The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

Several months ago had a non-fiction book sale and included several titles by Alison Weir about Tudor England that I have owned in print form for years but never got around to reading them. Last month I reviewed The Six Wives of Henry VIII (see review here), and now it’s time to take a closer look at The Children of Henry VIII (Amazon). The book was originally published in 1996.

From Goodreads: “At his death in 1547, King Henry VIII left four heirs to the English throne: his only son, the nine-year-old Prince Edward; the Lady Mary, the adult daughter of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon; the Lady Elizabeth, the daughter of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, and his young great-niece, the Lady Jane Grey. These are the players in a royal drama that ultimate led to Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne–one of the most spectacularly successful reigns in English history.”

I’m rather new to reading or listening to Tudor history. I mostly watched one hour documentaries about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I or watched movies like Anne of the Thousand Days starring Richard Burton (Amazon Prime) and Lady Jane starring Helena Bonham-Carter (Stream for free with Amazon Prime). Then, not too long ago, I was offered an ARC of the last book in the historical fiction series by Weir of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, Katherine Parr (read my review here).

This book picks up where The Six Wives of Henry VIII left off. After the passing of old Henry, the succession passed to his nine-year old son, Edward. While Weir keeps the book in chronological order, she intertwines events that occurred to each person highlighted in their lives at the same time. What I found most interesting is that as I listened to the book, I noticed a lack of coverage about Elizabeth. Knowing that Weir followed up this book with The Life of Elizabeth I, it is partly understandable. Besides, anyone that has studied the subject knows Elizabeth’s story well but may not know her brother, sister, and cousin’s since they had such short reigns.

Edward kept a diary, but kept it mostly business-like and didn’t pour out his emotions like you’d expect in a typical diary. He was taught from birth to never show his playing hand and keep no counsel. He trusted his advisors, who were all scheming behind his back about various political matters. But most of the machinations for power were ignored in the book. Rather, Weir tries to relate what the children and niece of Henry VIII were like as people.

I found the section on Lady Jane Grey fascinating because of my viewing of the aforementioned movie many years ago. I just can’t imagine the nobles who pushed for Jane to sit on the throne actually thought they could get away with it. I know they were scared of the Catholic Mary, but come on! As often seen during Tudor England, indeed, in many parts of history, innocent people were killed because they were deemed a “threat”. Mary had “no choice” but to put her to death.

Mary’s phantom pregnancies are fascinating, heartbreaking, and downright befuddling. Her antagonistic relationship with Elizabeth is detailed, including Elizabeth’s time in the Tower of London. Despite Mary ordering the death of hundreds of Protestants who were deemed threats to her throne and her push to bring England back to Catholicism, she didn’t take her half-sister’s life. The book ends with Mary’s death and Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne.

As I found out in the Henry VIII book, Weir quotes from source material like letters and diaries and meticulously annotates throughout the book. It seems like it’s been a long time since I’ve read such thorough work from a historian. I especially enjoy a well-researched book, and this clearly is.

This is the 46th Audiobook I’ve listened to as part of my 2021 Audiobook Challenge.

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