Young Henry: The Rise of Henry Vlll
This new biography concentrates on Henry VIII’s life up until the triumphant coronation of the pregnant Anne Boleyn in 1533. The first chapters chart the accession to the throne of Henry’s father and his urgent need to establish the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty. The first half of the 16th century is riddled with “what ifs”, which this book highlights to great effect. What if Prince Arthur had not died in 1502? What then for Henry, duke of York, or even, as it has been suggested his father intended, Henry, archbishop of Canterbury? What if Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon had produced the longed-for heir?
The book is well researched, drawing copiously on original resources to show a world of breathtaking luxury and extravagance, of pomp and pageantry, scheming, political chicanery, brutality and personal tragedy.
However, it does not give us anything new, and the truncated time-frame makes it feel inconclusive. Much about Henry’s childhood among his adoring nursemaids and the effect of this on the character of the adult ruler can only be speculation. I know it was the author’s intention to show us Henry VIII before he morphed from Renaissance prince into the obese tyrant of popular legend, but by leaving us at the high point of 1533, we only witness the devastating fall-out of the king’s desperation for an heir in an epilogue and character biographies sketching the events of the next 14 years and the fate of the people we have encountered in these pages.
Nevertheless, this would be an interesting addition to the library of anyone interested in the Tudor era.