Henry VIII

Eric Ives has mixed feelings about a ‘new’ Tudor biography

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Reviewed by: Eric Ives
Author: David Loades
Publisher: Amberley
Price (RRP): £25

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Loades is the most prolific historian writing on the Tudors today – 16 books so far and another promised. Inevitably quality varies, but the opening of this book is the best thing he has written recently.

It is a brave survey of the way Henry has been viewed over the centuries – brave because most of us follow the rule, “start with a bang and tuck the academic bits in later”.

The resulting 20 page essay is now the best place to send anyone seriously wanting to get to grips with alternative understandings of England’s most mesmerising monarch.

As for the rest, parts of the book (eg ‘The Court’ and ‘Ireland’) simply reprint Loades’s 2007 book, Henry VIII, Court, Church and Conflict. The preface gives no warning of this. Among  new topics, particular attention is given to Henry’s wars (in unusual detail) and to the navy.

The 2007 book has more on context. In each the assessment of Henry is similar.

This book suffers from either rushed or incompetent editing. There are egregious howlers, eg King David was not Solomon’s successor; Shakespeare’s Henry VIII appeared in1613, ten years after Henry ceased to be “the father of the incumbent ruler”; the Earl of Arran at the top of page 301 becomes “the Duke” 18 lines later and on the next page, before reverting to title.

New readers will not be helped by characters appearing without explanation. There are also strange omissions. ‘The Supplication of the Ordinaries’ is described but not the resulting ‘Submission of the Clergy’ which recognised Henry’s authority over the church.

Discussion of the Act of Six Articles does not take into account the work of Alec Ryrie, especially The Gospel and Henry VIII (2003).

Copious illustrations, imaginatively chosen and not hackneyed, nevertheless let the book down. Some captions on the 39 colour plates are inadequate. Many of the 65 in black and white are poorly photographed; most of the 20 or so manuscripts can’t be read without (and sometimes with) a magnifying glass.

Poor editing and illustrations spoil what would otherwise be the most recent substantial one-volume narrative of the reign.  

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Eric Ives is the author of Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)