In Defense of Skinny Henry :)


I don’t know about Damian Lewis, but I am a bit sick and tired of reading on social media and elsewhere about people being suspicious about the “skinny” Henry VIII on Wolf Hall 🙂

So, in defense of skinny Henry, I present the evidence!

Damian Lewis, who did research into Henry VIII, including his physicality, explains at the Wolf Hall Press Screening Q&A in early December:

“He remained slim and a formidable athlete long into his late thirties… and ballooned in the last ten years of his life in this rather Elvis-like fashion.

I am not going to pretend that he didn’t have better legs than I do because he did. He was very proud of his calf, the shape of his calf, and he lorded it over Philip the Fair of France because he felt his calf was superior.”

Kate Muir, who interviewed Lewis for the Times was also not convinced that he “had the bulk to carry off the part of Henry VIII.” Lewis explains to her as well:

“Before you ask, I did like playing a genocidal lunatic, and you should know that Henry had a 34in waist until his late thirties, when he had an accident and stopped hunting. Then it was 13-course meals and he went up to a 54in waist. He was the Elvis of his day and I played him like Elvis,” jokes Lewis. “I just put on a fat suit and got on with it.”

And, when asked about how playing Henry VIII has changed his perception about the historical character, by Lucy Worsely for a Daily Mail article, Damian explains yet one more time 🙂

“I think we all have this understanding that he was this womanising, syphilitic, bloated, genocidal Elvis character. And actually the truth is, though it might be an odd thing to mention, he had a 32-inch waist and he remained that way for quite a long time. He was the pre-eminent sportsman in his court. He was much taller than anyone else. His beautiful, pale complexion was often remarked upon by commentators. What we’re trying to concentrate on a little bit is just to give a more varied portrait of Henry, and that’s really how this is written.”

Yes, that’s really how this is written. Here’s a description of Henry practising in Hilary Mantel’s wonderful words: “At home or abroad, in wartime or peacetime, happy or aggrieved, the king likes to practise several times in the week, as an Englishman should; using his height, the beautiful trained muscles of his arms, shoulders and chest, he sends his arrows snapping straight to the eye of the target.”


I have found from my own research that there was an exhibition “Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill” on this VERY topic at the Tower of London in 2009. Guardian’s art correspondent Mark Brown comments: “Now modern audiences can see for themselves how Henry developed from a strapping and strong young athlete to an obese and flabby monster by looking at his combat dress.”

And, here’s a FUN changing shape of Henry from the same Guardian article 🙂 Note that the sizes refer to chest and waist of Henry’s armor, not to Henry himself. So, he was really skinny early on and got really huge towards the end.


We see Henry at his late thirties to early forties in Wolf Hall. And, Damian Lewis explains to Gaby Wood from the Telegraph, on the day they filmed Anne Boleyn’s coronation scene, that he also changed some shape during filming: “This younger Henry doesn’t have the girth of his later self. ‘The last 10 years of his life he just ballooned,’ Lewis says. ‘He was like Elvis – if he’d died on the loo it would have been perfect.’ Still, Lewis does change shape over the course of the series. ‘Today I’m a svelte 32in,’ he says with a smile. ‘But because my face shape is entirely wrong, we weren’t able to go incredibly fat, so we’ve done it by degrees. We’ve pushed him out to about 40, 42in.’

Now that we have collected all the evidence for younger Henry, let’s analyze it.

6 ft 1 in tall. Check.

32-inch waist. Check.

Athletic. Check.

Beautiful, pale complexion. Check.

GREAT actor that gives a compelling human touch to any character he plays. Check. Check. Check.

Long live the King 🙂


Author: Damianista

Academic, Traveler, Blogger, Runner, Theatre Lover, Wine Snob, Part-time New Yorker, and Walking Damian Lewis Encyclopedia :D Procrastinated about a fan's diary on Damian Lewis for a while and the rest is history!

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