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Henry VIII's Last Victim: The Life and Times of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey [Hardcover]

Jessie Childs
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Oct. 2006
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey was one of the most flamboyant and controversial characters of Henry VIII's reign. A pioneering poet, whose verse had a profound impact on Shakespeare and the English Renaissance, Surrey was nevertheless branded by one contemporary as 'the most foolish proud boy that is in England'. He was the heir of England's premier nobleman, first cousin to two of Henry VIII's wives - Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard - and best friend and brother-in-law to the King's illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. Celebrated for his chivalrous deeds both on and off the battlefield, Surrey became, at only twenty-eight, the King's Lieutenant General in France. He had his portrait painted more often than any other Tudor courtier, but his confident exterior masked insecurity and loneliness. A man of intriguing contradictions, Surrey was both law enforcer and law breaker, political conservative and religious reformer. The self-styled guardian of the traditional nobility, he was recklessly outspoken against the 'new erected men' of the court. Cromwell was a 'foul churl', Paget a 'mean creature' and the problems that beset Henry VIII's realm were, Surrey hinted, 'the bitter fruit of false concupiscence'. He witnessed and was inextricably caught up in all the major events of the reign: the Break with Rome, the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Reformation, the executions of his two cousins, Henry's French wars and the brutal power struggle at the end of the reign to which he fell victim. His life, replete with drunken escapades, battlefield heroics, conspiracy and courtroom drama, sheds new light on the opulence and artifice of a dazzling, but deadly, age.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd (5 Oct. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224063251
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224063258
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.6 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 789,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


`a truly superb biography...a poignant, vivid narrative' -- A. N. Wilson, Daily Telegraph

"Childs's [work,] beautifully written and researched, explores
with subtlety the forces that made and destroyed Surrey" -- Mail on Sunday

"This book opens fascinating window on the mid-Tudor world." -- THE GUARDIAN (Saturday, 21 October 2006)

"beautifully written and researched" -- Mail on Sunday

'This is history at its most accessible; it is entertaining,
educational and thoroughly enjoyable.'
-- Sharon Cox, Waterstones

'a detailed and vivid picture of the daily and seasonal life of
the landed aristocracy of the time'
-- The Scotsman, 22 October 2006

'a fascinating story ...a very readable, and diligently researched
book' -- The Literary Review, October 2006

'a really captivating read.. If you have even a passing interest
in the Tudor period, you'll be gripped.' -- Phil Sidnell, The History Guild & Ancient & Medieval Book Club, October 2006

'this book opens a fascinating window on the mid-Tudor world' -- Guardian, 25 October 2006

Childs's description of.. complex manoeuverings [at Henry's court]
is excellent...this book opens a fascinating window on the mid-Tudor
world' -- The Guardian, 21 October 2006

Book Description

A biography of a Tudor maverick and poetic genius whose life - full of swashbuckling derring-do and courageous defiance - sheds new light on the reign and personality of Henry VIII. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Top Customer Reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unfamiliar Tudor 13 Oct. 2007
By Lynette Baines VINE VOICE
Jessie Childs' biography of Surrey is excellent. He is probably one of the lesser known figures at the Tudor court, a poet, soldier and member of the powerful Howard family, Dukes of Norfolk. It's refreshing to have a book about someone other than the usual suspects, Henry & his Queens, Wolsey, Cromwell etc. Although little is known about Surrey compared to these other figures, Childs manages to make him come alive. His poetry is open to many interpretations and Childs is frank about the limitations of any attempt to interpret his work as personal. Yet, she does throw some light on his personality through his poetry. Similarly, his relationship with his wife is a mystery, yet Childs doesn't overburden the narrative with speculation. There are more portraits of Surrey than almost any other figure at Henry VIII's Court, yet only one chalk drawing of Frances exists. At least it's by Holbein! She has used the available information to present a picture of an arrogant, impulsive young nobleman which also exposes his vulnerabilities. Surrey's relationship with his father, Norfolk, is also a fascinating portrait of Tudor life. Norfolk was one of the great survivors at Court. He managed to survive two of his nieces marrying the King and then being executed. He only avoided his son's fate because the King died first. Yet, he comes across as an unfeeling father and husband and a past master at disowning responsibility for any problem. Surrey's insecurities don't seem so strange. A wonderful portrait of a young man who never really found his place in life.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like Hilary Mantel, but for real! 4 Mar. 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It is refreshing to find a book by a young female historian that, for once, doesn't have a cover featuring a well-endowed lady falling out of a period dress. And it is soon easy to see why this book won the prize for the best historical biography of the year. It is masterful, constantly surprising, and totally gripping.

This is the story of the short life of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, son of the country's leading nobleman, the Duke of Norfolk (who will be familiar from Wolf Hall to many readers). Surrey was an innovative poet, responsible for importing the sonnet and blank verse into the English language, a military commander, and, fatally, an arrogant and sometimes foolish courtier in the time of Henry VIII.

Jessie Childs' telling of his story can surely not be bettered. Whether writing about poetry, English or European politics, or the everyday life and mindset of a Tudor aristocrat (so utterly strange to us now), she is totally in command of her material, yet displays her formidable research with lightness and grace. She addresses all the questions the reader wants answered, and her attention to detail and nuance recreates the court of Henry VIII as vividly as any novelist, Mantel included. At the same time, she refuses to resort to speculation - often the fatal flaw of popular history of this sort - instead respecting the reader enough to understand that sources are often partial or contradictory.

I so enjoyed my time with this book, not just because Surrey's story is so gripping, but also because within moments, the author somehow transports the reader lock-stock-and-barrel to this strange and dangerous world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A brilliant biography! I think that Henry VIII's court, viewed from the point of view of his courtiers, particularly one who fell victim to his paranoia, is an enlightening experience and takes the reader away from conventional history. Surrey comes over as a very interesting character in his own right and I think the author used a great many sources to give a rounded picture of the man.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A bit too poetic for me 1 Dec. 2015
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed reading this book as I knew next to nothing about the man. So on that basis alone I would recommend it. However, sometimes I found all the quoted poetry a little distracting. I didn't want to know about his poetry, I wanted to know his history and the circumstances that led to his death. This book delivers on that.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By Fren
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What a fascinating biography. I was left thinking that even if Henry VIII hadn't had him executed Dudley or Seymour would have.

He comes across as an arrogant fool who did not know the meaning of discretion in a period where it was a necessary requirement for survival.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Tragedy of Henry Howard Lord Surrey 17 Jun. 2011
By Sally T
I did not know anything about the Earl of Surrey. It took Season 4 of the Tudors to get me interested in this tragic personality. So, I got the book and I am now in the process of reading it. I know what the end will be, but even so, because it is so well written, my interest will continue till the end. There were some parts in the book where poetic terminology made the chapter drag, but thankfully it did not happen very often. I can understand why the Earl, in spite of so much promise, came to such a tragic end. He had the misfortune of being born to a cold fish for a father, and because of his noble blood to have to pander to a psychopath for his king.

He was indeed born under a bad star. It is an excellent study of a human being fallen foul of fellow human beings.
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