136 of 141 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2002
Unlike some of the reviewers, I have been disappointed in some of Ms. Weir's books (especially those dealing with Richard III, where she skews the facts to fit her prejudice). But this one is a gem. WARNING: It is NOT a biography of Henry VIII (nor does it claim to be). It is a wonderful portrait of a court and an age. If the details of everyday life enchant you, you will love this book: you'll learn what Henry's court ate, drank, wore; how they ate, how they drank, and when they wore what! You'll get details about the various royal (and non-royal) residences that are very difficult to find elsewhere: how they were furnished, financed, run, used. And this time, Weir is scrupulous in citing her sources and in using them well. Where there are disputed facts, she indicates this. When she is hypothesizing, she indicates this as well. It is true that she appears to be quite fond of old Henry, but not as he became. Rather, I think, she admires the potential that was in the young king, the goodness, basic decency that could have made him England's best (if not greatest) king. The potential for selfishness, greed, paranoia, and self-delusion was also there--unfortunately, the bad side won! After reading Weir's book, I now share both Weir's semi-nostalgic admiration and her regret.
65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 2001
If you are in the market for a personal, rather than a political, history of Henry VIII, this is the book for you. Even better, and as promised in the title, the book is not just about Henry. You get plenty of information on all six wives, including such tidbits as Katherine Parr's shoe fetish (she had 47 pairs of shoes made in one year- Imelda Marcos, move over!); the presence of aristocratic "cloth holders" in Anne Boleyn's retinue (these ladies would hold cloths in front of Anne's face at strategic moments, such as when Anne needed to spit!); and Anne of Cleves's disagreeable body odor (Henry was eager to meet Anne after he saw the wonderful portrait Hans Holbein had done of her. Unfortunately, when Henry saw Anne in person he was greatly disappointed. And, being a very clean and fastidious fellow, he was even more "turned off" when he got "downwind" of Anne.)
The book seems a bit choppy in the early stages. The chapters are very brief and you seem to be tossed about from one topic to another- the various castles;how they were decorated; the strategic and logistical difficulties of going "on progress"; the quantities and types of food served to the King and his minions; etc. But, even though there doesn't seem to be much of a narrative in the early going, the material is fascinating in and of itself. And, after 200 pages or so, the book starts to come together and becomes more of a straighforward biography.
If you are looking for more of a political/military biography this is most likely not going to be your cup of tea. But if you want to get to know Henry as a human being, and not just Henry but his wives and many members of the nobility, and if you want to find out a lot of interesting information about social life and the culture of the times- you will find this book to be very rewarding.
To give you some idea of the style of the writing, and of the personal information obtained by reading this book, here is an excerpt that deals with Henry's "shopping around" for wife number four, after the death of Jane Seymour:
"It was now more imperative than ever that the King remarry, and soon. Various brides were under consideration: it was thought that some of the highborn ladies of France might prove suitable, but Henry, who was proving particularly choosy, was taking no chances, and demanded that seven or eight of them be brought to Calais for his inspection. On the instructions of an outraged King Francis, the French ambassador, Gaspard de Coligny, Sieur de Castillon, replied, 'It is not the custom in France to send damsels of noble and princely families to be passed in review as if they were hackneys for sale.'"
Weir, at times, fawns a bit too much over Henry. To hear the author's version of things, Henry was the best at everything: the best archer, the best jouster, the best poet, a great scholar, etc. You must take some of this with a grain of salt. But this is small beer, and is outweighed by the sheer joy of reading all of the interesting material!
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2002
This is the second book I've read by Allison Weir. I found it much more readable than Elizabeth I. I enjoy detail, as so many "traditional" texts leave this out; therefore, it was a delight to feast on the life and times of Henry VIII. If anything, I do wish Weir had discussed the foreign policy of Henry to some extent--other than the "Eighth Wonder of the World," you learned little. I kept reminding myself that this was primarily a book about court life, whereupon my enjoyment returned. Many reviews I've read criticize Weir for all the details in her books. Perhaps I am more "curious" than most. I actually got on the Internet and ran a conversion table on some of the court costs she included. I am confident that Weir is a consummate researcher. I believe what she says about the Tudors to be accurate and well thought out. I have just ordered her book on the Children of Henry VIII, and look forward to receiving it shortly. In my opinion, she is the primary researcher of the Tudor monarchy.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2004
Generally, I'm not a fan of Weir, as she made a number of errors in her "The Six Wives of Henry VIII". At times her research is faulty. Unfortunately, this book also suffers from mistakes: one of the most glaring is not doing her homework on the 16th C. Tower of London. The current site of the scaffold, in front of St. Peter ad Vincula, was a Victorian notion, and Anne Boleyn's coronation lodgings, where she stayed after her arrest, is not the present Queen's House (but does include salvaged architectural features). As a historian, she should not fall into the "tourist trap". However, this book reveals a superb grasp of overwhelming amounts of quirky primary source documents; quite the task. Also, it is a perfect adjunct to countless biographies that overlook this type of background material.
While not a biography of Henry VIII per se, this book is a fascinating glimpse into the machinations of his court over time. This lion king, fierce, ruthless, gifted and charming, presided over the first truly Renaissance court in England. Ms. Weir combed obscure sources for hitherto unknown insights and has written them into a cohesive social history. Who knew Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn both favoured cherries and strawberries above all other fruit? I had heard Henry VIII was fastidious in his personal hygiene, but here all is described at length: his daily routines, his eating and exercise habits, how he dined and with whom, the monumental progresses, plus his being the centre of an enormous courtly universe. What protocols his courtiers had to observe! And even Henry VIII is not the master of destiny, at least not in the minutae: he, too, was bound by conventional expectations of kingly behaviour.
Even as Henry was clean, his courtiers were hardly so: where else would find details such as crosses carved into palace walls to prevent men from urinating against them? Utterly charming.
Here we see Henry's human side; I am familiar with Scarsbrick's intellectual view of Henry -- the man of policy and passion, the ecclesiastical and political dimensions. Here we see the business of being king; one sees 'Dieu et Mon Droit' in action, the pageantry, the spectacle, the dangers associated of rising too close to this brilliant sun. Much of it all must have been tedious, but Henry was born to the task (even if he were not destined to be king).
And Henry is not the only one addressed from an unconventional angle: Ms. Weir has unearthed details regarding Henry's wives and associates which normally escapes biographers. Occasionally, however, she does go out on an unsupported, unconventional limb, but overall, this is a wonderful companion piece to more difficult scholarly analyses of the period. Indeed, the book is easy to digest, although some unfamiliar with Henry VIII's reign might find the detail overwhelming. For the aficionado it is a welcome addition.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2004
As Alison Weir is one of my favourite authors, I was very excited to run out and buy this book. However, I was a little disapointed when I actually read it. Weir seems to recycle much of her information from other books that she has written, mainly "The Six Wives" and "The Children" of Henry VIII.
Despite my disapointment, I gave this book 4 stars because if I had read neither of those books, I think I would have really enjoyed this one. As with all of Weir's books, it is chock full of information and extremely well written. Despite all the details, it is never boring. There is SOME new information in here, but I don't think that there is enough to merit a whole separate book.
If you have never read Weir, or are looking for a very good intro to life at a Tudor court, then this book is definately worth reading and I wholeheartedly recomend it. If you are already an old hand at Henry et. al., then you might want to skip this one and move on to another of Weir's books.
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2002
As the published reviews have said, this book is what it is: A detailed (even exhaustive) narrative of life at the court of Henry VIII, but it leaves the reader wondering. Weir makes sense of Henry's successive marriages, and gives great detail into the social behavior of the time. She achieves some depth in discussing religion--Henry broke with Rome, but wasn't really much of a Protestant, it turns out. While the internal power struggles of the courtiers are interestingly narrated, the overall political picture remains a mystery. Henry invades France, Henry makes peace with France, he goes to war again--why? In sum, a rollicking beach book, but not for serious study.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2001
I always enjoy Alison Weir's biographies; they are scrupulously researched, her arguments are based on that research and her conclusions are carefully drawn and fair. She is sure of her stance, but is flexible enough admit doubts. In "Henry VIII: The King and His Court," Weir has dug even deeper into a subject about which she has written many times -- the brilliant Tudors who reigned over Britain's flowering rennaissance. Here she offers up an amazing amount of detail on not only the King and his six wives, but also on the astonishing array of people who made up his court, conselors and companions. Among other things, Weir credits Henry with introducing humanist teachings and philosophy to England, limning him as a great scholar, musician, athlete, scientist, author and patron of the arts. And yes, she does point out that he aged into a splendid and cruel tyrant, bankrupting the country with needless wars and very conscipuous consumption most often meant to impress royal rulers across Europe with lavish gestures and costly entertainments. All this glory and grandure was for a tiny elite; Henry most often ignoredthe growing restlessness of his mostly impoverished subjects, as he revolutionized religion in his realm to suit his dynastic needs. "The King and His Court" shines a bright light on the details on every aspect of the lives of the great and noble (and the occasional confection creator, armorer, or gifted craftsman). We learn what they wore, how they amused themselves, what and how they ate, who slept with whom, their innovations in architecture, art, dance, religion practices, how much this all cost (the sums are staggering) and much more. While all of this gossipy detail is delicious, and Henry's story of marital woes and his quest for an heir always makes a good read, what this book is outstanding in Weir's fully realized portraits of the remarkable denizens of Henry's court, from the humanist scholar Erasmus, to the martyred Thomas Moore, to the genius of the artist Holbein, to that cunning intriguer, Cardinal Wolsey. The richness of character, the fullsomeness and variety of information, the unstinting portrait of the complex Henry all add up to an enormously rewarding book. To read this book is to gain a whole new understanding of one of the most important chapters in Britain's royal history. Read this wonderful book to learn that Henry made it fashionable to sleep in a nightshirt, liked to concoct his own tonics and nostrums, was one of Europe's greatest dancers, was a talented composer and player of many instruments, and was a recognized and dedicated fashionista with a daring color sense...and, yes, how he dealt with those six wives, good, bad, sad and tragic.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
In one sense, I am at a disadvantage in assessing this volume. I am not an historian of this era, so I cannot confidently judge well the accuracy of Alison Weir's rendering of events and people. I have, of course, read other works dealing with this period, and I'm not sure that my understanding of them would contradict her major points.
That said, I am most impressed with this work. The author covers many aspects of English history--including day-to-day life--of the time. We read of medical practice (ugh), music, art, architecture, customs, drama, clothing, sports (e.g., hunting, archery, tennis, jousting, and so on), the internecine politics (when losers could lose their lives; politics was serious business), and the relationships among families in England of the era. This book is as much about the country at that time as about Henry VIII.
Henry VIII is portrayed in great detail. This is not a Charles Laughton view of the king. It is much more nuanced. It is true that, if Weir be correct, Henry became more rigid and unforgiving and vain and distrusting and autocratic as he aged. He drove England close to financial ruin with his wars (which often had little effect, even though costing much) and with his incessant building projects (his own palaces as one key example).But this should not detract from other of his accomplishments. He supported the arts; he was one of the more educated and intellectually oriented monarchs of the time. It may be that Weir romanticizes him to some extent, and that ought to be noted. But his was not simply a dissipated period in English history.
Of course, many would wonder about his rendering of the multitudinous wives of the monarch. Weir does spend time on this part of his life, including the Machiavellian politics associated with Henry's marriages (factions would use potential wives as pawns in power struggles). Weir's assessments of the various wives are pretty fair. We might be surprised to know of his affection for Katherine of Aragon; it is fascinating to watch the pas de deux between Anne Boleyn and Henry before their wedding; and so on.
Then, the descriptions of the hard ball politics of the era--featuring actors such as Wolsey, Cromwell, More, Cranmer, and the nobles of the time.
All in all, an accessible and very readable work on Henry VIII and his time. I'd strongly recommend. . . .
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2009
This is a wonderful book but do not buy the Kindle edition. It does not contain the illustrations available in the cloth copy - at least mine didn't. There are paintings by Holbein and other artists of Henry's court listed under illustrations in the Index but they are nowhere to be found in the Kindle version. I had to go on the Internet to hunt for pictures, and you lose a lot by not having illustrations right there in the book.
Another problem is that footnotes are important in a history such as this, and there is no way to toggle back and forth between the text and the footnote pages without losing your place. Newer electronic books are coming out with a way to do this, but this was published two years ago and the technology has not been updated. So I wound up reading the footnotes after I'd finished the book. If there's a way to toggle back and forth, maybe someone out there can fill me in but I haven't found it.
When you have a book with this much information, it's important to keep track of who is who. Although there is a geneology chart (barely visible on Kindle) it would have helped to include a list of important characters and their relationship to the court. Perhaps if this is re-issued at some point it will include a chart. The book itself is informative (although I got really tired of reading about every detail of every decoration for every tournament/event and a description early on of what cloth of gold actually is would have helped me understand why it was so widely used and prized). Overall, this was a very informative book but I'm going out to buy the cloth edition and will probably delete it from my Kindle.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2001
This book, while enjoyable, is for the more serious student of the Tudor time period. Overloaded with lists of Henry's purchases and possesions, it often has little narrative flow.It's hard to imagine this book came from the same pen as Elizabeth I and Elenore of Aquitane. The only Weir I won't be keeping a copy of.