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4.1 out of 5 stars
Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2012
This is indeed a good book. The achievement is more significant when one realizes that it started as a specialist dissertation on Henry VII's extractive financing and ended up well-written general history for a broader audience.
A few limitations that would have passed by unnoticed in a less good book were annoying because the overall quality was so high.
The review in THE ECONOMIST was over-hyped and raised expectations. However good this book is, judged against what it was alleged to be, it falls short.
The author needed to make one last high-speed pass with a red pen. One thing he did not do was to hunt down and eliminate all clichés. I counted at least three "killing two birds with one stone". Because one of them appears soon after Henry, his eyesight failing, shoots a farmer's cockerel with his crossbow, it actually sounds funny. Similarly, the author's use of modern idiom is jarring rather than illuminating. Several times clients "parachute" into high positions. Henry's daughter Mary is described as a Lolita-like figure (which had me imagining heart-shaped sunglasses in the palace). Yet, faced with chapters describing the workings of a system that could perhaps best be described as Kafkaesque, that word appears only once.
Yet the narrative of how Henry extracted revenue to his own enrichment and in violation of legal structures remains a chilling example, even if his reign lacked the drama of Henry VIII or subsequent monarchs. I suspect the reason Shakespeare gave Henry VII a miss as a subject for a play would be, if he told the truth, the groundlings would have been hissing him like anything.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 July 2012
This is a truly excellent book on Henry V11, written with verve and (as expected from a debutante writer working in publishing) some emphasis on the telling phrase and racy narrative drive. Penn writes brilliantly not just about Henry Tudor but about the regime he created. As a "usurper" with a less than strong claim to the throne its perhaps no surprise that Henry went to any lengths to maintain his dynasty and anchor the Tudor regime. The last decade of his reign saw something approaching the outlines of an absolute monarchy according to Penn. The level of detail is excellent with the tortuous networks of spies, double agents, double dealing and rampant bribery outlined to the full. Indeed scholarship that sought to emphasize Henrys miserly character is undermined by this account which shows his constantly used option of bribing foreign states to achieve his aims, whether it be to isolate a Yorkist threat such as the Earl of Suffolk (hiding abroad) or ignore papal edicts about the sale and trade of alum which henry gleefully continued, despite its supposed monopoly status under the pope. Vast amounts of money was not only accrued but spent on bribery and gifts despite the fact that on many occasions money was taken and then Henry was double crossed or ignored. Penn writes with verve and has a slightly Starkeyesque way of using phrasing that chimes with modern times. The Wars of the Roses are Turf wars and Jousting is the Tudor equivalent of 'extreme sports'. If the book itself wasn't so scholarly this would come across as an irritating affectation. As it is, Penn has managed to write a book so full of spies it could be compared to The Reckoning (Charles Nicolls account of the death of Christopher Marlowe) or a Le carre Novel. He is also particuarly good on the 'new men' who would try to build their careers under HenryV11 and his son and the rough trade of men such as Empson and Dudley who ended up being hoisted by there ever so rich and corrupt petards when Henry V111 had to put clear blue water between his regime and that of his dad. So a great read which manages to be scholarly and racy at the same time. Its managed to change my view of HenryV11 as not so much the dull interlude between hunchback Richard 111 and gloryboy Henry V111 but a master of his own kingdom in its own right but also a man who went to almost stalinesque lengths to get his own way and raise the funds to secure the Tudor Regime. Impressive work. A great read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 June 2012
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After reading this book, it seems no wonder that Shakespeare chose to leave blank the gap between his vitriolic portrayal of Richard III and his hagiographic Henry VIII. It's perhaps no wonder that history itself dwells so little on Henry VII because he was (or became) such an ugly character. "Mafia boss", "godfather", "extortionist" are words that would describe such a man in the modern world, and serve to explain why so few people dared criticize him in his lifetime or that of his son.

Given such a distasteful subject, Thomas Penn has written a compelling story that describes Henry's difficult childhood in an obscure branch of the defeated Lancastrian dynasty and his early evacuation to courts of Brittany and then France where he became a pawn in a dangerous game of international politics. It was this upbringing that taught Henry to be distrustful of people around him, and to develop a power base supported only on money and material wealth.

Penn's story fills in many blanks in the more popular histories of the later Tudors, not least the story of Catherine of Aragon's first marriage to Prince Arthur and the insubstantial evidence regarding its consummation that later convinced Henry VIII that his marriage to Catherine was contrary to God's laws. Indeed, the entire saga of Catherine's years of widowhood during which she became a pathetic and helpless pawn in her father's and father-in-law's games of diplomacy, paints an entirely new dimension onto the life and character of this otherwise rather two-dimensional historical figure. It was surprising (in the light of later events) to discover that one of Henry VIII's first acts following the death of his father - and entirely of his own volition - was to marry Catherine, thereby lifting her out of a life of impecuniousness and misery.

The book is full of surprises and never flags in keeping the reader's interest. It's only downside is its subject whose distastefulness is offset only by Penn's masterful writing style and a few of the less distasteful characters who drop into (and out of) the story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Henry VIII and Elizabeth I have both left long and lasting impressions on the consciousness of the nation, largely due to the cult of personality they surrounded themselves with, and in Henry VIII's case the seismic changes he effected in the life of the nation during his rule. But Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor dynasty and shaper of a lot of modern England remains a shadowy figure to us.

Most people only know two things about Henry VII, firstly that he became King after defeating Richard III at the battle of Bosworth, and that he then combined the red and white roses of York and Lancaster by marrying Richard's niece and thus ending the wars of the roses. There is then a quarter of a century gap before HenryVIII comes to the throne with a desperate desire to father a son. What was the story of Henry VII in those years, how did his hopes and fears imprint themselves on his progeny and effectively set the wheels in motion for the secession from Rome and the founding of the modern state as we know it today?

This book attempts to answer these questions. In a thoroughly researched piece Thomas Penn relates the story of Henry VII's reign. The political unrest as he sought to secure his shakey crown and the various plots dreamt up by Yorkists to overthrow him. It deals quite quickly with the first 15 years of his reign. It concentrates on the marriage and subsequent death of his eldest son (quickly followed by his wife) and the time that followed as he became ever more paranoid and suspicious of all around him, whilst at the same time shaping the young Henry VIII, marrying him off to his dead son's wife with what were to be cataclysmic consequences and impressing upon him the precariousness of the Tudor dynasty and the crown that would be on hid head, and the need for the young Henry to father sons in order to secure the line.

It's a fascinating story, and well told. Penn has done his research well, and it shows. His written style is reasonably easy to follow and clear, but lacks the polished and well turned phrasing of, say, Antonia Frasier. It also benefits from being one of the very few books to look at Henry VII as the main subject, and not just as a necessary adjunct in the story of Henry VIII. As such it has a lot to say that can't be found elsewhere. Of all the books of Tudor history I have read it is the only one to deal so exhaustively with this important, but as yet little known, figure. 4 stars. It would have been five, but while the book is readable I felt it lacked a certain grandeur and elegance in the language that would have lifted it to a 5.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I think we were very lucky Vine gave me the Winter King to read. Both of us have found it difficult to put down, despite this ostensibly being a dry, detailed history book, and, as a pre-publication proof copy, one with no pictures or maps!

If the reader is expecting a quick-fire thriller, they will find it hard going wading through all the historical minutiae of who did what to whom, and when, and most likely why. However, for someone interested in the finer and convoluted details of English and Tudor history it is excellent, and, judging by all the references and documents quoted, accurate. Underneath all the scholarly research and historic documentary evidence, it really is a thriller: revealed is the dealing and chicanery of a driven man desperate to justify his position on the throne; how he managed to accumulate vast wealth and power; and how it was all undone by his spendthrift second son, after the sudden death of the favourite.

Verbatim contemporary accounts in the book give an authentic feel: about how paranoid and suspicious he was, because of his previous history; how he dealt with usurpers to the crown in his early years; the story of Arthur's and Henry's upbringing; the relationships with the other European Princes; how he put in place stable administration - mainly to raise taxes, and re-structured the economy; how he showed commendable diplomacy when dealing with foreign powers; and of course how he accumulated and kept his wealth.

A good and consistent story line is maintained almost all the way though the book, although sometimes it jumps back in time mid-story, which can be confusing if you are beginning to read it more like a novel. Henry VII gained the throne by winning the Wars of the Roses at Bosworth where he defeated Richard III, and gave England and Wales a long period of stability, with strong administration and attention to the economy and foreign relationships. It was soured by his greed towards the end of his reign, and Arthur died before he could become King. Henry would have been more than disappointed, perhaps even murderously incandescent, if he had known what his second son would do with the wealth so assiduously gathered.

I'm hoping the Illustrations `to come' will help to leaven the work, and my Wish List would include the following:
Family Trees for both sides of the family - his wife's relations figure strongly in the story;
Maps of their London showing the City and all the Palaces along the river;
Pictures of Henry VII, Margaret Beaufort - his mother, Catherine of Valois - his grandmother, Elizabeth - his wife, Prince Arthur, Henry VIII as the handsome athletic young prince;
Views of their London, including the bridges and the palaces.

I might well be buying a copy when it is published.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This review is from: Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine(tm) Programme (What's this?)
Winter King really isn't my choice of book, but my wife avidly reads anything she can get on English history and our bookshelves are overflowing with this sort of thing. So it seemed sensible to pass it on to her, so this review was written by me on the basis of my wife Suzanne's thoughts on the book.

Thomas Penn's book is extremely well written for a debut and Suzanne thoroughly enjoyed it. It was not a difficult read at all, especially for a reader who may be used to this genre. She liked Penn's informal, easy-to-understand style and he doesn't speak down to the reader as some authors do. It's just about right in terms of detail.

The book covers the period of Henry VII's reign between his victory over the Yorkists at Bosworth Field in 1485 to his death in 1509 and deals not only with Henry himself but the intricacies and intrigues of domestic and international politics and courtly life as well as England's social scene. The book even throws interesting light on the teenage years of his son, the soon-to-be Henry VIII, and his intended wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Suzanne has read little about this period and had no inkling of the spying and extortion that Henry VII subjected his people to or that his reign over England was such an oppressive one, so the book was a very interesting one and she feels that she learnt a lot. Henry was certainly a nasty piece of work!

We would certainly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the period and hope that Penn has more to come.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There are an awful lot of books written about the Tudor era, both fiction and non-fiction, so you have to ask whether this book adds anything new. I am glad to say that I think it does, for it concentrates on the reign, and court, of Henry VII, giving a different slant to the well known story. Henry VII ruled from 1485-1509 and had a dubious claim on the throne, spending most of his time before the famous Battle of Bosworth Field in exile and gaining credibility from his marriage to Elizabeth of York. His early reign was plagued by pretenders to the throne, giving the new Tudor dynasty a rocky start and a fear of conspiracy which dogged Henry VII throughout his life.

Of course, we all know the history. Henry VII's eldest son Arthur, his beloved heir, dying only a short while after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Catherine's subsequent loss of status, the arguments with Ferdinand over her dowry, her uncertainty over her future and the papal dispensation over whether she remained a virgin and could marry Prince Henry (worded in a rather vague way to please both parties, a fact which would come back to haunt Catherine in later years). The emergence of Henry, no longer the second son (in terms of the 'heir and the spare', he was most certainly the 'spare') suddenly having to be given training in being a future king, when it was Arthur who had been initially given his own household while Henry had been brought up with his mother and siblings. However, despite there being such a wealth of knowledge about this period, the author does a great job of bringing the court of Henry VII back to life. He explains who had control of the finances and how their power was mis-used, the emergence of characters who assumed greater importance when Prince Henry became King and how the death of Henry VII and the transfer of power was managed.

Henry VII was a wily ruler, who often mis-used power but was determined to create a new dynasty. When his death was not announced at first, so his ministers could manage the transfer of power to his son, Henry VIII, you feel he would have approved. I really enjoyed this book, especially detail about lesser known members of the court. It was a very interesting read and I recommend it highly.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2012
As far as this reader is concerned: any work of history which connects the reader as closely as this book does, to original research documents and other sources, is a book worth reading.
This is not a chronologically-balanced account of the reign, in the sense that approximately two-thirds of the book concentrates on the second half of the period, with a virtual magnifying glass being applied to the end of the reign, from the death of the king's wife to the king's own demise (approximately ten years). It is interesting, because it portrays the administrative aspect of the first Tudor monarchy and gives an insight into how a ruler becomes an outright tyrant. It is interesting again, in that his son's reign followed a similar trajectory i.e. increasing paranoia, insecurity and obsessions with finance and the Tudor succession.
However, this biography does not provide answers to (what is for this writer) the most interesting question of the later 15th century: how did the English monarchy convert from being primarily a military institution, to primarily an administrative institution. Therefore: how was the English nobility disarmed and subdued? Why was there no significant aristocratic opposition to the Tudor monarchy within England? In other words: how and why did the Wars of the Roses end so decisively? This question is not addressed in this book.
Even though the last years are examined very, very closely, one is still struggling to form an idea of how a late-medieval monarchy transfers (peacefully) from father to son. Apart from any other consideration: how did the Tudor couret differ from a Plantagenet court?
So: a good and accurate history, but not one which will stand in terms of authority or revelation.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Tremendously well-written and intricately researched, this history/biography of Henry VII, first of the Tudor kings, mainly concerns itself with the twenty four years of his reign, from victory at Bosworth to his death in 1509, with plenty of background on Henry's birth and young life, his exile to France and the familial plotting and scheming that eventually brought him to challenge Richard Plantagenet's claim to the throne. There's a wealth of detail about court politics and life, as well as domestic life and the lives of his young sons, Arthur and Henry (the future kind Henry VIII) and their mutual wife, Catherine of Aragon.
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Placing the whole against a detailed background of European power play and English social life at this time, there's much about the severe oppression of Henry's reign, punitive taxation and judicial extortion, the English people were subjected to, and... This could all add up to a rather dry tome, but Thomas Penn has a light touch with detail and a knack for turning historical fact into readable narrative, so that you find you've taken in a great deal of fact and barely even noticed. The character of Henry Tudor himself comes across with terrific vivacity and colour - dour, severe, untrustworthy; a paranoid and mercenary plotter. A thoroughly hideous character and a far from model king, Henry was a true survivor, determined to hang on to his crown, legitimise his tenuous claims to the throne and found a dynasty.

In short, this is a very well written and highly readable book about a largely ignored king and an important period of English history; a prologue to the reigns of the better-known Tudors, a vital introduction to times that were to change English life and her place in the world forever.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
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.
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