Sunday, October 20, 2013

361 (2013 #45). The Autobiography of Henry VIII

by Margaret George

I've read lots of historical fiction about the wives and daughters of Henry VIII, mostly by Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, but little seemed to be written about Henry himself.  I bought this book some time ago, but its sheer size (939 pages!) kept me from reading it until I got caught up in all my "have to" reading for the moment.

I thoroughly enjoyed this fictionalized autobiography/journal "by" Henry VIII.  It was interesting to read an interpretation of his behavior that paints him in a better light - a deeply flawed but basically well-meaning man, always searching for the love he seemed to lack in his early life, and not finding much of it, perhaps because few can behave as their true selves around a king.

The subtitle of the book is "With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers."  The premise of the book is that Henry VIII kept a private, mostly undated journal during his life, and Somers snuck it out of his chambers after his death and sent it to Catherine Carey, daughter of his former mistress Mary Boleyn (and possibly Henry's daughter as well).  Will inserts comments here and there throughout the book, which some reviewers found distracting.  I thought they highlighted inconsistencies in Henry's account and provided insights.  Furthermore, "Will" is able to tell us what happened after Henry's death, something "Henry" couldn't do in an autobiography or journal.

I decided to read this book because I wanted to borrow Margaret George's The Memoirs of Cleopatra (to compare it with Stacy Schiff's biography), and I wanted to see if I liked George's style first.  I do, despite the lengths of her biographical novels - I know now I will read them all now.  George provides a family tree and four pages listing the references of her well-researched novel - the only thing lacking that would have been helpful is a map depicting the places discussed in the novel.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

(I bought a used copy of this book.)

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