Yeah, but only if you compare him with modern-day political leaders. After all, the 16th century was the period of the Spanish Inquisition (nobody expected it!), “Bloody Mary,” the Munster Revolt, and more massacres than you can shake a stick at plus the stick. So, King Hank lopped off a couple of wives’ (plus a few government ministers’) heads. I’ll bet even Tony Blair would lop off a few heads given half a chance.
OK, to stop being facetious for a moment, even serious historians such as A.G. Dickens (author of The English Reformation) and Jack Scarisbrick (author of Henry VIII) characterize Henry’s reign as not particularly bloodthirsty. They consider even his father’s reign to be a bit more bloody, in that “Eight” usually threw enemies like the Duke of Norfolk in prison, while “Seven” quietly had them killed. Sure, Henry VIII had public executions, but they were done sparingly to try to make the rest of the populace fear the “wroth of the king.” Sure, Henry VIII initiated secret trials in Star Chamber, but that was just a modernization of what went on before (and I’m sure John Ashcroft is taking notes as we speak). Sure, Henry VIII broke with Rome, but, compared with the Reformation in the German states and elsewhere, it was a relatively bloodless coup (save Thomas More and a few other high-profile Catholic leaders). And, yes, Henry VIII had two of his wives executed. Horrifying now, yes, but not unlike what happened to Lord Darnley at the hands of the agents of Mary of Scots. (Also, the second executed wife, Catherine Howard, unfortunately carried the can for the political sins of her father.)
So, that’s my defense of Henry VIII. Next, Jack the Ripper…nah, I don’t think so.