Orsolya's Reviews > Henry VIII: The King and His Court

Henry VIII by Alison Weir
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Dec 26, 11

bookshelves: history, tudor-england, own, henry-viii
Read from August 14 to 25, 2011

What can really be said about Henry VIII which us Tudor obsessees don't know? Well, unless "Great Harry" comes back to life and personally answers some of our most burning questions; not much.

However, Alison Weir explores a different route in Henry VIII: The King and His Court. Unlike her usual novels which focus on a single event(s) or feature the biography/portrait of a historical figure; this book can be described as an entire Henry VIII museum wrapped into the confines of a book. Meaning: the same way that a museum exhibit would feature artifacts and smaller singular factoids, this novel also presents smaller glimpses into the Tudor court which you may have no experienced before. Yet, the entire novel is better if you are new to Henry VIII or seeking a refresher course. Not necessarily suggested for avid Henrican buffs. In fact, sometimes the book sadly is too dry and even at times, pointless.

The King and His Court is divided into two parts, in a sense. The first features a very informative view of the background life at court. This describes logistical details and a “behind the scenes” look while the second half the book is more in the realm of depicting actual events (more like Weir’s “regular” history books although it sometimes read like a research paper). Don’t expect too much on the wives, as Weir emphasizes in the foreword that this topic would not be covered in its entirety, although the King’s “Great Matter” is covered with a moderate chunk, as is Anne Boleyn’s downfall.

The first part of the book could have been a “go-to” for the researchers who worked on the Tudors TV series. Everything you need to know about background and “props” (furniture, household logistics, and administrative members) is answered in this section. Extensive details from games played to how many dogs a courtier could own, to what time one could defecate; is explored. Okay, the last one is an exaggeration but that is how detailed the research on Tudor life Weir presented. On the contrary, this can cause dragging and at some points too much focus on the decorum of the court.

There were valuable eye-openers. The chapter on “feeding the court” was remarkable. The amount of food and logistics which went into meal times is fascinating. Even more so, is the fact that records still exist of these details, even centuries later. The Field of Cloth of Gold was also deliciously well- described in its entire splendor. One of my favorite highlights was the story of how Henry gained the title “Defender of the Faith”. Although I am very familiar with the famous title which he made a hereditary term, it wasn’t necessarily explained clearly in previous works I have read.

Another pleasing factor was the included information on “secondary” individuals at court such as the Horenbouts (Gerard, Lucas, and Susanna) – the court illuminators— and other artists like the well-known Hans Holbein. However, I would have liked more passages on the fool we all know and love, Will Somers since he was in the court picture for 20 years.

Some parts of the book were too exhaustive in details and seemed like Weir just wanted to show-off her depth of research. At some points, I just wanted it to end, already. Weir would also repeat phrases which stuck-out like, “…good son of the church that he was…” when speaking about Henry. Either she was trying to hard to solidify the irony or she didn’t have a great editor. Plus, I was REALLY angered on page 296, paragraph 3, when I encountered the sentence, “It is was to Chapuys that Sir Nicholas Carew revealed his growing sympathy for the Queen and Princess Mary”. Even my Microsoft Word Spell Check just underlined and caught the “it is was” error, how did Weir and her editor miss it?!

It is very interesting to lean about the culture and art of the court (even the propaganda) in place during the Henrican events versus just the events, themselves. A different view can be refreshing and you will certainly learn some interesting factoids to impress people with (I know this for a fact as I lightly mentioned facts to my boyfriend daily while reading this book). Although Henry buffs may skim some areas, it is certainly worth a glance.
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08/17/2011 page 174
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