Tudors: The History Of England From Henry VIII To Elizabeth I, by Peter Ackroyd
It is rather intriguing reading this book after finishing the first volume of the series. When one is used to flyover looks at 30,000′ about the reigns of individual rulers, with one major ruler per chapter, it is a different experience to slow down the look at spend roughly the same amount of pages talking about the reigns of one dynasty of rulers over the course of less than a century that one spent on thousands of years of English history. Nevertheless, this book does give a clear understanding of the issues that the Tudor monarchs faced and their fundamental insecurity as rulers of England. In many respects, this work is intended as a revision to views that England was always an important player in world affairs that was able to throw its weight around and receive the respect of the European community at large. This book (and the others in the series as well, it should be pointed out) do a good job at reminding the reader that England has long been periphery to Europe and that it was quite a struggle for England to be recognized as a major world power, and by no means something that was true in all ages or at all times.
This book is over 450 pages long and it is divided into 41 chapters. The first sixteen chapters deal with the reign of King Henry VIII, and a surprisingly large number of those focus on his marriage woes, from his lack of heirs and search for a fertile enough wife who would give him a son to the executions of two of his wives for adultery and the insecurity that the lack of heirs had on Henry’s reign, including his desire to throw his weight around in European affairs, which was generally ineffectual. After that there are a few chapters that discuss the Protestant reformation under his son, the rollback under Mary, and the cautious settlement under Elizabeth that showed England’s muddled religious identity and general mistrust of anyone who was zealous about religion. There is even a chapter about the nine days queen for those who want to read about the brief reign of Lady Gray. Of course, a great deal of time is spent talking about Elizabeth I but also considerable time talking about the Marian martyrs and the struggles that Mary had in having a child and in maintaining the love of her husband. Overall, this book makes one pity the Tudors for the private misery they suffered as a result of their ambitions and power.
In giving a detailed view of the Tudor period and its problems, the author does a great job at showing the human nature of the rulers of the time. Although this book focuses mainly on elite history, namely the behavior of the various kings and queens and dukes and other elite players, the author probably correctly judges that these are the most interesting people to the intended audience of the book and thus the book focuses on where the information is the most readily available and where the interest level of the reader is highest. Those who want to read a social history of the Tudor period as relates to the problem of enclosure and the effects of religious revolts and the instability of the Tudor regime would likely want to check out other books that would deal with those subjects. That is not to say that this book does not talk about social matters, as there is some discussion, for example, on the changing attitudes of nobles so that the Earl of Essex found himself condemned as a traitor for acting according to a standard of prickly reputation that would have been far more common in the Middle Ages but became increasingly problematic later on. The more things change, the more they stay the same, though.