Pros:Incredibly detailed accounts of the King and his court
Cons:Unless you're a RenFaire type or in the SCA, you'll be drowning a bit.
The Bottom Line: Fastastical depiction of a Renaissance court, and history that reads like fiction, never dry or dull.
I've been checking out Alison Weir's writings since she did an account of Henry VIII and his many wives. Now she returns to early Tudor England, but this time, she focuses more on the courtiers and surroundings of the King, along with new information about his succession of queens.
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Bluff King Hal, as he became known in later periods, has come down through history as a lecherous, wife-killing, gluttonous monster who brought Prostestantism to England and set his mark on an age. He's thought of as being piggy, greedy, and bloodthirsty.
Would it surprise you that Henry VIII was very well educated, knowing several languages and sciences? That the Pope bestowed the title of "Defender of the Faith" in recognition of his countering Martin Luther? That his court was considered to be a center of the arts, and one of the most splendid in Europe? That he was very discreet in his love affairs, and was very much a prude?
It starts off with an overview of Henry VIII's upbringing and life up until the death of his father and his coronation as king and marriage to Katherine of Aragon, wife number one.
Then we have descriptions of the people and courtiers that surrounded him and his queen(s), the palaces and estates that he acquired and improved. Who were the Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber? The Master of the Horse? The Groom of the Stool? There are detailed descriptions of his beds, his possessions, what the king did for his hobbies and sports, who participated with him.
Life for Henry the King was formalized, with even going to bed and rising each day conducted in rituals, with each member of his staff having a particular duty. If you are already familiar with the history of Henry VIII, this book will be a treasure trove of data, giving details of tournaments, pageants and spectacles, food and drink, clothing, the details of Henry's coronation and those of two of his queens, of the visits of foreign embassies and kings.
What was the real eye-opener in this book for me was the listing of comparative prices of the cost of food, drink, clothing and the wages paid to Henry's courtiers and servants. I also saw the vicious infighting of the courtiers around the king in their hunt for wealth and power, willing to sacrifice their families and friends for the king's favour.
New insights are given as well about Henry's Queens, especially Anne of Cleves, who was probably the luckiest of Henry's queens, divorced but agreeing to a generous pension and station at his court.
The style is excellent, moving brisky along without overloading the reader with too many details; there are extensive footnotes and a bibliography. Color and black and white plates are included as well.
For the writer of historical fiction, those interested in history, and especially those involved in Renaissance Faires or the Society for Creative Anachronism, this will be a valuable addition to their library.
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