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Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England Hardcover – March 6, 2012

4.0 out of 5 stars 100 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“I feel I’ve been waiting to read this book a long time. It’s a fluent and compelling account of the cost of founding the Tudor dynasty: of a clever, ruthless, enigmatic monarch, a refugee all his early life, king by right of conquest, prepared to harass and frighten his subjects into submission: a man content to be feared and not loved. The level of detail is fascinating and beautifully judged. The book shows what a mistake it is to regard these closing years of the reign simply as a curtain raiser for Henry VIII. I think that, for the first time, a writer has made me feel what contemporaries felt as Henry VII’s reign drew to an end; the relief, the hope, the sudden buoyancy.”
—Hilary Mantel, Author of Wolf Hall

“A wonderful read, as rich in character and drama as Wolf Hall, only shorter and true.”
—John Carey, author of William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies

“A definitive and accessible account of the reign of Henry VII that will alter our view not just of Henry, but of the country he dominated and corrupted, and of the dynasty he founded.”
—Philippa Gregory, The Guardian (UK)

"As Thomas Penn shows us so vividly in Winter King, the first Tudor monarch is as fascinating as his son and his life story nearly as full of drama and incident."
—Martin Rubin, The Wall Street Journal

"Penn's book presents readers with the world of realpolitik as it was played out in the earliest years of the Tudor dynasty. . . . Here is a skillful reclamation project, an absorbing picture of the oft-overlooked architect behind one of the greatest, most controversial dynasties in English history. . . . Penn's story offers a rich pageant of players — agents and adversaries, courtiers and scholars, thugs and young aristocrats."
—Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times

“A masterful account of a pivotal moment in English history. In this remarkable debut, Thomas Penn brings to life the reign of Henry VII, a fascinating ruler too long eclipsed by the tyrant he defeated and the famous son who succeeded him.”
—James Shapiro, Professor of English, Columbia University, and author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

“This is an exceptionally stylish literary debut. Henry VII may be the most unlikely person ever to have occupied the throne of England, and his biographers have rarely conveyed just what a weird man he was. Tom Penn does this triumphantly, and in the process manages to place his subject in a vividly-realised landscape. His book should be the first port of call for anyone trying to understand England’s most flagrant usurper since William the Conqueror.”
—Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years

"Stunning. . . . This is not a new story—but in Penn's hands, it is a revelation. . . . Penn has pulled off a rare feat: a brilliant and haunting evocation of the Tudor world, with irresistible echoes of the age of fear in which we now live."
—Helen Castor, The Telegraph (UK)

Winter King offers us the fullest, deepest, most compelling insight into the warped psychology of the Tudor dynasty’s founder to have appeared since [Francis] Bacon wrote.”
—John Guy, Financial Times

“Succeeds brilliantly . . . [a] finely drawn portrait . . . Penn’s deft turn of phrase superbly re-creates the drama and personalities of the court.”
—Tracy Borman, Sunday Times (London)

“With a sharp eye for detail and adroit use of a gifted historical imagination . . . [Thomas Penn] lets us hear the creak of oars and the scratch of pens, as well as the tubercular king fighting for every breath . . . Vigorous and thoroughly enjoyable.”
The Economist

“A tour de force.”
The Spectator

"Superb. . . . What makes this book so endlessly enjoyable is that it serves up the pathos, chaos, and human comedy that we don't know a lot about." (Florence King National Review)

“Evocative. . . . The strength of this outstanding book lies in his ability to breathe life into the sorts of ceremonious scenes of court life portrayed in the books of hours belonging to Henry's great rivals on the Continent. . . . Engrossing and finely written." (Miranda Seymour The New York Times)

About the Author

Thomas Penn is publisher of Verso Books, London. He holds a Ph.D. in medieval history from Clare College, Cambridge University and has frequently reviewed books for the Times Literary Supplement.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439191565
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439191569
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #693,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Thomas Penn's new biography, "Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England", is a good look at the first Tudor king. The Tudor line actually spanned only three generations; Henry VII, his son Henry VII, and his children Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth. Roughly 120 years were spanned in the Tudor monarchy - 1485 to 1603, but they were some of the most eventful years in British history. Penn looks at how the Tudor monarchy began and how Henry VII - the victor at Bosworth Field in 1485 - had the intelligence and drive to govern England, passing on a fairly stable country to his heirs.

Henry Tudor, the young earl of Richmond, seized power at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. By defeating Richard III, he ended the War of the Roses and began his own dynasty - a combination of Lancaster and York. The Plantagenets were gone - now reigned the Tudors. Henry, however, governed for the first few years in an air of uncertainty as to his legitimacy. He made an advantageous marriage - for both love and expediency - to Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV. Together they had five children - another had died at birth - including two sons, Arthur and Henry. Arthur was being groomed to succeed his father and was married off to Catherine of Aragon, daughter of those "Catholic Monarchs", Ferdinand and Isabella. Arthur died soon after the wedding - and questions of the consummation of the marriage began - and Elizabeth died soon after in childbirth. Henry was a widower with four youngish children to raise - and to marry off in advantageous fashion.

One of Thomas Penn's strong points in the biography of Henry is his writing about Henry and England's context in the larger world. Relationships between England and Spain, France, the Hapsburg lands, and the Papacy are examined in detail.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I may be slightly overrating this book by giving it four stars, but I enjoyed it and think it fills a gap in the history books for the general reader. Henry VII doesn't get much play in them. He's overshadowed by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I and isn't really interesting as a personality or in his achievements - a narrow, greedy, aloof and self-serving manipulator with no dramatic storyline to make him or his reign stand out.

What makes the book worth reading is how the author captures the transition from the chaos of the Wars of the Roses to a stable England. He brings out the almost Stalinist nature of the court, with its plotting, the jousting for position and payoff by the royal minions, and the king's ruthless maneuvering to hold onto power and build his personal fortune. The strongest part of it is the story of the pretenders to the throne who were so constantly threats to Henry - Perkin Lambert and others - and played as pawns by foreign and domestic power grabbers on the political chessboard of Europe. He is a spymaster supreme and always ready to use guile and deceit to protect his throne.

The book is well-written and quite vivid in its portrayal of the times, court and characters. Catherine of Aragon gets a coverage rarely given to her in the much ritzier tales of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Blood Mary, and Elizabeth I. There's a welcome richness of coverage - the scholar Erasmus, poets like Skelton, and wily figures like Thomas More and dukes of varying political smarts and ambitions. It gives a well-rounded picture of Henry VIII when he was just prince Henry.

The limitation is the subject himself. Henry VII isn't in the heroic mode or particularly interesting as a person or monarch.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Henry's defeat of Richard III at Bosworth which ushered in the Tudor Era was not the coup of a Henry V but the crafty usurpation of the crown by a man who had only the tenuous claim to it. Henry was lucky: Richard's defeat was more due to the abandonment of his nobles on the battlefield than to any heroics on the part of Henry. The crown more or less fell in Henry's lap and although not a hero type, being much more sneaky than your average knight in shining armor, he wrenched the crown away from the Plantagenets and founded the Tudor Dynasty.

This fine biography begins with the winter of Henry who had sat on the throne for 16 years, keeping control over the fledgling Tudor monarchy with guile and avariciousness, a king who always guarded his back, who trusted nobody.

The portrait author Penn paints of the King may be as close to the real monarch as you can get. He had a sallow face, shoulder length dark hair and a cast in his left eye that made his gaze disconcerting, as one eye was looking at you, the other one wasn't. He also favored wearing black, not as an austere measure but because dyeing fabric black was very expensive and therefore suitably royal. He was thin and wiry but often ill and seldom ventured into the public eye.

When he married Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV, Henry combined the Houses of York and Lancaster, the white and red roses. But although the marriage ended the War of the Roses, England remained a land of treachery, intrigue and danger. As Henry sought to keep the governing reins securely in his hands, his rule " acquired the aspect of his character: paranoid, suspicious, controlling".
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