Title: Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him
Author: Tracy Borman
Published: 30th October 2018
Synopsis: Tracy Borman, author of the bestselling biography Thomas Cromwell, takes us behind the scenes of Henry VIII’s court and sheds new light on the most notorious Tudor monarch through the fresh perspective of his male relationships.
‘An outstanding work of historical artistry, a brilliantly woven and pacy story of the men who surrounded, influenced and sometimes plagued Henry VIII.’ Alison Weir
Henry VIII is well known for his tumultuous relationships with women, and he is often defined by his many marriages. But what do we see if we take a different look? When we see Henry through the men in his life, a new perspective on this famous king emerges.
Henry’s relationships with the men who surrounded him reveal much about his beliefs, behaviour and character. They show him to be capable of fierce, but seldom abiding loyalty; of raising men only to destroy them later. He loved to be attended and entertained by boisterous young men who shared his passion for sport, but at other times he was more diverted by men of intellect, culture and wit. Often trusting and easily led by his male attendants and advisers during the early years of his reign, he matured into a profoundly suspicious and paranoid king whose favour could be suddenly withdrawn, as many of his later servants found to their cost. His cruelty and ruthlessness would become ever more apparent as his reign progressed, but the tenderness that he displayed towards those he trusted proves that he was never the one-dimensional monster that he is often portrayed as.
In this fascinating and often surprising new biography, Tracy Borman reveals Henry’s personality in all its multi-faceted, contradictory glory.
Of all the monarchs in British History, and indeed all leaders throughout history, Henry VIII, one of the Tudor kings, is perhaps one of the most fascinating and complex. We know of his darker side, of how he treated his six wives and the women surrounding them in the palace – the old refrain – divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived – reminds us of the fates of each of his wives:
Katherine of Aragon – divorced.
Anne Boleyn – beheaded.
Jane Seymour – died.
Anne of Cleves – divorced.
Catherine Howard – beheaded.
Catherine Parr – survived.
Most stories talk about how Henry was defined by how he treated his wives, children and the stories of his temper and the beliefs he espoused and the way he is depicted as monstrous in his actions. But there is always more to historical figures than meets the eye. Certainly, Henry – who was the spare in the family, only became the heir when his older brother died, and he was thrust into a world where he was trained to become king. He had of course received a very rich and expensive education, surrounded by many men and in a world where he would have had his every wish indulged. This would have contributed to his later attitudes and assumptions about the world. Here we are shown how the male advisors throughout Henry’s life and reign – Cromwell, William Paget and the other nobles like the Boleyn family, and everyone who had some kind of influence over him, and how he ruled during his reign, and what led him to marrying each wife and developing the Church of England – there were more behind the scenes machinations between these men than many sources reveal.
Whilst, for example, Anne Boleyn may have had some insistence on nabbing Henry for her own, some stories underestimate the power her brother and father exerted over the events that led to Henry divorcing Katherine of Aragon and marrying Anne. Coupled with this was his desire and indeed the desires of those around him – for his wife to produce a male heir. As Katherine had not succeeded, Henry sought to rectify this, and eventually would with Jane Seymour – who would die days after the birth of her son, and was the only wife that Henry seemed to truly mourn for after her death.
This is a very heavy and complex book, with many threads and aspects to take in and that are intricately woven together, so I spent my time with this one so I could fully appreciate the breadth of the history involved and that is quite often boiled down and heavily simplified based on popular ideas and not always based around evidence. What Tracy Borman does is show there is more to the story and how Henry ruled than we already know, and peels back some layers but also adds more, creating an intricate and intriguing history that shows what we see is not necessarily what actually happened and whilst Henry acted of his own volition, there were also other forces behind the scenes influencing him and those around him.