23 May 2018

Tudor Book Spotlight: Henry VIII, the Reign, by Mark Holinshed


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Until a few years ago I subscribed to a popular image of Henry VIII being something of a hot-blooded womanising, fornicating tyrant who broke with Roman Catholicism to divorce his first wife, Catherine. He married a second wife, Anne, only to have her head chopped off shortly afterwards so he could marry her lady in waiting, Jane, who died. 

He then fell in love with the portrait of a German woman, another Anne, who in the flesh he rejected as his fourth wife and so divorced her. He took a fifth, another Catherine, (Katherine if you prefer) who turned out to be a jezebel, and her head was chopped off. Then finally for a sixth, he fell for a damsel, another Katherine (Catherine if you prefer)who nursed him kindly through his last years until he died of an excess of food drink and sex.

The narrative, Henry VIII, the Reign, began life those few years ago as a simple timeline of the reign, collating the elementary detail to use as way markers to chart the course of Henry’s ‘rule’.

Of course, much history has been written about the time Henry VIII was king, in particular, his love for Anne Boleyn and his desperation to marry her. The heat of this amour, so the books say, directed English history.

On further examination I found, however, the elementary detail in the Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, for example, seemed to follow a different course to many of the literary histories, those house brick size works, with Henry at their centre.

Many of these books concentrate on the man himself, the persona of Henry VIII. To adopt such a point of view however is but surely to distort the wider picture and thus Henry is construed, as master of everything. An all seeing all knowing, dictator, ‘a veritable Bluebeard,’who ruled by his wants and whims, and so what has come down to us is more of a legendary than a historical figure.

The narrative of Henry VIII, the Reign is readable in less than two and a half hours and written to be read on an electronic device.
The book is divided into concise parts from the accession in 1509 to the end of the reign in 1547 with scores of links (although they are not essential to follow the narrative) to specific supporting documents, such as the mainstay of Henrician research, the Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII.

This book does not do that; it looks at the wider picture, and a completely different image has emerged.

This Kindle edition links directly to the text of the supporting document to which it refers together with its number, date and title. In some instances, I have added a more detailed title which is shown in box brackets. Each supporting document contains a link to return to the main narrative. 

Literary gloss aside, Henry VIII, from the day his father died, was buffeted along by events. Events, such as Wolsey’s wars, the dissolution of the monasteries and the rise of the Seymours. Henry, it seemed to me didn't possess the ability to take control of anything – including all six of his marriages or even his own household.

The purpose of this book, therefore, is to cut away the padding, get back to basics. The aim is to show that the reign of Henry VIII was dictated by political professionals, people the like of Wolsey, Cromwell, Seymour and those who sided with their diverse agendas for the governance of England. 

The people who surrounded Henry were far quicker, far more experienced, far more ruthless, far more determined and above all far more manipulative than the gluttonous royal second son, a man who was but a thrall to their motives, and who was never groomed to be king and certainly not educated to govern.

I really hope you do read it, and afterwards give me your opinion.

Mark Hollinshed
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About the Author

Mark Holinshed has created the website www.reformationhenryviii.com and says, 'If you like your history succinct, to the point and without any padding, then this is the place for you. If you like your history detailed, with comprehensive resources available on screen with a click or a tap, and available for you to make up your own mind about our past, then this too is the place for you. Even if you do not like history, then this is quite probably the place for you – because history is not set in stone and you can have your say about changing our understanding of it. If you have arrived here by accident looking for something else, well, that something else has a history.' You can follow Mark on Facebook and Twitter @HolinshedsBlog 

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