Top critical review
4 people found this helpful
Interesting read but not detailed enough on Henry the man
on 30 November 2008
This was an interesting, and pleasingly accessible read. Weir writes in a friendly, easy to understand manner. Weir writes in the introduction that she hopes readers "will be able to make that great leap of imagination across the centuries ... and that, for them, Henry VIII and his court will come to life". I have to day that to some extent Weir succeeds in this - for me Henry VIII is firmly placed in his times and court, with his many palaces, hunts, pageants, masques etc.
The first third of the book is not really a biography of Henry, but an in-depth study of the court, the palaces, and the world in which Henry lived. This section was the weakest part, and for me, the least interesting. The section is far too detailed - an endless list of buildings, names, court positions etc. I agree this aspect of the period is important to study, but it was overdone.
Once we get into the biographical aspect of Henry VIII, the book improves drastically. Weir has produced a good, but not comprehensive, study of Henry as monarch and man, and the personalities of the reign (More, Cromwell, Wolsey, Fisher etc) come to life. Disappointingly, the biography is not as detailed as it could be - especially concerning the important events of the reign. I would have liked more analysis, even narrative, of the Pilgrimage of Grace; and a study of the technicalities of the canon law of Henry's divorce (or annulment) from Catherine of Aragon. Nevertheless, the book is readable and gives a good overview of the politics and factionalism at court and abroad. I did learn, however, that Anne Boleyn was likely to be pregnant at the time of her execution. This surprised me, given Henry's desperation for a son. However, given the offical reason for Anne's execution (adultery amongst other things), it would have been foolish to allow the child to be born - there would have been doubts over its paternity and possibly lead to a succession dispute.
Weir provides plenty of footnotes (at the back of the book) and sources, both secondary and primary, which is an added bonus, and there are two sections of illustrations. However, as other have noted, the genealogical table is very simplified. It is entitled "The Tudors and their Rivals" but it only shows some of Henry's Yorkist cousins (the Courtenays and Poles), whilst omitting other possible alternatives for the throne, such as the De la Poles and Staffords. The Tudor descent from Edward III, via the Beauforts, is not shown, indeed, Edward III isn't even on it.
However, in summary, I can recommend the book, as a good introduction, to anybody interested in Henry VIII, the Tudors and the Henrician court.