Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir is a nonfiction book about some of the Tudor children and was originally published under the title Children of England which, in my mind, is a more apropos title.  The problem with this book is that Weir doesn’t include one of the king’s bastard sons, Henry Fitzhugh, and does focus some of her chapters on Jane Grey, the niece, not daughter, of Henry VIII.  While I understand there isn’t much content about this particular child, it makes the title of the book a bit misleading.  Perhaps a better title would have been The Tudor Children?  I don’t know.  

I do know, after reading John Guy’s The Children of Henry VIII, I was curious to compare the two books and I’m glad I did.  Weir’s exploration of history is far more fun to read.  Guy chose not to get too detailed in his book but there is so much interesting information that Weir weaves a narrative that’s as good as any novel.  In fact, better than some novels.  I learned a few things about Mary in particular and, the very fact that I had just finished reading a biography about her life as well as the lives of her siblings, is saying a lot. But, because Guy alludes rather than explains, the significance of so many relationships are never fully realized.  Under Weir's research, the relationships become more relevant and interesting.  Although I had known about Reginald Pole and Mary's difficult marriage but her adolescence was more provocative in Weir's book.  

In many ways, Mary becomes more sympathetic.  For those hoping to read a lot about Elizabeth, however, this is not the book for you.  Weir has written about Elizabeth and this book ends with a brief epilogue in which the new monarch learns of her half-sister's death.  I did, however, enjoy reading more about Edward VI and if Mary seemed more sympathetic, he became less so for me.  Both were fundamentalist in their beliefs, refusing to leave room for any other interpretations.  Under Edward, there is little doubt that the nation would have been as violently oppressed as it was under Mary only the victims would have been Catholic instead of Anglican or Protestant.  All of the childhood indulgences and problems both experienced highlight just how remarkable Elizabeth was as a queen and ruler of England.

Ultimately, Guy's decision to not get too detailed sucked the life out of a highly dramatic era in British history.  Weir never allows the layers of details to become boring.  The details add flavor to, enhance rather than bog down, the story.  There is a liveliness to her prose utterly lacking in Guy’s book, and I had a lot more of fun reading this book, in spite of the misleading title.


  1. Your review of this book has made me want to go and watch "The Tudors" again! Have you seen it before?

    1. Yes. One of my guilty pleasures. I can sit there and see what's historically inaccurate, what was played up for dramatic effect, and still love every moment.


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