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The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's…

The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious Dynasty

by G. J. Meyer

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6611522,400 (3.95)15
Meyer's fresh storytelling ability breathes new life into the history of the Tudor family and Tudor England's precarious place in world politics, the critical role religion played in government, and the blossoming of English theater and literature.



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This is the first book I've read about the Tudors and even though I consider myself somewhat educated, my image of the Tudors has been surprisingly shaped by popular culture. I thought Henry VIII was a larger than life great king whose main problem was too many wives, and that the Elizabethian era a high point in English history. Turns out I've been duped by propaganda as old as the 16th century itself. The Tudors were awful for England and their self-aggrandizement has fooled generations of historians even up to the present. There is now a revisionism occurring in Tudor studies and how far the scales weigh to the other side remains to be seen. Overall, this book describes the Tudors as second-rate rulers, lacking in humanity and compassion, cold-blooded killers and otherwise unpleasant people. Meyer's says England had many stronger and better kings in the Plantagenets but Tudor image-making overshadowed them. G. J. Meyer has been accused of "bias" but that might be true if he took a position in the contemporary debates (eg. if he was pro-Catholic), but a history that re-evaluates the record is historical revisionism, a necessary process of cutting through the propaganda and finding the truth. ( )
  Stbalbach | Dec 26, 2018 |
Really good overview of the period, with super interesting and useful sidebar chapters. ( )
  kateschmidt | Oct 20, 2018 |
Author has good writing style that makes the story easy to follow. But the magnitude of the time period covered means there are lots of names introduced and the story moves too fast at times ( )
  zen_923 | Jul 2, 2017 |
What a dynasty even if it only lasted less than 100 years. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
Unlike most biographies of the Tudors, G. J. Meyer's doesn't romanticize their reigns or give them undue credit for enlightened religious reform or bringing the Renaissance to England. Rather, he shows them to be despotic (and downright tyrannical in the case of Henry VIII) and documents how any genuine progress that came out of their reigns was at best accidental and usually in spite of rather than because of their policies.

The Tudors begins with Henry Tudor's challenge and defeat of Richard III, whereupon he is crowned King Henry VII. Meyer briefly chronicles his reign, concentrating on how he consolidated power and amassed wealth, the former by killing off his enemies and the latter by confiscatory policies aimed at his subjects. Of course, this kind of behavior was to some extent par for the course for royalty of the time.

Then a large part of the book is devoted to the reign of Henry VIII, who took such methods to whole new levels of excess, establishing a full-blown reign of terror and impoverishing his people. Meyer also covers in some depth Henry's efforts to have his marriage annulled, leading to the separation of the Anglican church from Roman Catholicism.

Finally, he traces the reigns of each of Henry's children in turn: Edward, Mary, and especially Elizabeth. The religious upheavals of the time provide the main narrative thread, as Edward attempts to push his father's reforms further toward Calvinist protestantism, Mary tries to reconcile the English church with Catholicism, and Elizabeth takes a similar line to her father and steers a middle course, opposing both sides and systematically persecuting especially the Catholics as traitors to the crown.

The main value I got out of the book was deepening my understanding of how far we've come in the intervening centuries. Meyer discusses the various famines and plagues throughout the fifteenth century that had decimated the British population many times over, and the abject poverty of the vast majority of the people under the Tudor dynasty is difficult for us to imagine. People are somewhat more aware of the shameful way the English were treating their Irish subjects in the eighteenth century, with most Irish peasants having next to nothing, living in the most primitive hovels, and being regularly subjected to wide-spread starvation. Well, those were the conditions of most of the English people only a couple of centuries earlier! It's also mind-blowing to see the extent to which all these power struggles and life in general were still based on an utterly primitive clan mentality, and this at a time when they're already speaking fairly modern English that we can understand as our own language that we still recognize today (this is the time of Shakespeare, after all). All this just adds to my appreciation of just how far we've come in the few intervening centuries, which is really the blink of an eye in historical terms.

The main drawback of the book is that Meyer occasionally goes off on digressions labelled "Background". Many of these do genuinely provide context necessary to understand some aspect of the Tudors' reigns, but some of them don't seem to have much direct bearing. Still, even those are usually of at least some interest in their own right, so this is a fairly minor distraction.

Robin Sachs's narration of the audio edition is excellent, his inflections easily matching and helping to bring out the nuances of the text. Definitely worth a listen.

http://www.amazon.com/review/R11ACBDBNWZXXW ( )
  AshRyan | Dec 8, 2014 |
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The Tudors ruled England for only three generations, an almost pathetically brief span of time in comparison with other dynasties before and since.
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