King Henry VIII is not exactly the Holbein portrait yet. A young man still growing into his rule, he relies much too much on the advice of Cardinal Wolsey, but grows to be a worthy king over the course of the play.
Not paying enough attention to the business of the state, he allows Wolsey to enact a number of measures that harm the people, something he himself wishes to avoid. He spends his time impressing the King of France or playing in masques rather than in governing. He can be short and irritable with people, especially though who disturb him, and is at times too brusque for his own good. His temper is feared by his courtiers. Though he loves and admires his wife Katherine, his conscience begins to bother him when the question of the legitimacy of his marriage comes up; and the more he is convinced that he must divorce her, the worse he treats her. However, he both meets and begins showing favor to Anne Bullen well before the failed attempt to try the Queen. He comes to dislike the officials of Rome, and realizes that their interests are not necessarily his; when Wolsey’s corruption is laid bare to him, he places his trust instead in Protestants, and tests them before trusting them. He has the common touch, managing to relate to people on a personal level despite their difference in status. By the end of the play he prefers to expose his enemies by placing them in a position where they must make their genuine thoughts clear, thereby gaining undeniable evidence, rather than trusting the word of unreliable witnesses as he does in Buckingham’s trial. He also learns to identify and discount mere flattery. The lessons he learns from having had too much confidence in Wolsey allow him to mature into a wise King.