20 January 2010

The Children of Henry VIII

Remember my minor Alison Weir obsession last year?

It's back - still going strong and able to keep me up reading late.  The next entry in Weir's Tudor chronology was The Children of Henry VIII, a bit of a misnomer because Lady Jane Grey was most certainly not Great Harry's child and Henry's actual bastard children aren't mentioned in this volume.  Perhaps The Heirs of Henry VIII would be more accurate but it's not quite as catchy.

The Children of Henry VIII picks up the thread of each Tudor heir's life in turn - Mary, Elizabeth, Edward, and Jane - before weaving their stories together at Edward's accession on the death of Henry VIII January, 28, 1547.  Whatever was in the Tudor genes it made incredibly intelligent children out of all four of them.  All are noted to be precocious scholars, learning and becoming proficient at multiple languages, accomplished musicians (not so much Edward), and uncannily aware of the political and religious situations of the mid-sixteenth century.  Much was expected of Tudor heirs (they all had very esteemed tutors) but the natural ability was there.

This was the most engaging Weir, yet.  I think because the subjects were young and there is a lot of action during this period it makes the subject matter far more compelling.  Each of the Tudors are treated sympathetically but also matter-of-factly; quite a bit of information is given regarding Mary's enthusiasm for rooting out Protestantism, her stubborn insistence that burning heretics will eventually bring the rest around, and Weir makes no excuses for that behavior while building sympathy for Mary as a traditionalist woman who desperately wanted to become a mother.  The most sympathetic character in the whole, messy succession drama is Lady Jane Grey.  Talk about being used as a political pawn; she would have been unbelievably happy to stay in the country, to read and study alone, rather than being forced into marriage and the crown, ultimately losing her life (and her head).

The Children of Henry VIII ends with the death of Mary Tudor in 1558.  The Tudor history picks up again with The Life of Elizabeth I and that's where I'll be heading next.

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