Books: Heroics Without a Hero

HENRY VIII by J. J. Scarisbrick. 561 pages. University of California Press. $10.95.

Martin Luther accused him of playing God. An English observer saw him as an idler who wanted "only an apple and a fair wench to dally with." To one subject he was "a tyrant more cruel than Nero." When his wife Anne Boleyn was about to be beheaded by his executioner, she maintained: "A gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never." Even as they felt the impact of his boisterous personality, the sting of his vindictiveness, or the thrust...