Henry VIII and the men who made him: The secret history behind the Tudor throne

Henry VIII and the men who made him: The secret history behind the Tudor throne

'An outstanding work of historical artistry, a brilliantly woven and pacy story of the men who surrounded, influenced and sometimes plagued Henry VIII.' Alison Weir Henry VIII is well known for his tumultuous relationships with women, and he is often defined by his many marriages. But what do we see if we take a different look? When we see Henry through the men in his...

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Title:Henry VIII and the men who made him: The secret history behind the Tudor throne
Author:Tracy Borman
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Henry VIII and the men who made him: The secret history behind the Tudor throne Reviews

  • Joyce

    5 stars

    I read the Kindle edition.

    “You shall, in your counsel-giving unto his grace, ever tell him what he ought to do…For if (a) Lion knew his own strength, hard were it for any man to rule him.” – Sir Thomas More

    This is a wonderful history of the men who surrounded King Henry VIII. Born both high and low, these men surely shaped the king’s reign through their influence with him. They were advisors, courtiers, friends, servants – and even his rivals.

    While most often remembered for his split wit

    5 stars

    I read the Kindle edition.

    “You shall, in your counsel-giving unto his grace, ever tell him what he ought to do…For if (a) Lion knew his own strength, hard were it for any man to rule him.” – Sir Thomas More

    This is a wonderful history of the men who surrounded King Henry VIII. Born both high and low, these men surely shaped the king’s reign through their influence with him. They were advisors, courtiers, friends, servants – and even his rivals.

    While most often remembered for his split with Roman Catholicism and his six wives, it was these men who perhaps had more influence on Henry than his wives. The Duke of Suffolk Charles Brandon was probably Henry’s closest friend and sometimes advisor. The scheming and ambitious Cardinal Wolsey whose drive to wealth and control of his king overrode his good sense and essentially drove him to ruin, Sir Francis Bryan who was another friend and confident of the king, Sir Thomas More…Thomas Cromwell…The poet Thomas Wyatt , Hans Holbein the painter who immortalized Henry in his famous painting, Thomas Boleyn, Francis I who was the King of France, Charles V of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire who Henry ultimately didn’t trust but forged on and off again alliances with Charles and many, many others.

    Ambassador to King Charles V Eustace Chapuys was very intelligent and a keen observer of human nature. His frequent writings and reports back to Spain were insightful and often noted the changeable nature of the king.

    Cardinal Wolsey took an immediate and intense dislike of Sir Thomas More for his closeness to the king. It’s no wonder that after Wolsey’s fall, More’s name appeared at the top of the list of forty-four charges against the Cardinal. Most of the charges were outlandish and clearly made up, but the drive by his detractors had gained momentum and there was no turning back. It is believed that Wolsey’s failure to gain an annulment or divorce from Queen Catherine was his final downfall. Henry wanted to marry Anne Boleyn. Wolsey was long-time trusted advisor to Henry, but he overstepped his bounds one time too many.

    Thomas Cromwell was a protégé of Wolsey’s and carried many messages between Wolsey and the king during Wolsey’s exile. Wolsey also believed that being a Cardinal protected him against a charge of treason. He was sadly mistaken. Henry could and would do anything he desired to do.

    His wives also had a great influence on Henry’s demeanor. As time passed he grew more fractious, mercurial and vindictive. Some of this must have been down to his wives’ influence and their perceived “wrongs” against Henry.

    Henry was passionate about sports of all kinds: hunting, tennis, dancing, shooting and especially jousting and so on. He was also drawn to intelligent, educated men such as Sir Thomas More and Desiderates Erasmus. He was easily manipulated as Cardinal Wolsey was to discover and very changeable. In his later years he became more paranoid and suspicious of his ministers and confidants. He would profess undying affection one moment and utterly destroy them the next, sometime even having them beheaded – as he did to so many people. He was also a raging hypochondriac.

    Upon Wolsey’s fall from grace, Thomas Cromwell came to the king’s notice. He was not formally educated, but he was intelligent and quick to learn. He was more intelligent and articulate than most of the nobles at the court even though he was a lowly son of a blacksmith and bar owner.

    Cardinal Wolsey died of dysentery on his way to (probably) the Tower of London. While some believed that he committed suicide, this has largely been disproved. The Cardinal was known to be very ill on his journey southward.

    Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey’s protégé, quickly ascended a rise to power as the king’s newest counselor and confident. Cromwell had reasons of his own to promote the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine and to make Henry the richest King in Europe. He secretly desired a break with Roman Catholic Church as he was a protestant. Cromwell was witty and humorous, and spoke the bald truth, even to his detractors. These were qualities that the king appreciated.

    While Archbishop Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell did much to further their Protestant agenda, Sir Thomas More, as now the Lord Chancellor, was horrified. He was firmly opposed to King Henry’s move to annul his marriage to Catherine and any break with Rome. His sympathies clearly lied with Catherine. When the clergy of England formally announced the Submission to the King in religious affairs, More resigned his office as Lord Chancellor. He promised never to speak publicly of King Henry’s “Great Matter” or speak openly of his criticism of the upcoming break with Rome. But More did not keep silent.

    When Thomas Cromwell ran afoul of Queen Anne, he was put on dangerous ground with the King in spite of garnering him millions (in today’s money), of pounds to add to his treasury. When Henry’s displeasure with Queen Anne became obvious Cromwell then schemed to get rid of Anne and install Jane Seymour as the new Queen. He knew he must be careful, however, for Anne was both astute and vindictive. He carefully constructed a plan whereby he could have Anne accused of adultery. Her love of flirting with men in her chambers was well known, for she did not surround herself with ladies, but preferred the company of men. Thus Cromwell was not only the architect of Anne’s marriage to King Henry, he was also the planner of her ultimate downfall.

    Within ten days of her death, King Henry was betrothed to Jane Seymour. She was to give Henry his much longed-for son. Henry was overjoyed and named him Edward. Jane, sadly, was to die only a few days following the birth of Edward.

    The Pilgrimage of Grace caused another serious threat against Cromwell. Started by those staunch Catholics who lived in the North of England against what they saw as the unfair dismantling of their monasteries and abbeys. They mostly directed their ire against Cromwell and his councilors; this also was to affect the king mightily.

    Henry’s fourth wife was Ann of Cleves. He disliked her from the start and claimed he only married her to assure him an alliance with Cleves against the new treaty signed by the Emperor Charles V and Francis I of France. For his part in the marriage, Cromwell was arrested and sent to the Tower. He demanded that Cromwell, from prison, find a reason to annul the marriage. A reason was found. Ann was content to live in England as Henry’s “sister” from that time until her death.

    At first Henry did not mourn Cromwell’s death, but later he came to realize that Cromwell ran his offices so smoothly and efficiently that Henry didn’t even realize how much he relied on him. He then missed him.

    Henry’s fifth wife was Katherine Howard. She was very young and she failed to disclose her former love relationships to Henry. But worse was the fact that Henry was now getting to be elderly by 1500’s standards, and he by this time was also obese and his leg pained him almost all of the time. Katherine started up a love affair with Thomas Culpeper, a young man who was of questionable virtue. He raped a young woman in the village, but Henry pardoned him. He was controlling and mean and perhaps Katherine, once ensnared, couldn’t see a way out of the relationship. For whatever reason, she was soon found out and suffered the ultimate punishment, along with her lovers.

    Henry’s sixth wife was Catherine Parr. She was about thirty when they married and since one doesn’t refuse the King, had to marry him in spite of the fact that she was in love with Thomas Seymour, the late Queen Jane’s brother. Catherine was to outlive Henry. She did much to bring the family together – Mary, Elizabeth and Edward and they more often came to court. Stephen Gardiner who was then a Bishop and a staunch Catholic contrived to have Queen Catherine arrested on charges of treason because of her Protestant beliefs. However, his plan backfired when Henry put his foot down and told Gardiner to get lost.

    After Henry’s death on January 28, 1547, there was a great deal of fighting over the Protectorate of his son, Edward, then aged just nine. Also, the arguments over the interpretation of Henry’s will went on and on. Edward Seymour grabbed the opportunity to name himself Lord Protector and shut out everyone else. However, he was to get his. Some amendments were made to Henry’s will following his death of which Henry would not have approved.

    This was a period in time that I would not like to live. Or if I did, I would want to remain as far from the court as possible. It was filled with backbiting and treachery. The level of scheming and fabrications created by those closest to Henry were astounding. There was no one be they high or low who escaped Henry’s wrath and mercurial temperament – save his good friends Charles Brandon and Thomas Wyatt.

    This is a very well-written told tale of the men who were closest to King Henry VIII. It is very well researched and thought out. I am in awe of Ms. Borman’s attention to detail and the patience with which she pens her books. I have read many of her books, and have very much liked them all. I tip my hat to the author and will read any more of her future writings.

    I want to thank NetGalley and Grove Atlantic/Atlantic Monthly Press for forwarding to me a copy of this most interesting and well-written book for me to read, enjoy and review.

  • Janet

    I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

    From the publisher ---

    Henry VIII is best known in history for his tempestuous marriages and the fates of his six wives. However, as acclaimed historian Tracy Borman makes clear in her illuminating new chronicle of Henry's life, his reign and reputation were hugely influenced by the men who surrounded and interacted with him as companions and confidants, servants and ministers, and occasionall

    I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

    From the publisher ---

    Henry VIII is best known in history for his tempestuous marriages and the fates of his six wives. However, as acclaimed historian Tracy Borman makes clear in her illuminating new chronicle of Henry's life, his reign and reputation were hugely influenced by the men who surrounded and interacted with him as companions and confidants, servants and ministers, and occasionally as rivals--many of whom have been underplayed in previous biographies. These relationships offer a fresh, often surprising perspective on the legendary king, revealing the contradictions in his beliefs, behaviour, and character in a nuanced light. They show him capable of fierce but seldom abiding loyalty, of raising men up only to destroy them later. He loved to be attended by boisterous young men, the likes of his intimate friend Charles Brandon, who shared his passion for sports, but could also be diverted by men of intellect, culture, and wit, as his longstanding interplay with Cardinal Wolsey and his reluctant abandonment of Thomas More attest. Eager to escape the shadow of his father, Henry VII, he was often trusting and easily led by male attendants and advisors early in his reign (his coronation was just shy of his 18th birthday in 1509); in time, though, he matured into a profoundly suspicious and paranoid king whose ruthlessness would be ever more apparent, as Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and uncle to two of Henry's wives, discovered to his great discomfort, and as Eustace Chapuys, the ambassador of Charles V of Spain, often reported.

    Recounting the great Tudor's life and signal moments through the lens of his male relationships, Tracy Borman's new biography reveals Henry's personality in all its multi-faceted, contradictory glory, and sheds fresh light on his reign for anyone fascinated by the Tudor era and its legacy.

    I admit it – I am a Tudor freak and I thought that I knew everything about Henry VIII and his legacy. I was wrong! Usually, when you read a book about Henry VIII you hear all about the women and wives in his life: it is interesting to see the relationships with the men in his life explored. (They didn’t necessarily keep their heads either 😊 )

    This is a fascinating read that any history fanatic will love: book clubs would gobble this up as well. GREAT book!!!

  • Beata

    I requested this book for at least three reasons. The first one was that I enjoy Tracy Borman's ways of presenting history and having read some of her books, I am still a fan of hers. The second reason was my interest in the Tudor period and the need to extend my (not scholarly) knowledge. Full satisfaction after reading this book. And, last but not least, I thought that reading more about the men who stood behind Henry VIII, and not just the king himself, might be an insightful. I honestly admi

    I requested this book for at least three reasons. The first one was that I enjoy Tracy Borman's ways of presenting history and having read some of her books, I am still a fan of hers. The second reason was my interest in the Tudor period and the need to extend my (not scholarly) knowledge. Full satisfaction after reading this book. And, last but not least, I thought that reading more about the men who stood behind Henry VIII, and not just the king himself, might be an insightful. I honestly admit that I was absolutely right to request this particular book. It reads very, very well, and is a source of information which is often ommitted for different reasons in biographies of this famous Tudor monarch. The book concentrates on men who surrounded the king and who had influence on him in various ways, not only political. I definitely recommend this non-fiction to anyone interested in monarch were influenced .......

    *Many thanks to Tracy Borman, Grove Atlantic and Netgalley for provong me with ARC in exchange for my honest review.*

  • Sarah Bryson

    Tracy Borman’s book on Henry VIII was a refreshing look at one of England’s most controversial Kings. So often when books examine the life of Henry VIII they study the King through his relationships with this many wives and his children, but Borman’s book takes a very different approach. She studies the life and reign of Henry VIII through the men that served him. Through the courtiers and friends whom lived with the King, men who served his most intimate needs as well as those that carried out

    Tracy Borman’s book on Henry VIII was a refreshing look at one of England’s most controversial Kings. So often when books examine the life of Henry VIII they study the King through his relationships with this many wives and his children, but Borman’s book takes a very different approach. She studies the life and reign of Henry VIII through the men that served him. Through the courtiers and friends whom lived with the King, men who served his most intimate needs as well as those that carried out the daily, very hectic and heavy, duties of keeping the Kingdom running. Some of these men were closer to the King than his own wives and it was these men that helped to inform and ultimately shape Henry VIII’s thoughts, views and decisions.

    There was no better way to the King than through those closest to him - his friends and the men that served him. If one wished to gain access to the King, to receive help or petition the King, it was best done through those that held his ear. It was these men that Borman studies and gives details about their lives. She discusses who these men are, some low born who raised to great heights such as Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell and others coming from great and influential families such as the Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham and John Howard, Duke of Norfolk. There were also men who Borman details who history has glossed over such as William Butts, physician to the King and Anthony Denny who had the grievous task of informing the King he was dying. To learn about these men helped to gain an understanding of who Henry VIII was, why he made the decisions he did during his life as well as his fears and desires.

    I thoroughly enjoyed Tracy Borman’s book. It is clear Borman’s book was well researched and I found it fascinating to see learn about Henry VIII through the eyes of the men that surrounded him. I learnt a great deal about Henry and how he was influenced at times and how, especially in his earlier years as King, relied heavily upon these men that served him. Borman also explains what a difficult position it was to serve the King. To be honoured and favoured meant great rewards, but to fall from the King’s grace could mean death and ruin. This is one book I highly recommend people read!

  • Helen Carolan

    An excellent read as usual from Ms Borman detailing the men who shaped Henry 8th. Many men passed through his life some more important than others. Statesmen, tutors,friends and his father all played a part in shaping the man and king.Henry in his youth was loyal but as the years passed he became more bullying and suspicious of those around him and his loyalty counted for nothing. This was a man who was happy to demonstrate that he could raise men up, but he could also bring them down again. A f

    An excellent read as usual from Ms Borman detailing the men who shaped Henry 8th. Many men passed through his life some more important than others. Statesmen, tutors,friends and his father all played a part in shaping the man and king.Henry in his youth was loyal but as the years passed he became more bullying and suspicious of those around him and his loyalty counted for nothing. This was a man who was happy to demonstrate that he could raise men up, but he could also bring them down again. A fascinating read.

  • Lissa

    It is hard to find new history books on Henry VIII that explore any new instances in his life. What this book does different is focus on his male relationships and those that were exploited for power and those that suffered from them with their lives. I am ceaselessly fascinated by the Tudor reign and this book does a great job of exploring the relationships between the men such as Wosley, Cromwell and Cranmer and the mercurial king. I have done quite a bit of reading about the Tudors so am fami

    It is hard to find new history books on Henry VIII that explore any new instances in his life. What this book does different is focus on his male relationships and those that were exploited for power and those that suffered from them with their lives. I am ceaselessly fascinated by the Tudor reign and this book does a great job of exploring the relationships between the men such as Wosley, Cromwell and Cranmer and the mercurial king. I have done quite a bit of reading about the Tudors so am familiar with most of the players so since the mass quantity of names and title didn’t trip me up, I found this thoroughly enjoyable. I received a digital ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  • Thomas

    3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

    Thanx you Grove Atlantic for sending me this eARC through NetGalley. It is a solid biographical study of the men who served Henry the VIII. Most books about this period focus on his six wives or Henry the VIII. The author has done an impressive amount of research, quoting extensively from primary sources, letters, diaries, official records, etc.

    Henry the VIII was obsessed with producing a male heir to carry on his reign. His father had ended a civil war and Henry the V

    3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

    Thanx you Grove Atlantic for sending me this eARC through NetGalley. It is a solid biographical study of the men who served Henry the VIII. Most books about this period focus on his six wives or Henry the VIII. The author has done an impressive amount of research, quoting extensively from primary sources, letters, diaries, official records, etc.

    Henry the VIII was obsessed with producing a male heir to carry on his reign. His father had ended a civil war and Henry the VIII worried that there would be another civil war without a male heir.

    A personal note: I just returned from a UK visit and toured Castle Howard, in the Howard family for more than 500 years. It is now owned by The National Trust. The last Howard turned it over to the Trust with the proviso that he continue to live there. He died recently, but used to give tours while he was alive. Castle Howard was a stately mansion and not a Castle. Actual castles in the UK have the town name first, as in Caernarfon Castle. Katherine Howard was one of Henry the VIII's wives.

    Interestingly, many of the men who served Henry the VIII were named Thomas-- Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, and Thomas Howard.

    One complaint: Chapter 2 has 57 footnotes, but only two and a half are listed in the footnote section.

  • Caidyn (SEMI-HIATUS; BW Reviews; he/him/his)

    I received an ARC through Netgalley and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

    This is probably the first book that’s purely about Henry (in a way) that I really liked. Earlier this year, I read

    , which was a complete disaster. So, I was hopeful that this one would be better. It definitely was!

    Borman takes the stance that Henry is such an enigma — and he is; he’s a hard man to capture because he was so

    I received an ARC through Netgalley and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

    This is probably the first book that’s purely about Henry (in a way) that I really liked. Earlier this year, I read

    , which was a complete disaster. So, I was hopeful that this one would be better. It definitely was!

    Borman takes the stance that Henry is such an enigma — and he is; he’s a hard man to capture because he was so changeable — so it’s easiest to get to his character by looking at the various men he considered favorites. Namely, the Boleyns and Howards, Seymours, Charles Brandon, Thomas More, Cardinal Wolsey, and Thomas Cromwell to name a few. All of these relationships fluctuated through his reign, especially since he beheaded quite a few listed.

    What I really enjoyed was that this was a great summary of Henry’s reign and a good analysis of the men. It didn’t get bogged down on the wives like many books would, but kept that light and focused more on the men who were behind these various power grabs.

    I definitely learned a lot about the men and I felt like I came away from the book with a little more knowledge on the topic. Sometimes, these books can be a review for me. But this felt like a review with extra detail. It didn’t feel like a wasted read.

    However, I do have my cons.

    Borman tackled a very heavy topic here because she never set out with specific men in mind. I think that if she had limited herself to a few men rather than try to talk about every single man, it would have been a stronger book. Henry got lost a lot of the time. It was hard to find him and his personality because the strong men around him swallowed him up sometimes.

    Another thing was that I did not like her analysis of Anne Boleyn. She relied very heavily on Chapuys and old historical “fact” that has been largely disproven (such as Jane Boleyn hating her husband, George) by modern historians.

    So, this was good. It was very enjoyable. I had minor issues with the book, but I’d love to have a finished copy of this for my Tudor shelf.

  • Melisende d'Outremer

    Much to the ire of Tudorphiles everywhere - I did not find this especially enlightening. And like Oliver Twist - I wanted more and was left wanting.

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