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This fascinating tale of murder, jealousy, religious fanaticism, and political scandal among 16th-century British royals makes the modern dysfunctional royal family appear quaint by comparison. Whereas the history of Henry VIII and his six wives is at least vaguely familiar to most, the fate of some of their offspring is less well known, though hardly less riveting. Weir (The Wars of the Roses, 1995, etc.), who has established herself as a skillful guide to English royal history, now examines the lives of the four heirs to Henry VIII's throne: Edward, Elizabeth, and Mary, all children of different wives, as well as the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey, Henry VIII's great-niece, who was executed by Mary. Weir's narrative brings to life both the tangled relationships of these figures and the violent religious tensions that dominated England during the 16th century. The contest between papists and reformists was directly played out by Henry VIII's heirs: Edward was a fanatical Protestant; Mary, a Roman Catholic, considered her life's work to be a reconciliation with Rome. Mary's religious beliefs dictated her every action, from her marriage (to Philip II, king of Spain) to domestic politics (the burning of reformist heretics), and earned her the epithet ""Bloody Mary."" Religious loyalties also galvanized the divided royal subjects, who staged rebellions with regularity during these turbulent years. Thus, even for the more moderate Elizabeth, who survived a variety of conspiracies to become queen, religious issues were always a significant factor. Weir is a practiced and polished writer whose prose moves at a brisk pace. Occasionally, though, her narrative gets bogged down with details about wardrobes and residences and other not entirely relevant matters. Nevertheless, Weir succeeds not only in bringing to life Henry VIII's heirs but also in illuminating the background to the aftermath of their turbulent years--the Elizabethan era.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0345407865
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Ballantine