Henry the Eighth. Was he the lecherous womanizer, or the loving father? Was
he the gluttonous, obese tyrant who ruled 16th century England with an iron
fist, or the embodiment of an ideal Renaissance Man, talented in music, skilled
in oratory, knowledgeable in languages, theology, and all things scholarly?
Was he the fierce warrior king, bravely leading his knights on the field of
honor, or the shrewd politician, uniting the kingdoms of Europe to establish
a peaceful world?
In her wonderful chronicle Henry VIII: The King and His Court, Alison
Weir explores all facets of “Great Harry’s” personality. Because
this book is filled with extensive detail and minutiae of royal life in the
16th century, I hesitate to label it a biography. It is far mor
e than that.
We learn not only about Henry, but also a little about his many wives. We learn
about the complicated, intricate maneuverings of the courtiers, the duties of
the royal staff, and the political involvement of the Church.
We learn about the architecture of the age, social customs, hygiene and early
health treatments. Weir is our window into the fashions and accessories of the
age, the sports and entertainment, the religious observances, the economic dealings
and political intrigue amongst the kingdoms of Europe. We are introduced to
such famous historical politicians as Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Wolsey, Renaissance
poets such as Wyatt and Surrey, great artists like Hans Holbein, and the aristocratic
families like the nouveau riche Boleyns and the ancient Howards and Percies.
For those of us who want to learn even more, an extensive bibliography covers
every imaginable topic of Tudor study. Weir’s several studies of the period
(The Life of Elizabeth I, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The
Princes in the Tower, The Wars of the Roses, Eleanor of Aquitaine:
A Life) have given her the credentials of an expert on Tudor England. At
times, the lengthy lists and meticulous attention to detail make for slow reading.
But if one can get past the first 100 pages, the book takes on a life of its
own. I found myself greatly disturbed if my reading was interrupted, returning
as quickly as possible to see which Henry would step forth next. Henry VIII:
The King and His Court is a book that will keep you spellbound for hours.