Why doth the Crown lie there upon his pillow?,
This review is from: The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England's Self-Made King (Paperback)
"The Fears of Henry IV" cements Ian Mortimer's position as a pre-eminent popular historian of the middle ages. Ian Mortimer deserves this recognition for two reasons; first he has been part of a superb revival of historical biography in a period that is not generally accessible to non-academics and secondly because he has been brave enough to tackle individuals (Sir Roger Mortimer and Henry IV) that are less well known and potentially less lucrative from a sales perspective.
The book itself is superbly structured, setting itself structurally in line with Shakespeare's Richard II, Henry IV part I and Henry IV part II, whilst taking great pains to differentiate itself from Shakespeare's narrative and actually try and get under the skin of who Henry IV was. The book perhaps has three distinct parts, Henry's childhood and early life up to where Shakespeare's Richard II starts, the period of his exile and overthrow of Richard and then his reign as king. The first part is immensely rewarding and Henry's early life, crusading and pilgrimage to Jerusalem are all very interesting. The second part of the book is also well handled actually looking into the complexities of overthrowing Richard and the legal basis that Henry established, whilst the third part actually helps those familiar with Shakespeare's plays understand Henry's relationship with his sons, the background to the Percy rebellion and also the general instability of the succession in the English monarchy.
The book is well written and very accessible. Mortimer certainly works hard to present a picture of Henry, reconciling his intense religiosity with the fact that he executed several prelates, his tremendous loyalty with the fact that he deposed (and may have ordered murdered?) an anointed king as well as commitment to mercy despite demonstrable ruthlessness. The picture is of a man that perhaps had less choice than people realise, who though immensely accomplished for his era also is deserving of significant sympathy. I would recommend this work to anyone interested in Plantagenet and Lancastrian history and for anyone interested in Henry V's background.
It should be used as an entry point to study of the period, as some people may see it as overly pro-Lancastrian, hopefully Mortimer will write a biography of Edward IV in the future and perhaps balance the books.