Bizarrely enough when I was younger I wasn’t anywhere near as interested by history as I am now and I hear that quite a lot from adults I know (probably growing up and staritng to get a sense of your own mortality has a lot to do with it!); but the one thing I do remember absolutely loving learning about in school was the Tudors. Henry VIII and his six wives fascinated me: all that greedy guzzling at banquets, heads being chopped off left, right and centre and stuck on London bridges for the publics viewing pleasure, the fashion, the scandals…..I loved it all.
A couple of weekends ago, Mr Whisperer and I went for a day out at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire as I love the huge grounds there and there are gorgoues gardens, cute gift shops and yummy tea and cakes!
We didn’t realise when before we got there was that there was a Tudor Village set up in the grounds with a tent to get a spit-roast pork sandwich and a cider and wander round the various craft stalls manned by people dressed up in the Tudor garb.
Of course all these meanderings through village and stall, eating freshly roasted meat got me thinking about the books I have read about the Tudors. Here are a selection of my favourites:
I’m Henry VIII I am, I am!
Love him or hate him, you have to admit that old Henry is one of the most fascinating characters ever to grace Blighty, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. The man is a legend! King of England for 38 years back in the early-mid 1500’s, Henry not only had six wives but he found a way to get rid of his first wife (Catherine of Aragon) after 20 or so years becuase he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn instead. Back in the days before being able to divorce, Henry decided that the only way he could get rid of Catherine was to change religion from Catholic to Protestant and bring the whole of England along with him for the ride. Don’t like that idea?: then prepare to loose your head!
After ditching Catherine he finally married Anne Boleyn but soon realised his mistake when he found that she wasn’t the sweet little lapdog he thought she was. How to get rid of Anne? Chop her head off by accusing her of sleeping with her own brother! (Oh, and chop the head of said brother off too, and why not her music teachers too for good measure?). After Anne came Jane Seymour, the love of his life, but the poor (or is that lucky?) girl died in child birth after giving birth to his only son. Then came Anne of Cleves who he divorced for being too ugly (maybe he had never looked in a mirror), Katherine Howard who was too slutty and lost her head for her pains (fancy being in love with someone her own age, and then being forced to marry the King of England and then said King finding out that she had the nerve to be in love with someone else before she met him! Tsk!) and finally Katherine Parr, who it is claimed (I hope this is true for her sake) never had to sleep with the King as he was infirm with a gangrenous leg at the time and only had to mop his brow and show up to events as his Queen.
As well as his numerous wives and extra-curricular bedroom activities (he had at least 2 illegitimate children) King Henry also had a little thing for destroying monestaries up and down the UK to name but one of his hobbies.
This is one of my favourite books about Henry. At almost 1000 pages (and pretty small print) it’s not a quick read but having said that, I was so engrossed in the story that it did take me only about 10 days to read. The story is told by his “fool” Will Sommers and charts Henry’s life from before birth to after his death. So much research and period detail has gone into this book and I have read that it took Margaret George over 10 years to write. It really is such a great book and if, like me, you haven’t read anything about the Tudors since you were at school this is a great refresher. It assumes no knowledge of those times but isn’t patronising. I never once felt lost or out of my depth; just engrossed in a page-turning book.
Another great book about Henry and his wives (but non-fiction) is Alison Weir’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Even if you’re not a fan of non-fiction, this is really readable and almost reads like fiction: really interesting too.
Catherine of Aragon
Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, is probably my favourite of all six wives. Possibly because she was around for the longest, or that she was dgnified to the end, but also because her own background is fascinating too. Catherine (or Catalina) was the daughter of Queen Isabella of Spain and grew up in the time when the Moors were drivin the Jews out of Spain to towards Portugal and town after town was being sacked.
Jean Plaidy has written a great book called Daugthers of Spain which is about Queen Isabella’s 4 daughters (and one son). It is actually third in a trilogy of books about Isabella but they all work as stand alones. This book tells the story of Catalina growing up and who was married off to whom and for what reason (it’s all about the power!). One of Catalina’s sisters, Joanna (Juana) was known as Juana La Loca as she was a little (or a lot) crazy. There is a book called The Last Queen which I really want to read that is all about her life but I haven’t got round to it yet.
Lady Jane Gray
Perhaps one of the more overlooked Tudors: probably because not only did she only rule England for nine days, there is not as much known about her earlier life as the more prominent royals.
Innocent Traitor (again by Alison Weir) is a work of fiction based upon real facts and is one of my favourite Tudor reads. There is snobbery, coruption, abuse, child neglect and ruthlessness galore inside these 400 pages. Honestly, it’s like watching an episode of Shamless but with posh people. It really is an eye-opener into the goings on of the Tudor court (and peoples attempt to get into it).
I have so many more books on my bookshelf from the Tudor period that I really want to get to soon.
Do you like books about the Tudors? Which ones do you recommend?