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Henry VII - A better biography is yet to come.
on 27 April 2012
First the positives. The book does give a reasonable picture of the personality of Henry VII - suspicious, greedy, wily and increasingly paranoid; the book explains the reasons for this in his disfunctional upbringing amid the chaos and slaughter of the Wars of the Roses. The clear inference is that Henry VII's personality was close to and heavily influenced that of his more famous son. The dynastic instabilty caused by the death of Henry's first son, and shortly after that of his wife in child birth, is well-laid out.
However the book is a bit of a mish-mash. It is in places quite tricky to follow - it has a large cast of supporting actors, and the accounts of the various plots are quite detailed - sometimes in fact the detail gets in the way of the pace of the story. At other times there are various quite tedious and pointless digressions - ten pages on the marriage ceremony between the Prince of Wales and Catherine of Aragon, or descriptions of the scholars orbiting the court.
At the end I felt I never really got to know Henry. The characteristics outlined at the start of the review emerge very early, and the portrait doesn't seem to change. I thought that Henry would be a more interesting character, often forgotten sandwiched as he is between two of the most famous occupants of the English throne. I still feel that there is a fascinating character there, but if there is Thomas Penn doesn't manage to uncover it. On the other hand if this is as good as it gets, perhaps it is now easier to understand why Henry VII has been neglected; such was his success in staying in the shadows, that it is now impossible for the historian to dig out the real man.
At any rate the book is a partial success, but does not deserve the fulsome hype it has received in some quarters.