5 stars for the data, but 3 for the presentation, so let’s average it out to 4.
The line art style makes the book i...more Dense, dense, and dense. And dated.
5 stars for the data, but 3 for the presentation, so let’s average it out to 4.
The line art style makes the book instantly look out of date to modern eyes, which (let’s be honest) often makes one question the veracity of the material. But, if you can make it through the unapproachable text and illustration layout, there are quite a lot of good nuggets of information buried in this heavy tome. Literately heavy – you could use the book as part of a free weight work out.
This is not a book for the introductory level – this is for someone coming in with a lot of background on the subject and who is probably looking for specific information.
Highly recommend for SCA members and other costume makers looking for high level details on the people and clothes of the 16th century. (less)
An examination of the sources more than the people themselves, it is well presented and makes some good points about new interpretations of the data,...more An examination of the sources more than the people themselves, it is well presented and makes some good points about new interpretations of the data, but oh dear God it’s depressing. (less)
David – can I call you David? – what are you doing here? I get that Katherine Howard is a difficult biography to tell in a straight, linear fashion, b...more David – can I call you David? – what are you doing here? I get that Katherine Howard is a difficult biography to tell in a straight, linear fashion, but four full chapters before she steps on the scene, really?
The narrative rolls back and forth, losing momentum, going into tangents about different members of Henry VIII’s court, and getting way into the weeds about the small points of difference between various forms of English Catholicism and English Protestantism as well as the odd Catha-Protest-Reforma-Conserva-ism that was Henry’s religion.
David, you also have to learn to embrace the human school of thought that people are human too, no matter when they lived, what their gender, sex, skin color, religion, etc – they are going to be effected by the human basics like hunger, revulsion, desire, etc. You go on and on about the political hornet’s nest Katherine Howard stepped in an what she represented as a symbol of the Howard faction, but ignore the fact that Katherine was married to a man so fat “three men could fit inside his doublet.” This, just as a matter of basic physics, is going to cause problems.
Next time, more about the queen herself please, and less about those around her. (less)
“What do you mean different versions? She isn’t Catwoman!”
This was my boyfriend’s bemused reaction to hearing what I was reading about. Laughing, I we...more “What do you mean different versions? She isn’t Catwoman!”
This was my boyfriend’s bemused reaction to hearing what I was reading about. Laughing, I went on to explain that, actually, yes, there can be just as many versions of a factual person as there can be of a fictional person, and Bordo does an amazing job here showing those versions.
What do we know, what do we think we know and why do we think that?
Excellent examination of the evidence – and lack of – surrounding the captivating Anne Boleyn. (less)
For a country where words like “stodgy,” “quaint,” “stiff,” and “civilized” are tossed about to describe the people, it appears to have a history abso...more For a country where words like “stodgy,” “quaint,” “stiff,” and “civilized” are tossed about to describe the people, it appears to have a history absolutely soaked through in blood.
Ackroyd tackles an ambitious project, perhaps overly ambitious, covering English history from the arrival of the first [i]homo sapiens[/i] circa 900,000 BC to the death of Henry VII in 1509. He covers so much ground that he is forced to gallop along at a break neck speed, rushing through events and having to move on just when things are getting interesting. The difficulty is that each chapter covers a subject worth a whole book by itself.
He starts by examining England’s history before the written record – what fragments of bone, a few bits of burned wood, and some stone carvings can tell us. Quite a lot, actually. I’m impressed with the archeologists’ ability to look at a field with a few potshards and skulls in it and be able to re-create a city or battle. England, apparently, was site to many, many, bloody battles, as bad as anything in the 19th or 20th century, well before the Romans came, and then,
When the Romans did come, all bets were off, and even worse when the empire collapsed, and England split into pieces, filled with warring factions and invaders, followed, slowly, slowly, by a melding as the people intermixed and began to create the genetic mix of the true ‘English’ – a blood line that seems to have a little bit of everything that Europe has to offer.
After going through the mists of King Arthur, the book goes back and forth between the documented succession of the English crown, and the development of the land in general – towns, roads, church, law, etc. With still plenty of bloodshed in any given time period.
It’s a meaty but uncomplicated read, and I, personally, found it helpful to read up on the kings and queens of England in a straightforward succession, seeing them laid out in the big picture to get a better grasp on who reigned when. (less)
Between the bloody War of the Roses and the sexploits of Henry VIII and his six wives, Henry VII tends to be overlooked.
If he’s mentioned at all its...more Between the bloody War of the Roses and the sexploits of Henry VIII and his six wives, Henry VII tends to be overlooked.
If he’s mentioned at all its in the context of what came before or after him. Historians dismiss him as a miser, only grudgingly admitting he did a good job keeping the country and economy stable, out of war and out of debt. He sired sons to keep the line going, thought decisions through to avoid mistakes, and kept himself out of anything the least bit scandalous or even interesting.
Therefore, the common impression is that he’s just too boring for words – especially since if you press the fast forward button you get the good stuff with Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
Dr. Penn takes a magnifying glass to the reign of Henry VII and – surprise! – there is actually quite a lot going on.
So, it appears Henry VII practically invented the CIA. He’s so-called “secure” reign had lots and lots of conspiracies and rebellions – and a lot more than just that Warbeck affair that makes the history books. Henry VII was a man under siege, and employed a legion of spies to catch anyone who might be plotting against him.
Also, Henry VII and his closest advisers, such as Bishop Morton, were able to squeeze more money out of the citizens than just about any other monarch I’ve heard of. Henry VII was particularly good at giving people passes for jail time and treason in exchange for a hefty fine.
He neither killed people, like monarchs of his time, nor jailed people, like today’s first world countries – he merely took his people for every penny they had. Prince John’s tax collectors pale in comparison to his two main tax collectors, Dudley and Empson.
Dudley and Empson pop up a lot in history books when historian like to point out Henry VIII was a bloody tyrant right from the start, executing two tax collectors at the start of his reign just to make himself look good to his people. Now, however, seeing the whole story of the tax system of Henry VII and how dirty these two tax collectors operated, I may have cheered a bit when the book finally gets to their execution.
The whole book in fact, while being an amazing biography of Henry VII, acts as an excellent prequel to the story of Henry VIII – this is where so many of the people in his story came from, this is what molded them.
The author starts out with an academic's version of The Little Red Hen:
Who will help me find the primary sources? Who will help me analyze the primary...more The author starts out with an academic's version of The Little Red Hen:
Who will help me find the primary sources? Who will help me analyze the primary sources? Who will help me analyze the secondary sources? Who will help me write new secondary source? Well, I guess I will just have to enjoy the royalties from my new book All By Myself.
Anyway, the book finally gets to Henry VII. He rushes through Henry's place in the War of the Roses in very general terms, skimming through the first 28 years of Henry's life quite quickly, and things don't get exciting until the Battle of Bosworth, where he shows you Richard and Henry duking it out for the crown, up close and personal. He makes it clear that Henry wins not because he did so well - but because Richard did so bad.
So, Henry gains the crown, and there are some interesting points along the rest of the way as he describes Henry's life as king. Then, halfway through the book, we are already at Henry's failing health, the elaborate plans he draws up for his funeral, and his death.
The second half of the book is very, very, very dry academic analysis of different economic and political themes in Henry's reign, in no particular chronological order, examining aspects of early Tudor government in such a way that leaves you with the impression you are reading an early draft of a graduate student's thesis; a paper which the student cares madly about, the advising professor is perhaps mildly interested to see how the facts have been rearranged, and the rest of the population could give a flying shoe.
Where is the day to day life? Where is the interaction with his family members? Where are the first bricks being laid down that will lead to all the glory and horror of the later Tudor reigns?
The author claims that being between the violence of Richard III and the sexacapades of Henry VIII, Henry VII's ability to maintain a strong central government and collect taxes on a regular schedule leads to some dull reading. Ok, yes, anyone compared to Richard III and Henry VIII is going to come off as less than larger than life. But, ok, even if not larger than life, Henry VII was a man, and was more than just his various economic and foreign policies.
Basically, its a mislabeling to call this book a biographyy - historiography wold be the better word.
It doesn't grab you by the throat and shake you the way her Lady in the Tower does, but it is very, very thoughtful, leaving the reader pondering poss...more It doesn't grab you by the throat and shake you the way her Lady in the Tower does, but it is very, very thoughtful, leaving the reader pondering possible new angles of the Tudor court and Mary Boleyn.
Also, I have never seen so many question marks in a book *ever*, which probably makes this the most honest history book ever.
Just bought a copy. Review of second-time-round thoughts to come.
For a long time, the British Historians Bathroom had graffiti scrawled on the stalls reading: ‘For a good time, call Mary B.’
Alison Weir snickered along with the rest of the pack, adding little doodles of Tudor roses doing suggestive things with melons, but, now, like a reformed bully, she is here to try and scrub the lewdness away, and to try and tell an accurate portrait of a real, complex, three dimensional woman, without all the crass innuendo. Finally, someone is here to do more than brush Ms. M. Boleyn off with a joke and a stereotype.
Weir digs down deep through the tertiary, secondary and primary sources, taking a hard look at the characters of the sources as well as bringing a modern day police investigation level of attention to means, motive and opportunity, putting special emphasis on issues of timing and motivation.
She starts with an aggressive look at when Mary might have been born and moves on from there, applying the same attitude of –do-we-know-this-or-are-we-just-repeating-gossip? throughout as she tries to figure out where – and when – Mary spent her girlhood, teenage years, and early twenties.
She puts a lot of effort into establishing when a woman was pregnant, since a woman in her third trimester was 99.9 % most likely not engaging in any extra-marital affairs and would restrict other activities, such as galloping across the countryside, which helps establish where a woman was in the months right before giving birth.
She examines what “everyone knows” about May – that she slept with the King of England and the King of France – and comes to the conclusion that just becomes “everyone” says so… doesn’t necessarily make it true. She finds a little evidence that Mary could, maybe, have slept with the two kings – but not as much as you’d expect, give how sure historians have been about those “facts” for the past 400 years.
If she did sleep with Henry VIII, then it was an extremely well-kept secret, an affair conducted with absolute discretion – and with virtually no material gains for Mary.
Then a very close examination of who was the father of Mary’s two children. Basically, short of time machine and a DNA kit – we don’t know. I think the historical fiction book Doomed Queen Anne, summed it up best when Mary is asked who is the father of her son, she says in a rather miserable voice: I don’t know.
Then, as Anne takes center stage, Weir follows Mary along in the back wings, explaining how Mary played some part in support staff to Anne’s rise, but was just as much shoved to the side by the rest of the family.
When she marries William Stafford we get the extra fun tidbit of the fact Mr. Stafford was a solid 10 years younger than her (YOU GO GIRL!) and after an exhaustive look at all the fact Weir can come to no other conclusion than it was an honest to goodness love match, a true case of choosing love over the 1001 Practical Real World Reasons This Can Never Work.
Good for Mary – no matter what people say about her, she had the courage to make her own choice and not be afraid. A rare quality in this world.
So, there’s fallout, and yes, love is grand, but there was that money issue, and it looks like Mary spent pretty much the rest of her life living down a few pegs on the social notch, since most of the paper trail after her marriage is about job postings, inheritance squabbles, and disputed annuities.
Also, big surprise, Weir dug up evidence on were, exactly, Mary was when the execution of her sister went down and found some very hard evidence that points to Mary being in Calais at the time, of all places. Of course, it makes sense, since Calais was a good place to set out for if a.) you needed a job and b.) it was prudent to be out of the country for a few years.
Mary might very well have passed in the street the executioner on his way to the dock to set sail for England to kill her sister!
After that, Weir is left with not much more on Mary, but does a decent job examining what became of the rest of her family, tied as they were to Tudor politics, what with the never ending Howard-Tudor connection that always lead to some interesting epsidoes in history, of which Mary was only one.
So, the graffiti remains (thanks Philippa), but at least this has been added to try and balance things out.
Of course, no one is in a hurry to do anything about the crude drawings of Henry VIII holding a bloody ax in one hand and a phallic shaped chicken leg in the other… (less)