Top positive review
A refreshing take on Henry VIII
on 31 December 2011
Having not viewed the television series which more or less accompanied this book, my first impressions of this book was that it was a refreshing take on Henry VIII. Starkey rightly perceives that public imagination on the subject of Henry VIII associate him as the obese, tyrannical wife-killing monarch. The book ends before reaching Henry's middle age such as his troubles with the divorce of his first marriage and subsequent re-marriages but that is the whole point of this book.
As I understand it, this is not a complete biography of Henry's life but a biography of his early years which preceeded the strifes of his later years, and the contrast between Henry as a young man and the more conventional image of him could not be greater.
The book focuses on the precursors to the circumstances of Henry VIII's early life such as the War of the Roses, the Battle of Bosworth and the understandable insecurity and vulnerability which Henry VII felt as a ruler, his attachment to his mother and residual family, the advent of Perkin Warbeck and the death of his brother which would place him firmly within the grasp of power.
Starkey explores Henry's relationship with his family in fascinating depth and in a witty and humorous manner. For instance, his relationship with his father following the death of Arthur is particularly interesting, with Henry VII keeping a very closeted and close eye on him - literally, much in the same vein as a highly overprotective mother and it is little wonder therefore that Henry celebrated his new found freedom with such enthusiasm, finding expression most commonly, at the jousts.
All in all, a very interesting and illuminating portrayal of a young and idealistic Henry who would in the fullness of time prove to be a near contradiction to his later years. The depiction is both witty and humorous at times and gives us some insight as to how the events and precursors of his younger years shaped his ideas in later life regarding the succession and the supremacy of the monarch. There is no hint as to how or why Henry would become the tyrannical monster of later years however, the only possible explanations in having been a spoilt young man and having taken after an indulgent Grandfather, but even Edward IV stopped short of executing wives and showed some remorse and reluctance at having to execute members of his own family whereas Henry would go on to do so with characteristic impunity!
One can only imagine how events would have transpired had Arthur have lived and whether Henry would have presented himself as a challenging rival or whether he had lived out his life as an eminent cleric, a life which Henry VII proffered for him, lest he turn out to challenge Arthur. It is regrettable that there is no record (indeed if there ever was any) of Henry's reactions to having been bestowed the succession or as to how he might have felt about an alternative career in the clergy had Arthur prospered.
Whilst admittedly not as scholarly as his previous works, such as the magnificent Queens of Henry VIII, this work nevertheless portrays a refreshing image of a youthful Henry VIII and explores his relationships with his family and his council.