Tuesday, December 01, 2009


The Autobiography of Henry VIII, Margaret George, St Martin's Press, 1986, 932 pp

On the day the Booker Prize was announced, I asked my editor at BookBrowse for an assignment to review the winning novel, Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. My request was granted so while I waited for the book to arrive, I thought I ought to learn more than I knew about Henry VIII. All I could recall is that he had six wives and that Anne Boleyn was one of them.

Sure enough, I found this excellent novel by Margaret George on my bookshelves where it had rested for over ten years. Back in the 1990s, I had read Mary, Queen of Scots and The Memoirs of Cleopatra. Margaret George has a wonderful smooth style and though her books are long, they are page turners for sure.

I raced through this one in just a few days, learning about the Tudors, finding Henry the man inside Henry the King, and discovering that it was the unshakable belief at the time that a king must have a male heir which drove him to all his crazy acts. In fact, Henry had two daughters with his first two wives and each of them eventually reigned as Queen of England: Mary I for five years and the indomitable daughter of Ann Boleyn, Elizabeth I for 45 years!

Henry finally did have a son with Jane Seymour, his third wife. That son was crowned Edward VI when Henry died, but the boy was only ten years old and never really ruled England during the six short years that he was King. Meanwhile, Henry formed an entire new church, beheaded two of his wives and became very fat.

He had certain feelings of inferiority, he was the son of a distant, cold mother, he was impulsive and actually quite stupid about women. His reign coincided with the Renaissance, the Reformation and the opening of the New World. There were plagues, brilliant new discoveries in science and bibles in English for the first time.

Probably many people already know all this, but it was it was new for me to put all these historical happenings in their proper alignment. In a recent NPR interview with Barbara Kingsolver, she said, "There's always a part of the story you haven't heard that would influence your judgement if you knew it all." I saw the movie, "The Other Boleyn Girl" and learned one story, now I've read The Autobiography of Henry VIII and gotten more aspects of it. Next I will read Wolf Hall and see it from the viewpoint of Thomas Cromwell, Henry's lawyer. Big fun for a reading nerd like me.

(The Autobiography of Henry VIII is available in paperback by special order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. Wolf Hall can be purchased in hardcover at the store.)

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