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Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England Paperback – 1 Mar 2012
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A brilliant debut ... this impressive book will certainly become the definitive study of our strangest, most mysterious, king (Desmond Seward BBC History Magazine)
Stunning ... effortlessly vivid prose ... a revelation. [Penn's] focus is on the last, fear-filled decade of [Henry VII's] reign, but his sinuously coiling chapters seamlessly unfold the past as well as the present of his protagonists ... [He] has pulled off a rare feat: a brilliant and haunting evocation of the Tudor world, with irresistible echoes of the age of fear in which we now live (Helen Castor Telegraph)
[A] brilliant mash-up of gothic horror and political biography ... a tour de force: both scholarly and a pleasure to read, covering the breadth of the European political scene, while providing the details that allow us to feel intimately the terror at home (Spectator)
Remarkable ... Penn brilliantly recreates the sterile atmosphere suffocating Henry's England. His eye for time, circumstance and the telling anecdote is keen. Winter King offers us the fullest, deepest, most compelling insight into the warped psychology of the Tudor dynasty's founder to have appeared since Bacon wrote (Financial Times)
[Thomas Penn] is a superb teller of a tale, a reveller in dodgy deeds, a keen observer of the febrile, dissimulating characters of court and embassy, and a splendid limner of the great jousts and entertainments of the age ... with a sharp eye for detail and adroit use of a gifted historical imagination, ... he lets us hear the creak of oars and the scratch of pens, as well as the tubercular king fighting for every breath ... Vigorous and thoroughly enjoyable (Economist)
I feel like I've been waiting to read this book a long time ... a fluent and compelling account ... The level of detail is fascinating and beautifully judged ... I think that, for the first time, a writer has made me feel what contemporaries felt as Henry VII's reign drew to an end; the relief, the hope, the sudden buoyancy (Hilary Mantel, author of 'Wolf Hall')
Succeeds brilliantly ... [a] finely drawn portrait ... Penn's deft turn of phrase superbly re-creates the drama and personalities of the court (Tracy Borman Sunday Times)
An exceptionally stylish literary debut. Henry VII may be the most unlikely person ever to have occupied the throne of England, and his biographers have rarely conveyed just what a weird man he was. Thomas Penn does this triumphantly, and in the process manages to place his subject in a vividly realised landscape. His book should be the first port of call for anyone trying to understand England's most flagrant usurper since William the Conqueror (Diarmaid MacCulloch)
A definitive and accessible account of the reign of Henry VII that will alter our view not just of Henry, but of the country he dominated and corrupted, and of the dynasty he founded ... [Penn's] point is to show that this is not the "merrie England" of the Tudor myth, but a country forced under the rule of a new king, spied on and policed for any sign of disloyalty, and tyrannised by the use of ancient half-forgotten fines and taxes (Philippa Gregory Observer)
[Penn] achieves the remarkable feat of making the reign of Henry VII seem more interesting than that of his son. Winter King is well titled: the fingers of the first Tudor king, in Penn's account of his final years, are icy to the touch, and probe into every nook and cranny of the kingdom ... gripping and unexpected (Tom Holland Guardian)
About the Author
Thomas Penn was born in 1974. He has a PhD in early Tudor history from Clare College, Cambridge. Winter King is his first book.
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Instead Thomas Penn focuses on the endless plots, both real and imagined, that threatened Henry's kingship. It is hardly surprising there were such plots considering he had such a weak claim to the throne, but no attempt is made to explain the background to Henry's usurpation so it is difficult just from reading this book to grasp why so many people had such grievances.
That said the Winter King is a very readable narrative, being mainly a chronological history of Henry's reign, and of the early years of the boy who would one day become Henry VIII. Sadly the reign of Henry VII is relatively uneventful when compared to that of his son and granddaughter so there are times when this book does start to drag. Not the fault of the authors writing, merely of his choice of subject matter and his decision to tackle things chronologically.
Unfortunately, although well detailed and skillfully written I did not find the Winter King particularly interesting or involving. In order to give this book a higher rating I would have liked more detail about Henry's early life, his rise to power during the Wars of the Roses and the changes in society brought about by this first Tudor king.
It is thus fitting that the book mainly concentrates on the later part of Henry's reign which is when his use of financial instruments to consolidate his reign matured - perhaps even became overripe! Before Henry VII, kings ruled via a network of feudal obligations, by the end of his reign the king was ruling via a network of financial obligations. It is perhaps no accident that Henry VII was the last English king to win his crown in battle.
As an adjunct to this the author brings readers a set of finely drawn portraits of the key players and and in depth explanation of the way in which external politics was built around trying to prevent any one of the continental powers from becoming too powerful, using dynastic tools and a system of shifting alliances. The latter was destined to become the hallmark of English politics through to the end of the 18th Century and even into the early 19th Century.
All in all, I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn something about what is generally a rather murky period in English history.
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