For the first time in decades, here, in a single volume, is a fresh look at the fabled Tudor dynasty, comprising some of the most enigmatic figures ever to rule a country. Acclaimed historian G. J. Meyer reveals the flesh-and-bone reality in all its wild excess.
In 1485, young Henry Tudor, whose claim to the throne was so weak as to be almost laughable, crossed the English Channel from France at the head of a ragtag little army and took the crown from the family that had ruled England for almost four hundred years. Half a century later his son, Henry VIII, desperate to rid himself of his first wife in order to marry a second, launched a reign of terror aimed at taking powers no previous monarch had even dreamed of possessing. In the process he plunged his kingdom into generations of division and disorder, creating a legacy of blood and betrayal that would blight the lives of his children and the destiny of his country.
The boy king Edward VI, a fervent believer in reforming the English church, died before bringing to fruition his dream of a second English Reformation. Mary I, the disgraced daughter of Catherine of Aragon, tried and failed to reestablish the Catholic Church and produce an heir. And finally came Elizabeth I, who devoted her life to creating an image of herself as Gloriana the Virgin Queen but, behind that mask, sacrificed all chance of personal happiness in order to survive.
©2010 G.J. Meyer (P)2010 Random House
Obsessive reader, 6-10 books a week, chosen from Member reviews. Fact & fiction, subjects from the Tudors to Tookie, Harlem to Hiroshima, Huey Long to Huey Newton. In-depth fair reviews - from front to BLACK!!!
As an unabashed lover of British royalty, I've read over 100 books on monarchs from William The Conqueror to Edward VIII (the family gets boring after that). For me, the Tudors have always been embodied by a twitchy but regal Bette Davis as Elizabeth I and the fat-boy Holbein painting of Henry VIII. But this book gives all 6 Tudors their due, in one of the most indepth accounts ever. The media has sold us on largely fictional and/or subjective views of Tudor monarchs, Henry and Elizabeth, while basically ignoring Henry VII, and Mary I, Jane Grey, and Edward VI. However, this author sets the record straight. He tells each monarch's life from beginning to end, rather than as merely side characters to the longer reigning Tudors. He also provides the reader with backstories into the people and living conditions of that era, showing the period to be awash with poverty, ignorance, and oppression. Henry and Elizabeth, who are 2 of the most remembered monarchs were certainly not the greatest. And their cruelty, greed, vanity, and selfishness was overwhelming. "Off with their heads" was more than a mere expression for them. This book is enlightening, educational and entertaining. The author pulls no punches yet still allows the reader to judge for him/herself as to the short but turbulent reign of the Tudors. At 24.5 hours in length, it's hard to believe that any more could be written about this dynasty - this has got to be the best researched book EVER on the subject. I'd like to see the author write a "prequel" about the Plantagenets who gave England 14 kings over a span of more than 300 years vs. the Tudor reign of only 118 (83 years combined between Henry VIII and Elizabeth I). This is the only book that I've bought here which is worth 2 credits.
I, like many people, have always been fascinated by the Tudors. Perhaps it is because of our popular culture, from the BBC to our movies, but the Tudors have always seemed like a remarkable group of rulers so I was particularly interested in G J Meyer's book on them. It was all I could have asked for and more.
My Meyer's examination of the Tudor dynasty, from Henry VII through Elizabeth I, is thorough, detailed and incisive. The book is full of detail, in some cases almost too much detail, and leaves little to the imagination. His indictment of the Tudors flies in the face of today's cultural view of the Tudors, but leaves little doubt as to the validity of his assessment.
Understandably much of the book centers on the two best known Tudor monarchs – Henry VIII (or, perhaps we should say Henry VIIJ as you will read in the book) and Elizabeth I – although Henry VII, Edward VI and Mary I are hardly ignored. Mr Meyer's indictment of both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are based on fact and opened my eyes to a part of history that I did not know. Most of what I knew about Henry was related to his break from the Catholic Church and his efforts to secure a male heir. While I have always condemned what I saw as his “excesses” I thought I understood his desperate search for a male heir since there had never been a successful British Queen before that time. However I never really knew how much of a tyrant he was and I never really knew how much the British Parliament of his day had been made a creature of the crown. His slaughter of all of those who stood in his way, and of those who served him faithfully, are facts ignored by most contemperary accounts, at least those with which I was familiar.
His description of Elizabeth's reign also brought to my attention much I never knew. I had always thought that Elizabeth failed in perhaps her main responsibility to the British state – marrying and producing a successor – and I always thought that she did so out of her own selfishness, but I never knew much about her persuit of practicing Catholics in the country. I knew of the general policy and I knew about how her agents persued Catholic Priests to arrest them, but I never really felt that I knew why they did so. Mr Meyer explained the thinking behind this policy and, perhaps, why British policy up till the 20th century continued to exclude Catholics from most government positions. None of this is meant to excuse this policy for Mr Meyer makes clear that most Catholics, including those slaughtered for their beliefs, were loyal British subjects. In particular the story of Edmund Campion ended for me the idea of “Good Queen Bess”.
In A Word Undone, Mr Meyer's history of World War I, he alternated chapters between events and background information. His background sections were particularly helpful in explaining the “whys” in what was happening. He uses the same technique in this book, although there are not as many background chapters, to explain why things were as they were, why particular policies were followed and why particular solutions worked or did not work. I found this extremely helpful in understanding what was happening during the 120 or so years of the Tudors. Another thing I took away from this book is an understanding of how stable today's politics are compared to the world of the 16th century where the English, French, Spanish and Hapsburgs were constantly making and breaking alliances for the most transient of reasons.
This book is narrated by Robin Sachs who does a splendid job.
I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the period of the English Reformation or to those interested in British history of any period. So much of what happened during the reign of the Tudors is central to what came after that this book is enormously helpful in understanding events that happened hundreds of years after the last Tudor monarch died.
Telling the truth about three of the most ruthless monarch's of England. I watched the romanticism of the HBO series The Tudors and knew that their telling of the story of Henry could not be correct. Quite frankly not even realistic. So, I saw this in the book store and wanted to get another point of view. I am glad I did. This seems much more true to what the monarchy of England, at that time was like.
I, Claudis. I would compare because of the nature of their unrelenting power, that only stopped in their deaths.
No real character favorite. He made them all come alive.
G.J. Meyer has a gift for popular history, illuminating many strange corners of a period while keeping up a steady forward pace. I enjoyed this book, especially with Robin Sachs's narration. But I have to wonder about Meyer's determination to "do" the Tudors, because boy, does he HATE them -- all of them, even the glorious Queen Elizabeth. No scurrilous anecdote goes unearthed, no tendency toward tyranny unexamined. Liars, cheats, and murderers all, in Meyer's opinion. For Henry VIII, it seems no more than his due: his monstrous self-absorption comes as no surprise (especially to anyone whose first impression of him comes from "A Man for All Seasons"); a case could be made that Mary, despite the best of intentions, was divisive and destructive, especially with her marriage to Phillip of Spain; even 16-year-old Edward showed traces of religious fanaticism; but Elizabeth?? Meyer, how could you?
Each chapter of narrative alternates with a chapter of "Background," exploring different issues like the dissolution of the monasteries and continental politics. These function as interludes or extended footnotes, and despite their topical organization they often contain stories as vivid as those of the main chapters.
The whole thing speeds by very quickly without skimping on detail. It's a good choice for getting an overview of the period and the dynasty. But if you tend to think of Elizabeth as "Gloriana" first and Cate Blanchett second, prepare for a shock.
This book is a good overview of the Tudor Dynasty. There are some drawbacks but they are not bad enough to not read this book. First of all, this book is not exhaustive regarding all six wives. In fact, the book barely mentions the wives after Anne Boleyn. I am now reading "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" by Alison Weir to compensate for this loss. Also, the way the author jumps back and forth in time is annoying.
On the positive side, I learned a great deal from this book. There is lots of good info on Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. There are chapters in the book called "Background" chapters and they are fascinating. Robin Sachs is an excellent narrator for this book.
Illuminating, insightful, enriching
This is the overall the best account (by far) I've read/heard on the Tudors. By providing a good deal of background information that puts the events and personages in a meaningful historical perspective, it leads us to a deeper as well as broader understanding of the era and of the players, and revises our vision.
Dudley, whom I used to see as more foolish and rash.
One thing that comes through clearly in this book is how much the glamorous view of the Tudors was deliberately created through propaganda. And how great a difference there is between how Henry and Elizabeth wanted to see themselves and how they were. Some reviewers here object to the author "hating" Elizabeth. This seems to me off the mark. Our sympathy or antipathy to people of the past come from what we know of them, and to the extent that we learn more, our feelings change: we have no personal relationship with them and cannot know them except through books and documents. If what we've read has helped us develop strong feelings toward one or another, it is all to the good if other books come along to correct our illusions It does not seem to me that the author is in any way prejudiced against Henry or Elizabeth: in presenting many repulsive aspects of their behaviour that shatter the idealistic visions one might have had, Meyer is only drawing us closer to an objective and realistic appreciation.
I was struck by Meyer's brief evocation of Pope Alexander VI in this book as a monster: this is the received view that he would overturn in his next book 'The Borgias'. This would appear to illustrate his open-minded attitude toward historical inquiry, although one could more cynically take it as interested exploitation of contrarian views (an interpretation utterly refuted by the outstanding quality of his books, foremost perhaps his outstanding account of World War I).
The more I learn of history, the more I realize that famous people of the past are often not what they have been made out to be. And each time we revise our view of someone or something, we gain insight not only into that particular subject but into humanity itself. This is why history is of such passionate interest.
As someone who has read extensively on the Tudor dynasty, I actually enjoyed the different perspective that this book offered, which was overwhelming negative about the whole lot of the family. It is not unusual to find books that condemn the behavior of Henry (VII and VIII) and Mary, but this book calls to the carpet, so to speak, the actual ramifications of the reign of Gloriana (admittedly one of my childhood heros), both during her lifetime and after. It seems well-researched and while negative, fair in it's analysis of the facts presented.
If you're considering this one, you'd better be "into" the details of Henry's break with Rome - the who-did-what-and-when of it takes almost an entire 1/3 of the book. In a nutshell: he threw a temper tantrum when the Pope balked at annuling his first marriage ... and while the king was at it, he dissolved the monasteries in England so as to plunder them for himself. Oh yeah, he was draw-and-quartering everyone who disagreed with him. Nasty, nasty brute that one!
Edward didn't last long, and was Protestant, but he "admired" Mary, so that's something (that he liked Elizabeth, too, isn't mentioned). Of course, his admiration didn't stop him on his deathbed from trying to get Lady Jane Grey installed next. Sympathy for her plight from Meyer, possibly to the extent that her pre-empting Mary would have been worth avoiding Elizabeth.
Mary meant well, and yes she burned a lot of Protestants, but her father and sister were worse when it came to heretics. So there!
Elizabeth ... was just horrible. A real chip off the old block from her dad in terms of selfishness and greed. She persecuted Catholic priests, who knowingly entered the country illegally, seemingly for the fun of it; Meyer neglects to mention that the Pope had called for all good Catholics to overthrow her(assassination, if necessary, was absolved from the sin of murder). That Mary Queen of Scots fell for the Protestant bait, incriminating herself in the plot to do just that (overthrow her cousin) was also conveniently omitted.
If you want to experience a 400-year-old grudge vented, this is your book!
Narration is good, the book starts off on a reasonable note, and the historical asides are often interesting, so a second star for those.
Previous reviewers understated the degree of bias by the author; I quit listening relatively early due to it. In his introduction, the author states that new views of the Tudors refute the classic view of them as strong, capable rulers concerned with the welfare of their kingdom as a whole. I've read quite a bit about the Tudors, and I don't think any serious authors painted any Tudor as a benevelent monarch. Henry VIII was undeniably the worst, while Mary was not as bad as tradition paints her (in my opinion). Elizabeth was certainly her father's daughter, but never reached his extremes self-centered willfulness and viciousness. Then the author says he wants to present the lesser Tutors, such as Edward and Lady Jane Grey as well as Henry, Mary, and Elizabeth. Edward never ruled independently; his reign reflects Bolyns more than Tudors. Lady Jane's brief ascendany was completely under the control of others, and so brief, that she hardly counts as a monarch. Nor was she a Tudor. That much said, the author attempts no comparison of the Tudors to other contemporary rulers. Kings ruled by Divine Right; monarchs considered themselves divinely appointed and opposition tended to be seen as treason, which merited vicious punishment. Religious tolerance in the period was virtually nonexistant. Those who were not "us" (whoever that was among the many Protestant sects as well as Protestants vs Roman Catholics) were heretics and whichever side had the power to do so meted out "justice" - generally a cruel death. As for the background chapters, you will find much that is old, little new. On the plus side, the book is reasonable well written if you can overlook the content, and the reading isn't bad. I have read and listened to worse, but even good reading and writing can't overcome the content flaws. Don't waste your credits or your money.
Clear, concise and to the point, providing excellent synthesis and frequent interesting insights. Written in a style that is liberatingly free from the excess of detail and manifold subclauses that so often mar the writings of British historians. Here you get all the detail you need, but nothing that obscures the larger view. Meyer is also highly entertaing and often funny.
In addition, the book is organized so that after each chapter there is a section with 'furhter background'. This seems peculiarly suitable to the audiobook format, since it allows you to easily scroll past that section and go on to the next chapter where the story resumes if you prefer a more direct pace.
The reading is excellent with just the right tone of irony where so required.
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