Henry: Virtuous Prince by David Starkey


This book held so much promise. It is beautiful, both inside and out, and the subject matter had much potential. The early years of Heny VIII, not the familiar tales of the six wives, but his childhood, his education and his life as a young prince.

How did the uncertain crown that Henry VII picked up on Bosworth Field become so secure that his son could hold onto it while behaving so monstrously?

What shaped Henry VIII into the man he became?

And of course David Starkey has a wonderful reputation as a Tudor historian. He sets out his plan well in the introduction, but I’m afraid the book doesn’t quite come off. Why?

Partly I think it is because the author is trying to two things that aren’t entirely compatible – draw out the circumstances and events that shaped the man and sustain an exciting narrative.

David Starkey succeeds in the latter – this is definitely a page-turner – but in doing this many key issues are simply glossed over and ideas and themes that could have been developed to shed more light on Henry the man are simply left hanging.

There is some great material here – as clear an overview of the Wars of the Roses as I have read, a wealth of detail about Henry’s upbringing, the pretender Perkin Warbeck and Henry VII’s response … It just doesn’t work as it should because so much background is missing.

What made Henry VIII the man he became? Well I have ideas but no fully formed arguments.

The first half of the book is stronger than the second. And in the end it just fizzled out. The threads will presumably be picked up in the planned sequel concerning Henry’s later years.

A disappointment.

5 responses

  1. That’s a shame. His goal as a historian should really be to argue something. I’ll have to wait for the sequel to see if together they create something that this one doesn’t by itself.

  2. Oh, I am so sorry to see it was a disappointment. I just finished reading The King’s Daughter and would so love to read a good book about Henry VIII with his upbringing, education, his childhood, etc.

  3. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: April 25, 2009 at Semicolon

  4. Pingback: Spring Reading Thing 2009: Book Reviews | Callapidder Days

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