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by John Guy

Pub Date: July 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-19-284090-5
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Guy (Thomas Becket, 2012, etc.) exhibits his flair for narrative and historian’s credentials in this detailed account of Henry VIII’s four children.

The lesser-known fourth child was his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, whom he loved “like his own soul.” It is surprising there weren’t any more, as any courtier would “lay down his wife for the king.” The problem of succession was foremost throughout Henry’s reign, and he refused to designate either young Henry or his daughter Mary in the hope that he would one day have a legitimate son. After his break with the church and the birth of Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth, Mary lost her household, her royal titles and her status in the succession. Henry made no move to educate his daughters, feeling that women shouldn’t rule and needed no training. Luckily, Mary’s mother and Elizabeth’s governess were able to secure teachers to fill this gap. After Edward was born to Jane Seymour, Henry relented and reinstated his daughters but did not re-legitimize them. Prince Edward and Henry Fitzroy both died as teenagers, curiously enough of the same bronchial pneumonia. The author doesn’t dwell on these men, likely due to the fact that there is little correspondence about them. Mary’s reign was mercifully short, marked by plots on Elizabeth’s behalf. Only the intercession of Mary’s husband, Philip of Spain, saved Elizabeth from the axe. Guy ably illustrates how difficult the constant changes were to Elizabeth and how her cleverness enabled her to withstand and absorb the lessons of adversity.

Great for fans of Henry and especially Elizabeth.