“I’m Henry the Eighth I am, Henry the Eighth I am, I am…”
Alas, these classic lyrics, made famous by English band Herman’s Hermits, are not about the great English monarch, Henry VIII, who only managed to accumulate 6 wives, not 8. But it's still a great introduction to a great family, the Tudors, the dynasty that ruled England from 1485 to 1603.
There are many Hollywood incarnations of the Tudor dynasty, which blend complex historical fact with spectacular splendor. According to tudorhistory.org, there are more than 60 films and television mini-series produced since the early 1900s, in addition to numerous novels, biographies and ancestral accounts chronicling one of the most fascinating families to have emerged from our neighbors “across the pond.”
If your interest is piqued by recent television shows about the Tudor Dynasty (The Tudors on Showtime, Wolf Hall from BBC2/PBS, Reign on the CW channel), then I recommend background reading to help keep track of Who’s Who in the sometimes-tangled but fascinating plots.
Alison Weir has written a number of accounts of the Tudors. She’s known for her appealing, “story-telling” writing style. While she’s written about various time in British history, her preference is for the Tudor period, stating it’s “the most dramatic period in our history, with vivid, strong personalities...The Tudor period is the first one for which we have a rich visual record, with the growth of portraiture, and detailed sources on the private lives of kings and queens. This was an age that witnessed a growth in diplomacy and the spread of the printed word.”
Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2003) and Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne (2001).
There are never “minor parts” in the Tudor dynasty epic – only “minor players.” And it’s the “minor players” that leave us wanting more tantalizing tidbits! For the curious, check out these titles available through MCPL.
Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford by Julia Fox. Jane Boleyn was Anne Boleyn’s treacherous sister-in-law and an aunt-by-marriage to Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s 5th wife.
The Marrying of Anne of Cleves: Royal Protocol in Early Modern England by Retha Warnicke.
Anne of Cleves was Henry VIII’s 4th wife. Henry VIII was quite displeased with her and their marriage only lasted 6 months. She was cruelly labeled “The Flemish Mare” in the annals of history because Henry VIII thought her ugly.
The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd. Thomas More was Henry VIII’s Chancellor until he refused to swear an oath of recognition to the new Church of England and Henry’s marriage to his 2nd wife, Anne Boleyn. More was eventually executed for treason.
Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant by Tracy Borman. Thomas Cromwell succeeded More as Chancellor. Cromwell was executed after the political marriage he arranged between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves went sour. Henry VIII was a difficult king to please.
Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore. Edward VI was Henry VIII’s sole
legitimate son, and a determined champion of the Protestant Reformation. He inherited the English throne at age 10 and died at age 16, leaving the country in religious upheaval. Being a Tudor was tough.
What sayest thou? Intrigued by the Tudor family? Fling caution to yonder winds! Get thee to your local library and partake!