Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England

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Overview

It was 1501. England had been ravaged for decades by conspiracy, violence, murders, coups and countercoups. Through luck, guile and ruthlessness, Henry VII, the first of the Tudor kings, had clambered to the top of the heap—a fugitive with a flimsy claim to England’s throne. For many he remained a usurper, a false king.

But Henry had a crucial asset: his queen and their children, the living embodiment of his hoped-for dynasty. Queen Elizabeth was a member of the House of York. ...

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Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England

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Overview

It was 1501. England had been ravaged for decades by conspiracy, violence, murders, coups and countercoups. Through luck, guile and ruthlessness, Henry VII, the first of the Tudor kings, had clambered to the top of the heap—a fugitive with a flimsy claim to England’s throne. For many he remained a usurper, a false king.

But Henry had a crucial asset: his queen and their children, the living embodiment of his hoped-for dynasty. Queen Elizabeth was a member of the House of York. Henry himself was from the House of Lancaster, so between them they united the warring parties that had fought the bloody century-long Wars of the Roses. Now their older son, Arthur, was about to marry a Spanish princess. On a cold November day sixteen-year-old Catherine of Aragon arrived in London for a wedding that would mark a triumphal moment in Henry’s reign.

In this remarkable book, Thomas Penn re-creates the story of the tragic, magnetic Henry VII—a controlling, paranoid, avaricious monarch who was entering the most perilous years of his long reign.

Rich with drama and insight, Winter King is an astonishing story of pageantry, treachery, intrigue and incident—and the fraught, dangerous birth of Tudor England.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Transforming himself from an exile with a dubious claim to England’s throne into the founder of the Tudor dynasty, Henry VII’s (1457–1509) micromanagement and questionable tax collection practices enabled the later success of his descendents Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Penn (editorial director of Verso Books in London and with a doctorate in medieval history) rescues the founding Tudor from the shadows with insight into his politically expedient yet loving marriage to Elizabeth of York, a Plantagenet heir, and chronicles Henry’s careful conclusion of the exhausting multigenerational Wars of the Roses. With occasional digressions, Penn still entertains casual readers with a brisk, almost conversational tone bolstered by ample context, especially when recounting the convoluted and politically fraught family history. Tudor scholars will appreciate Pen’s well-documented attention to the elder king’s steadfast devotion to stability, to the character formation of the young heir, Prince Henry, and Penn’s revealing analysis of why in the last years of his reign, Henry earned respect but not love from his people. , Illus., maps. Agent: Aitken Alexander Associates (U.K.) (Mar.)
From the Publisher
“I feel I’ve been waiting to read this book a long time. It’s a fluent and compelling account of the cost of founding the Tudor dynasty: of a clever, ruthless, enigmatic monarch, a refugee all his early life, king by right of conquest, prepared to harass and frighten his subjects into submission: a man content to be feared and not loved. The level of detail is fascinating and beautifully judged. The book shows what a mistake it is to regard these closing years of the reign simply as a curtain raiser for Henry VIII. I think that, for the first time, a writer has made me feel what contemporaries felt as Henry VII’s reign drew to an end; the relief, the hope, the sudden buoyancy.”
—Hilary Mantel, Author of Wolf Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A tour de force.”
The Spectator

National Review - Florence King
"Superb. . . . What makes this book so endlessly enjoyable is that it serves up the pathos, chaos, and human comedy that we don't know a lot about."
The New York Times - Miranda Seymour
“Evocative. . . . The strength of this outstanding book lies in his ability to breathe life into the sorts of ceremonious scenes of court life portrayed in the books of hours belonging to Henry's great rivals on the Continent. . . . Engrossing and finely written."
Library Journal
Though he ended the Wars of the Roses and became the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII often is overshadowed by his better-known descendants Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Penn (publisher, Verso Books) attempts to rectify this, skimming over the king's early years to explore the conflicts that pervaded his reign—in particular the issues raised by his tenuous claim to the throne. Complex, shrewd, and well aware of the instability of his position, Henry solidified his rule not only through carefully constructed propaganda celebrating a new dynasty—the Tudors—but also by use of an extensive network of informers and a ruthless system of taxes and fines to keep English subjects in check. Penn's focus on these darker aspects results in a somewhat slanted portrait of the king himself, but his thoroughly researched history quite successfully evokes the king's web of advisers, associates, and enemies, as well as the overall atmosphere of England during this period. VERDICT Recommended for anyone seriously interested in Tudor history; the denseness and amount of detail may be overwhelming for casual readers. [See Prepub Alert, 9/22/11.]—Kathleen McCallister, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
Library Journal
During England's tumultuous late 1400s, Henry Tudor won the throne by defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, then established peace and stability, which he hoped to continue by arranging the marriage of his elder son to a grand Spanish princess. Editorial director of Verso Books, London, Penn holds a Ph.D. in medieval history from Clare College, Cambridge University. Not just for diehard historians, as this publisher would be aiming for a broad reach.
Kirkus Reviews
Henry VII, who reigned from 1485 to 1509, is little known compared to his son, Henry VIII, and granddaughter, Elizabeth I, but Verso Books editorial director Penn does an eminently satisfying job of remedying this. Popular historians note that Henry VII's death left England at peace and with a full treasury, but the author emphasizes that contemporaries breathed a sigh of relief at the exit of a paranoid, Machiavellian ruler who inspired no love. A usurper with only a distant claim to the throne, Henry Tudor returned from exile at age 28 to defeat Richard III on Bosworth Field. Although this ended the interminable, destructive War of the Roses, no one realized this at the time. Powerful nobles plotted his overthrow, and many supporters were lukewarm, so he spent his reign battling rebellions, obsessively seeking conspiracies (many genuine) and enhancing his power through surveillance, diplomacy and manipulation of trade. He also filled his coffers with fines, bonds for good behavior and property seizures, the result of a mixture of suspicion, pure greed and treason, real or fancied. Except for a single disastrous invasion of France, he avoided war and began a 300-year policy in which British rulers preferred sending money rather than armies to support European allies. This is straightforward politics-and-great-men history, and readers will refer frequently to the book's genealogy chart to identify which quarrelsome prince, pretender, duke or earl is tormenting the king at that point. An entertaining, insightful biography featuring a colorful cast of characters, led by the formidable Henry VII, who passed on the first untroubled succession in 80 years, launching the equally turbulent but more familiar Tudor renaissance.
Miranda Seymour
…evocative…finely detailed…While Penn's portrait of the king himself conjures up a figure as compellingly unpleasant as a compound of Hannibal Lecter and Bernard Madoff, the strength of this outstanding book lies in his ability to breathe life into the sorts of ceremonious scenes of court life portrayed in the books of hours belonging to Henry's great rivals on the Continent…[an] engrossing and finely written book…
—The New York Times Book Review
Hilary Mantel
“I feel I’ve been waiting to read this book a long time. It’s a fluent and compelling account of the cost of founding the Tudor dynasty: of a clever, ruthless, enigmatic monarch, a refugee all his early life, king by right of conquest, prepared to harass and frighten his subjects into submission: a man content to be feared and not loved. The level of detail is fascinating and beautifully judged. The book shows what a mistake it is to regard these closing years of the reign simply as a curtain raiser for Henry VIII. I think that, for the first time, a writer has made me feel what contemporaries felt as Henry VII’s reign drew to an end; the relief, the hope, the sudden buoyancy.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439191569
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 3/6/2012
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 824,532
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.92 (h) x 1.39 (d)

Meet the Author

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

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 7, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I have to admit to being a history geek. For me, history is aliv

    I have to admit to being a history geek. For me, history is alive and energizing - not something static and remote. My obsession is European history from the 12th through 17th centuries - especially British history - so of course, when I was offered the chance to review this book, my interest was piqued immediately.

    I had not read too terribly much about Henry VII in the past and, with this book, Thomas Penn, brings this most important of English monarch to life in a very enjoyable fashion. There is nothing pedantry about this book. It is detailed to be sure but the details add to the read - they don't detract from the flow of the book as can become an issue with some dry historical missives. This book is lively, enthralling, detailed and enjoyable!

    "Winter King" has put some of the names and historical circumstances into prospective for me. Although Henry VII was a power house of a monarch it is his son, Henry VIII, who generally gets most of the press. I learned more about the man who became the King; how he managed to cling to the monarch in a very uncertain time, how he found his way through a mire of intrigues & plots to depose him, and how, it is my impression, he was the King who really was spymaster. Mentally agile, intelligent, ruthless, thoughtful and canny, Henry VII is an engrossing historical character and this book is a winner!

    Yes! I heartily recommend it for other history obsessives or Tudor fans. Well done!

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 2, 2012

    Recommended for medieval/renaissance history fans

    If Shakespeare had written a play about Henry VII based on this book, it would have been fascinating. Before reading this, I knew only that Henry VII defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and was succeeded by Henry VIII. Although this book does not really cover the early years of Henry VII's reign, it does deal with the period in which his money grubbing and abuse of power was most evident.

    The transition to Prince Henry was very well covered. When he succeeds to the throne, I found myself hoping (against actual knowledge) that he would be a more just ruler as he promised, but Mr. Penn quickly disabuses of that.

    One of the more interesting parts of the book was Henry's relationship with Pope Julius II and the role of alum in the economies of England and Rome. That alone would be an interesting subject for a book.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 23, 2013

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    Posted October 22, 2012

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