
Henry spent lavishly on his palaces and on impressing his neighbours. For example, when he met the King of France in 1520, he dazzled him with huge feasts, music, jousting and games. Many of the royal tents were made with cloth of gold, an expensive fabric woven with silk and gold thread, and this meeting was named after it: The Field of the Cloth of Gold.
Here we see the Eight pattern of excess, which Henry certainly displayed. Although one has to add that what others view as excessive is seen by Eights themselves as simply having a good time. As one can imagine, the wealth of the English Treasury was quickly drained by Henry’s lavish tastes.
But a vast new source of wealth was about to be exploited as part of a massive power shift in England and this is where we find the undeniable evidence of Henry’s enneagram type. It began with Henry’s need for a male heir to succeed him.
His wife, Catherine of Aragon, gave birth to three sons, but, alas, they were either stillborn or died within weeks. The rest, as they say, is history: Henry wanted to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn to create more children, but the Pope refused. This was mainly because of pressure on the Pope from the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, who was Catherine’s nephew and didn’t want his aunt to be humiliated by divorce – a shocking social taboo in those days.
Any normal European ruler would have accepted the Vatican’s decree. But Henry wasn’t going to be thwarted, so he invented a drastic solution. He retaliated by seizing the power of the Pope and the Vatican in England, and proclaiming himself head of the church.
He didn’t stop there. He looted and destroyed virtually all Catholic convents and monasteries in his kingdom, seizing land, silver plate, jewels, gold crosses, and much more. It provided badly-needed income for the free-spending monarch, who was also required to forcefully crush several local revolts by people protesting against this unholy robbery. Of course, the leaders were either hanged or had their heads chopped off.
Henry succeeded in divorcing Catherine and married Anne Boleyn, but she, too, produced a daughter, just as Catherine had done before her. Anne had a fierce temper, a fatal flaw when close to Henry, and it wasn’t long before the king executed her and married Jane Seymour, who finally gave him the long-awaited male heir.
I don’t want to tell the whole story of Henry’s reign, because the point I want to emphasize is the power struggle between Henry and Rome. It is here we see the Number Eight in action. It was more than a test of strength. It was an ego-driven crusade of epic proportions that perhaps only an Eight can achieve.
Today, living as we do in modern, secular societies that have denied the church much of its former power, it might not seem such a big deal. But in those days, it was almost unthinkable for a king to throw out the Pope, claim the same spiritual power and appoint himself as God’s representative on earth.
True, Martin Luther had set some kind of precedent in Germany with his Protestant Reformation. But Henry wasn’t interested in Protestantism or reforming Catholicism. He just wanted to get his own way. Or, as they say about Eights: “It’s my way, or the highway!” So, he simply thrust the Pope aside and stepped into his holy shoes.
Eights require some kind of undisputed territory in which to feel comfortable – even if it’s only a small office inside a modern corporation – and for Henry this meant being the unchallenged ruler of his own country.
Physically, Eights tend to look muscular and strong, which Henry did as a young man. But in a serious jousting accident in 1536, the king was thrown from his horse, which fell on top of him, crushing his legs and causing severe concussion. Being partially crippled, Henry could no longer be so active and gained weight dramatically, growing to over 170 kilos. His personality changed, too, and he became more tyrannical, impatient and ruthless.
Just to consolidate his position as England’s supreme ruler, Henry created the doctrine of the “Divine Right of Kings,” which asserts that a monarch is not accountable to any earthly authority, like parliament. His right to rule is derived from divine authority.
Was Henry an egomaniac? Certainly, but his basic motivation was down-to-earth, practical and political. He was determined to pass on the “House of Tudor” dynasty that had been founded by his father and for this he urgently needed a son. As it turned out, after Henry’s death in 1547, all three of Henry’s children took turns ascending the English throne:
First came Edward VI, his son, who was crowned when he was only nine years old, ruled for six years, then died at the age of 15.
Then came Catherine’s daughter, Mary, who lasted just five years as queen before dying.
And last but certainly not least, Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth, the famous “Virgin Queen” who presided over the “Elizabethan Era” and ruled England for 44 years.
However, in terms of creating a lasting dynasty, none of them would have pleased Henry, since they all died without heirs and the House of Tudor came to end, ushering in the Stuarts of Scotland.
There have been, naturally, many Eights in power over the centuries, including Winston Churchill, whose refusal to make a deal with Adolf Hitler shaped the conflict of World War Two – and ultimately delivered victory to Britain and its Allies.
More recently, we have seen the US President, Donald Trump, using his abrasive and confrontational style to give a unique flavour to his office. Trump’s refusal to admit defeat in the November election is typical of an Eight who just won’t allow himself to be seen as a loser.
Looking back through time, there may be many contestants for the title of “King of the Eights” but my vote goes to King Henry VIII, for the sheer audacity and chutzpah of stealing the spiritual powers of Rome and adding them to his earthly crown. In an age when religious superstition and the fear of hell and eternal damnation were still very real – that took a lot of balls!
- Check out our series: ‘Enneagram Famous Figures’ by Subhuti