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Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions that Forged Modern Europe

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  1,297 ratings  ·  187 reviews
In Europe, 1491 to 1500 was an exciting time to be alive. The entire continent was overshadowed by four rulers, all born within a ten-year period:

King Francis I of France, the most interesting of the quartet, bursting with energy and swagger, was a great patron of the arts and the personification of the Renaissance.

King Henry VIII of England—who was not born to be king but
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 4th 2017 by Atlantic Monthly Press
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Average rating 3.79  · 
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 ·  1,297 ratings  ·  187 reviews

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Feb 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-history
Reading history by historians who have ceased to give a damn is a great simple pleasure.

By "ceased to give a damn" I mean, as in this case, the historian has achieved sufficient age, dignity, and renown that he is free to tell a good story about stuff that interests him, without the tedious bowing and scraping to established opinion and other historians which often drags down other histories. Norwich knows a lot of cool stuff and enjoys knowing it, and he invites you to know it and enjoy it too.
Lyn Elliott
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This fascinating book takes an umbrella view of the combined influences of four powerful rulers of the first half of the sixteenth century: Henry VIII of England, Francois I of France, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire . Between them they ruled all most of Western Europe and many of the lands between Austria and Turkey. A fifth powerful figure, the Pope, is not included in the title but is there as a crucial player in the continuing jostling ...more
K.J. Charles
I don't know why I keep reading John Julius Norwich books. I like his breezy style and the overviews, but he's completely unreliable. Or to put it another way, he far prefers the cool stories and wonderful gossip of history to the boring minutiae of dates and facts and stuff that actually happened. This is of course why I keep reading him. It's more fun.

I was going to say "I wish my job was just randomly making up stuff and publishing it" but then I remembered I'm a romance novelist. On the othe

I don't know enough about Francis I and Charles V to comment their parts, but Henry VIII's and Suleyman I's are full of inaccuracies. Moreover, the women are treated awfully in this book: Anne Boleyn is presented as "rude" and hated by everybody, by Henry as well. The author blames Anne for anything bad that Henry did, like forbidding Mary to visit her mother. He also says that we will never know for certain if Anne was really guilty of adultery and that "it may well be that she slept
TBV (on hiatus)
“Francis, Henry, Charles, Suleiman: here are our four princes. Individually, they could hardly have been more different; together, they dominated the world stage and moulded the continent of Europe. None perhaps – not even Suleiman – was a truly great man; but they all possessed elements of greatness, and each left a huge and indelible footprint on the land or lands over which he ruled.”

Henry VIII of England (1491-1547)
Henry was the second monarch of the Tudor dynasty. He was a scholar and
Jan 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: tudor, non-fiction, france
I really struggled with this rating.It was a very interesting perspective of the times and was told following each monarchs life events and how they interacted with each other or not.While I really liked the writing style there were moments I was not sure I wanted to finish it because quite a few inaccuracies kept popping up.The author lists all his sources but does not footnote them so was difficult to tell where all the misinformation was coming from.Nevertheless,very interesting idea for a bo ...more
Definitely in my comfort zone here - medieval history! Whilst already familiar with each of the four princes - Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France, Charles V of Spain, and Suleyman the Magnificent - I enjoyed the way Norwich (whom I am rather partial too), links these contemporaries together.

For all four men were contemporaries, ruling four powerful European empires (England, France, Spain & Imperial Empire, and Constantinople). And Norwich himself writes .. "the four of them together hel
This overview of four powerful leaders of the 16th century reads like a blog. In some ways that is nice. It is easy to read and doesn't get into too many details. On the other hand, it also includes opinions and outright errors. Despite the fact that this is supposed to be about four men, it felt like it focused on Henry VIII in much greater length. ...more
The early years of sixteenth-century Europe were dominated by key players: Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France, and Charles V of Spain. Lesser known in Western Europe but certainly not less of a tour de force was Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Turks. These massive figures tugged and pulled at each other constantly influencing affairs. John Julius Norwich takes an uncharacteristic approach to historical biography by mainly focusing on this interplay in, “Four Princes: Henry VIII, ...more
Aug 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Solid overview of a fascinating period, nicely written but sometimes inaccurate.
Jan 30, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Norwich has written a fluffy book that contains very little new information. Several major mistakes are in the book and at other places I couldn't tell if it was just poor writing or yet more incorrect information. For example, on p. 197 he writes (of Mary I and Henry VIII of England), "a certain Sir Francis Englefield, on of Mary's privy councillors, later revealed that he had been present at Windsor when Henry's grave had been opened, and what was left of his body pulled out and ceremonially c ...more
A.L. Sowards
I love Norwich’s writing style—incredibly witty nonfiction isn’t something you find every day. Norwich had me smiling at his clever sentences and chuckling at his sarcasm. The author focused on the most interesting stories in the history and told them well. I listened to the audio book and the narrator did a great job. Did you know good readers can narrate parenthesis? My main complaint is that the book went by too quickly. It’s left me wanting more on the time period and on each of the subjects ...more
Alex Sarll
An immensely readable history of the first half of the 16th century, told through the lives of four rulers who between them dominated Europe throughout it: England’s Henry VIII, France’s Francis I, the Habsburg Charles V and the Ottoman Suleiman the Magnificent. For the British reader, much of the interest lies in seeing Henry’s story taken out of the semi-detached context in which we normally encounter it and tied back into a wider world; for instance, while I was obviously aware that Henry’s f ...more
Feb 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received a free E Arc from Netgalley of this book.

It's been a long time since I read a non-fiction history book that wasn't set in the Anglo-Saxon/Viking period, but the Tudor period - or rather Elizabeth I was my first great history crush and I was fascinated by the idea of this accounting of the first half of the sixteenth century. History books too often focus on one person, one event or one series of events, it's high time that 'history' looked at the wider reach of events and this is exac
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Delicious. When you read non-fiction history, you often go in knowing that you're going to have to slog through the slow bits, and you accept this, because that's just the way it is. Well. Not with THIS book. Four Princes has been written by the incomparable John Julius Norwich, himself a man about whom a book should be written! He's not concerned with political correctness. He's not trying to throw your 21st century morals onto 16th century people. He understands how important religion could be ...more
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The first half of the 16th century in Europe was a fascinating era for power politics, spiced with a hefty dash of religious conflict. As western Christendom was rent by the Reformation and threatened by the rising power of the Ottoman Empire, four memorable monarchs were the stars of the show, so to speak, and J.J. Norwich's group portrait of Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France, Charles V of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire and Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire follows the tr ...more
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Received from NetGalley.

I ended up listening to the audio book for this and it really helped me get through the book. I loved the book but for some reason actually reading it seemed to take forever. My favorite part of history to read/learn about is Tudor England so I knew quite a bit about Henry VIII, but I knew little to nothing about the rest of the princes in this book. I learned a lot about the rest of Europe during this time period and thought it ended up being a great book.
Nov 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting, lively and super easy to read. Adapted for non-historians, but still contains a lot of useful information, so I was completely okay with that ;)
Grace Achord
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a very interesting look at this time period from the vantage point of four men who found themselves in positions of great authority.

Henry VIII: This was probably the most flattering portrayal of him I have come across. Norwich does well in helping his readers understand the motivations behind Henry's infamous actions.

Francis I: In my opinion, Francis was the worst of the four. He was unprincipled, broke nearly every alliance or treaty he made, persecuted Protestants, and allied himself
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it

Four legendary leaders of 16th century Europe. How about telling an integrated story of their history? Norwich does this, focusing by necessity on some important dates and locations, but interjecting spicy details and connecting the dots between what's happening here--to what's happening over there and how they affect each other.

I was struck by some of the footnotes. The author must be well established in his field and writing this book out of interest. “It's no good even trying to give
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable, fast-paced narrative about four men who loom large in the first part of the 16th century. I knew bits and pieces of Henry and Charles, less so about Francis, and even less so about Suleiman. The book explores the ways in which each of their lives overlapped with the others. Some of the insights were deeply insightful and helped give some context to parallel events at the same time. For example: Charles didn't encounter the Lutherans after the Diet of Worms in 1521 until the Augsbur ...more
James Sinks
History books can be popular, sensational, biased, slanted, and incorrect while still being brilliant--even essential--analyses. Pop history can be good history. For instance, my first recommendations for anyone interested in the late middle ages are Huizinga and Tuchman, precisely because while they present a deeply flawed narrative, they are engrossing, engaging, and present a view of a historical milieu that--even with its flaws and 50-100 years of superceding scholarship--is not necessarily ...more
Novelle Novels
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
2 out of 5 stars
This is the story of four princes all born within a decade. Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France, Charles V of Spain and suleiman the magnificent. I already know a lot about our king so to me he Is my favourite as I love reading about his era even though he wasn’t great he really changed England.. I know abit about the other European kings and so I could relate to their stories which also connected with our country but I found suleimans tale harder to follow. Yes this is fa
Jul 08, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting look at four monarchs you (or at least I) would not automatically think of at the same time. The author does a good job portraying each of the men who together ruled a immense part of the civilized world, and not mentioned in the title he also includes a lot of information on the other dominant factor of their times--religion. Since this was a time of growth in the Muslim world, and conflict/separation/contraction in the Christian world this is important.
Free e-book from the library.
Stephen Simpson
Nov 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: own
Enjoyable and easy reading, there are some definite historical "issues" here as other reviewers have noted. I won't say that this author was categorically wrong, some of the specifics are still debated by historians, but there were definitely some clear inaccuracies (or at least rumor-mongering without clearing indicating such).

Apart from the accuracy issues, it's also pretty shallow. Norwich hits the highlights, and goes into depth here and there (likely on topics events that were of personal
John Frasene
Jan 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Readable account of 16th century Europe. A good recommendation for Game of Thrones fans with an interest in the history that the show draws on. The constant forging and dropping of alliances and use of children and marriages as bargaining chips fits right into the show, as does the three Christian kings’ relationship with the Ottoman ruler Suleiman— he is the enemy and the infidel, until you need his help to fight enemies closer to home.

Overall this is an entertaining look at the leaders of the
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Four leaders dominated what author Norwich calls the civilized world during the first half of the 16th century: Henry VIII, French king Francis I, Hapsburg and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and the most colorful of them, Turkish leader Suleiman. All formed alliances, only to quickly break them and stab each other in the back. The amount of hypocrisy is amazing. The most surprising was Francis' alliance with Suleiman against Charles. And all of this during the Protestant Reformation. ...more
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Henry VIII, Francis 1, Charles V, Suleiman the magnificent all ruled in the first half of the 16th century and it was a time of incredible world change. I am not a student of history but I loved this book. Accessible, fun, succinct and full of characters and dynamic action and intrigue; best of all it all happened ! Leaves Game of Thrones in the shade (tho less Dragons).
Lynn Weber
Dec 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This was a solid book of history on four dominant rulers in the first half of the 1500s: Henry VIII, Francis I of France, Carlos V, and Suleiman the Magnificent, sultan of the Ottoman empire. It relayed their military and political interactions in some detail, which is good for a fuller understanding of their temperaments and achievements. Some good anecdotes too.
G. Lawrence
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
A good book, very interesting, but some facts (albeit facts only dropped in in passing) were wrong, which made me doubt the rest of the book, unfortunately. One prime one was where the author claimed Anne Boleyn was charged with witchcraft at the trial which led to her death. She wasn't. This inaccuracy, which is, to be fair, repeated by many (which, I suspect, only intensified after her portrait made an appearance in the Harry Potter films, on the walls of Hogworts) comes from Henry VIII passin ...more
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John Julius Norwich was born in the United Kingdom and served in the Royal Navy before receiving a degree in French and Russian at New College, Oxford. After graduation, he joined the H. M. Foreign Service and served in Belgrade, Beirut, and as a member of British delegation to the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. In 1954, he inherited the title of Viscount Norwich. In 1964, he resigned from the ...more

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