John Guy has written extensively on Tudor England and this short volume on Henry V111 shows his complete mastery of both primary and secondary sources. The fact that he manages to pack so many ideas in in such a short volume makes this a must read and as a starter volume it would be hard to beat. His main idea (perhaps inevitable in our own age of celebrity culture and sound-bite politicians) is that Henry was obsessed with not only gaining a male heir but in establishing his own fame and a wider legacy within Europe as a powerful and influential monarch. This idea also ensures that he was his own man despite the services of Wolsey and Cromwell and despite being influenced from childhood by a variety of magnates and intellectuals - trusting only in himself was important especially when he was so often double crossed and outwitted in his European adventures. the length of this volume means Guy has to be selective in his choice of narrative focus points but whether it was Holbeins ability to achieve his propaganda goals or Henrys increasing paranoia at supposed rivals who might undermine his rule this is a fascinating and unputdownable narrative that truly sums up both `Henrys motivations and his legacy. A set of scholarly notes (which could easily have been missed to save a few pages) and a really useful bibliography plus some nice colour plates that are referred to in the text and not just for decoration make this a lovely little volume lovingly produced. I initially baulked at the price of £10.99 (which seems too much) even for such a nice volume and eventually bought it new at a lower price via another seller on Amazon. A worthy volume which probably provides the best short introduction that there is.
Fascinating read. I am a student studying history, and my teacher suggested getting this while we study Henry VIII. The book itself has a very nice feel, with the dust cover on or off. The content within is extremely informative, giving a great insight into the life of Henry, and gives a deeper analysis of his character than most would have.
In his conclusion, John Guy says, “For all his self-contradictions, Henry was still the most remarkable ruler ever to sit on the English throne.” He was also the last we had who was anything like absolute monarch (Charles I not even a contender). Any good leader needs a good fixer, and Guy shows how well Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell worked in support of Henry; he never had the same sort of relationship with the more spiritual and ethical More. (However they all met a sticky end after incurring to Henry’s displeasure.) Guy makes the telling observation that Wolsey, by stage-managing a dazzling series of events culminating in the “Field of the Cloth of Gold” (the only image of Henry’s early reign that sticks in my mind from O-Level History), allowed Henry “to believe that he was far more important in European affairs than he really was”; in contrast by the 1540s he had become “isolated, even marginalised, on the European stage”. Henry’s political position was, of course, intertwined with his religious aspirations. I was fascinated to learn that his aspirations to the post of “God’s Vicar” went beyond England, and that he schemed to overthrow the Papacy and replace it by a Council headed (at least partially) by himself. In law relating to religion, marriage and civil liberty, he and his advisers were adept at re-framing again and again to support his current initiative. (There is one apparent slip by Guy: he says that the “variant” of the papal dispensation of 1504 stated that Katherine of Aragon’s first marriage with Henry’s brother Arthur was consummated; then he says that, when Katherine was fighting to save her position, she produced this document, and also claimed the marriage was NOT consummated.) Guy gives an excellent example of the “contradictions” in Henry’s character by emphasising where much of the proceeds from the dissolution of the monasteries went, i.e. on extensive coastal defences and the Navy. While Henry did this work mainly in anticipation of the wars which might follow his schism from Rome, it benefitted his successors, particularly Elizabeth. There is a good discussion of Henry’s use of image, in the form of art extolling his greatness, and Guy argues convincingly that Holbein was perhaps Henry’s most effective ambassador. This is the first book I have read from a series still in course of production. It is a clear, concise, compelling introduction to Henry, but I am not entirely convinced about marketing such short books as hardbacks, despite the generous Amazon discount. I’m afraid this is one more push towards the ebook nettle, which I still have to grasp!
The "Penguin Monarchs" series sets out to provide a separate concise and readable introduction to each of the British rulers from Athelstan to Elizabeth ll, written by a different specialist in each case. Well-known for his accessible coverage of the Tudor period, John Guy has chosen to focus on Henry's quest for fame. This was not achieved in quite the fashion intended, since he is mainly infamous for his often mistreated six wives, whereas his desire to be crowned in Paris as the rightful King of France or to become the "the arbiter of international disputes" came to nothing.
Perhaps because the details are quite condensed, the author succeeds in highlighting some key aspects of Henry's personality and the motivation for his actions. Charismatic in his youth, handsome, shrewd, interested in the arts yet also athletic, prepared to promote competent men of lowly origin like Wolsey or Cromwell, he could have left a positive legacy. Yet, childhood experiences of Yorkist rebellions triggered the fear which bred his almost paranoid mistrust of others, perhaps also fed by his calculating father's cynical example. With the additional effects of the physical excesses which ruined his health, and the impatience and arrogance which made some see him as "the most dangerous and cruel man in the world", inevitably many of his policies became corrupted.
To free England from papal authority and end the greed of the great monasteries may have been beneficial in the long-term, but these ideas were the unintended by-product of Henry's obsession to find a way to divorce an infertile wife for one who could provide the male heir needed to secure not only his dynasty but the security of the realm. Also, to use the monks' plundered wealth to finance unnecessary and abortive wars or to execute those who would not renounce the old faith were indefensible acts. Henry's concern to judge people via the legal system and to legalise change using Parliament was laudable but the resultant manipulation of justice by his henchmen and crushing of true democracy were tyrannical. His belief that the King of England really was Christ's deputy ironically led him to seek to re-impose what was in effect a form of Catholicism without the Pope.
The author's concluding points are telling: Henry's vast and costly wardrobe designed to impress, Holbein's portraits which revealed "the sitter's soul" in an unflattering way which Henry perhaps fortunately failed to observe, and, in true "Ozymandias" style, the grandiose planned mausoleum left unassembled in a workshop until the bronze was sold off a century later - to fund a future war. There's also a useful bibliography at the end for those who wish to know more.
This concise biography of Henry VIII by John Guy, the notable historian and expert in the field of the Tudors, is part of the Penguin Monarchs series, forty-five of which are being published over an extended period.
The author guides you through Henry's early years, his development as a child, succession to the throne, the dramatic divorce from Katherine of Aragon, the eventual schism with Rome and the later and final years as he increasingly became more unpredictable and unforgiving.
His reliance on his faithful and efficient ministers, Wolsey and Cromwell is adequately covered.
As a concise history, of the monarch , it is a first rate biography, encompassing all the major events in his life.