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Henry VIII: The King And His Court (2002)

Henry VIII: The King and His Court (2002)
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4.15 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
034543708X (ISBN13: 9780345437082)
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English
publisher
ballantine books
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Henry VIII: The King And His Court (2...
Henry VIII: The King And His Court (2002)

About book: Before I began this review I want to comment on the interview with the author located in the back section of the book. As a student and teacher of history I think it is obvious that there seems to be people in the history profession whose sole mission in life is to make history a boring topic. They take the fascinating and make it dull. Weir describes her passion as coming not from her classes but from a novel on Katherine of Aragon. She found her classes on the Industrial revolution dominated by nothing more acts and factories. In response Weir spent most of her time studying history on her own in the library. Tragically, she was not allowed to attend the classes that she wanted because her earlier scores on the GCE exam. Weir's success makes her personal story a strong argument against both jargon-filled history writing and standardized testing.When people tell the story of Henry VIII they quickly switch the subject of the story from the King to the six wives. It is an easy trap to fall into for the storyteller gets to tell six stories for the price of one. Weir avoids this trap easily because she already wrote a book about the six wives of the famous king, and therefore had already scratched that itch. This book, as the title suggests, is about King Henry VIII and men who worked for him. The wives are at best supportive characters, with exception maybe to Anne Boleyn, they are trotted out only when they are relevant to what is going on. This book keeps the light on the rich characters of Margaret Beaufort, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More, and Thomas Cromwell. The main focus, of course, is King Henry VIII and Weir's successful in her goal to portray Henry, as he really was not how he is generally perceived.King Henry VIII has been perceived as many things. He has been seen as bloodthirsty tyrant, a misogynistic manic, and a silly puppet that was controlled by the people around him. Weir portrays Henry as a man very much of control of things in his court, often playing factions against one another. Men who served the King and gained his confidence could gain great power, but they could fall just as far. Henry could be reasonable but in times of pressure or sickness his judgment could be swift and costly. A few times he would execute a person and later come to regret it."Few could resist Henry's charisma. `The King has a way of making every man feel that he is enjoying his special favor,' wrote Thomas More. Erasmus called Henry `the man most full of heart.' He would often put his arm around a man's shoulder to put him at ease, although he `could not abide to have any man stare in his face when he talked with them.' There are many examples of the kindness to others, as will be seen. Yet the King also had a spectacular and unpredictable temper and in a rage could be terrifying indeed. He was also very jealous of his houour, both as king and as a knight, and had the tenderest yet most flexible of consciences. His contemporaries thought him extraordinarily virtuous, a lover of goodness, truth, and justice--just as he was always to see himself." (p.6)In his life, Henry's primary rival, like all Kings of England, was the King of France. The first of these Henry had to deal with was King Louis XII. The elderly Louis XII had married Henry's sister Mary, but he died shortly after. Then a much younger king, like Henry, came to the throne. King Francis I, who would be King Henry's main competitor for both standing in Europe and in history*, came to the throne. Their relationship could be described as very odd."He ignored the advice of his lords, who thought he was putting himself at risk of some kind of treachery, and very early on Sunday 17 June, accompanied by only two gentlemen, went to Guisnes, where his brother monarch was sleeping. Henry woke to see the King of France standing over him, offering to serve as his valet and help him dress." (p. 224)Henry responded rather well to that incident, had it been myself I think I would have freaked out. Nevertheless, the two kings were competitors in almost every sense whether it be as kings or sportsmen.Henry VIII's reign was of both achievement and revolutionary change. Henry's regime would not only break away from the religious influence of Rome but it was full propaganda campaign to increase the monarchy's power and tap into one of earliest forms of nationalism. During his reign his distrust of the nobility made him promote men to, and in, his inner circle on achievement as opposed to birth. His Privy Council was made up of the most talented individuals of the age. However, it was the establishment of the Church of England that would be his most lasting legacy."The symbolism of empire was again brought into play. A new coinage was issued bearing the image of the King as Roman Emperor, and a third Great Seal in the Renaissance style was made, featuring the King on an antique throne and bearing the title of Supreme Head; this image was designed by Lucas Horenbout, whose portraits of the King it greatly resembles. An imperial crown was added to the royal arms to signify that Henry recognized no higher power than his own save God. There was a deliberate revival of the cult of King Arthur, from whom the Tudors claimed to be descended, and who is said to have owned a seal proclaiming him `Arthur, Emperor of Britain and Gaul.' Henry VIII, it was claimed, was merely reviving his ancestor's title and dignity. It was also asserted that England's sovereignty had for a thousand years been mistakenly subinfeudated to Rome by the King's predecessors: now he had redeemed it.No English king before Henry VIII had ever been so concerned to magnify and disseminate his public image. Under Cromwell's auspices, there was a flood of tracts and pamphlets proclaiming Henry's heroic virtues and moral superiority. Preachers, artists, craftsmen, writers, poets, playwrights, and historians such as Polydore Vergil were called upon to use their talents to advertise and glorify the New Monarchy. Propagandists such as Gardiner portrayed Henry VIII as semidivine, calling him `the image of God upon the Earth' who `excelled in God's sight among all other human creatures.' A correspondent of Sir Anthony Browne declared that the King's subjects `had not to do with a man but with a more excellent and divine estate,' in whose presence one could not stand without trembling.The effect of all this was to turn Henry into an imperious and dangerous autocrat who became mesmerized by his own legend." (p.349)Of course the wives have to be mentioned. Because the most pressing issue to Henry was the Great Matter, Henry's relentless pursuit for an heir. When I was young, my mother once told me that Henry VIII was a crazy man who would kill his wife if she dare gave birth to a girl, and that is very silly because it was his fault if they were girls. Henry did not hate women he had a pretty good relationship with most women he knew. Henry obsession is understandable. His father had ended a civil war almost fifty years prior. Henry had no brothers and no woman had ever ruled in their own right, although their sons and grandsons could claim through them . Henry needed a son and it would be best for him to have two. He even thought of having his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, the Duke of Richmond, proclaimed the heir by Parliament, but he died before it could be done.In the pursuit of a son, he would break from Rome to divorce his first wife, and execute his second. His third wife Jane Seymour would provide him the son that he always wanted. In pursuit of a second son he would marry three more times and another wife would face execution. The wife that lived the longest, not Catherine Parr who was just his last, Anne of Cleves marriage to Henry did her a lot of good."Anne made the most of her independence, looking more `joyous' than ever and putting on a new gown every day, `each more wonderful than the last'. In the years to come, she would establish a considerable reputation of a good hostess, and entertained many courtiers at Richmond. Rarely had a royal divorce had such a happy outcome." (p.428)Although Henry was not a tyrant, as was Richard II, nor a puppet ruler. However he did have massive flaws. Henry would do revolutionary things but his method with dealing with opposition was the chopping block. He would allow himself to be persuaded to turn on dear friends, colleagues, and spouses. He would execute people and then later regret it. Henry allowed his greatest servant Thomas Cromwell to be killed, earlier he had allowed Thomas More to die for the sole crime of not acknowledging he, the King, as Head of the Church of England. (Ironically, Cromwell was one of the people who engineered More's fall. What goes around comes around!)On a technical note I would like to say that I really like Weir's capitalization. I know that seems silly to obsess about, but I really prefer King of England to king of England; Duke of Richmond to duke of Richmond, and Prince of Wales to prince of Wales.This is a great book about King Henry VIII, after you read it you feel like you know whom King Henry VIII was as a person. Weir writes history in way that allows the interesting to remain interesting.*Although it could be argued that they are both out shown by Emperor Charles V.

Before you read any book about Henry VIII or his wives I would strongly recommend that you stop and read this book first. Throughout this book Weir not only looks at who Henry VIII was, the man and the life he lead, but she also paints a detailed, intricate picture of the world in which he lived.Weir starts her book at the death of Henry VII in 1509 and then begins to paint a portrait of the world in which Henry VIII ascended to the throne. She spends the first part of the book intricately detailing every aspect of life in the Tudor period under Henry VIII. She looks at those who were privileged enough to be part of the Privy chamber, the Grooms and pages whom were honoured to spend much of their time with the King. Not only were they able to serve his Majesty, but they were able to spend long hours playing cards with him, hunting, gambling, hawking, listening to music etc. etc. Weir describes what life was like for these men, the clothing they wore, their responsibilities and the ups and downs of being so close to the King. On one hand it might be a great honour and privilege to spend so much time with the King - being so close to his ear and being able to influence his decisions. But on the other hand those members of the Privy chamber were also susceptible to the King’s outbursts of violent rage; beatings and factions about court which sought to bring them down and oust them from their roles.Weir goes onto to describe all the roles of those at court - pages, servers of food, members of the kitchen staff, cooks, gardeners, those that looked after horses and other animals, people who controlled the Kingdom’s money and ran offices, builders, project designers, painters, artists, musicians… the list goes on and on. Each role and position within the court, from the lowliest to the highest is described in intricate detail. Weir writes with such beautiful portrayal that when one reads amazing images of splendour and horror flood the mind. There is so much detail that I would advise anyone whom reads this book to take their time, re read sections if needed so that you can gain a full and clear understanding of each job role.Also within the pages of this book are details about the expectations at court, again from the King whom sits above all, down to the lowest boy who turns the spits to roast meat. Everything from the way the King ordered his food, what he ate and when, how food was prepared, who served him food and how, is described in intricate detail. There were so many rules during Henry’s reign that I am utterly stunned how anyone could remember them all. So many expectations, social rules, different standards for different people that it literally must have been a mind field to try and organise the whole court! It is amazing to me that not only did every member of court know their roles and responsibilities, but was also able to adhere to them to keep a court of literally hundreds upon hundreds of people running effectively!As she goes through Henry’s reign, Weir talks about those men and woman whom came in and out of Henry’s life. She talks about Henry’s wives – although not in as great detail as other authors have. The reason I presume for this is that Weir has written a book devoted to Henry VIII’s wives entitled “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” (which is an absolutely excellent and incredibly detailed book in its own right!). Weir also talks about the men (and few women) at court who all played roles in Henry’s life, both positively and negatively. I love the relationships between Henry and his companions. Through these intricate and sometimes volatile relationships we can see what sort of man Henry was. In his youth he was the happy go lucky King; full of life and zest, loving sports, gambling and women. His friendships and those whom he included at court reflected this with an influx of ‘new men’ – men who did not necessarily have noble blood running through their veins. Through his friendships we are able to see how as Henry aged he relied less and less on others to make decisions for him, how his anger, jealousy and sense of self importance grew. Throughout Henry VIII’s life men came and men went, some with great honours and dignity, some without their heads. It seems as though that to be at court was to put one’s life at risk!On a personal note I was greatly pleased to read more about Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. This is a man whom has captured my interest. Here is a man whom had been friends with Henry since their youths. He grew in favour and importance at court, committed treason by marrying Henry’s sister without his permission, was forced to pay an exuberant amount of money in compensation (which was greatly reduced after Mary died), yet received more and more titles, land and responsibilities throughout his life. When he died Henry stated that ‘for as long as Suffolk had served him, he had never betrayed a friend or knowingly taken unfair advantage of an enemy’ (Weir 2001, p. 485). Henry Tudor, especially in his later years, could be a volatile, unpredictable, temperamental and yet despite this Charles Brandon managed to not only keep his King’s friendship but to grow in favour – to me this is amazing!Weir covers the last ten years of Henry VIII’s life in about one hundred pages. I found myself wishing that these years were expanded upon in a little more detail. During this period Henry went through four wives, built the lavish palace of Nonsuch, continued the reformation, laid siege to France, executed people for heresy, had failing health, faced his mortality, wrote his will and departed the world. There is so much that happened to Henry, his family, friends, the English court and England in general during this period that on a personal note I would have liked these events to have been covered in some more detail.As I stated at the beginning of this review, I would strongly recommend that one read ‘Henry VIII King & Court’ before they read any other book about Henry VIII or his wives. Throughout the pages of this book Weir constructs vivid and beautiful images of the world and life that was Henry VIII. The reader is left with a strong understanding and knowledge not only about the larger than life Henry Tudor, but also about the people in his life, social expectations, his court and his country. This is another stunningly written book by Alison Weir and it was a joy to read.
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Reviews
Becky
It took me a while to get into this book - maybe 80 pages (and when I say "a while" I mean several months.) There is just SO much detail, which is great, but it can make it drag in the beginning. It gets better when Weir stops detailing how many men watched Henry VIII sleep at night and starts talking about the actual history, but still weaves those details into it. I guess you could consider it a biography of Henry VIII, but the focus is really on the surrounding elements of his reign - his properties, the warring factions at court, customs, fashion, art, etc. It's an interesting perspective on the Tudor court, and I think once you get over that initial hump, it makes for a very interesting and relatively quick read. Definitely recommend.
Alice
I liked this book because it concentrates on how Henry VIII fashioned England from a Medieval Kingdom into a modern Nation State; with all the good and bad that this entails. Many do not realize that Henry VIII was the founder of the British Royal Navy.The divorce from Catherine of Aragon is chronicled for the impact it had on the Reformation and England's relations with Europe. Would this modernization have taken place without the Great Matter? When you read this book you will have an opinion. The various functions of oddly named courtiers could be a book in itself. We learn how important the Master of Horse was to a monarch. If you were ever wondering what the Silver Stick in Waiting for King/Queen is; this is the book to get your answers.
Michael A
It is always fun finding a book from several years back that you thought you finished but had not. Henry was an important part of the English government growth. He was an autocrat of course but also permitted many of his officals more freedom than most rulers. He overcame many of the problems of his father and grandfather and proved to the English that he was not the evil usurper that his family was considered by most. We learn a bit more about his 'social' side and his need for a male heir which at the end proved the downfall of the crown into another round of strife and unrest until Elizabeth restored some stability.
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