G159 Book Review of The Autobiography of Henry VIII with Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George
Author: Margaret George
Publisher: St Martin's Griffin
Type of book: Henry VIII, Tudors, 1494-1557, England, France, wars, wives, heirs, children, family, companions, Catholicism, breaking away from church, Protestant, Oliver Cromwell, Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, Katherine Parr, surviving, adoration
Year it was published: 1986
This is the story of England's most famous, and notorious, king.
Henry was a charismatic, ardent - and brash - young lover who married six times; a scholar with a deep love of poetry and music; an energetic hunter who loved the outdoors; a monarch whose lack of a male heir haunted him incessantly; and a ruthless leader who would stop at nothing to achieve his desires. His monumental decision to split from Rome and the Catholic Church was one that would forever shape the religious and political landscape of Britain.
Combining magnificent storytelling with an extraordinary grasp of the pleasures and perils of power, Margaret George delivers a vivid portrait of Henry VIII and Tudor England and the powerhouse of players on its stage: Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More and Anne Boleyn. It is also a narrative told from an original perspective: Margaret George writes from the King's point of view, injecting irreverent comments from Will Somers - Henry's jester and confidant.
There are a whole lot of characters, and although its impossible to summarize all of them, I will focus on some important ones: Henry VIII is the second son and he is inadequately prepared in being a king. He is loyal, does his best to keep the promises he makes and often wants to be approved and well liked for being himself. He is also extremely athletic and enjoys jousting as well as being independent. Wolsey is Henry VIII's advisor and in the book he strikes me as someone who worships Henry VIII, even giving up his own children just to be in the king's service. He is extremely efficient and lives to serve Henry VIII and also enjoys comforts and court life. Katherine of Aragon is Henry VIII's first wife from Spain and she is a bit like Wolsey in that she is loyal to Henry VIII no matter the circumstances and is very stubborn to changes. Anne Boleyn is Henry VIII's mistress and is best described as a shrew (in the book how Henry VIII sees her) and otherworldly. I also think that she was misunderstood by Henry VIII. Jane Seymour is the third wife who gave birth Henry VIII's son and she is sweet. Anne of Cleves is seen as ugly by Henry VIII but she enjoys his friendship. Catherine Howard is Anne Boleyn's cousin and is seen in a bit similar view as Anne Boleyn. Katherine Parr is seen the same way as Jane Seymour and serves more as a companion rather than a lover. Few other characters are Oliver Cromwell who seems to be a bit like Wolsey minus the wealth and being ostentatious, then there is Charles Brandon who is also Henry VIII's longtime friend and is always there for him.
There is more to someone than their reputation
The story is told in first person narrative from Henry VIII's point of view, although once in a while Will Somers, the Fool, interjects or clears up a misconception that Henry VIII presented. This is a very raw and emotional account of a king that is more well known for having six wives and breaking with church rather than someone who did his best to push England into Renaissance and who was determined to be everything his father was not. Henry VIII is not boring and yes, there is far more to him than six wives and desire for a son as he has multiple burdens to fulfill; that of pulling England out of the dark ages and to be as cultural as France; that of establishing the Tudor Dynasty which began with his great-grandfather, a man of Welsh ancestry, and to also try to be people's beloved and have different reputation than his father. In the book, Henry VIII ends up as a misunderstood and tragic figure that is beset by all too common humanity and he ends up being known for things he'd rather not be known for.
(From the book)
Margaret George, who lives in Madison Wisconsin, comes from a Southern basckground and has traveled extensively. After reading numerous novels that viewed Henry VIII through the eyes of his enemies and victims, she became determined to let Henry speak for himself, and it took fifteen years, about three hundred books of background reading, three visits to England to see every extant building associated with Henry, and five handwritten drafts for her to answer the question: what was Henry really like?
She is also the author of two other highly acclaimed novels, Mary Queen of Soctland and the Isle and The Memoirs of Cleopatra
Prior to reading this book, I was indifferent to Tudors and often felt frustrated that Henry VIII and his six wives dominated the historical fiction. (Honestly, there is much more to history than England and Tudor era...) Henry VIII, sadly enough, is only best known for his six wives and very little for other things, which is how everyone today remembers him: six wives because he was very desperate for a son. Reading this book really changed my view of Tudors and helped me understand Henry VIII's enduring popularity; why he is far more known than his predecessors and descendants. Its a majestic tome of his life, loves and views that I hope will become as popular as Gone with the Wind (I don't compare books to Gone with the Wind, but I do believe that I will make an exception in this case.) Despite the length of 900 plus pages, the reader is never bored and somehow the book isn't overwhelming with characters or specific events. What is also remarkable is that how I felt as if I was in a room together with Henry VIII, hearing him talk about his life to the reader and getting a deeper understanding at the forces that pushed him to do what he had done. Towards the ending, the author does acknowledge the reader's feelings, especially when it comes to exhaustion of going through four wives, and she addresses these feelings eloquently. If you love Gone with the Wind, please give this book a try. It's not something the reader will regret.
This was self purchased
5 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)