A detailed journey through the court and life of Henry VIII.
Popular historians have generally portrayed Henry VIII rather more two-dimensionally than did Holbein, viewing him (by and large) as a decadent libertine who killed his wives when he tired of them. Weir (Eleanor of Aquitaine, 2000, etc.), however, is out to change our perspective. She draws upon many years of research and her own very wide reading of English history in offering a rather different take on this highly disreputable man. The first third of her study concentrates on court life in the Tudor era, in which the author is able to point to many aspects of Henry’s personality (especially his rampant womanizing) as behavior typical of the English nobility of the period. In other regards, though, Henry was an anomaly: Originally destined for the Church (his elder brother Arthur, who died young, was expected to inherit the crown), he was well-educated at a time when many European monarchs were illiterate, and he became a great patron of the arts. Many of the more brilliant figures in his Court (such as Thomas More and Erasmus) helped to establish England as a center of learning for the first time in its history. Yet for all of Henry’s very real accomplishments as a statesman, there was a cold and calculating side to him that eventually transformed this striking and (in many ways) brilliant man into one of the most self-indulgent tyrants England has ever seen. In the end, although he may not have been the notorious villain of legend, Henry VIII was a pathetic figure.
Thoroughly researched and entertaining, filled with delicious details for general readers and provocative argument for students of the period.