Say something about yourself!
As much as this is a book of political monarchs in highly turbulent times, this is also the personal story of siblings and how they related to one another. Once again, Alison Weir has knocked another one out of the park, bringing even the most nuanced aspects of this realm and time period to life in such a way that even a foreigner of the modern world can understand it in a deeply meaningful way. As a narrative history, this excels.
Weir does state that this book is a follow-up to her book The Six Wives of Henry VIII, which I've also given top marks. Indeed, I would agree that in conjunction with that work, Tudor history becomes a very human story, something far beyond a soap opera. Having read her biography of Henry VIII in paperback, I can say that anyone serious in Tudor studies via Weir should start there, proceed to Six Wives, then this. This focuses on the time period between Henry's death and Elizabeth's ascension, spotlighting Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, and Elizabeth. Next in line is her Life of Elizabeth, which will no doubt build on all of these other foundations, and which I'll be adding to my reading list soon. It's all dense storytelling, but it's also expert level history made as friendly as if reading a novel, building the layers as an artist does a painting. It's that good.
Simon Prebble is as authoritative and as engaging as ever in his role as narrator. He's just got one of those instantly respectable and friendly voices that's perfect for documentary narratives and lends itself so well to works such as this.
I don't usually listen to non-fiction, but The Children of Henry VIII is as interesting as it is entertaining. I don't know if the author reveals many new details about the lives of Henry's three children; however, she does pull together a wealth of information into one solid book. If you're interested in this period at all, this book is a good place to start.
Today, Henry VIII is mostly known for his many wives, but his impact on the England of his day - and far beyond - was far more substantial than his reckless love life. This book reveals Henry's legacy, how it affected politics in England long after his death, and, how it was interpreted by his surviving children, who all had strong personalities of their own.
The narrator, Simon Prebble, is excellent as always!
"fabric artist and quilter"
Alison Weir weaves her charm with this glorious set of biographies of Mary, Edward and Elizabeth and their cousin Jane who was Queen for just 9 days. Its fascinating for all those that love of Tudor history as it gives personal insight to each individual from what must have been exhaustive research by Weir.
I have to say that they were a very dysfunctional family and the repercussions of such disturbed childhoods showed in each of their characters and in the decisions they made both before they reigned and after their sub sequential successions.
My only disappointment was that it stopped when Elizabeth became Queen however it did mean that I went on to listen to Weir's The Life of Elizabeth I.
Highly recommended for all Tudor history lovers and for those that thought they grew up in a dysfunctional family!
Anyone who has ever even glanced at a British history textbook knows the names of these monarchs. The Tudors have become some of the most famous and infamous rulers in the history of the isles. The Tudor dynasty fostered Britain's Golden Age and the careers of the likes of William Shakespeare, Thomas Wyatt, and Sir Francis Bacon, it gave birth to the Anglican Church, and saw the beginnings of the Empire that would come to encompass ¼ of the global population. The Tudor monarchs are remembered as larger-than-life icons -- each more imposing and impossible than the last, climaxing in the legendary Elizabeth I, quite possibly Britain's best known monarch. But in this traditional approach to the dynasty much of the humanity of its members is exorcized or sacrificed in the process of legend-making. Alison Weir’s book “The Children of Henry VIII” goes to great pains to undo that process. Weir reacquaints the listener with Tudors after Henry VIII, utterly reversing much of what one thought one knew about Henry VIII’s issue.
Weir herself says that this book is not to replace the conventional histories of the latter three Tudors (plus Jane Grey) and their reigns and if this is your first dive into Tudor history I do not recommend starting here. This book expects you know something of the Tudors and 16th century Britain. However, even if you have a superficial knowledge of the Tudors this book is amazing and will utterly turn everything you thought you knew on its head. Edward VI, remembered for being sickly and manipulated by his counsel, is revealed as a self-righteous and unyielding protestant who took his father’s break from Rome one step further and enforced the Reformed Faith on British soil. Far from being bedridden and weak-willed Edward was active and stubborn, extremely dedicated to his role as king despite dying a minor. Pious, pretentious, honor-bound, human and tragic Edward becomes more than just a placeholder until Mary dons the crown but a young man determined to be the king his country and his father’s legacy deserve. Sometimes mature for his years, sometimes bratty, always human.
The nine-day queen Jane Grey, although not Henry VIII’s daughter but intimately tied to the lives and reigns of his children, gets a closer examination as well. Generally Jane is remembered as a victim, placed unwillingly on the throne by her power-hungry family and handlers. While this is true, Jane was far from meek. Weir explores Jane’s personality and her history, depicting an intelligent and snarky young woman, who, had she been allowed more than nine days on the throne, may have been a great queen in her own right. Jane’s life and legacy are explored at length alongside those of Henry VIII's children giving the listener a full and detailed portrait of this tragic and incredibly noble young woman.
Towering over Edward and Jane in the royal history of Britain are Mary and Elizabeth, the first remembered as a twisted and cruel tyrant infamously called “Bloody Mary” the second as a shrewd and unflinching “Virgin Queen.” The Queen Mary revealed by Weir is a kind and generous woman, deeply religious and bent on restoring the Ancient Faith to Britain for the sake of the souls in her country. She is wholly ignorant both romantically and politically until late in her short life. Still she attempts to rule as the best monarch possible, a weird mirror of her younger half-brother, determined to preserve and provide for her people socially and spiritually. She was popular among her people and beloved by her friends. Although the burnings are far from ignored the queen behind them is shown in a kinder light first which serves to make her executing of “heretics” (including the elderly and a pregnant woman) all the more shocking.
But Mary is not shown as “Bloody Mary”; not as a religious zealot or a heartless lunatic but as an anxious woman who ruled by her often-conflicted conscience and wanted nothing more than to be a mother; so devout she was willing to die for her faith (and more than once in her life thought she was to do just that) and so romantically/sexually innocent she didn’t know what the word “whore” meant. Mary is shown as being once popular amongst her people, well loved and motherly. Again this makes the juxtaposition between the nurturing Virgin Mary who took the throne and the religious fanatic responsible for the horrors referred to simply as The Burnings.
Although Elizabeth I’s reign is not covered in this book -- Weir has another book dedicated entirely to the subject, which I can’t wait to read -- her childhood and early adulthood are explored. The Elizabeth depicted is as clever and cunning as her reputation but shown not as Britain's most well-known ruler but a confused teenager and a stubborn royal prisoner; vulnerable and falible rather than the impossibly imposing queen championed by pop-culture. That's not to say that the Lady Elizabeth is weak-willed or ignorant, far from it, with the extremely limited tools at her disposal Elizabeth shows courage, bravado, and political finesse that would make her famous. This more fine-tuned and in-focus lens on Elizabeth Weir uses is why I'm so excited to start "The Life of Elizabeth I" to be shown the ruler and woman in greater detail.
When faced with questions left unanswered by history Weir takes a pragmatic approach. She gives many valid theories and picks off the ones that she takes issue with, citing historical precedence and logical flaws before backing her theory (or the theory to which she subscribes). In her analysis she recognizes something many historians ignore in championing their views; without the benefit of a time machine her theories are just theories. Weir is confident in her answers but she doesn’t show them as absolute truth, e.g. stating that while theory Elizabeth’s bachelorette life may have stemmed from a fear of marriage (after Thomas Seymour and her mother’s executions, etc.) makes sense, it is also a very much post-Freudian standpoint and thus alien to the Tudor period.
This book follows Weir's "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" chronologically and the two books compliment each other well. However Weir reverses her standpoint on the Seymour affair (that being the illicit romance between a young Elizabeth and the far older Lord Admiral Thomas Seymour) from the one she detailed at the end of "The Six Wives of Henry VIII," Elizabeth is no longer an excited participant, fully and willingly accepting and reciprocating the Admiral's advances but a fourteen-year-old with a budding, confused sexuality and a crush on him who reacts as much with fear and dismay as with pleasure and passion. This fact does create a good deal of confusion on the subject but the truth of the matter probably lands somewhere in-between. This is one of very few discrepancies between the these two texts -- indeed, it's the only one that immediately comes to mind -- thus the two books do flow nicely into each other as Weir intended. There is some overlap but it is not intolerable, it also means that either book can be read on its own.
From a feminist standpoint the text is undeniably rewarding, personally, as a feminist I found it one of the most enlightening texts on the subject of England's first female monarchs and sixteenth century Britain, second only to Weir's previous word "The Six Wives of Henry VIII." But it is not so overtly steeped in feminism as to be alienating to someone who does not associate with this school of thought. It can be enjoyed by anyone interested in the lives of the incredible monarchs regardless of her/his opinions on women's issues. The text sews the issues of gender-politics seamlessly (or at least painlessly) into the fuller picture of the lives of these incredible monarchs. I should also note that Edward VI is in no way neglected for the sake of his female successors, his short life and shorter reign are as closely analyzed as Mary's and Jane's.
One of the most engaging aspects of the book is that Weir shows Henry VIII's children as the family they were. There is a heavy emphasis on this idea as indicated by the title "The Children of Henry VIII". The Tudors of this text are not a dynasty of sovereigns and successors but a brother and his sisters. Weir explores their personal relationships as well as their political ones and how often these roles were at odds with one another. As part of showing the Tudors as people she explores their family ties to a great degree, not only between each other but also with the monarchs and the memory of their father, Henry VIII, and how each of his children tried, in his or her own way, to emulate him.
The focus on the personal lives and relationships of these monarchs makes them more human than any other source I've encountered on the subject. But because of this this book is definitely a study of the rulers rather than their kingdom, which is part of the reason why I'd recommend another book/audiobook first. This isn't about the accomplishments of the Tudors or the leaps and bounds made in their era and assumes you already have some small understanding of who they were and what they did. Europe, Britain included, was developing and booming; the arts, sciences, studies of religion and other aspects of culture were becoming more sophisticated than they ever had before. This was the Renaissance, possibly the most important period in European culture since the fall of the Roman Empire. "The Children of Henry VIII" is not about the swiftly changing culture outside of how it directly affected the Tudors and the text assumes the listener knows what was happening outside of the royal court at the time. You don't need to know much going into it, but this is not a conventional depiction of the Tudors or Britain under them and having that conventional knowledge when turning on the audiobook will help the listener.
I don't have much to say about the reader, which is not a bad thing. Prebble also reads "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" so he is familiar with Weir's style and definitely sounds comfortable with the text. However, his reading is unremarkable. That is to say it doesn't add to the text, but nor does it take away. It's a good thing as a bad reader can make even the best books unbearable but Prebble is not the kind of narrator who I would seek out. I think he is best suited for a history book like this in which he serves more as narrator than storyteller.
All in all it is definitely worth listening to if you have more than a passing interest in British history.
Warm, human, detailed
Almost as good as her book on the Wars of the Roses . Hopefully that will become available on Audible soon too.
I have long been fascinated by the Tudor period in English history. This book did not disappoint. Having read some recent "novels" by an author who does not allow fact to get in the way of a good story .... it was good to read an historically correct account with more in depth details than the usual historical books. I really enjoyed this account of sickly Edward, tragic Jane Grey, poor Mary and the incomparable Elizabeth. Looking forward to the author's account of Elizabeth's reign but up next for me .... Henry's Wives. Based on this book, I expect both to be just as entertaining.
Weir does a terrific job of storytelling. There are histories that are dry and impersonal, this is not one of them. By focusing on a narrow window, Weir makes it easy to connect to the characters in the book as though it's great fiction rather than history. Never the less, her research is amazing and she has many scholarly points to make.
The book begins with a quick run up and review of the reign of Henry VIII in order to set the stage for the assent of his son, Edward VI. It is easy to skip over the reigns of Edward, Lady Jane and Mary on the way from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. However, much of the molding of the culture, government and religion of England was reaction to and grew out of the context of the radical positions of Edward and Mary. The personal details tell the story of the evolution of ideas, theology and policies. I respect the histories that cover the centuries in broad strokes, but Weir's style of writing is entertaining and informative at a much deeper level.
Accounts taken from letters, diaries and testimony give us the expressions on faces, laughter, horror as well as what they wore, ate and really looked like. This level of detail makes it possible to experience history in a full color world experienced by the senses. Mary loved her little sister, Edward idealized and played with his older sisters, Mary fell head over heals for Philip and real people died for what they believed in grotesque ways while wars raged on the continent and an international cast of supporting characters came and went with news, influence and intrigue.
I've read more exciting history, but only because the stories were more exciting. Alison Weir is as gifted as any historian I've read. She doesn't document every phrase in the narrative. She tells the story with details and mentions sources in context making her prose flow in a natural and unobtrusive way. It is really easy to forget that this is not fiction. I look forward to reading more of her work including her historical fiction. Michael Schaara's "Killer Angels" comes to mind. The events can be real and dialogue can even be taken from primary source, but there is a line where an honest historian can decide to write from his or her own point of view and personal understanding without qualification in a literary style rather than as a scholar. The style of Weir's writing here is just to the history side of the line. I understand that other works of hers are fiction, though I imagine them, as with Schaara, fictionalized history rather than fiction in a historical setting.
Excellent book, I highly recommend. A must for Tutor enthusiasts. By the way - this covers Henry VIII through Jane Seymour and then the lives of Edward, Mary, Jane Grey (though she is not Henry's child) and Elizabeth until Elizabeth takes the thrown. The coverage of Elizabeth's life is equal in the time frame, but the time frame ends with the death of Mary. Just a brief epilogue foreshadows the actual reign of Elizabeth.
The Children of Henry VIII / B008QYINQU
I gave "The Children of Henry VIII" four stars when I rated the text version, and I'm happy to give this audiobook the same. I still don't care as much for Simon Prebble as for Weir's other narrators; in general I prefer narrators of the same gender as the author for non-fiction, and in specific to this case, I don't care for some of Prebble's pronunciations. I preferred Judith Boyd's ("The Lady in the Tower") smooth "Shap-we" (for Eustace Chapuys) to Prebble's "Chap-poo-we". However, since this is a direct follow-on book to 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII", it's nice to have the same narrator for continuity.
If you're coming to the audiobook without having read the book, this is a solid scholarly look at the four heirs of Henry VIII: Edward, Jane Grey, Mary, and Elizabeth. The book follows the relationships between the heirs and not so much the reigns of the heirs themselves, which means that the book stops rather abruptly at Mary's death and Elizabeth's accession since there are no more inter-heir relationships to document at that point -- though you can continue from there with Weir's "The Life of Elizabeth I", which I do recommend).
~ Ana Mardoll
I find the Tudor period fascinating - very interesting book and very well written.
The relationship between Mary & Elizabeth after Mary had ascended to the thrown.
'And you thought your family was bad...'
Simon Prebble has the best narration voice! Perfect for this subject.
There are a few things I thought other readers should get a heads up about. This is actually the 2nd book in a non-fiction history of the Tudors, which presents some issues you should understand if picking this. It starts right at the end of the 1st book, "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" which had a brief mention of Henry's bastard son, so he's not mentioned at all here, which I found odd....I wanted to know more about him and any other illegitimate children Henry may have had even if only rumored, but they are not addressed here.
And again....while the title says, "The Children of Henry VIII", it really only covers Edward - which is done well, Jane Grey - very interesting, though not a child of Henry, and Mary. Because Mary's early life was covered in book 1 - it's brief here and while you see Elizabeth in the backgrounds of her siblings stories, she is not focused on from her own perspective, but more how she affects the others. I have just begun, " The Life of Elizabeth I" which seems to be picking up at the death of Mary. I hope we go back a bit more into her earlier life, but after an hour, it doesn't seem so.
If you are looking for a fuller understanding of Henry's brood - you really need the first book. The first book is where you hear the full brunt of Henry's abusive behavior towards his children and get an understanding of why they were such strong personalities and tragically flawed in many ways. He really was a cruel bastard of a father. That is very important and missed in the second book, so I don't think you can really understand them if you start here. And the sad life of the Nine-Day Queen was so interesting - but again, not in this book.
I would have enjoyed a little more historical context about the lives, customs, and every day practices of the people of this time...but it's not a very imaginative work. The best parts of these types of books for me are the tidbits about the times, the food, the clothing, travel, personal habits, toiletries, bathing, wars, costs, health care, etc - but there really isn't any of that unless absolutely germane to a point. Just the facts ma'am.....
To really understand the people in this book - you must read the 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII' first, or their behavior won't make emotional or psychological sense, which could be seen as an epic fail considering the title...