Rounding (Alix and Nicky: The Passion of the Last Tsar and Tsarina, 2012, etc.) explores the depth of the differences and the dangers of life under Henry VIII and his daughter, Queen Mary.
Henry did not jump wildly into the Protestant camp; he fought to protect traditional beliefs and Catholic doctrine, particularly transubstantiation. His greatest fear was usurpation of his authority, which he felt to be fairly total. The pope, obviously, had to go, and, as head of the church, that left Henry to divorce his wife. Next was the submission of the clergy, the cause of Sir Thomas More’s resignation as Lord Chancellor. As More left power, he was replaced by Thomas Cromwell’s man Sir Thomas Audley. Audley’s closest aide, Richard Rich, was at first chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, dealing with the revenues of dissolved monasteries (certainly, a few properties slipped into his pocket). Rounding does a service by bringing Rich back into the spotlight, since he continued into Mary’s reign and was integral in steering many to the stake. Confusion among Henry’s subjects was rampant, as Edward VI turned toward Protestantism and Mary doubled back to Catholicism. One of the main difficulties was the availability of the Bible in the vernacular, which would allow everyone to direct their own faith. After many hours attempting to return a martyr to the flock, death was assured. Negotiation was impossible, even if the inquisitor was proven to have once believed the same as the condemned. Throughout the book, the author examines the mindsets of the martyrs and the strength of their consciences, which kept them from deserting their belief. The suppression of religious beliefs and executions proved to be failures of leadership, but Mary’s convictions were stronger than her reason.
An intriguing, astute look at this volatile period, though the author includes too many victim biographies, occasionally slowing the pace.