Tudors (A History of England, Vol. 2)
By: Peter Ackroyd
Format/Source: galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley
Peter Ackroyd, one of Britain’s most acclaimed writers, brings the age of the Tudors to vivid life in his monumental History of England, charting the course of English history from Henry VIII’s cataclysmic break with Rome to the epic rule of Elizabeth I.
Rich in detail and atmosphere, Tudors is the story of Henry VIII’s relentless pursuit of both the perfect wife and the perfect heir; of how the brief reign of the teenage king, Edward VI, gave way to the violent reimposition of Catholicism and the stench of bonfires under “Bloody Mary.” It tells, too, of the long reign of Elizabeth I, which, though marked by civil strife, plots against her, and even an invasion force, finally brought stability.
Above all, it is the story of the English Reformation and the making of the Anglican Church. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, England was still largely feudal and looked to Rome for direction; at its end, it was a country where good governance was the duty of the state, not the church, and where men and women began to look to themselves for answers rather than to those who ruled them.
I came across this title on NetGalley and was immediately curious about this book for two reasons: 1) I had heard of Peter Ackroyd in passing and 2) it’s been a while since I’ve read any non-fiction history titles set in the Tudor period and I was wondering if there was something different that he would bring to the table. I was approved of a galley copy of this novel from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. This book will be available on October 8.
Naturally with the focus of this book being on the Tudor dynasty, it’s a familiar tale; readers have heard of Henry VIII and England’s split from the Roman Catholic Church, about Elizabeth becoming queen and the obstacles she faced then. What is interesting about Ackroyd’s book is that he focuses on the implications of England’s split from the Catholic church and that significance to English–and later British–history. As a result, the events featured in the book moves pretty quickly chronologically but the weight of the presentation comes in explaining the socio-religious changes that was happening across English society. The book shows the confusion that was rampant during this period, the common traditions that were being practised amongst the lay.
Tudors is an accessible title and I learned some new things about the period from this volume. It can be a little dense at times but the anecdotal stories were enjoyable and interesting. I only wished there had been an introduction to start the volume, just to inform readers what he hopes to achieve through his presentation of Tudor history, what makes his edition different from other books about the period; he nicely wraps everything up in his conclusion, which I really appreciated, but at the same time thought it would’ve been more useful at the beginning. Nonetheless, it’s worth checking out for readers who enjoy reading and learning about Tudor history and religious history in England–there might be something here that’s new and different that readers might not have picked up on before.