Monday, May 6, 2013

Book Review: The Children of Henry VIII by John Guy

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Title: The Children of Henry VIII
Author: John Guy
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Expected Publication Date: 1 Jul 2013
Hardcover: 272 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Nothing consumed Henry VIII, England's wealthiest and most powerful king, more than his desire to produce a legitimate male heir and perpetuate the Tudor dynasty. To that end he married six wives, became the subject of the most notorious divorce case of the sixteenth century, and broke with the pope, all in an age of international competition and warfare, social unrest, and growing religious intolerance and discord. Henry fathered four children who survived childhood, each by a different mother. 
In The Children of Henry VIII, renowned Tudor historian John Guy tells their stories, returning to the archives and drawing on a vast array of contemporary records, personal letters, ambassadors' reports, and other eyewitness accounts, including the four children's own handwritten letters. Guy's compelling narrative illuminates their personalities, depicting siblings often scarred by jealously, mutual distrust, bitter rivalry, even hatred. Possessed of quick wits and strong wills, their characters were defined partly by the educations they received, and partly by events over which they had no control. Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, although recognized as the king's son, could never forget his illegitimacy. Edward would succeed his father, but died while still in his teens, desperately plotting to exclude his half-sisters from the throne, and utterly failing to do so. Mary's world was shattered by her mother Catherine of Aragon's divorce and her own unhappy marriage. Elizabeth was the most successful, but also the luckiest. Even so, she lived with the knowledge that her father had ordered her mother Anne Boleyn's execution, was often in fear of her own life, and could never marry the one man she truly loved. John Guy takes us behind the facade of politics and pageantry at the Tudor court, vividly capturing the greatest and most momentous family drama in all of English history.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

There is something so fascinatingly twisted about the Tudor family that I can't help myself when some new thing about them comes out. I don't care what it is: TV shows, films, books, whatever. I love reading about this crazy, messed-up family!

So, of course, there's a lot information out there about Henry VIII and the Tudor family in general, so what is it that makes this unique and worth getting versus all the other stuff out there? Unlike many other books I've read about the Tudors, John Guy goes directly to the source and doesn't offer much speculation about relationships, actions, or whatever else that people like to speculate about. Because of that, I think there's a good overview of the family dynamics, which I don't think is explored very often. So, that was nice. The downside to this is that it gets a bit dry and there's A LOT of listing of presents the children received at Christmas, or just listing in general.

I also felt like the ending was rushed and Elizabeth I's story wasn't fully explored, which was a bit disappointing for me, especially since a good amount of time was spent on her siblings. And I get that going over a long reign is much more complicated than going over her siblings' histories, but I would have liked a better summary of what she accomplished. Maybe in another book?

In any case, don't get this if you're looking for some sort of dramatic story reminiscent of The Tudors TV show. The Children of Henry VIII is very much based on historical documents. But the great thing about this particular royal family is that it's interesting without any dramatization.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*