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Henry VIII by Jasper Ridley

Henry VIII (1984)

by Jasper Ridley

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1203154,633 (3.71)4
Tells the story of Henry VIII's rule and of his genius for the exercise of power.



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A good biography of an infamous English king. Jasper Ridley provides a study of Henry VIII's life, without focusing overly much on the various personalities of his six wives - a mistake many biographers make. In addition, Ridley also refuses to blame Henry's councilors and advisers for the policies enacted during his reign. Instead, Ridley focuses on Henry, who emerges not as a spoiled child led by those around him but as a pseudo-politician able to sacrifice those closest to him for political whims. Highly recommended for those interested in this English sovereign. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Apr 22, 2014 |
Henry VIII is a comprehensive biography of one of the most well-known English kings. Before reading this book all I knew about Henry was the six wives and the divorce of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. After reading this book, I now know him as an ego-maniacal king who loved playing one side against the other. Protestants against the Catholics, Emperor Charles against King Francois, one courtier against the other.

What I liked about the book was the initial set up of Tudor England. The author does a good job of setting up the stage with what life in 16th century life was like. Ridley paints a picture of a young, athletic king who took a keen interest in foreign affairs. As the book progresses, we are shown the cruel side of the English monarch who kept his citizens on their toes with constant changes to the religious laws in the country.

I used to be fascinated with Henry VIII - after this, not so much. He didn't seem a very likeable man and didn't really seem a fair and just king. The monarchs' obsession with religion seems so odd today - people's heads rolled for believing or not believing in the Real Presence and the Eucharist and transubstantiation. It just seemed like a lot of time and energy wasted on moulding people's beliefs in concepts that today are relegated to symbolic beliefs. And I tended to glaze over the details in the book, they interested me little.

Henry's song and dance with Emperor Charles and King Francois can be a little tiring. At some points their relationships seem reminiscent of high school cliques. Peace treaties broken alliances made and breached, armies marching in and out of places, marriage alliances made to cement kingdoms' futures, after a while it seemed like they did it all once and then did it all over again.

I didn't seem to notice this in the beginning, but in the second half of the book, the writing seemed to jump mid-chapter to seemingly unrelated events. Being used to chapters being cohesive and related to one topic, it was annoying to start a chapter that seemed to be about Henry's marriage to Katherine Howard and have it evolve to war strategies. Also, it seemed that the second half of the book was riddled with typos - not too many, but enough that I took notice. It seems that the crueler Henry got, the more typos there were.

It's hard to feel sorry for Henry. Even when he's heart-broken because Katherine Howard turned out to be a slut all I really thought was "Eh, what did you expect?" I laughed out loud at his attempts to use mercenaries - it seemed that Henry was good at war when England had other states do the fighting for her - but he didn't seem to really know the norms. ( )
  imperfectmanx | Jan 11, 2008 |
A very readable and absorbing biography of this monarch who was so pivotal to England's religious, political, and military history. It is very full on foreign policy, though the endless twists and turns of Henry's support of or opposition to France's King Francois and the Emperor Charles V get very repetitive after a while. It is also very thorough in covering the twists and turns of Henry's religious policy, which was far more erratic and complex than simply being loyal to Rome at first and then breaking away and becoming a Protestant as it is often depicted. One becomes rather sickened by the endless arrests and executions of those who oppose the religious settlement at any given moment, with Catholics and Protestants often suffering at the same time and sometimes even being executed together in the same horrific bloodletting on the same day. Politically also, the endless (very often flimsy) accusations of high treason and resulting executions make reading parts of this book rather like reading accounts of Stalin's Soviet Union. So it is quite a negative work in many ways, but very effective in bringing across the nature of Henry's rule in a way that books focusing more traditionally on his marital life do not (though this aspect is covered properly here as well). Henry was undoubtedly a tyrant and, in my view, probably the worst monarch England or Britain has ever had, worse than John or Richard III -though he was more popular than either of them and retained the almost Stalinist devotion of most of his subjects up to the end. ( )
  john257hopper | Oct 20, 2007 |
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