Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

Barnes & Noble's 'buy 2 get the third half price' rack provided me with several fun reads recently. For someone with a kind of weird obsession with medieval European royalty this book did not disappoint.

Weir tells a well-known story from a fresh perspective. The exploits of Henry VIII and his six wives and the rein of his eventual heir, Queen Elizabeth, are well-documented in film and television. The childhoods and relationships between Henry's three children, however are less common knowledge.

The book chronicles the childhoods of Anne, Edward and Elizabeth as well as their cousin Jane Grey. It follows the lives of each child and their tenuous relationships with each other from the time of Henry's death through Elizabeth's ascension to the throne.

What fascinated me is the sense of isolation - even when each was on the throne they were without true, loyal friends. Everybody around them was constantly trying to manipulate and control them for their own ends. There was never a time when they really knew who they could trust. Those in line for the throne feared for their lives constantly (and with good reason - Jane Grey was put to death and Anne's advisors lobbied strongly for Elizabeth to meet the same end). The crazy religious upheaval of the time, the youth of the prince and princesses, and the lack of trust between them all make for compelling drama.

The book is an entertaining read, Weir has lots of first-hand accounts and quotes which bring the characters to life and humanize them. And at the end of the day it reminds you how lucky we are to have modern medicine, video and religious freedom. The fate of the British Empire would most certainly have changed if they only had the information we get by peeing on a stick.