The most dysfunctional family in English history gets its due.
After two books focusing on major chapters from the history of the Tudors (The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: Mary, Katherine, and Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Tragedy, 2009, etc.), de Lisle aims to tell the story from the beginning in this comprehensive but often complicated volume. Beginning with the 1437 marriage of Henry V’s widow, Catherine, to a lowly chamber servant named Owen Tudor, it becomes the story of a family dominated by both the lust for power and a battle for the soul of England. The players range from the manipulative Margaret Beaufort to her cruel (and guilt-wracked) son Henry VII to his ruthless (and guilt-free) son Henry VIII, whose yearning for a male successor involved six wives and sparked an endless rift between Catholics and Protestants. It’s a fascinating, violent, morally complex story not only about the way power corrupts, but how it makes rulers both vulnerable and paranoid. It’s also an extremely eventful slice of history, and de Lisle occasionally gets winded trying to wrestle the narrative, and its ever-expanding cast of characters, into a manageable shape. Major characters arrive and suddenly die with barely a send-off as we rush to the next battle or coronation; facts pile up without always getting properly processed. De Lisle doesn’t stint on the drama, however, whether it’s Mary, Queen of Scots getting hacked to pieces or Elizabeth I eloquently bracing her troops for war with Spain. She also capably separates fact from myth, pursues still-unsolved royal mysteries, and provides perspective about the kind of pre-Enlightenment mindset in which you could be boiled, burned, beheaded or hanged for believing in transubstantiation.
Hard to follow at times but also a reliable and amply researched guide for Tudor enthusiasts.