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Winter King : the dawn of Tudor England by…

Winter King : the dawn of Tudor England (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Thomas Penn

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4812821,469 (3.82)55
Title:Winter King : the dawn of Tudor England
Authors:Thomas Penn
Info:London [u.a.] Allen Lane 2011
Tags:English history, Tudor, Henry VII, biography

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Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn (2011)



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Overall, I found this disappointing. I had really looked forward to this one and really enjoyed the opening quarter or so. (I remember describing it to my brother as almost like a Tudor-era version of a top-notch Cold War thriller.) But then I found it dragging when it went into the meticulous detail of how Henry's court, and his totalitarian 'Council Learned' operated. I confess that I lost interest in the various methods of taxation and extortion that the king's courtiers and subjects were controlled and oppressed by. Henry VII (like many of his predecessors and successors) was a cruel and ruthless monarch, but his Machiavellian machinations really set the template for how to be the complete bastard dictator. Perhaps this made him a great king? I'm not sure, but it certainly proved a tough act for Henry VIII to follow. Josef Stalin himself would have learnt a lot from reading this. It takes a certain type of tyrant to establish a royal dynasty in late-medieval Europe.

"In London, the information-gathering and persecution, the arrests and financial penalties continued unabated."

To its credit, the author does an extremely thorough job, and his book is obviously a consummate piece of research, but I have to admit that I found it verging on the boring in long stretches. That said, it is without doubt a fascinating period of English history and there was much here that I did relish. The later chapters on the youthful heir Prince Henry were of particular interest. It was compelling to read of how the King's young son was gradually groomed for his kingly role, and how young Henry saw the world around him come into focus as he matured.

Henry Tudor's entire world from the court rulings to the court gossip, and from every show trial to each and every royal jousting tournament, it is all bought painstakingly to life within the covers of this book. One for the enthusiasts undoubtedly. ( )
  Polaris- | Nov 30, 2015 |
This was an excellent book to bridge the gap between Richard III's downfall and Henry VIII. Of course, to do this it focuses on the reign of Henry VII. The majority of the book is focused on the middle and end of Henry VII's reign; there is not much in depth exploration of how he actually gained the throne. This book focuses on how he keeps the throne and how he sets up Henry VIII.

To seal his authority on the throne, there were three things that stood out to me. One was that Henry VII ruthlessly hunted down any other people with royal blood and made sure they were not a threat, either by imprisoning or executing them. Second, he made a ton of money in the buying and selling of alum. Alum had been used for its medicinal properties for some time, but it had recently started being used as a dye-fixer in the textile industry and was in high demand. The money Henry made from buying and selling alum made him the richest King in Europe and money does always help in keeping power. Third, Henry made sure to keep everyone guessing and never feeling secure by using his closest circle to demand money, make arrests, and bring legal charges to people of all ranks, creating something close to a reign of terror.

Henry's reign was interesting to me, but what I found most interesting was the set up of Henry VIII's reign. Of course, Henry was never meant to be King; he had an older brother, Arthur, who was reared to rule. Arthur's sudden death put Henry in place as his father's heir. In this book we see a lot of the familiar faces from Henry VIII's reign get their start - men like Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More, Charles Brandon, etc. I found all of this fascinating since most of the reading I've done about Henry VIII starts at the end of his marriage to Catherine.

There is a lot more in this book (Henry VII is humanized by his love for his Queen, Elizabeth of York) but those are the main things I took away from this very readable but still scholarly account of Henry VII. ( )
1 vote japaul22 | May 26, 2015 |
This is not a typical biography that commences with a birth, life events in order, finishing with a death. The author does state at the beginning that the latter stages of Henry VII’s life are the book’s focus, which is fair enough, though this way the narrative is less varied.

Having been engaged by the intro and the prologue I thought I was onto something riveting here. However, soon after beginning the first chapter my interest wavered. The first part proved too slow-paced and a little too “back and forth” in regards of the chronology for my liking.

Thomas Penn is one of those authors with a writing style that detracts from the content. For example, he uses ten words when one will do, keeping long-winded sentences stretched into infinity with an army of punctuation. There are more colons and semicolons here than in most pre-Victorian novels. It’s as though it hasn’t been copy-edited or if it has then the advised edits have been ignored.

The book does improve in the second of three parts in terms of content but the clunky style remains throughout. However, there were still many paragraphs that I skimmed over because they failed to hold my attention.

I’m not a fan of bios that try to namecheck every other person that the subject – wrong word for a king, I know – encountered during their lifetime. This seems to be the case here. This has a tedious flavour to it, like a novel with too many characters.

I’ve been particularly interested in John, Edmund, and Richard de la Pole for some time, thus I enjoyed the sections about events concerning these brothers. The shipwreck and subsequent events if Philip of Burgundy and his unloved wife Juana was another theme that appealed to me. It’s also interesting to see the future Henry VIII growing up.

I do admire the efforts Mr Penn has gone to in bringing this tome to light. This, plus the positive aspects I’ve picked out, is why I’ve rated “Winter King” three stars instead of two.

Incidentally, I had watched the BBC documentary based on this book before reading it, featuring the author as the programme’s presenter. Mr Penn did a fine job in that role. ( )
1 vote PhilSyphe | Feb 18, 2015 |
This is an interesting and well constructed history of Henry VII. He tends to get defined in relation to the events before and after his reign, rather than his reign itself. So the beginning of his reign is all bout bringing an end to the Wars of the Roses, marrying Elizabeth of York and overcoming the usurper Richard III. All spring and new beginnings. The end of his reign is the coming of the glorious Henry VIII and the end of the miser, he's moved from Spring to Winter in the intervening years. This looks at how he came to take the crown and what he did with it when he got it. Lots of detail to bring the thing to life, lots of characters and bit players, some of whom play greater roles in the near future as well.
Very well done. ( )
  Helenliz | Dec 22, 2014 |
As I understand it, Henry VII is not as well remembered among the English kings in spite of the fact that he united the York and Lancaster houses and brought a measure of peace from the decades of wars, murders, and coups. Shakespeare apparently skipped him, perhaps because most would rather forget his reign.

After exile in France he returned and claimed the throne by defeating his rivals. Henry was from the Lancaster line but his wife, Queen Elizabeth, was from the House of York, and their union quieted some old animosities. But he was still ruthless with any other claimants or pretenders to the crown, and they usually found themselves wasting away in prisons under his watchful eye. He arranged for his oldest son Arthur to marry a Spanish princess for political alliances, and was left devastated when he died shortly thereafter. But what surprised me most was how manipulative Henry was and how he used his initially limited power to amass more power and wealth - and the way he did it using complex financial means to blackmail and extort every last bit of gold from those who soon found themselves hopelessly in his debt.

This is not a full biography of Henry VII and sometimes quickly skips over parts of his life. His exile is covered in some detail as is his assumption of power, but then it skips over the first ten years or so of his rule. The focus is more on the corruption of the latter years of his reign when he and his network of assistants had secured an iron rule over the people and used it ruthlessly. It's not an era of history that I was very familiar with and I found it tough reading - even stopping in the middle for a few months - but also strangely interesting in spite of that. ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
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A biography
Of Henry VII, founder
Of the Tudor line.

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Profiles Henry VII as an enigmatic and ruthless king of a country ravaged by decades of conspiracy and civil war, discussing the costs of establishing a Tudor monarchy and the ways he set the stage for Henry VIII's reign.

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