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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
A book to match the man! Great Harry, larger than life in ambition, passion, and splendor, strides triumphantly through Weir's rich, rewarding pages. The six remarkable and ill-fated wives, the frequent bite of the executioner's axe, and the breach with Catholic Rome are expected highlights, but Weir paints a far fuller and richer canvas of the scholar-king and his brilliant court.
Weir propels us into the heady excitement and dangerous life of Henry's times, in which pageantry was both power and propaganda. Though she concisely presents key political and religious issues and the related rise and fall of Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell, her focus is the extravagant personal lives of the king, his queens, and his leading courtiers. We live the life of banquets, palaces, and great country houses, exploring diet and clothing, finery and furnishings. We share the ambitions of the arrogant courtier families fighting for primacy as they promote themselves, their sons, and their interests. We share the lives of scholars, servants, and children; we suffer primitive hygiene and the fear of disease.
Tension builds. Henry the Renaissance prince, accomplished in languages, theology, music, medicine, and architecture as well as the demands of politics and military strategy, is also Henry the king, desperate for sons to continue the Tudor dynasty founded by his frugal father in 1485. Internally, the old Plantagenet line still threatens the Tudor supremacy. Externally, France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire, all far richer than England, threaten her interests. Weir presents a king who becomes increasingly worried, willful, and capricious. Laws become savage, heads roll. Yet nothing curbs Henry's mania for marriage or for building, enterprises that bled his $560 million inheritance.
Weir has given us a near-encyclopedic account of the eccentric king and his exuberant court -- we live every ambitious, hard-fought moment. Her immense bibliography points us to numerous books on Henry and his queens; the palaces, food, costume, travel, scholarship of the day; the English Reformation -- in short, every imaginable topic. (Peter Skinner)
Peter Skinner lives in New York City.