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Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I Hardcover – October 8, 2013
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*Starred Review* The Tudor era was pivotal in English history and remains of perennial interest to the general reader. Ackroyd takes on this much-written-about family history in his new, highly engaging book. His bona fides as an author to trust and enjoy rest on many well-appreciated nonfiction titles, including London: The Biography (2001), and compelling novels, among them Chatterton (1987), a historical novel about poet Thomas Chatterton (1752–70). Ackroyd’s primary interest here is how the reformation of the English church came about. From the time when Henry VIII’s desperation over the lack of a male heir compelled him to set aside his first queen, Catherine of Aragon, to when his second wife Anne Boleyn’s daughter, the glorious Elizabeth I, died after a long, complicated reign that nevertheless brought peace to the land, Ackroyd presents in rich prose and careful explanations how the English Reformation was not a movement of the people but a personal project of King Henry, who, Ackroyd insists, remained, despite his removal of papal authority over the English church, an orthodox Catholic. Under his immediate heir, the boy-king Edward VI, England veered sharply Protestant, but Edward’s elder sister, Mary I, during her brief occupancy of the throne, forced England back to full Catholicism. The genius of the next and last of Henry VIII’s children, Elizabeth I, was to establish a middle course between these two extremes. --Brad Hooper
“Peter Ackroyd's love of his subject shines through every page. This is a thrilling story that will delight readers interested in this period.” ―San Francisco Book Review
“While the author focuses on the politics of religious change, this is an accessible account, made even more so by anecdotes revealing the personalities of the main characters (e.g., Henry VIII became so obese that his bed had to be enlarged to a width of seven feet, and Mary Stuart wore crimson underclothes at her execution in 1587).” ―Publishers Weekly
“A solid multivolume popular history: readable, entirely nonrevisionist and preoccupied by politics, religion and monarchs--a worthy rival to Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Highly engaging…. Ackroyd presents in rich prose and careful explanations how the English Reformation was not a movement of the people but a personal project of King Henry.” ―Booklist (starred review)
“Peter Ackroyd is energetic and gifted enough to have mastered his sources and produced a sparklingly fresh account of Tudor England. ...Ackroyd has a wonderful eye for the telling detail, cameos that stick in the mind. ... If you want a finely written, racy account of the monster Henry VIII and his brood, a history book that really fires your imagination and is often so exciting that you cannot put it down, you should get this book.” ―The Weekly Standard
“Ackroyd presents the Tudors in a way frequently overlooked by other popular histories and novels, depicting them as a force that continues to affect both English and international societies today, rather than as an early-modern soap opera. … Each player in this real-life historical drama is clearly drawn, their major contributions and connections made apparent without losing the thread of the overall themes. Tudors takes a comprehensive approach to early-modern English history that is rarely attempted, but is, in Ackroyd's hands, a success.” ―Shelf Awareness
“Ackroyd's thoroughly researched narrative of the notorious Tudors is colorful, engaging, and highly accessible to general readers.” ―Choice
“Ackroyd writes with such lightly worn erudition and a deceptive ease that he never fails to engage.” ―The Telegraph (UK)
“Superbly accessible and readable.” ―The Financial Times (UK)
“Ackroyd clearly relishes the wicked glamour of the family which presided over the Reformation, saw off the Spanish Armada, founded the British Empire and left the country they ruled a great European power . . . Fluent and colorful.” ―Sunday Express (UK)
“As so often in Ackroyd's books there are irresistible small details of everyday life in historic London.” ―Daily Express (UK)
“Ackroyd's information concerning Cromwell provokes a different reaction from that gained by reading Hilary Mantel. . . . This is a fascinating read, an accessible history where the immense research is wittily presented and where the ideas are profound and moving.” ―Newtown Review of Books
“[Ackroyd] has a matchless sense of place, and of the transformations of place across long stretches of time; he is also an inventive and playful English stylist.” ―Standpoint (UK)
“Relaxed, unpretentious, and accessible.” ―The New York Times Book Review on Foundation
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Top Customer Reviews
He writes so well. You never feel like you are bogging down into irrelevant details but what details that are provided help you understand the period, but this book takes you way beyond an English king that was known to chop a head off, even if that head was his wife's, and explains the significance in a broader picture of why his period is so important in the history of our civilization.
Henry VIII was consumed with having a male heir. When he married his deceased brother's wife, Katherine of Aragon just before his eighteenth birthday, the plan was that she would provide him a son. She failed. She gave birth to a daughter, Mary, Henry began to have thoughts of ditching her as he already had his eyes on Anne Boleyn, and so began his quest to obtain from the pope an annulment of the marriage. To keep it short, he was able to marry Anne and she gave him a daughter, Elizabeth, but not a son. So he had her head chopped off because of reports of adultery and went on to marry again. Jayne Seymour did give him a son, Edward VI. She died just a few days after childbirth.
All of this is somewhat tabloid stuff. The real interest of the book is the almost one hundred years of reformation that England went through, from being a Catholic nation to becoming a nation under the Anglican (Protestant) church, whose head was the king or queen. It was not an easy or pleasant transformation. That nation had changed its faith four times in twenty years, and a time had come for an end to innovation. But during those years there were changes in the throne as well. When Henry VIII died, Edward became king, but being of poor health he died at the age of sixteen. During his reign, the nation remained Protestant. An attempt was made to sidestep Mary and install Lady Jane Grey as queen. Her reign lasted a little over a week and Mary took over. Mary was a devout Catholic, and while she ruled there were about 300 "heretics" burned alive, earning her the moniker of Bloody Mary. While she did marry, she produced no children, and upon her death Elizabeth began her long reign.
There are so many characters involved in this book, whether bishops, archbishops, noblemen or secretaries. Ackroyd does a good job of presenting each of them, and while many expired without their head, he does introduce us to William Cecil and his son Robert. William was with Elizabeth throughout her reign and was, in fact, her primary minister. He helped to guide her although no man could control her. She was very strong willed, wanted peace in her kingdom, was wisely wary of political ties to other nations, and held England together when a great majority of Europe was Catholic, and many wished to see her head in a basket.
The matter of Mary Queen of Scots is discussed adequately in the book. The author is not judgmental of Mary but does rightly point out that she made some very foolish decisions during her lifetime. Running away with the primary suspect of her husband's murder was not a brilliant move and she lived in custody in England for about eighteen years until Cecil and Walsingham got enough on her to chop off her head.
In the latter part of Elizabeth's rule, the nation was saved by the English navy and bad luck weather for the Spanish navy. She ruled until 1603 and the son of Mary Queen of Scots, James I of England, took the throne. You will learn more about him in Rebellion.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and Peter Ackroyd is one of my favorite authors. I strongly recommend his works.
While the personalities, infighting and politics surrounding the reigns of Henry VIII, Queen Mary and Elizabeth I are a large part of this fascinating book, the religious turmoil of the period is a strong, almost dominant undercurrent.
If you are squeamish, let this book be. This was an era where a simple beheading was considered humane execution. Disputes over religious niceties like whether a priest should elevate the host during communion were enough to get someone sent to the stake. If they were lucky the wood for the fire would be dry.
Nobody gets off easy. All parties are guilty of horrendous crimes.
Having just a hint of the horror that entangling government with religion caused in that era, one can well understand why those who first amended the US Constitution thought preventing such entanglement in their new republic to be of supreme importance.
The Protestant motives behind all that religious strife were both high -- freeing the people from the "superstitions", papal dominance, and costly exploitation of the Catholic Church -- and venal -- seizing the wealth of the Catholic churches, monasteries and convents. The Catholic motives were equally compromised. All combatants claimed they were fighting to save souls. All practiced the bloodiest and cruelest means to do so.
When God is your captain, and your enemies are the Devil's, there is no humanity to stay your hand.
Ackroyd adds considerably to the reader's store of knowledge on this period, no matter how much background that reader already has on the Tudors. He piles facts on facts, examples on examples - as in the religious turmoil of the entire era. In fact, there are so many aspects to the religious turmoil, over the entire 94-year reign (from Henry VIII through Elizabeth I), that the period takes on a feeling that controversies will never be settled (somewhat like the Arab-Israeli conflict today?). From previous readings, I had a notion that Henry VIII settled most of the religious hash when he broke with the Pope, confiscated the monasteries, and proclaimed himself head of the church. But that was just a start. Even Henry experienced an endless slog through the religious thicket, and the battle continued well beyond his time. Ackroyd gives a complex, intriguing picture (nothing could be "clear" about this matter) of the convoluted interaction not just of the Catholics vs. the Protestants, but of the various Protestant denominations as well.
Another striking insight was how cheap life was in that time - not just for the poor commoners, but for the ruling class as well. Seems as though most of the courtiers, even at the highest level, lived from day to day wondering when their heads would be chopped off. Our political battles today are pretty nasty, but at least for the most part, we don't murder out political opponents.
I've always been fascinated by Henry's parade through six wives, and knew he was haunted with the idea of producing a male heir. But Ackroyd points out that Henry's goal was not simply to insure a continuation of the male line, but more importantly to validate Tudor legitimacy to the throne. The Tudors were undoubtedly legitimate contenders for the throne, but by no means the only ones with similar claims.
Ackroyd, then, adds significantly to an understanding of the Tudor era, and his book is certainly worth the read. 4-1/2 stars.