The past few years, the narrative of the late summer Renaissance Faire at the Mount Hope Estate & Winery followed the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
It was a fine time for the empire. Under Elizabeth, Britain underwent a cultural revolution. Theater and music flourished. Shakespeare was big. Elizabeth governed as a moderate, except for that nastiness involving Mary, Queen of Scots, that ended in execution. But she tread lightly and tried to get along with France and Spain.
And her personal life, well, they called her the "Virgin Queen." She was fairly staid.
So this year, for the 34 Renaissance Faire, the organizers looked for a narrative that would add some intrigue and fun.
They settled on Henry VIII.
Yes, that Henry VIII, the one who had his exes beheaded.
"Everybody has a stereotypical idea of Henry VIII," said Candace Smith, communications director for the estate and faire. "We're going back to the Henry when he was young and still married to Catherine of Aragon and was still very much in love with his wife and was quite a dashing figure."
Before the beheadings, Henry was more of an Errol Flynn kind of character, a swashbuckler, a sword fighter, a charmer. Of course, later, he got, to quote "Dr. Strangelove," "a little funny in the head," executing wives and advisors he believed to have betrayed him. What happened is he suffered a leg wound in a fight. It never healed and his physical and mental conditions declined.
That Henry wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs.
The early Henry was, Smith said. The faire is set in 1525, after Henry signs the Treaty of More with France, ensuring peace and prosperity, at least for the time being.
During the course of the faire, in addition to performances by minstrels and theater troupes, the narrative will follow the story of Henry's early reign. There will be intrigue with the French and Spanish — there was always intrigue with the French and Spanish, especially the Spanish — and Henry will preside over feasts and fests honoring visiting dignitaries, punctuated with the kind of political back-stabbing that sometimes resulted in actual back-stabbing.
"No one could really get along in those days," Smith said.
The story, though, is expected to be more upbeat, Smith said. Henry always knew how to throw a party, she said.
"Henry's time was always a good place to visit," she said, "so we're going to visit it."
As always, the faire will feature the kind of entertainment its been known for — upwards of 90 shows a days spread over the 35-acre site's 13 stages and grounds. Each day's faire will culminate with the jousting tournament and the ultimate joust.
And the fair, which opens this weekend, will have different themes every week. Among those is the popular Time Travelers weekend, Aug. 9 and 10, during which characters from Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who and other cult classics travel back to the Renaissance.
"That's always a lot of fun," Smith said, "watching the different characters interact."