Through Henry’s Eyes: The King’s Pleasure by Alison Weir



In the world of historical books, Alison Weir needs no preamble. Her historical nonfiction books are a treasure trove of knowledge and her historical fiction books are equally as fascinating. The King’s Pleasure (Ballantine, 2023) is one of her most ambitious undertakings yet. Unlike many of the Tudor-era books out there, Weir’s newest novel tells the story from King Henry VIII’s point-of-view. This is unique because we really only ever see him through the eyes of the others whose lives revolve around his.

The King’s Pleasure tells the story of Henry from when he is a child who lost his beloved mother, Elizabeth of York, until the very end of his life. This was a fascinating book because the reader is able to peer into the mind of a king infamous for his six wives and the beheading of two. Was Henry really a monster? Was he a hubristic monarch who would do anything to grasp at power? We know what historians have said about him and his bloody reign, but who was he truly? Weir grapples with these questions in her book.

The historical author begins by explaining how she began her journey with royal historical fiction and nonfiction. “When I was fourteen, my mother marched me into a library and said, ‘Get a book!’ To her distress, I had abandoned books for pop magazines. It was my first visit to an adult library and I was bored – until I saw this novel with a lurid jacket called Henry’s Golden Queen by Lozania Prole. I devoured it in two days, and was hooked; a passion for history was born overnight. Back at school, I raided the history library to find out the truth behind the fiction – and I’ve been looking for it ever since.”

She elaborates upon her fascination with the Tudor dynasty: “The Tudors  were dynamic characters and their story is so dramatic. We have great sources for the period and a wonderful visual record in portraits and palaces. I feel very privileged to be writing both history and fiction. My mission is to share my research with readers – and to entertain. It’s wonderful when I’m told that my books have inspired someone to go to university or take up a career in history.”

Now she talks about her premise behind her latest book: “Each book in my Six Tudor Queens series of novels on the wives of Henry VIII was written solely from its subject’s point of view. My agent joked that book seven should be a novel in which Henry VIII had his say, and over the years I began to think that would work very well as a sequel, because the King is often viewed from the perspective of his wives, and you don’t get the whole picture in the Six Tudor Queens novels. I was delighted when my publishers agreed.”

Weir also discusses how Henry has been represented in history and film. “Henry was a legend in his lifetime and over time that legend evolved into a caricature, culminating in Charles’s Laughton’s portrayal of him in the 1933 film “The Private Life of Henry VIII”, in which he appears as a buffoon, albeit a dangerous one.” She goes on to say that her purpose was to present a different view of Henry to the audience: “I wanted to show Henry as a more rounded and authentic character, not a bloated, self-willed monster who changed wives and chopped off heads with gleeful alacrity. I wanted readers to see a different person, the man whom the historical records portray.”

When it comes to historical nonfiction, Weir has published several excellent books on the subject of British and English royalty and nobility. She shared some of her insight about how research informs her writing process: “Most of the novels I have written are based on subjects I’ve researched for my nonfiction books. Basically, I fictionalise my own historical text. For the Six Tudor queens series, I undertook a lot of new research, and I’ve been able to draw on that for this book. But there were so many story-lines to follow, and such a large cast of characters, many of them historical titans, that it was hard to choose which to include in the book. It could have been three times as long!”

In writing about real historical figures, the author adheres to historical accuracy. She explains the necessity of doing so: “For me, it’s crucially important. After all, these books are about historical personages, people who really lived, and I feel that historical fiction should portray them as authentically as possible. That’s why each novel has to be backed by extensive research.” She goes on to talk about how she utilizes creative license to write her historical fiction books: “Of course, the sources do not tell us everything we’d like to know. For example, they don’t record motives, emotions or secrets. That’s where the author has to get creative, although you can’t just indulge in flights of fancy. What you invent has to be credible in the context of what is known about the subject, and I think it’s important to explain in an author’s note what is fact and what is fiction, because I know that readers want historical novels to be accurate.”

In conclusion, Weir tells us about characters she has connected with. “It’s always the hero or heroine of the current book. You have to try and get inside their head to see things from their point of view and understand why they behaved the way they did. Sometimes, it’s hard to rationalise their thinking. But when you try to be them, you do connect with them.”

She goes on to explain who her favorite character is: “Of all the characters I have written about in my novels, I probably connected with Katherine of Aragon the most, because I admire her so much; but there are elements of me in several other characters in my novels.”


About the contributor: Elizabeth K. Corbett is an author, book reviewer, and historian. She is the author of the short story, “Marie Thérèse Remembers,” which was published in the Alternate Endings anthology, in November 2022. Based in coastal New Jersey, she enjoys reading, researching local history, and is currently working on her first novel, Mrs. Foxley’s Secret, set in 1820s New York. You can read more on her personal website.

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