About the book…
Henry VIII is best known in history for his tempestuous marriages and the fates of his six wives. However, as acclaimed historian Tracy Borman makes clear in her illuminating new chronicle of Henry’s life, his reign and reputation were hugely influenced by the men who surrounded and interacted with him as companions and confidants, servants and ministers, and occasionally as rivals—many of whom have been underplayed in previous biographies.
These relationships offer a fresh, often surprising perspective on the legendary king, revealing the contradictions in his beliefs, behavior, and character in a nuanced light. They show him capable of fierce but seldom abiding loyalty, of raising men up only to destroy them later. He loved to be attended by boisterous young men, the likes of his intimate friend Charles Brandon, who shared his passion for sport, but could also be diverted by men of intellect, culture, and wit, as his longstanding interplay with Cardinal Wolsey and his reluctant abandonment of Thomas More attest. Eager to escape the shadow of his father, Henry VII, he was often trusting and easily led by male attendants and advisors early in his reign (his coronation was just shy of his 18th birthday in 1509); in time, though, he matured into a profoundly suspicious and paranoid king whose ruthlessness would be ever more apparent, as Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and uncle to two of Henry’s wives, discovered to his great discomfort, and as Eustace Chapuys, the ambassador of Charles V of Spain, often reported.
Recounting the great Tudor’s life and signal moments through the lens of his male relationships, Tracy Borman’s new biography reveals Henry’s personality in all its multi-faceted, contradictory glory, and sheds fresh light on his reign for anyone fascinated by the Tudor era and its legacy
As someone who finds all things Tudor fascinating, I couldn’t resist requesting a copy of Henry VIII when I saw it come up on NetGalley. Even though I’ve read plenty of other books on Henry VIII, I never seem to be able to get enough. Plus, this book offered new insights by taking a different approach, focusing not on Henry and his wives, which most biographies do, but looking at Henry through the eyes of the men who were his friends or worked for him (and sometimes both) during his reign.
I already knew a fair bit about some of these men – Thomas More, for example, and Cromwell – but others were less well known, if known at all, which I actually found the most interesting part of the book. There were so many men that came and went from Henry’s life, that sought favour and then – when they got on the King’s wrong side – probably wished they’d stayed at home with their family. Their scheming and conniving puts today’s politicians to shame!
I am not sure how much more I’d learnt about Henry by the end, or that his wives still weren’t too much of a focus (though is it possible to write a book about Henry VIII without his marriages being front and centre?). However, I do feel like I understand so much more about the politics of the day and how the system work. In that sense, this book was a big win for me and – just like the Tudor’s themselves – fascinating.
Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.