When people think of the Tudor king, Henry VIII, they tend to think of his six very famous wives, but what can we learn about the most controversial British king in history by looking at hundreds of men he surrounded himself with?

Speaking about her most recent biography, Henry VIII and the Men who Made Him: The Secret History Behind the Tudor Throne at the Queen’s Hall, author and historian Tracy Bormon said she came away from her research with a new outlook on tyrannical Henry, a surprisingly sympathetic one.

“He was a intimidating subject,” Tracy said. “Both 400 years ago and today. I was first inspired to write about Henry because I believed there must be another side to his story, and I can honestly say I now think of him as something different to the entirely unfeeling monster which he’s portrayed as today.”

Born and raised as simply “the spare heir”, Henry had a strained and distant relationship with the most important male figure of his life at the time, his father Henry VII, which persisted even after his elder brother, and the original heir, Arthur died, making Henry the next successor.

Furious rows between father and son in Tudor court; frequent womanising, drunken rampages to France with his male cohorts, including Francis Byron (also known as “The Vicar From Hell”), were just a few snippets from Henry’s wild teenage days which Tracy recalled to the audience, although promising plenty more “hell-raising antics” feature in the book.

Guilt and vulnerability are not feelings which most would associate with the man famous for murdering his wives, but after hearing from Tracy how the king was found “deeply sobbing” after the death of his “dear cardinal” and trusted advisor Thomas Wolsey by an eyewitness, a surprisingly tender, more human, side comes to light.

It was Henry’s paranoia and gullibility which made him vulnerable to his manipulative advisors around him, Tracy said, many of whom were only concerned for their own gain and social climbing, rather than the king’s or the country’s best interests.

In a huge power game, one man’s downfall became another’s uprising in Tudor court, and no one learnt this more than Royal favourite, chief minister Thomas Cromwell, after he was accused of treason by the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, who aspired for Cromwell’s job, and was therefore instrumental in pitting him against the king.

“Henry’s paranoia caused him to make rash and ruthless decisions – actions which he now is most famous for – but he didn’t make them alone, he was often influenced by those around him,” Tracy said. “I like Cromwell, and I feel deeply sorry for him. I think he was Henry’s most loyal servant.

“What I loved about writing the book was not only examining how these men helped to shape Henry, but how they were all fascinating characters in their own right.”