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The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious Dynasty

The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious Dynasty - G.J. Meyer

While author G.J. Meyer would be the first to admit that there is no way to cram the minutiae of more than a century of history into a single volume, he's captured a whole heck of a lot in this book. Furthermore, as promised, The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious Dynasty is not just the Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn show. Frankly, “The King's Great Matter” (the euphemism employed by those in the know to refer to the whole Catherine/Anne annulment debacle) doesn't even begin to capture the full gamut of skullduggery of Tudor times.

 

It's hard to know where to begin with this debauched dynasty. Henry Tudor's ascent to the throne was rife with baggage and bloodshed. One might think that, five hundred years after the Battle of Bosworth, interest might have waned, but we're still running baby-daddy tests and bickering about that debacle. But Henry VII took the throne by combat, so let's skip the genealogy bits. 

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

Henry VII actually did a pretty good job setting up shop. Love and romance aside, getting married was something akin to signing a treaty and/or taking a hostage, so Elizabeth of York was the perfect bride for an upstart king looking to shore up his royal status.

 

Meanwhile, Henry had to figure out how to keep the royal coffers full. The classic serfdom pyramid scheme took a hit when the black death swept through, dead serfs can't exactly work the land. With help from the Council Learned in the Law, Henry cooked up some new ways to put the kingdom “in the [monetary] black.” 

 

Neonatal care being what it was (and with that dastardly X chromosome popping up all over the place), producing an heir was no easy feat. H7 and EoY did pretty well for themselves in whelping four royal offspring beyond infancy (below from L to R): Arthur, Margaret, Henry, and Mary Tudor. 

Tudor Heirs 1st Generation Arthur Margaret Henry Mary

Primogeniture put the smart money on Prince Arthur to be the next in line for the throne, and he was groomed for the role from the start. Duke of Cornwall at birth, and toddling into his role as Prince of Wales, the plans for Arthur's marriage to Catherine of Aragon (sealing the deal for an Anglo-Spanish alliance) were set in motion faster than you can say “child bride” (though they waited until the betrothed were of a respectable tween-age to exchange vows). Alas, Arthur died before the couple could make it to their first anniversary.

Arthur Catherine Henry

Courtesy of protracted negotiations with the Spanish court and a papal dispensation (Catherine's family being super Catholic and such), Arthur's widow and Henry VIII were wed in 1509 just  months after the death of Henry VII. Though the common folk weren't sad to see Henry VII, Henry VIII could have benefitted from a few of his father's faults.

 

The story of Henry the Eighth, “great matter” and all, is far more complex than I ever would have imagined. Meyer does an excellent job of putting the case of Henry v. the Church in the broader context from whence it came. While the religious upheaval in England and central Europe were separate, it wasn't a coincidence that these schisms happened around the same time. Let's just say it went beyond the issues of trophy wives and whether or not Jesus Christ could actually turn into a wafer cracker (transubstantiation if you want to be fancy about it). 

 

The six wives are but drops in the sea of people who were totally screwed over by King Henry VIII. There's really no one who wins when a king introduces “treason by thought.” From scapegoating Cardinal Wolsey to leaving his son with a government that was, essentially, bankrupt, the impact of Henry VIII knew few bounds.

Thomases Becket Cromwell and More

Standouts from the hit parade of the damned? Well, let's start with people named “Thomas.” As it turns out, this list includes the Thomas responsible for the name's popularity, Thomas Becket. Perhaps you think that, on account of being both a saint and dead, Becket would evade Henry's grasp. Wrong! If Henry calls you to court, you best come correct, otherwise he'll take your treasure, dissolve your shrine, and burn your bones!! TomCrom (Thomas Cromwell) was no saint, but he was certainly one of Henry's head henchmen—in the eyes of Henry, the Bro Code was meaningless. Thomas More, popular among the people, also did a bid in the Tower and exited via the stairway to heaven for refusing to take the Oath of Submission. 

Mary Tudor Portraits

Mary, Henry's daughter, seems a particularly tragic character in it all. Sure, she'd ultimately earn the moniker Bloody Mary as queen for her cruel for burning protestants en masse (including a Thomas or two), but the girl had some serious daddy issues. Separated from her mother, subjugated to her infant half-sister, and forced to sign an oath against everything she believed, it's not exactly surprising that Mary would become unhinged. Also, she may or may not have had an hysterical pregnancy when she first married Philip, but I'd have to do some fact-checking on that.

 

Here I've promised you a dynasty, and find myself more impressed than ever with Meyer's ability to steadily distribute material across the Tudor succession! My apologies for skipping ahead…

Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I (in stark contrast to her predecessors) acknowledged that a monarch reigns with “popular consent.” Unfortunately, her exit from the world wasn't particularly picturesque. Scarred by smallpox in her youth, the Queen tried to hide behind ceruse—a makeup made of lead and vinegar (and you thought eating paint chips was bad). I imagine her physical devolution being a sort of Tudor Era analogue to that of Michael Jackson.