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The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers

The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers

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by Margaret George

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Much has been written about the mighty, egotistical Henry VIII: the man who dismantled the Church because it would not grant him the divorce he wanted; who married six women and beheaded two of them; who executed his friend Thomas More; who sacked the monasteries; who longed for a son and neglected his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth; who finally grew fat,


Much has been written about the mighty, egotistical Henry VIII: the man who dismantled the Church because it would not grant him the divorce he wanted; who married six women and beheaded two of them; who executed his friend Thomas More; who sacked the monasteries; who longed for a son and neglected his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth; who finally grew fat, disease-ridden, dissolute. Now, in her magnificent work of storytelling and imagination Margaret George bring us Henry VIII's story as he himself might have told it, in memoirs interspersed with irreverent comments from his jester and confident, Will Somers. Brilliantly combining history, wit, dramatic narrative, and an extraordinary grasp of the pleasures and perils of power, this monumental novel shows us Henry the man more vividly than he has ever been seen before.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
George presents a romanticized Henry VIII and fails to capture the ``brilliance, the cunning or the ruthlessness of the grim monarch who tore down monasteries to fill his coffers, executed two of his six wives and sacrificed friend and enemy alike for political expediency,'' PW commented. (September)
From the Publisher

“A remarkable achievement...Magnificently researched and admirably written.” —Mary Stewart

“Her novel is a...banquet feast for most readers...astonishing. There's rousing drama, robust atmosphere and consistently solid characterization; and finally, Margaret George's triumph is anchored in the urgent rhythm her writing attains.” —Forth Worth Star Telegram

“It doth brim with lust, violence, cruelty and living conservation...Margaret George has found a new and fresh way to tell the story.” —Detroit Free Press

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The Autobiography of Henry VIII

With Notes by His Fool, will Somers a Novel

By Margaret George

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1986 Margaret George
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2470-2


Yesterday some fool asked me what my first memory was, expecting me to lapse happily into sentimental childhood reminiscences, as dotty old men are supposed to enjoy doing. He was most surprised when I ordered him out of the room.

But his damage was done; and I could not order the thought out of my mind as easily. What was my earliest memory? Whatever it was, it was not pleasant. I was sure of that.

Was it when I was six? No, I remember when my sister Mary was born, and that was when I was five. Four, then? That was when my other sister, Elizabeth, died, and I remembered that, horribly enough. Three? Perhaps. Yes. It was when I was three that I first heard cheers — and the words "only a second son."

* * *

The day was fair — a hot, still, summer's day. I was going with Father to Westminster Hall to be given honours and titles. He had rehearsed the ritual with me until I knew it perfectly: how to bow, when to prostrate myself on the floor, how to back out of the room before him. I had to do this because he was King, and I would be in his presence.

"You never turn your back to a king," he explained.

"Even though you are just my father?"

"Even so," he answered solemnly. "I am still your King. And I am making you a Knight of the Bath today, and you must be dressed in hermit's clothes. And then you will re-enter the Hall in ceremonial robes and be made Duke of York." He laughed a little dry laugh — like the scudding of leaves across a cobbled courtyard. "That will silence them, show them the Tudors have incorporated York! The only true Duke of York will be my son. Let them all see it!" Suddenly he lowered his voice and spoke softly. "You will do this before all the peers in the realm. You must not make a mistake, nor must you be afraid."

I looked into his cold grey eyes, the color of a November sky. "I am not afraid," I said, and knew that I spoke the truth.

* * *

Throngs of people came to watch us when we rode to Westminster through Cheapside. I had my own pony, a white one, and rode just behind Father on his great caparisoned bay. Even mounted, I was scarcely any taller than the wall of people on either side. I could see individual faces clearly, could see their expressions. They were happy, and repeatedly called blessings on us as we passed.

* * *

I enjoyed the ceremony. Children are not supposed to enjoy ceremonies, but I did. (A taste I have never lost. Did that begin here, as well?) I liked having all eyes in Westminster Hall on me as I walked the length of it, alone, to Father. The hermit's robes were rough and scratched me, but I dared not betray any discomfort. Father was sitting on a dais in a dark carved seat of royal estate. He looked remote and unhuman, a King indeed. I approached him, trembling slightly, and he rose and took a long sword and made me a knight, a member of the Order of the Bath. In raising the sword, he brushed lightly against my neck, and I was surprised at how cold the steel was, even on a high summer's day.

Then I backed slowly out of the hall and went into the anteroom where Thomas Boleyn, one of Father's esquires of the Body, was waiting to help me change into my rich red ceremonial robes made especially for today's occasion. That done, I re-entered the hall and did it all again; was made Duke of York.

* * *

I was to be honoured afterwards, and all the nobles and high- ranking prelates were to come and pay homage to me, recognizing me as the highest peer in England — after the King and my older brother Arthur. I know now, but did not understand then, what this meant. The title "Duke of York" was the favourite of pretenders, and so Father meant to exact oaths of loyalty from his nobles precluding their later recognizing any pretenders — for, after all, there cannot be two Dukes of York. (Just as there cannot be two heads of John the Baptist, although some Papalists persist in worshipping both!)

But I did not understand this. I was but three years old. It was the first time I had been singled out for anything of my own, and I was hungry for the attention. I imagined all the adults would cluster about me and talk to me.

It was quite otherwise. Their "recognition" consisted of a momentary glimpse in my direction, a slight inclination of the head. I was quite lost in the forest of legs (for so they appeared to me; I scarcely reached any man's waist) which soon arranged themselves into clusters of three, four, five men. I looked about for the Queen my mother, but did not see her. Yet she had promised to come. ...

A bleating fanfare announced that the dishes were being placed upon the long table running along the west wall of the hall. It had a great length of white linen upon it, and all the serving dishes were gold. They shone in the dull light, setting off the colour of the food within. Wine servers began to move about, carrying huge golden pitchers. When they came to me, I demanded some, and that made everyone about me laugh. The server demurred, but I insisted. He gave me a small chased silver cup and filled it with claret, and I drank it straight down. The people laughed, and this caught Father's attention. He glared at me as though I had committed a grave sin.

Soon I felt dizzy, and my heavy velvet robes made me sweat in the close air of the packed hall. The buzz of voices above me was unpleasant, and still the Queen had not come, nor any attention been paid me. I longed to return to Eltham and leave this dull celebration. If this were a festivity, I wanted no more of them and would not envy Arthur his right to attend them.

I saw Father standing somewhat apart, talking to one of his Privy Councillors — Archbishop Morton, I believe. Emboldened by the wine (for I was usually somewhat reluctant to approach Father), I decided to ask him to allow me to leave and return to Eltham straightway. I was able to approach him unobtrusively as I passed the clots of gossiping nobles and courtiers. My very lack of size meant that no one saw me as I moved closer to the King and stood back, half-hidden in folds of the wall-hanging, waiting for him to cease talking. One does not interrupt the King, even though one is the King's son.

Some words drifted to me. The Queen ... ill ...

Was my mother, then, prevented by illness from coming? I moved closer, straining to hear.

"But she must bury this sorrow," Morton was saying. "Yet each pretender opens the wound anew —"

"That is why today was necessary. To put a stop to all these false Dukes of York. If they could see how it hurts Her Grace. Each one ... she knows they are liars, pretenders, yet I fancied she looked overlong at Lambert Simnel's face. She wishes it, you see; she wishes Richard her brother to be alive." The King's voice was low and unhappy. "That is why she could not come to see Henry be invested with his title. She could not bear it. She loved her brother."

"Yet she loves her son as well." It was a question disguised as a statement.

The King shrugged. "As a mother is bound to love her son."

"No more than that?" Morton was eager now.

"If she loves him, it is for what he recalls to her — her father Edward. Henry resembles him, surely you must have seen that." Father took another sip of wine from his huge goblet, so that his face was hidden.

"He's a right noble-looking Prince," Morton nodded, so that his chin almost touched his furred collar.

"I give you his looks. Edward had looks as well. Do you remember that woman who cried out in the marketplace: 'By my troth, for thy lovely countenance thou shalt have even twenty pounds'? Pretty Edward. 'The Sun in Splendour' he called himself."

"Whereas we all know it should have been 'The King in Mistress Shore's Bed,'" Morton cackled. "Or was it Eleanor Butler's?"

"What matter? He was always in someone's bed. Remember that derisive ballad about 'lolling in a lewd love-bed'? Elizabeth Woodville was clever to exploit his lust. I do not wish to belittle the Queen's mother, but she was a tiresome old bitch. I feared she would never die. Yet we have been free of her for two years now. Praised be God!"

"Yet Henry — is he not —" Morton was clearly more interested in the living than the dead.

The King looked about him to make sure no one was listening. I pressed further into the curtain-fold, wishing myself invisible. "Only a second son. Pray God he will never be needed. Should he ever become King" — he paused, then lowered his voice to a whisper as he spoke the unspeakable words — "the House of Tudor would not endure. Just as the House of York did not survive Edward. He was handsome and a great soldier — I grant him that — but at bottom stupid and insensitive. And Henry is the same. England could survive one Edward, but never two."

"It will never come to that," said Morton smoothly. "We have Arthur, who will be a great king. The marks of greatness are already upon him. So learned. So stately. So wise — far beyond his eight years."

"Arthur the Second," murmured Father, his eyes dreamy. "Aye, it will be a great day. And Henry, perhaps, will be Archbishop of Canterbury someday. Yes, the Church is a good place for him. Although he may find the vows of celibacy a bit chafing. Do you, Morton?" He smiled coldly, a complicity acknowledged. Morton had many bastards.

"Your Grace —" Morton turned his face away in mock modesty, and almost saw me.

My heart was pounding. I pressed myself back into the curtains. They must not ever know I was nearby, and had heard. I wanted to cry — indeed, I felt tears fighting their way into my eyes — but I was too insensitive for that. The King had said so.

Instead, after I had stopped trembling and banished any hint of tears, I left my hiding-place and moved out among the gathered nobles, boldly talking to anyone I encountered. It was much remarked upon later.

* * *

I must not be hypocritical. Being a prince was good sometimes. Not in a material sense, as people suppose. Noblemen's sons lived in greater luxury than we did; we were the butt-end of the King's "economies," living and sleeping in Spartan quarters, like good soldiers. It is true we lived in palaces, and that word conjures up images of luxury and beauty — for which I must take some credit, as I have worked hard to make it true, in my own reign — but in my childhood it was otherwise. The palaces were relics of an earlier era — romantic, perhaps, steeped in history (here Edward's sons were murdered; here Richard II surrendered his crown), but decidedly uncomfortable: dark and cold.

Nor was it particularly adventuresome. Father did not travel very much, and when he did he left us behind. The first ten years of my life were spent almost entirely within the confines of Eltham Palace. Glimpses of anything beyond were, for all practical purposes, forbidden. Ostensibly this was for our protection. But it had the effect of cloistering us. No monk lived as austere, as circumscribed, as dull a life as I did for those ten years.

And that was fitting, as Father had determined that I must be a priest when I grew up. Arthur would be King. I, the second son, must be a churchman, expending my energies in God's service, not in usurping my brother's position. So, from the age of four, I received churchly training from a series of sad-eyed priests.

But even so, it was good to be a prince. It was good for elusive reasons I find almost impossible to set down. For the history of the thing, if you will. To be a prince was to be — special. To know when you read the story of Edward the Confessor or Richard the Lionheart that you had a mystic blood-bond with them. That was all. But enough. Enough for me as I memorized reams of Latin prayers. I had the blood of kings! True, it was hidden beneath the shabby clothes, and would never be passed on, but it was there nevertheless — a fire to warm myself against.


I should never have begun in such a manner. These jumbled thoughts cannot stand as a passable collection of impressions, let alone a memoir. I must put things in some reasonable order. Wolsey taught me that: always in order. Have I forgotten so soon?

I began it (I mean this journal) in a vain attempt to soothe myself several weeks ago while suffering yet another attack from my cursed leg. Perhaps I was so distracted by the pain that I was incapable of organizing my thoughts. Yet the pain has passed. Now if I am to do this thing, I must do it properly. I have talked about "Father" and "the King" and "Arthur" without once telling you the King's name. Nor which ruling family. Nor the time. Inexcusable!

The King was Henry VII, of the House of Tudor. But I must not say "House of Tudor" so grandly, because until Father became King it was not a royal house at all. The Tudors were a Welsh family, and (let us be honest) Welsh adventurers at that, relying rather heavily on romantic adventures of both bed and battle to advance themselves.

I am well aware that Father's genealogists traced the Tudors to the dawn of British history, had us descended directly from Cadwaller. Yet the first step to our present greatness was taken by Owen Tudor, who was clerk of the wardrobe to Queen Catherine, the widow of Henry V. (Henry V was England's mightiest military king, having conquered a large portion of France. This was some seventy years before I was born. Every common Englishman knows this now, but will he always?) Henry and the French king's daughter married for political reasons and had a son: Henry VI, proclaimed King of England and France at the age of nine months. But Henry V's sudden death left his twenty-one-year-old French widow alone in England.

Owen's duties were such that he was in constant company with her. He was comely; she was lonely; they wed, secretly. Yes, Catherine (daughter to one king, wife to another, mother of yet a third) polluted — so some say — her royal blood with that of a Welsh rogue. They had two sons, Edmund and Jasper, half-brothers to Henry VI.

But Catherine died in her mid-thirties, and Owen's sufferance was up. Henry VI's Protector's Council ordered "one Owen Tudor the which dwelled with the said Queen Catherine" to appear before them, because "he had been so presumptuous as by marriage with the Queen to intermix his blood with the royal race of Kings." Owen first refused to come, but later came and was imprisoned in Newgate twice, twice escaping. He was elusive and supremely clever. After his second escape he made his way back to Wales.

Once Henry VI came to maturity and discarded his Protector, he treated Owen's two sons kindly. He created Edmund Earl of Richmond, and Jasper Earl of Pembroke. And Henry VI — poor, mad, sweet thing — even found a proper Lancastrian bride for his half-brother Edmund: Margaret Beaufort.

To recount these histories is like unravelling a thread: one means only to tell one little part, but then another comes in, and another, for they are all part of the same garment — Tudor, Lancaster, York, Plantagenet.

So I must do what I dreaded: go back to Edward III, innocent source of all the late troubles. I say innocent because what king does not wish an abundance of sons? Yet Edward's troubles, and those of the next generations, stemmed from his very prolificness.

Edward, who was born almost two hundred years before me, had six sons. A blessing? One would have thought so. But in truth they were a curse that echoes to this day. The eldest, Edward, was called the Black Prince. (Why I do not know, although I believe it was from the liveries his retainers customarily wore. He was a great warrior.) He died before his father, and thus his son, Edward's grandson, came to the throne as Richard II.

Now Edward's other sons were William, who died young; Lionel, Duke of Clarence, from whence ultimately sprang the House of York; John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, progenitor of the House of that name; Edmund, Duke of York (later the heirs of Clarence and Edmund married, uniting those claims), and finally Thomas of Woodstock, ancestor of the Duke of Buckingham.

It happened thus: Henry, son of John of Gaunt, deposed his cousin Richard II and was crowned Henry IV. His son was Henry V, who married the Queen Catherine Valois, who afterwards married Owen Tudor.


Excerpted from The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George. Copyright © 1986 Margaret George. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Margaret George is the author of Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, The Memoirs of Cleopatra, and Elizabeth I: A Novel, among others. George first got the idea to write historical fiction when, after reading numerous novels that viewed Henry VIII through the eyes of his enemies and victims, she started to wonder if there might be another story. She became determined to let Henry speak for himself, and it took fifteen years, about three hundred books of background reading, three visits to England to see every extant building associated with Henry, and five handwritten drafts for her to answer the question: What was Henry really like? Margaret George was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and has traveled extensively. She and her husband live in Madison, Wisconsin.

Margaret George is the author of The Autobiography of Henry VIII, Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, The Memoirs of Cleopatra, and Elizabeth I, among other novels. Margaret first got the idea to write historical fiction when, after reading numerous books that viewed Henry VIII through the eyes of his enemies and victims, she found herself wondering if there might be another side to the story. She became determined to let Henry speak for himself, and it took fifteen years, about three hundred books of background reading, three visits to England to see every extant building associated with Henry, and five handwritten drafts for her to answer the question: What was Henry really like? Margaret was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and has traveled extensively. She and her husband live in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 121 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One word...AMAZING. I must say that this book of 932 pages was just I cant say it enough....amazing. No matter where I was or who I was with, I had it with me. It was always in my handbag....Henry VIII just tagging along with me. I honestly have to say that through out the whole book I felt I was there. I felt as if I were invisable standing next to Henry and tagging along with him and his ups and downs and literally everything. You feel as if you are there at court in England with the rest of them. And I just love that era and kind of got to actually experience the life at court. Well, in that time I should say. I honestly would give it 10 stars if I had to. I promise you that yes it is a fairly long book....but you will love it. I can promise you. You will have no regrets and you will love it so much that you will be buying copies for your friends and family. It is my all time favorite book. And now that Im done with it....I feel like reading it all over again. I think that once you are in love with a book, there will be no other to take its place. Margaret George....Bravo. Standing ovation. Now go on my readers and buy yourself a copy. Take care darlings.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anyone who thinks history is boring has never heard of the Tudor saga! If you are interested in Henry VIII but wary of non-fiction, then this is the book for you. Margaret George is a master-story teller, but she doesn't lose sight of the actual history. You may just find yourself hungry for more information on this fascinating man.
jimb72 More than 1 year ago
My wife, who is obsessed with this time period, read the book. She says: The book had great character development and is very insightful about this time in English history. It was written with a richness in detail and with an enlightening perspective. She's read two other biographies by this author and appreciates her writing style.
katieadele1894 More than 1 year ago
I've only ever read books about Henry VIII through the point of view of his wives, so I loved reading the story from his point of view. It's very original and offered a much different perspective of his reasonings. A perfect read for anyone who loves this time period.
Tristan Lessing More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have read about King Henry and his life. The author brings him to life in a way that you feel as if you are there with him to share every happy, frusterating, and tantalizing event in his life. Bravo to the author! This book is a must read! My new all time fav!
ShelleyAZ More than 1 year ago
I love Historical Fiction and I love the Tudors. To this day this book is still my all time favorite. I could not put it down and I took it with me every where I went. You have to read this book!!! I have read so many books on the Tudors and this one is at the top of my list #1. My Mom is not a reader at all and she has no interest in the Tudors or History and even she could not put it down. She loved it!
BookClubberLB More than 1 year ago
I love the Tutor history and have read several works regarding the life of King Henry. In this book, the life of King Henry the VIII is discussed from the view points of King Henry himself and his court jester, Will. This story is historically grounded with many factual basis, in her typical form George find a way to weave in compelling stories of love, lust and life with historical founding for entertainment. This book is a long novel, approximately a thousand pages like many of George's works. Personally, this was my least favorite of George's books I have read so far, the story seems verbose and to drag in places. I was disappointed somewhat, however, my love for the Tutor story got me through the dry places. I felt somewhat more educated on the Tutor turmoil after the read.
BOBPANY More than 1 year ago
Ms George has presented us with a lively view of the life and times of Henry VIII. In this retelling of the story of the king that would be head of the Church in England, George gives us a very human picture of the king and those around him. The device of having Will Smith comment on the King's narrative is both informaional and entertaining. A very good read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was excellent. Well detailed and the pages just breezed by. One of the best books I have read so far!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is probably one of the heaviest book to hold but the reading is delightful. It was easy to know who was who throughout and being a before bed reader, it kept me up past my regular lights out many nights. I have passed it to my husband, who never reads anything but factual history and he is enjoying it as much as I. This has got to be one of the best and most entertaining books I have every read and I can't wait to get the Cleopatra book I have ordered. Thank you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is not only very well-researched and accurately detailed, but a captivating read for anyone, not just Tudor-philes. The author did an excellent job trying to re-create the psyche/thought-patterns behind Henry's behavior -- not only how he saw himself (and justified his actions), but also how he perceived he was being seen by others surrounding him. She also gave a lot of insight as to how he actually was perceived by those closest to him (through notes of his Fool, Will Somers). My biggest disappointment in the book came at the end -- very sadly lacking in the detail of his marriage to his last wife, Kate Parr (who, as historical research has implied was possibly destined for the block as well, given her Protestant leanings - and was spared only by Henry's death). Having read Ms. George's other book on Mary of Scots - this book (Henry VIII) is FAR superior!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
My favourite novel-bar none! Margaret has delivered yet another outstanding novel. A hard book to put down. I hope she continues to write and have been looking forward to her next book for far too long!! Where are you, Marg
Ryst More than 1 year ago
Another absolutely brilliant "fake" autobiography from Margaret George....This woman is very talented in her field, that's for sure.
Tudormommy More than 1 year ago
This is one of my absolute favorite books. I have always been fascinated by the Tudor dynasty of England. The research Mrs. George weaves into this novel is amazing. It is also one of the only accounts of Henry's reign by him instead one of his six wives. Do not be discouraged by its size! The book moves too quickly as it is!
shortstuffGD More than 1 year ago
I have read this book about 3 times and each time I find something I didn't remember from the time before. Enjoy learning aobut the history in a fun way, not just dry facts.
joT63 More than 1 year ago
Good read....lots of turner
Erin9382 More than 1 year ago
Not quite through the whole book yet but what I have read I absolutely love love love! I love this time frame, im currently a History major and cant get enough of Henry VIII and his dynasty.If you like this time frame you HAVE HAVE HAVE to read this book. Excellent.
Ethel Vaught More than 1 year ago
Read it on my vacation so i didnt have to put it down.
Charlie03 More than 1 year ago
Excellent biography. Don't read any other book - this is the most factul book I've read!
betina sabbagh More than 1 year ago
one of the best books about the tudor family
miss_dobie More than 1 year ago
A most magnificently wondrous work. Maragaret George has not only succeeded in introducing us to King Henry VIII and all of his courtiers and contemporaries, but has put us square in the center of all that is going on at that time and taken us on a journey that one will not soon forget. We live with him and do with him and go with him. We laugh, we cry, we fear and we go through all of the same emotions that he does all throughout. It is an amazing opus and one that is brilliantly done in order to capture us so completely from beginning to end. We are better for this work and we thank you for it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
As an author of historical novels set in England, I have read hundreds of fiction and nonfiction books set in this era. Margaret George's AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF HENRY VIII has put me in that setting like no book ever has. Her details, to the minutest, show the many years she has put into research. No book (or MOVIE, for that matter!) has ever transported me back to Henry VIIIs court like this one. Telling it in first person, from Henry's POV, was a masterful tour de force. I got into Henry's head as well as his heart. I was able to understand the reasons for many of his actions, and I was able to sympathize with him, which is not easy, considering the way he is generally portrayed. I have read this book four times already, and it never ceases to captivate me. I bought the hardcover, to display, and the paperback, which I marked up with notes for research on my own historical novel set in this time. As well as being a highly entertaining novel, it was indispensible for my research, and I returned to it many times during my writing, along with other reference books. Margaret, you are a master historian, and a gifted researcher and writer. Five stars aren't adequate.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book, told from Henry's viewpoint, is a fascinating account of life in sixteenth century England. I loved all the descriptions of court life. The reader really gets to see Henry from a different perspective -- not as the monster as he has so often been portrayed, but as a living, breathing human being with the same feelings as the rest of us. I am not excusing some of his actions, but you have to look at them in the light of the times he lived in. He did what a sixteenth nobleman probably would have done in those circumstances. I found the descriptions of his wives to be very interesting also. All in all, a fascinating, detailed account of a very significant historical figure.
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