Henry VIII: The King and His Court [NOOK Book]


For fans of Wolf Hall, Alison Weir’s New York Times bestselling biography of Henry VIII brilliantly brings to life the king, the court, and the fascinating men and women who vied for its pleasures and rewards.

BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Alison Weir’s Mary Boleyn.

Henry VIII, renowned for his command of power, celebrated for his intellect, presided ...
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Henry VIII: The King and His Court

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For fans of Wolf Hall, Alison Weir’s New York Times bestselling biography of Henry VIII brilliantly brings to life the king, the court, and the fascinating men and women who vied for its pleasures and rewards.

BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Alison Weir’s Mary Boleyn.

Henry VIII, renowned for his command of power, celebrated for his intellect, presided over the most stylish—and dangerous—court in Renaissance Europe. Scheming cardinals vied for power with newly rich landowners and merchants, brilliant painters and architects introduced a new splendor into art and design, and each of Henry's six queens brought her own influence to bear upon the life of the court. In her new book, Alison Weir, author of the finest royal chronicles of our time, brings to vibrant life the turbulent, complex figure of Henry VIII and the glittering court he made his own.

In an age when a monarch's domestic and political lives were inextricably intertwined, a king as powerful and brilliant as Henry VIII exercised enormous sway over the laws, the customs, and the culture of his kingdom. Yet as Weir shows in this swift, vivid narrative, Henry's ministers, nobles, and wives were formidable figures in their own right, whose influence both enhanced and undermined the authority of the throne. On a grand stage rich in pageantry, intrigue, passion, and luxury, Weir records the many complex human dramas that swirled around Henry, while deftly weaving in an account of the intimate rituals and desires of England's ruling class—their sexual practices, feasts and sports, tastes in books and music, houses and gardens.

Stimulating and tumultuous, the court of Henry VIII attracted the finest minds and greatest beauties in Renaissance England—poets Wyatt and Surrey, the great portraitist Hans Holbein, "feasting ladies" like Elizabeth Blount and Elizabeth FitzWalter, the newly rich Boleyn family and the ancient aristocratic clans like the Howards and the Percies, along with the entourages and connections that came and went with each successive wife. The interactions between these individuals, and the terrible ends that befell so many of them, make Henry VIII: The King and His Court an absolutely spellbinding read.

Meticulous in historic detail, narrated with high style and grand drama, Alison Weir brilliantly brings to life the king, the court, and the fascinating men and women who vied for its pleasures and rewards.

NOTE: This edition does not contain illustrations.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The 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.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a succession of books on medieval and early modern monarchs, Weir has established her credentials as one of the most evocative of popular historians. In Eleanor of Aquitaine (which will be reissued in paperback to tie in with this publication), she brushed aside a forest of scholarly debate in favor of fully rounded human portraits. She now turns to the colossal figure of Henry VIII, aspiring chivalric hero and accidental spearhead of the Reformation. In the age's luxurious ceremony, Weir is thoroughly in her element. She revels in the Field of Cloth of Gold, an elaborate showpiece where Henry met his French counterpart; in the zesty supporting cast; and even in the less appetizing duties of the Groom of the Stool. Henry's passions were many and charming: his beloved dogs Cut and Ball were evidently so prone to getting lost that he would pay some 225 to their finder. Weir's fondness for her character has its difficulties. While admitting that the king proved to be "an imperious and dangerous autocrat who became mesmerised by his own legend," she too is seduced by the myth. Given to romantic hyperbole, she concludes with the largely unsupported sentiment that Henry "excelled all who ever wore a crown"; chalk up another victory for his propagandists. Other problematic characters, like Thomas More ("calm, kind, witty and wise"), are also let off lightly. Still, Weir's nose for detail, her sharpness of eye and her sympathetic touch make this a feast for the senses. (May 1) Forecast: Weir always gets excellent reviews, and Ballantine says there are 500,000 copies of her books in print, and yet she hasn't broken out big-time. Her choice of subject here may make this the one. It is a dual main selection of BOMC, as well as a selection of the Literary Guild, the History Book Club and QPB. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The events surrounding Henry VIII's tumultuous life have long held public fascination. Weir (The Six Wives of Henry VIII) here examines the minutiae of his daily life and gives prominence to the background players of his court. We learn of the king's daily ablutions, hunting pursuits, "mania for property," and amorous liaisons. Numerous other aspects of the period are examined, such as kitchen hygiene, religious feasts and observances, the adornments of the royal palaces, the financial administration of the household, and, of course, the political maneuvering. As the lens shifts to the court, we are introduced, through such notables as Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell, to the dangerous jockeying for position to achieve royal favor. The paintings of the royal family by Hans Holbein are meticulously described, illuminating the culture and sensibilities of the period. At times, the weighty detail and numerous characters will make the work inaccessible; however, as a scholarly study it is a significant achievement. Recommended for larger public libraries and academic libraries. Isabel Coates, Brampton, Ont. Communications Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
“Alison Weir has perfected the art of bringing history to life.”
Chicago Tribune

“A DETAILED JOURNEY THROUGH THE COURT AND LIFE OF HENRY VIII . . . Thoroughly researched and entertaining, filled with delicious details for general readers and provocative argument for students of the period.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307415479
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/18/2007
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 656
  • Sales rank: 97,484
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Alison Weir
Alison Weir is the author of Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Princes in the Tower, The Wars of the Roses, The Children of Henry VIII, The Life of Elizabeth I, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. She lives outside London with her husband and two children.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1 "A Most Accomplished Prince"

On 21 April 1509, the corpse of King Henry VII, ravaged by tuberculosis, was laid in state in the chapel at Richmond Palace, whence it would shortly be taken to Westminster Abbey for burial. Few mourned that King's passing, for although he had brought peace and firm government to England and established the usurping Tudor dynasty firmly on the throne, he had been regarded as a miser and an extortionist.

The contrast between the dead King and his son and heir could not have been greater. The seventeen-year-old Henry VIII was proclaimed King on 22 April,1 which—most apt for a prince who embodied all the knightly virtues—was also St. George's Day. The rejoicings that greeted Henry's accession were ecstatic and unprecedented, for it was believed that he would usher in "a golden world."2

William Blount, Lord Mountjoy, a courtier, expressed the national mood in a letter to his fellow humanist, the renowned Desiderius Erasmus:

I have no fear but when you heard that our prince, now Henry the Eighth, whom we may well call our Octavius, had succeeded to his father's throne, all your melancholy left you at once. What may you not promise yourself from a prince with whose extraordinary and almost divine character you are acquainted? When you know what a hero he now shows himself, how wisely he behaves, what a lover he is of justice and goodness, what affection he bears to the learned, I will venture to swear that you will need no wings to make you fly to behold this new and auspicious star!

If you could see how here all the world is rejoicing in the possession of so great a prince, how his life is all their desire, you could not contain your tears for sheer joy. The heavens laugh, the earth exults. . . . Avarice is expelled from the country, extortion is put down, liberality scatters riches with a bountiful hand. Yet our King does not desire gold, gems or precious metals, but virtue, glory, immortality!3

To his contemporaries, Henry VIII was the embodiment of kingship. Thomas More's coronation eulogy states that "among a thousand noble companions, the king stands out the tallest, and his strength fits his majestic body. There is fiery power in his eyes, beauty in his face, and the colour of twin roses in his cheeks."4 Other evidence proves that this was not mere flattery. Henry's skeleton, discovered in 1813, was six feet two inches in length. Henry was certainly of strong and muscular build: the Spanish ambassador reported in 1507 that "his limbs are of a gigantic size."5 In youth, he was slim and broad-shouldered: his armour of 1512 has a waist measurement of thirty-two inches, while that of 1514 measures thirty-five inches at the waist, forty-two inches at the chest.

Several sources testify to Henry's fair skin, among them the poet John Skelton, who called him "Adonis, of fresh colour." His hair, strands of which still adhered to his skull in 1813, was auburn, and he wore it combed short and straight in the French fashion. For many years he remained clean-shaven. In visage, the young King resembled his handsome grandfather, Edward IV,6 with a broad face, small, close-set, penetrating eyes, and a small, sensual mouth; Henry, however, had a high-bridged nose. He was, wrote a Venetian envoy in 1516, "the handsomest prince ever seen,"7 an opinion in which most contemporaries concurred.

The young Henry enjoyed robust good health, and was a man of great energy and drive. He had a low boredom threshold and was "never still or quiet."8 His physician, Dr. John Chamber, described him as "cheerful and gamesome,"9 for he was quick to laugh and he enjoyed a jest. A Venetian called him "prudent, sage and free from every vice,"10 and indeed it seemed so in 1509, for Henry was idealistic, open-handed, liberal, and genial. Complacency, self-indulgence, and vanity appeared to be his worst sins—he was an unabashed show-off and shamelessly solicited the flattery of others. He was also high-strung, emotional, and suggestible. Only as he grew older did the suspicious and crafty streaks in his nature become more pronounced; nor were his wilfulness, arrogance, ruthlessness, selfishness, and brutality yet apparent, for they were masked by an irresistible charm and affable manner.

Kings were expected to be masterful, proud, self-confident, and courageous, and Henry had all these qualities in abundance, along with a massive ego and a passionate zest for life. He embodied the Renaissance ideal of the man of many talents with the qualities of the mediaeval chivalric heroes whom he so much admired. He was "simple and candid by nature,"11 and he used no worse oath than "By St. George!" A man of impulsive enthusiasms, he could be naive.

Decision making did not come easily to Henry—it was his habit "to sleep and dream upon the matter and give an answer in the morning"12— but once his mind was made up he always judged himself, as the Lord's Anointed, to be in the right. Then, "if an angel was to descend from Heaven, he would not be able to persuade him to the contrary."13 Cardinal Wolsey was later to warn, "Be well advised what ye put in his head, for ye shall never pull it out again."14

Few could resist Henry's charisma. "The King has a way of making every man feel that he is enjoying his special favour," wrote Thomas More.15 Erasmus called Henry "the man most full of heart."16 He would often put his arm around a man's shoulder to put him at his ease, although he "could not abide to have any man stare in his face when he talked with them."17 There are many examples of his kindness to others, as will be seen. Yet the King also had a spectacular and unpredictable temper, and in a rage could be terrifying indeed. He was also very jealous of his honour, both as king and as a knight, and had the tenderest yet most flexible of consciences. His contemporaries thought him extraordinarily virtuous, a lover of goodness, truth, and justice—just as he was always to see himself.

Because the young King was not quite eighteen, his father's mother, the venerable Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, acted as regent during the first ten weeks of the reign. Lady Margaret had exercised considerable influence over the upbringing of her grandson, since it had been she, and not Henry's mother, Elizabeth of York, who was in charge of the domestic arrangements in Henry VII's household. And it had been she who was entrusted with perfecting Edward IV's series of ordinances for the regulation of the royal household;18 the procedures she established would continue to be enforced throughout Henry VIII's reign and beyond, and they covered, among other things, the rules to be observed in the royal nurseries.

The Lady Margaret was now a frail, nunlike widow of sixty-six, renowned for her piety, learning, and charitable works; yet her influence was formidable. She had been an inveterate intriguer during the Wars of the Roses, and had outlived four husbands. After the King, she held more lands than anyone else in the kingdom. Henry VII, born when she was only thirteen, was her only child, and she had been utterly devoted to him. That devotion extended to her grandchildren, whose education she probably supervised. For this she was admirably qualified, being a generous benefactor of scholarship and the foundress of Christ's College and St. John's College at Cambridge. A patron of William Caxton, she was both a lover of books and a true intellectual. She was also an ascetic, wearing a severe widow's barbe up to her chin and a hair shirt beneath her black robes, and her rigorous religious regime represented the harsher aspects of mediaeval piety. From her, the Prince inherited his undoubted intellectual abilities and a conventional approach to religious observance. * * *

Henry had been born on 28 June 1491, and was created Duke of York at the age of three. His seventeenth-century biographer Lord Herbert of Cherbury, who had access to sources lost to us, claimed that Henry VII intended this second son to enter the Church, and had him educated accordingly. Certainly Henry was pious and very well grounded in the- ology. Yet on the death of his elder brother, Arthur, in 1502, he became Prince of Wales and heir to the throne. The death of his mother, Elizabeth of York, in 1503, seems to have affected him deeply: in 1507, having learned of the death of Duke Philip of Burgundy, he confided to Erasmus that "never, since the death of my dearest mother, hath there come to me more hateful intelligence. . . . It seemed to tear open again the wound to which time had brought insensibility."19

Henry was very well educated in the classical, humanist fashion. Thomas More later asked, "What may we not expect from a king who has been nourished on philosophy and the Nine Muses?" The poet John Skelton was the Prince's tutor for a time, as was William Hone, of whom little is known.

Skelton may have owed his appointment to Margaret Beaufort, for he was a Cambridge man, a Latin classicist in holy orders. He had been appointed poet laureate by the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, and Louvain, and was described by Erasmus as "that incomparable light and ornament of British letters." He had probably been Henry's first teacher, for he claimed:

The honour of England I learned to spell,

In dignity royal at that doth excel. . . .

I gave him drink of the sugared well

Of Helicon's waters crystalline,

Acquainting him with the Muses nine.

He probably also taught Henry to read, and to write in a rounded, Italianate hand. Skelton was a colourful and eccentric character, an indifferent poet who wrote scurrilous, vitriolic satires, such as The Bouche of Court, which targeted the corrupt courtiers in Henry VII's household. Unlike most court versifiers, Skelton wrote in English, not the customary French or Latin. He was conceited, quarrelsome, and often ribald—he took a cruel pleasure in exposing ladies of the court as whores, and was obsessed with young girls—yet at the same time he set himself up as a champion of morality. Not surprisingly, he made many enemies.

Skelton may have been in his post as teacher by the time Henry was three, for, in a poem he composed to mark the boy's creation as Duke of York, he referred to him as "a brilliant pupil." Around 1501, Skelton wrote a rather pessimistic Latin treatise, Speculum Principis—The Mirror of a Prince, for the edification of his charge; he urged him never to relinquish power to his inferiors and to "choose a wife for yourself, prize her always and uniquely." In 1502, Skelton spent a short spell in prison for a minor misdemeanour, which effectively terminated his royal duties; upon his release he was appointed rector of Diss in Norfolk, but around 1511 he was dismissed for living with a concubine. Thereafter he lived at Westminster, where he would write his most vituperative and famous poems.

Along with Skelton, Prince Arthur's former tutor, the poet Bernard Andre, may have taught Henry Latin, and Giles d'Ewes was perhaps his French master. The Prince showed a flair for languages at an early age. By the time he became king he was fluent in French, English, and Latin, and had a good understanding of Italian."20 In 1515, Venetian envoys conversed with Henry VIII "in good Latin and French, which he speaks very well indeed."21 Henry customarily used Latin when speaking to ambassadors. He later acquired some Spanish, probably from his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. In 1519, he began studying Greek with the humanist Richard Croke, but soon gave it up, possibly for lack of time.

He showed early on that he had inherited the family aptitude for music, and in 1498 his father bought him a lute, although no details of his tuition survive.

He was also given instruction in "all such convenient sports and exercises as behoveth his estate to have experience in,"22 and that included the gentlemanly skills of riding, jousting, tennis, archery, and hunting.

In 1499, when Henry was eight, Thomas More took Erasmus to visit the royal children at Eltham Palace; afterward, the Prince corresponded with Erasmus in Latin. The Dutch humanist suspected that Henry's tutors were helping him with the letters, and was later amazed to discover from Lord Mountjoy that they were all his own work. He later flattered himself that Henry's style emulated his own because he had read Erasmus's books when young.23

Erasmus, who was by no means a sycophant, was to call Henry VIII "a universal genius" and wrote, "He has never neglected his studies." As King, Henry would continue those studies, taking Cardinal Wolsey's advice to read the works of Duns Scotus, Thomas Aquinas, and the Church Fathers. He saw himself as a scholar and humanist, and desired to be recognised as such by learned men. His interest was genuine, and it is attested to by the numerous annotations in his own hand in the margins of his surviving books. For Henry, learning was a great source of enjoyment, a journey of discovery for a mind avid for new information. He was extraordinally well read for a layman, and had wide interests. He also had some ability as a writer—his letters to the Vatican were exhibited as some of the most elegantly written ever received there—and as a speaker he showed eloquence "worthy of a great orator rather than a king."24

Henry had a sharp an eye for detail and an encyclopaedic memory. "There was no necessary kind of knowledge from a king's degree to a carter's, but he had an honest sight of it."25 He had a quick mind, superb organisational skills, and a formidable intellect. He possessed, wrote Erasmus, "a lively mentality which reached for the stars, and he was able beyond measure to bring to perfection whichever task he undertook."26 "The King's Majesty has more learning than any English monarch possessed before him,"27 Thomas More claimed, with some truth. "He is in every respect a most accomplished prince," wrote one Venetian,28 while another declared him to be "so gifted and adorned with mental accomplishments of every sort that we believe him to have few equals in the world."29 Princes were routinely eulogised by commentators and ambassadors in this period, but the unanimous praises heaped on Henry VIII—sometimes expressed in private letters—undoubtedly contain a high degree of sincerity.

Beyond his academic interests, Henry was creative and inventive; he loved novelties and enjoyed experimenting with mechanics and technology. He designed weapons and fortifications, and he took an active interest in building plans. He also had "a remarkable docility for mathematics"30 and was "learned in all sciences";31 the cupboards in his privy lodgings contained various scientific instruments.32

Henry had a passion for astronomy. The reformer Philip Melanchton called him "most learned, especially in the study of the movement of the heavens."33 Henry's astrolabe, bearing his crowned coat of arms and made by a Norman, Sebastien le Senay, is in the British Museum. As King, Henry would appoint as his chaplain the Oxford astronomer and mathematician John Robyns, who dedicated his treatise on comets to his master. The two men enjoyed many a discussion on astronomy. In 1540, Peter Apia- nus, a professor of mathematics from Ingolstadt, presented to Henry VIII his treatise Astronicum Caesareum on astronomy and navigation.34

Henry's interest in maps is well documented, and it prepared the ground for the eventual mapping of England in the late sixteenth century. The King owned many maps, most of them kept rolled up in cupboards and drawers in his chambers and libraries, as well as mapmaking tools, "a globe of paper," and "a map made like a screen,"35 indicating that Henry himself was something of a cartographer. Elaborate maps hung on the walls of the royal palaces and were used in court entertainments or for political strategy. In 1527, a Venetian mapmaker, Girolamo Verrazano, presented the King with a world map which was later hung in his gallery at Whitehall, along with thirty-four other maps, and there were maps of England, Scotland, Wales, and Normandy in the gallery at Hampton Court.36

Later in the reign, the defence of the realm was a major preoccupation, and the King commissioned a plan of Dover from Sir Richard Lee, surveyor of Calais,37 as well as a map of the English coastline from the Dieppe mariner John Rotz, who was appointed royal hydrographer in 1542. The atlas he produced, The Book of Idrography, was dedicated to Henry. Henry also employed a French cosmographer, Jean Mallard, who produced a book containing one of the first circular maps of the world.38

Henry emerged from his education as "a prodigy of precocious scholarship."39 But by 1508, for reasons that are not clear, the autocratic Henry VII was keeping his son under such strict supervision that he might have been a young girl.40 Unlike his late brother, the Prince was given no royal responsibilities, nor, it seems, much training in the arts and duties of kingship, apart from some sound schooling in history from the King himself.41 He was not permitted to leave the palace unless it was by a private door into the park, and then only in the company of specially appointed persons. No one dared approach him or speak to him. He spent most of his time in a room that led off the King's bedchamber, and appeared "so subjected that he does not speak a word except in response to what the King asks him."42

It may be that, having lost his three other sons, Henry VII was overly concerned for the health and safety of his surviving heir. Another theory is that he was well aware of the Prince's capabilities, and did not trust him; he is said to have been "beset by the fear that his son might during his lifetime obtain too much power."43 The Prince's cousin, Reginald Pole, later claimed that Henry VII hated his son, "having no affection or fancy unto him."44 Once, in 1508, the King quarrelled so violently with young Henry that it appeared "as if he sought to kill him."45

Perhaps Henry VII was all too aware of the boy's weaknesses, for he ensured that "all the talk in his presence was of virtue, honour, cunning, wisdom and deeds of worship, of nothing that shall move him to vice."46 Nor did the Prince have any opportunity of indulging in licentious behaviour: the chances are that he retained his virginity until he married.

Henry's tutelage did not last much longer. In 1509, the King died, and this untried youth came into his own.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Alison Weir

When did you first become interested in history?

Alison Weir: In 1965, when I was fourteen, I read my first adult novel;
it was a historical novel about Katherine of Aragon, and I could not
put it down. When I finished it, I had to find out the true facts behind
the story and if people really carried on like that in those days. So I
began to read proper history books, and found that they did! It was a
short step from doing research to writing my own books, and by the
age of fifteen I had completed a three-volume compendium of facts
on the Tudors as well as a biography of Anne Boleyn, and had begun
to compile genealogical information for a dictionary of kings and
queens, which would, more than two decades later, be the basis of my
first published book, Britain's Royal Families.

At school, up to the age of sixteen, I found history boring, for we
were studying the Industrial Revolution, which was all about acts,
trade unions and the factory system, and I wanted to know about
people, because it is people who make history. My teachers were
unaware that I was spending all my free periods and lunch breaks
researching my own history projects in the school library. I did
pass my GCE exam, but was told my grade was not good enough
to study history at an advanced level. This was a great disappointment,
as the subject for the advanced course was the Tudors and Stuarts,
something about which I already knew a great deal. I would love
to think that the teachers who excluded me have seen my pub-lished

When did you begin to write professionally?

AW: During the early 1970s, after attending teacher training college
with a view to teaching history, I spent four years researching and
writing a book about Henry VIII's wives, but this was rejected by
publishers on the grounds that it was too long--something of an
understatement, since it filled 1,024 manuscript pages typed on both
sides and without double spacing. In 1991, a much revised and edited
version of this manuscript was published as my second book, The Six
Wives of Henry VIII.

In 1981, I wrote a biography of Jane Seymour, which was rejected
by Weidenfeld and Nicholson as being--wait for it--too short. The
publishers, however, put me in touch with my present firm of literary
agents who, in the course of a conversation about which subject
I should write about, rejected my suggestion of a book about Lady
Diana Spencer (who became Princess of Wales that year) on the
grounds that people would soon lose interest in her! Instead, it was
agreed that I should write a biography of Isabella of France, wife of
Edward II, but this was never finished because the births, very close
together, of my children intervened in 1982 and 1984, and I had very
little time for writing.

In 1987, it occurred to me that my dictionary of genealogical details
of British royalty--which I had revised eight times over twenty-two
years--might be of interest to others, so I rearranged the contents
once more, into chronological order. Britain's Royal Families became
my first published book, in 1989, from The Bodley Head, and the rest
of the story is--dare I say it?--history!

How do you go about writing your books?

AW: I research from contemporary sources as far as possible; fortunately,
most of those for the periods I have written about are in print.
I use secondary sources to see what views historians take on my
chosen subjects, but in the end I make up my own mind, basing
my conclusions as far as possible on contemporary evidence.

I transcribe my information into chronological order, under date
headings, so that when I have finished my research, I have a very
rough draft of the book. This method has the curious advantage of
highlighting discrepancies and often new interpretations of events,
chronological patterns, and unexpected facts emerge. Anyone who
has read The Princes in the Tower will know how startlingly well this
method of research worked for that particular book.

How would you describe your role as a historian?

AW: I am not a revisionist historian. I do not start with a theory and
then try to fit the facts around it. I draw my conclusions from the
known facts. As my research progresses, I gain some idea of the viewpoint
I will take, but I am always ready to alter it if need be.

You have to consider the known facts in detail and avoid supposition
in order to get as near to the truth as possible. You must not only
take into account what is written about someone or something, but
who wrote it, since many sources are biased, prejudiced, or unreliable.
Where possible, I verify my facts from reliable sources only, and if the
only source is suspect, I say so.

What is your aim in writing history?

AW: I want to bring history and its characters to life by including as
much personal detail as possible, by inferring new ideas from the
known facts, and by researching the political and social background so
thoroughly that my subjects are set in an authentic context. Many
people have told me that my books read like novels. Perhaps this is because,
when I write, I feel I am really there, so strong is my feeling for
my subject. On occasion, I have been so moved by the events I have
been describing that I have felt like crying. The old adage that truth is
stranger than fiction is more than true for me, and if (as a couple of
recent reviewers have complained) it is old-fashioned to recount history
as a rattling good story--which in many ways it is--then I am
happy to be thought outdated.

When you were researching and writing about Henry VIII,
did you come to like him?

AW: Surprisingly enough, yes! Actually, I've liked him for a long time.
I've always felt that he has been greatly misjudged and perceived as a
caricature of his real self. Therefore, this book is a sympathetic study
that looks at events from the King's viewpoint. For example, most
historians have focused on Anne Boleyn during the days leading up
to her execution. I've focused on Henry. Few people have taken into
account the fact that his only son was dying a lingering death from
tuberculosis at this time.

I think, when it comes to historical characters, you have to judge
them by the values of their own time, not by ours. Henry was no
tyrant, as Richard III was; only in his last years did he become the
fat, diseased autocrat of popular perception. In fact, I wanted to use
a little-known portrait of the young Henry, painted when he was
eighteen, slim and long haired, on the jacket, but my publishers
felt--probably quite correctly--that no one would know who it was!
Yet my aim was to present to my readers a different view of Henry:
the real Henry, whom I had come to know very well through my

What is your opinion of screen portrayals of Henry VIII?

AW: I suppose the enduring image is that created by Charles Laughton
in Alexander Korda's The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), but it's the
classic caricature, and very far removed from the real Henry. A far
better portrayal is that by Keith Michell in the BBC drama series The
Six Wives of Henry VIII
(1969), followed by a film of the same name.
Here is a pretty authentic Henry: an acting tour de force and a delight
to watch! Robert Shaw's portrayal in A Man for All Seasons (1966) was
very different but equally convincing.

Did you uncover anything new while you were researching the

AW: Yes, quite unexpectedly. I certainly didn't set out to be controversial,
but I discovered a letter written by Henry VIII containing
evidence that places a whole new construction on the reasons for
Anne Boleyn's fall. This evidence makes sense of something that historians
have puzzled over for centuries: why Henry could have consented
to the destruction of a woman he had so greatly desired and

Was Henry VIII the lecher of legend?

AW: Possibly, although if he was, he was very discreet about it. For
this reason, we have only fragments of information about his sex life,
but I've uncovered enough of them to make me revise the opinion I
arrived at in my earlier book, The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

One historian has famously described Henry VIII as "that
great puppet." Do you agree with this assessment?

AW: Not at all. Henry was certainly suggestible and sometimes swayed
by the opinions of others, but the evidence overwhelmingly suggests
that for the most part he remained firmly in control. In fact, he was
the one usually doing the manipulating. Given his grasp of affairs, his
powerful intellect, encyclopaedic memory, and efficient communications
network, it was not easy for any man to rule him. He was the
King, and he never let anyone forget it.
Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. 1. At the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII, his virtues were extolled
by those who served him. How does the adulation the
young King initially inspired of the court compare to the subsequent
attitudes his courtiers held toward him? In which ways was
he burdened by unrealistic expectations? How did the King
manipulate his early reputation to his advantage?

2. It's an adage that a man can often be judged by the company he
keeps. How did this prove true of Henry VIII? How much choice
did he have over who comprised the court, and how much of
it was determined by external factors (for example, tradition, custom,
blood ties, or the influence of others)?

3. How did the rich physical appearance of the court and his various
palaces reflect the way that Henry VIII felt about himself and his
place in the world? Why were opulent surroundings, including
innovations in architecture, so important to him? How did the
physical arrangement of the King's palaces establish the hierarchy
of his courtiers?

4. What characteristics of a courtier do you think that the King held
in highest regard? Which characteristics were undesirable? Can
you apply these to advisors of leaders in modern times? In your
opinion, which of the King's courtiers was most successful in
serving Henry VIII? Who was the most successful in advancing
his own personal interests?

5. How did the itinerant nature of the court and its constant movement
from place to place affect its makeup? How might it have
been different--both physically and politically--if it had been
permanently situated in one spot?

6. The Privy Council and thePrivy Chamber formed the most elite
core of Henry's courtiers and advisors. Was this similar or different
to the setup of the King's father, Henry VII? What were the
differences between the two groups? How did these individuals
wield their influence? How did Henry VIII's mistrust of the
gentry shape the court, and how did it prove less constrained
by a strict social hierarchy than the outside world as a whole at
that time?

8. At the time of Henry VIII's kingship, the ideas of the Renaissance
were flourishing. Which of these ideas were most influential to
the King and his court? How did influential humanists--for
example, Petrarch or Sir Thomas More--shape the thoughts and
policies of the King? How was the King's warlike spirit at odds
with the opinions of his humanist friends and confidants?

10. Thomas Wolsey enjoyed a spectacular rise to power, becoming a
cardinal who was considered as powerful--or even more--than
his master, Henry VIII. Which attributes make him indispensable
to the King? How does he arouse antipathy from the others
around him? What role does his background, breeding, and personal
ambition play in his rise and eventual downfall? What purpose
did Wolsey serve for both his friends and his enemies?

11. How could the King's favor--or displeasure--toward a courtier affect
their fortunes? Examples to discuss could include Cardinal Wolsey,
Thomas Cromwell, Archbishop Cranmer, Sir Thomas More, the
Duke of Suffolk, Sir Nicholas Carew, and Fray Diego Fernandez.

12. Henry VIII's love for Anne Boleyn changed not only the
court, but also the path of England. It led to the King's "Great
Matter"--his desire to nullify his marriage to Queen Katherine of
Aragon. How did this issue factionalize the court? What issues do
you believe it eclipsed, and which did it bring to the forefront?
How did the religious climate of the time, and Luther's 95 Theses
in particular, also affect the question of religion?

13. Anne Boleyn positioned herself as a paragon of virtue and
morality. How did this contrast with her ascent to the throne and
some of her own personal characteristics? How did her influence
compare to that enjoyed by Katherine, and how did pomp and
patronage play into her reign? How did the opinion held of her
by the courtiers evolve, and how did that compare to public's
view of her? What attributes that initially attracted Henry to her
proved to be her undoing?

14. Thomas Cromwell was the second powerful figure to take precedence
in the court of Henry VIII. How did he compare to
Wolsey? In which ways did Cromwell wield more influence on
the King and on the policies of England than Wolsey? Why? How
was his downfall similar to that of Wolsey? How was he merely
the victim of his adversaries?

15. How did the question of succession shape not only Henry VIII's
marriages and liaisons, but also the court in general? How did the
birth of Prince Edward affect this? What type of relationship
do you believe that Henry's children by three different mothers
enjoyed with one another? In particular, how did the relationship
between Mary and Elizabeth thrive? What restrictions were
placed upon it?

17. How did the lavish spending on coronations, palaces, queens, and
wartime activity affect the later years of the King? How did he
react to the constant scourge of plague and illness?

18. How was the Reformation of Henry VIII a dividing point between
the conservatives and the radicals of his court? How was
the Act of Six Articles, which established the doctrine of the
Church of England as law, received by both groups? What elements
of the Act most reflected Renaissance thinking?

19. How did Henry's advisors use the King's faith to their own advantage,
often in ousting their enemies? How did his position of head
of the Church influence the King and his way of thinking? In
your opinion, how much of his faith was motivated by personal
desires (for example, the nullification of his marriages)?

20. How did the various wives--particularly Katherine of Aragon
and Anne Boleyn--wield power and influence? How were they
employed to advance the interests of particular courtiers, especially
in regard to alliances with other countries? Which causes
were advanced by each Queen?

21. How were at least three of the wives removed from power by the
maneuverings of the King, the court, or both? Do you think that
the influence enjoyed by women in Henry VIII's court was unusual
based on the gender attitudes of the time? Why or why not?

22. At the close of his life, Henry VIII had grown quite ill. How did
this affect the day-to-day workings of the court and the King's advisors?
How would you characterize the management style of the
King? Would you say that Henry VIII was by nature a laissez-faire
manager, or was he merely forced to become one because of his
failing health? Why or why not?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 55 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 55 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Very detail-oriented, but accessible

    No one does detailed work quite like Alison Weir. She meticulously describes clothing, interiors, architectural work, familial relationships, marriages, everything in her history of Henry VIII and his Court. Wolsey, Cromwell, and Cranmer are described, both professionally and personally, in detail as well as details of how Tudor royal households are set up and maintained (at times there are Households, too). All the intricate twists and turns of patronage, petitioning, and court life are presented in full but the result isn't tedious or boring; Weir manages to maintain a very readable style. Because Weir often alludes to certain historical facts, she tends to move forward and backward in time when describing individual persons and alludes to future events within her narrative so a basic knowledge of Tudor history is assumed. I thought this was a superbly rendered historiography, probably the best one of Weir's I've read so far, and she also provides extensive endnotes and bibliographies.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 19, 2012

    Highly recommended

    Alison Weir is a first-rate historian of Tudor England. At the same time, she has a gift for making all of her characters and the era in which they lived come alive to the reader.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Historical Read

    There is no doubt Alison Weir is a royalist. That in no way takes away from the historical work she is doing. As a fan of history, I believe her work on the British royal families is some of the most intriguing and provocative work I have read. The footnotes and sourcing are tremendous. The information is well organized and makes for a great read. Highly recommended.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Alison Weir writes with obviuos pasion for the period and character

    When all is said and done I enojed the book. Ms. Weir although she warns the reader in her inroduction that she will devote much time to the deatails of court life, I thought she has a tendency to cover the same ground over and over again. Anyone who wants to understand this historical period will serve themselves well by reading this book.
    In her notes at the back of the book Alison Weir references the BBC 1970's
    6 part series. I watched it after I finished reading the book....it was a great compliment to her book. Follow the historcal period and read about Quenn Elizabeth. Back to back the two were great.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2012

    Fantastic book, fantastic author

    This book is a must read for anybody interested in Tudor history. Alison Weir is a wonderful author..she could make a grocery list sound intriguing. That said, read this book, then follow up with her other books on the Tudors. You won't be disappointed.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2008

    Painstakingly Researched Read

    This book is extremely detailed and obviously painstakingly researched. I found a few chapters to be slow, but overall the book painted a vivid portrait of what court life was like in the time of Henry VIII. This book was very informative and enjoyable.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2001

    Everything a Person Could Want to Know!

    Ms. Weir has done an excellent job in portraying the personalities, furnishings, buildings, and traits of Henry VIII's court. This book is chock-full of detail and completely covers the era of this famous king. A question amidst the detail not covered? Check the outstanding 'notes' section and your query will be answered. I have read EVERYTHING ever written about Henry Tudor's court and this book is an absolute gem. A definite 'must have' for the Tudor fan.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2011

    Dont read this

    If u want more informarion on king henry VII read alison weirs the six wives of henry the VII. It has more to offer a reader about the acrual life of the king, not mundane information and names of people and places

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2008

    Leaves much to be desired

    Picking up this book in hopes of becoming more familiar with a seemingly larger than life man, a reader can be dissapointed. Very few of the first one hundred pages of the book have anything to do with a chronological life history of Henry VII. I am now very well aquainted with the things he owned, the etiquette at his court, and the hundreds of names of those who surounded him, but Henry remained a mystery to me to the very end. I found myself skipping paragraphs describing the work he funded for his many properties hoping that it would become a more interesting read. Unfortunatly, it didn't. It is very well researched but as a biography, it leaves me hunting for another book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 12, 2015

    I always get a kick out of people who read a history book, and c

    I always get a kick out of people who read a history book, and complain that there's too much history in it! Those darn "names of people and places" written by a person with a shaky grasp of the English language. Also, the book is about Henry VIII, not Henry VII!! Maybe that's where their confusion lies. This was a very well researched, with the kind of detail that I like. I would have liked a bit more on the music at court, but that's just me. Very enjoyable!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 16, 2014

    Very interesting, thorough and easy to read account of Henry VII

    Very interesting, thorough and easy to read account of Henry VIII

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2014

    Very helpful!

    Very helpful and detailed from what was swrved at every banquet, to the way everything was celebrated, the ranks, behavior, clothes, gifts and also on every important courtier of Henry VIII's court.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2014

    Wa Great book.

    Many ddetails that create a clear picture of the man and his times.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2013

    Great biography

    Very informative but not dry. Loved the emphasis that is placed on the court.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2012

    Great for Research paper's!

    I'm writing a research paper in my history class, and this book has helped me a lot in that goal! It's a great read, and very informative!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 12, 2010

    Great book about Henry the VIII

    This really tells the story of Henry the VIII. It was amazing. He was really something. I never thought about the past until I read this book and was shocked at some of the things that went on. I couldn't put the book down after I started to read it. It is well worth reading. It made me want to buy all the other books about him.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2005

    Detailed examination of Court Life

    This book told me everthing I needed to know about the Court around King Henry VIII. The author's constant references to tapestries, castles, food and so forth gives the book a 'lifestyles of the rich and famous' outlook that is unseemly at times. Alison Weir is an excellent historian and she has become one of the most recognized experts on the Tudors. This book could have left out some of the details on the King's real estate transactions and put in more information on the political situation and received five stars. Of course than it would not have been the book Ms. Weir intended. As is the book is not her best work. That remains 'The Children of Henry the VIII'. I would still recommend this book. The author is a talented writer and she found a way to make even Flemish tapestries interesting!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2002

    Weir's take on Henry

    Alison Weir's works have been highly regarded by a number of reviewers of historical non fiction. This book was quite readable with a wealth of details, but Weir has a habit of presenting her own opinion as if it were fact. She also seems to have a penchant for including salacious gossip that is tangential to the point she makes, a habit I found irritating.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2001

    Good, but not Weir's best

    A fascinating, detailed book about the life of the most powerful king in England's history. Her recent treatment of Henry's disposal of his wives was surprisingly light, and would be disappointing and confusing to anyone who hadn't read 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII' or a similar work. While less of a compelling narrative than Weir's other books, it's well worth reading.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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