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"A dark prince . . . infinitely suspicious" -- Francis Bacon,
This review is from: Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England (Hardcover)
Henry VII's reign has been a black hole in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors. At least it has been for me, along with the short reign of Edward VI. Thomas Penn's Winter King has filled in a quarter century of history, and in a readable and well-documented way.
I suppose I had thought that the period following The Wars of the Roses and preceding the drama that was Henry VIII's reign would be dull. Winter King does away with that notion. Consolidating his power and fending off pretenders made Henry VII a very busy monarch.
Penn's Henry Tudor is the sullen, skulking character we might have expected, but he is also three-dimensional, showing real grief when his wife died in childbirth, and when his son Arthur, Prince of Wales, died unexpectedly.
Winter King shows the importance of Henry's reign in establishing the validity of the Tudor line and how hard Henry had to fight to maintain its legitimacy. By the time his son, Henry VIII, took the throne, there was little question of his right to succeed.
But as interesting and important as the big picture is, I found the little details most intriguing. For instance, Henry VII's mother, Margaret Beaufort, wore reading glasses much of the time. I didn't know eyeglasses existed in 1500. But apparently only for reading, because Penn tells how Henry VII's eyesight was deteriorating and made him a menace when he indulged in his favorite pastime of hunting.
The image of Henry VII sitting in his castle counting his money like some Midas is also not far from the truth, according to Penn. Henry was deeply involved in the details of the royal finances, finding every possible way to wring more taxes from his subjects. He was also something of a commodities broker, dealing in potassium alum, a valuable mineral used to make dyes color-fast, very important to the textile trade across Europe and beyond.
Winter King also reveals again what many modern historians have shown - that the women of the age were as much a part of the political action as were the men. Henry's mother, Margaret Beaufort was a real power behind the throne. So was Henry's wife, Elizabeth of York. Catherine of Aragon came to England as a bit of an innocent, but over her years as Arthur's widow, learned a fair bit of wheeling and dealing, and when she became Henry VIII's queen, was able to give him the benefit of her experience.
For all the popular history of the Tudors that are available, here is a book that doesn't rehash the same old stories and adds some new and original scholarship.