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The Children of Henry VIII by John Guy

Posted By Claire on May 9, 2013

The Children of Henry VIIIJohn Guy is one of my favourite historians. He is so thorough in his research, his books are always fully referenced, allowing the reader to check the sources for themselves, and he writes in a very ‘readable’ style. This means that anyone from the casual history fan to a history scholar can appreciate his work.

From the title of this book, I was expecting it to be mini biographies of each of Henry VIII’s children in turn with very separate sections on each of them, but it’s not like that at all. Guy looks Henry’s family chronologically, from the birth of Henry, Duke of Cornwall in January 1510 to Elizabeth I’s death in 1603, he tells their stories.  It works really well because the reader can see the interaction between Henry’s children, the relationships they had with each other. As another reviewer noted on Amazon, the book focuses more on the early years of Henry’s children and when it does cover their reigns it concentrates “more on the personal than the political except where they were intertwined”. There are plenty of books on Henry’s children’s reigns, so I enjoyed this look at them as people and members of a family.

The  book isn’t a heavy tome. It is 198 pages, not counting the notes and bibliography, so is a relatively quick read. It gives just enough information, without bogging the reader down with detail. I loved the extras like the family trees, the notes on units of currency, and the photographs of letters written by Henry’s children when they were young – very interesting, particularly the difference between the styles of Mary’s handwriting and that of Henry’s other children, who were taught the more fashionable Italic script.

It is an excellent book and was a pleasure to read. I recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about Henry VIII’s struggle to produce a legitimate heir, his four children and the nature of their relationships with each other.

The book is divided into the following parts:

  • In the Beginning – 1510 to 1521: The births of Henry, Duke of Cornwall (and his tragic death), Henry Fitzroy and Mary.
  • Smoke and Mirrors – 1521 to 1523: The proposed marriage alliance between Charles V and Mary, Henry VIII’s relationship with Mary Boleyn and Mary I’s education.
  • Prince or Princess – 1525 to 1526: Fitzroy’s installation as a Knight of the Garter and investure as Duke of Richmond and Somerset, speculation over whether Fitzroy would be made Henry’s heir and Mary’s new household in the Marches of Wales.
  • Sons and Lovers – 1526-1534/1535: The King’s relationship with Anne Boleyn, Wolsey’s fall, the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon, the birth of Elizabeth I and the setting up of her household.
  • A Family Feud – 1534-1544: Mary’s feud with her father and her half-sister, Elizabeth, Henry’s treatment of Mary, Anne’s fall, Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour, Fitzroy’s death, Henry’s marriages to Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr.
  • Ruling from the Grave – 1544-1549: Henry’s last years, his marriage to Katherine Parr, Edward’s upbringing, Elizabeth’s education, Henry’s death and Edward’s succession, Seymour and Elizabeth, and the downfall of Thomas Seymour.
  • Faith and Exclusion – 1549-1554: The coup against Protector Somerset, Warwick in control, Mary’s defiance in the face of Edward’s religious policies, Elizabeth and her political relationship with William Cecil, Edward’s illness and his plans for the succession, Lady Jane Grey’s short reign and eventual execution.
  • Sisters, Rivals, Queens – 1554-1558: Mary’s accession, her marriage, Elizabeth’s imprisonment, Mary’s phantom pregnancies and her final illness.
  • Uncharted Waters – 1558-1603: Elizabeth as Queen, her decision not to marry, her relationship with Dudley, Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s death and the end of the Tudor dynasty.

As mentioned earlier, the book also contains family trees, illustrations and full notes and references.

Blurb from Amazon

Behind the facade of politics and pageantry at the Tudor court, there was a family drama. Nothing drove Henry VIII, England’s wealthiest and most powerful king, more than producing a legitimate male heir and so perpetuating his dynasty. To that end, he married six wives, became the subject of the most notorious divorce case of the sixteenth century, and broke with the pope, all in an age of international competition and warfare, social unrest and growing religious intolerance and discord.

Henry fathered four living children, each by a different mother. Their interrelationships were often scarred by jealously, mutual distrust, sibling rivalry, even hatred. Possessed of quick wits and strong wills, their characters were defined partly by the educations they received, and partly by events over which they had no control. Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, although recognized as the king’s son, could never forget his illegitimacy. Edward died while still in his teens, desperately plotting to exclude his half-sisters from the throne. Mary’s world was shattered by her mother’s divorce and her own unhappy marriage. Elizabeth was the most successful, but also the luckiest. Even so, she lived with the knowledge that her father had ordered her mother’s execution, was often in fear of her own life, and could never marry the one man she truly loved.

Henry’s children idolized their father, even if they differed radically over how to perpetuate his legacy. To tell their stories, John Guy returns to the archives, drawing on a vast array of contemporary records, personal letters, and first-hand accounts.

Book Details

Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (May 8, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0192840908
ISBN-13: 978-0192840905
Available from Amazon US, Amazon UK or your usual book retailer.


2 Responses to “The Children of Henry VIII by John Guy”

  1. Kay kent says:

    Really good review, thankyou.

  2. Lisa H says:

    That certainly is a new way of viewing Henry VIII’s children. It sounds like a very interesting read. There must be tons of notes and a long bibliography if the text is 198 pages out of 272! One more to add to my very long To Be Read list. Thanks. 🙂

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