Oct/Nov 2002 Book Reviews

Henry VIII: King and Court

Alison Weir
Pimlico, Random House, (May 2002) 639 pages
ISBN: 0 7126 6451 3

reviewed by Ann Skea

It is hard to improve on Alison Weir's own Introduction. "My aim," she writes, "has been to draw together a multitude of strands of research in order to develop a picture of the real Henry VIII, his personal life throughout his reign, the court he created and the people who influenced and served him."

This she does admirably, providing detailed information about every aspect of Henry's daily life, from the time he rose and was dressed each morning, through his various courtly and administrative routines, his work and his play, his loves and his hates, to the time (midnight) when he retired to his bed of estate and thence to his privy chamber for the night.

Working from original documents and other contemporary sources, Alison Weir assembles a picture of the court, the times, the man, and some of those around him. Henry appears as very human: neither wholly god-like not wholly a monster but certainly both at different times of his life. His marriages are dealt with briefly and factually (Weir has written about them in detail in an earlier book), so too is his relationship with his Cardinals and with other important figures.

With so much material to handle and such an eventful life to cover, this book (thick as it is) is deliberately narrow in its focus. The political history of Henry's reign is outside its scope. So too, is the broader context of events in Europe, without a knowledge of which many of Henry's most important decisions appear arbitrary and self-orientated. Nevertheless, Alison Weir has done a superb job of bringing to life a remote period of history in an interesting and accessible way. Not for her is the journalistic, simplistic presentation of unproven "facts," such as was seen in the recent TV series on Henry's wives. She examines some of the most contentious aspects of Henry's life, and she offers informed, documented and careful opinions.

Inevitably, much of the book will already be familiar to those who are interested in Henry's reign, but there is still much that is of interest and much to be learned about Henry's life and his court which has not been brought together in this way before.


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