on 2 October 2008
Prof Elton's book spans the entire Tudor period from the Battle of Bosworth to the death of Elizabeth I. The book's triumphant central theme is summed up in the last sentences: "The state was built anew, government restored and reformed, enterprise encouraged, faith rekindled. The good part survived, the bad past died...a new and greater England emerged from the day-to-day turmoil of life." In exploring this subject, Prof Elton devotes entire chapters to e.g. Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell and Elizabethan seapower. In contrast, the reigns of Edward VI and Mary are summed up, and dismissed, in 20 pages.
However, this book is a must read for anyone interested in, or studying the Tudors. Prof Elton's writing style is both readable and witty. He demonstrates a clear mastery and enthusiasm for his subject matter.
on 10 February 2001
G.R Elton's overview of Tudor England has formed the basis of historical interpretation of the Tudor period for the last 30 years or so, and was generally accepted by all. However, his work has been picked apart and criticised recently by other historians such as John Guy and Peter Gwynn, who are attempting to "update" Elton's work. Yet a reading of this book will equip the reader with a thorough knowledge of the key events and figures of the Tudor period, and omits pointless and methodical source evaluation found in books by the likes of Guy. The book is interesting, involving and above all accurate in interpretation, and despite recent criticism has stood the test of time and is still as applicable and reliable as it ever was - in many places Elton's use of facts and rhetoric defy objection. Elton's vilification of Thomas Wolsey, and near canonization of Thomas More have been particular subjects of objection, yet make for educated and stimulating reading at least - the definitive (if only because the original) summary and portrayal of both characters, at most. The style is fluent and eloquent, and scholarly in approach, feeling more like a history lesson than interpretation or suggestion. Yet Elton's magisterial style, involving stories and structured argument makes for entertaining reading - this being the essential work of the Tudor period, even if the reader is "revisionist" in their leaning.
This book was on my reading list for History A level 45 years ago but I'm not sure that I ever read it. Reading it now, however, I can see that Elton's views, which may have been controversial at the time, crucially informed my history teachers!
It is a very upbeat history, particularly interesting in its judgment of Henry VIII.
The story of Henry VII is well told, the careful statemaker who established firm, even ruthless governance, succeeded by the 'Renaissance Prince' who wasted no time in overthrowing some of his father's carefully constructed policies.
Nevertheless, while revealing Henry's cruelties and his determination to sacrifice anyone and everyone in order to safeguard the realm and succession, remeniscent to me on a smaller scale of the attitudes of Mao and Stalin, it was under Henry that the future of British greatness was made possible.
He was not afraid to sever the connection with Rome, and to sacrifice his two great servants, Wolsey and Cromwell, when they became past their sell-by date.
He left England in chaos as although he knew his route he could not manage men like his servants, and the last years of his reign suffered in every respect except general direction. Crucially, Henry refused, a bit like Queen Anne 150 years later to come down on one or the other side of the great debate, which was at that time religion.
After his death Edward went one way and Mary the other, but Elizabeth picked up the reins just where Henry left them and consolidated all his achievements.
The account of Elizabeth's reign focuses on her maintainence of a steady path. Elton appears to criticise her vacillation and romantic swings of mood, whereas Alison Weir in her biography tends to see these as feminine wiles which enabled her to twist the courts of Europe round her ringless wedding finger.
There is a great chapter on Hawkins and Drake, and a moving one on the arts.
This book doesn't explain everything but it is very positive about the achievements of the Tudors, in a way that I feel would be quite unfashionable were it to be written now.