A Review of Tudor biography Henry VIII by David Loades

Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Amberley (July 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1848685327
ISBN-13: 978-1848685321

A major new biography of the most infamous king of England. 'Means to be God, and do as pleases himself', Martin Luther observed. It was a shrewd comment, not merely on the divorce in which the King was then embroiled, but upon his whole career. Henry VIII was self righteous, and convinced that he enjoyed a special relationship with the Almighty, which gave him a unique claim upon the obedience of his subjects. He subdued the church, sidelined the old nobility, and reorganized the government, all in the name of that Good Lordship which was his God-given responsibility.
As a youth, he was a magnificent specimen of manhood, and in age a gargantuan wreck, but even in his prime he was never the 'ladies man' of legend and his own imagination. Sexual insecurity undermined him and gave him an irascible edge - fatal to Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell. Several times he took out his frustrations in warfare, but succeeded only in spending vast sums of money. He dominated England during his life, and for many years thereafter, but his personality is as controversial today as it was then.
Professor David Loades has spent most of his life investigating the remains, literary, archival and archaeological, of Henry VIII, and this monumental new biography book is the result. His portrait of Henry is distinctive, he was neither a genius nor a tyrant, but a man' like any other', except for the extraordinary circumstances in which he found himself.

Eighteen year old King Henry VIII after his crowning in 1509

Pastime with good company   

For my pastance          
Hunt sing and dance                                  
My heart is set 
All goodly sport 
To my comfort 
Who shall me let? 

The best I sue
The worst eschew 
My Mind shall be 
Virtue to use 
Vice to refuse 

In order to understand the newly crowned, adolescent, King of England, Henry VIII, during this time,"The King was as avid for intellectual stimulus as he was for physical exercise, and he did not find that among his jousting companions. Above all, he was a talented and enthusiastic musician, who took his minstrels with him wherever he went; on progress, on campaign, even on hunting trips. Most of the evidence dates from later, but the 'king's musik' was noted for its excellence from the very beginning, and in 1516 he tempted the distinguished Venetian organist Dionisio Memo into his service. He played the lute and the virginals well, although he was less sure on the organ, and his greatest asset was his singing voice, which was strong and steady, although we do not know what his register was. Later in the reign one of his favourite occupations was part singing with the Gentelmen of his Privy Chamber, and he seems to have written such songs, perhaps even while he was still prince. One of the earliest was 'Pastime with good company', which expresses the whole philosophy of the young Henry" (Loades, Henry VIII, page67).

This is not the first Tudor biography I've read on Henry VIII but it is the first that I feel has been the most thorough and thoughtfully put together. I do understand that this is a reissue of an earlier biography David Loades has previously published with 'newer information' thrown in. That being said, Loades has done what Eric Ives has done with his Tudor biography of Anne Boleyn. Before having read this biography, my main source of reference on 'strict' biographies and not a fictionalized novel would have been Jack (JJ) Scarisbrick to which Loades agrees!
I have read David Starkey and Alison Weir's books of course and highly recommend them. However, the best source is always the plethera of available Letters and Papers found on online international library websites. The best feeling is the ability and freedom to read the original sixteenth century documents and letters by not only the kings and queens but their privy council members as well!

Not only did Historian, David Loades cover Henry's life and reign as King of England (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) but through Appendixes and Notes he summarized the historical events of the children of Henry VIII: Mary I (Bloody Mary), Elizabeth I and Edward Tudor. He included, wives and husbands of said monarchs and threw in Mary Queen of Scots as well! What more do you want?

I highly recommend this Tudor biography. It is written in a style that is clever, humorous and informative without being pompous and dry. I never felt as if I was listening to a lecture or being reprimanded! I enjoy Tudor biographies when they are well written and humour is important. It should be fun after all. For me, I always am curious to know more about these men and women who not only ruled countries and counties but were mere mortals, flawed humans with immeasurable superegos and waning sexual prowess! Something I love to do when reading biographies is too go directly to the biography list at the back of the book to see how many sources I've also read and how many I want to read!


As I walked along
and mused on things
That have in my time
been done by great kings
I bethought me of abbeys
that sometime I saw
Which are now supressed
all by a law.
O Lord, (thought I then)
what occasion was here
To provide for learning
and make poverty clear.

The lands and the jewels
that hereby were had
Would have found godly preachers
which might well have led
The people aright
that now go astray
And have fed the poor
that famish every day.

Henry VIII by David Loades
Henry VIII by Jack (JJ) Scarisbrick

Henry VIII and Crowley, Selected Works

Please feel free to leave any questions or comments,


Anonymous said…
Always good to have another bio on Henry VIII. He is a fascinating man! Nice review. gigigirl