on 14 January 2002
Unless you know the background to the events taking place at the court of Henry VIII at this time, there's not much point in picking this one up until you've done your homework! It's a thorough study of what influenced and motivated the 6 prominent Thomases at the court of the 'Lion', and as such is a detailed masterpiece, but Wilson assumes his readers know already the historical background to Henry's turbulent love-life and what prompted the initial break with the Pope, and subsequently the Catholic Church as a whole. The most interesting character-analysis was for me that of the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, of whom I knew virtually nothing apart from the famous Holbein portrait. For those with a lively interest in the political intrigues of the time, this is a great read, but it's not the one for you if this is your first look at the early Tudor period. I would go first for Alison Weir or David Starkey first, for a chronology of the reign, and then perhaps move onto Wilson for an in-depth study.
on 16 November 2001
I recently read Alison Weir's, "Henry VIII: The King And His Court" and it was interesting to read Derek Wilson's book covering Henry's reign, but looked at from a different perspective. Ms. Weir concentrated more on people and personalities, especially Henry's wives. Mr. Wilson chose to concentrate more on politics and religion. Both books are rewarding and since the approaches taken by each author are different you get a fuller picture of the times by reading both.
I suppose the main thought you are left with after reading Mr. Wilson's book is what a precarious existence anyone connected with Henry's court led! We are not just talking about his wives but anyone involved in the political or religious life of the court. As Henry got older and his once robust health began to deteriorate he became very moody and unpredictable. Both Wilson and Weir make the point that Henry was very athletic up until he was about 40 years old or so. He was a very vain man and could not accept his physical decline. He was also used to getting his way and couldn't tolerate it when his desires and wishes were thwarted. He could be genial one moment and lash out verbally or physically the next. He could be ruthless if he felt that you couldn't give him what he wanted. In that case you were disposable- as several wives found out, as well as people such as Thomas Wolsey and Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell. You come away wondering why anyone would marry this man or choose to work for him. It was like being next to a ticking timebomb.........
One example will suffice to show that there were seemingly no limits to Henry's ruthlessness. When he was intent on having his son as his heir he wanted his daughter Mary (by Catherine of Aragon) to assure him that she would not "give any trouble" about the succession. He sent over Thomas Cromwell and the Duke of Norfolk to play "good cop, bad cop". Cromwell was the "good cop" and when it became clear that his approach wasn't doing the trick, Norfolk screamed violently at her and told her that if "she were his daughter he would smash her head against the wall until it was as soft as a boiled apple."
Violent times they were, and filled with violent people. Henry, without flinching, would allow the burning of "heretics", including digging up someone found after death to have been a "heretic" and having the corpse burned. You could be sent to the Tower of London at the drop of a hat, and be in constant fear that it was not only your hat that might drop off....
Try both of these books, as they complement each other nicely and are in no way redundant. I don't think you will be disappointed!
on 3 January 2007
I've recently been doing A level coursework on the character of Sir Thomas More, so I picked up this book. Unlike some other history books, this one was really easy to get into and the way Wilson writes makes the subject so much more interesting and has been a major help to my coursework. If you're interested in this period of history, I would definitely recommend you read this book to get a more in-depth look at the 6 thomas': More, Wolsey, Cromwell, Cranmer, Howard and Wriothesley.
on 14 November 2001
I would not usually direct myself to this type of read. However, I am willing to divert my attention to other subjects from time to time and can say that on this ocassion I was correct to do so.
Derek Wilson describes the mechanisms by which the court of Henry VIII operated in such an illustrative way that you can almost touch the characters in his pages.
This book is a beautifully woven tapestry of political intrigue and posturing, murder, marriage, death and wickedness.
Wilson describes the workings of the court through the lives of the six Thomas's. All of whom attended Henry's Court and all prominent players.
If you want to develop your knowledge on the reign of Henry VIII, the working of his court and the inter-play between holders of high office and their King you could do worse than read this book.
You do not need to be a student of Tudor history to enjoy this volume. If this is not your normal type of read I would say give it go. Try it and you will find yourself immersed in a superb story, unable to put it down.
As a factual historical account of Henry's Court, this book will grip you. Do not be fooled into believing that this is just another boring book on a former King of England. The truth can sometimes be as exciting as any work of dramatic fiction and no English King more exciting than the 'Lion King' Henry. Read it and you will see.
on 5 June 2012
Not only a brilliant historical account and analysis, the style is also elegant and enjoyable. A must for those interested in this period. It has the advantage of presenting a group and their interaction, not just focusing on one figure.
The story of Henry VIII's reign is most often told through his wives and that most famous of rhymes - 'Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived' - but Derek Wilson takes a different approach in this scholarly and enlightening book. He hangs his tale on a different sextet - his Six Thomases: Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas More, Thomas Howard, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Wriothesley. All of them attained the very heights of power and ambition under Henry VIII; all ran afoul of him in some way; and some, like his wives, ended up on the block.
Looking at Henry VIII through his Thomases rather than his wives gives a far different aspect to his reign - the traditional personality-driven history gives way to a truly fascinating look at the tangle of politics, religious reform, ambition, intrigue, faction and betrayal that so characterised the Tudor period. One could argue after reading this book that many of the Thomases were undone not so much by Henry VIII but by those jostling for the position as his right-hand man and second power in the realm. Whether Henry would have despatched them anyway, without others succinctly reading his mood and manufacturing or uncovering proof of treachery and incompetence, is a question history will never be able to answer.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - Derek Wilson has a real knack for narrative that manages to clarify and simplify a truly complicated era in English history. He is a little overly fond of colourful metaphors - "as soon as the downpour of cold realism began the colours soon streamed from the sagging bunting of Christian fraternity" was a particular favourite! But that's a small quibble that only occasionally dislodged me from an otherwise firm enjoyment of this book.
This isn't really a book for the Tudor novice as it does assume at least some background knowledge of the period, but if you're searching for a view of Henry VIII's reign from a slightly different angle then this might suit very well. Wilson organises the book around six Thomases (Wolsey, More, Cromwell, Cranmer, Howard and Wriothesley) and divides the story into ten year intervals from 1499 (when Henry was eight) to 1549 (two years after Henry's death).
The allocation of space to the six Thomases is uneven: Wriothesley, for example, is given far less time than Wolsey or More, and I did wonder why Wilson bothered including him as one of the main characters. I also found Wilson's depiction of Thomas Howard as unintelligent and inefficient slightly strange.
The most irritating thing for me is Wilson's style: he's uncomfortably jaunty and uses a lot of modern concepts and language to interpret sixteenth century events - so things are described as a 'PR disaster', for example, at one point in the narrative.
Despite some niggles this is a dense and well-researched book, though not a scholarly one, good for anyone interested in popular history that is weightier than Weir or Fraser.
England's King Henry VIII has already been extensively discussed in various books as well as portrayed in a number of plays and films. Why another book? In his Introduction, Derek Wilson acknowledges that much attention has been devoted to Henry's six wives (Three Catherines, two Annes, and a Jane) and shares this mnemonic:
"Divorced, beheaded, died,
Divorced, beheaded, survived."
and then observes: "I propose a different set of relationships which I believe offers a more illuminating approach to the court and government of Henry VIII." Specifically, Wilson focuses his primary attention on six Thomases: Wolsey, More, Cromwell, Howard, Wriothesley, and Cramner. "I can even suggest an alternative mortuary mnemonic, although one admittedly not so trippingly off the tongue.
Died, beheaded, beheaded,
Self-slaughtered, burned, survived."
Henry's VIII's relationships with all six serve as the basis of Wilson's narrative. There were lions in London at that time ("the King's Beasts") housed in the Tower menagerie and a major tourist attraction. More once compared the king's court to a lion pit "in which the magnificent and deadly king of beasts held sway."
Of the six, More interests me the most. One of my favorite plays and films is A Man for All Seasons. (In the film, More is brilliantly portrayed by Paul Scofield.) In both, Robert Bolt focuses on More's rectitude which threatens and infuriates Henry and eventually results in More's execution. Thus presented, More is a tragic but noble political victim and religious martyr, later canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. He is no less admirable as portrayed by Wilson but, in my opinion, is much more complicated than Bolt and others suggest. For years, More skillfully navigated his way through a court ("a lion pit") characterized by what Wilson refers to as its "seamy realities": "The royal entourage was a vicious, squirming world of competing ambitions and petty feuds, guilty secrets and salacious prudery. Courtiers, vulnerable to threats and bribes, could be induced to perjure themselves, to exaggerate amorous incidents which were innocent in the context of stylised chivalric convention, to indulge personal vendettas....Over all these momentous happenings looms the larger-than-life figure of Henry VIII, powerful and capricious yet always an enigma."
In certain respects, this book reads as if it were a novel. It has a compelling narrative, dozens of unique characters, all manner of conflicts and intrigues which create great tension throughout, and a number of themes such as power, ambition, loyalty, betrayal, piety, terror, and (for most of the main characters) ignominious death. Wilson draws upon a wealth of primary sources to ensure the validity of his historical facts. However, some readers may question his interpretation of those facts. (A non-historian, I consider myself unqualified to do so.) Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Alison Weir's Henry VIII as well as The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Karen Lindsey's Divorced, Beheaded, Survived, and David M. Loades's Henry VIII and His Queens.
on 8 May 2014
Absolutely delighted......Book was in excellent condition, and service was first class..... My paperback version had disintegrated, so I was looking for an affordable hardback..... Thank you.
on 9 February 2014
Didn't think there was anything else to learn about this era but this book was very illuminating especially about the relationship of these men to each other. Excellent.