Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I by Peter Ackroyd

The Tudors

Rating: 3 Stars ★★★☆☆

The land was flowing with milk and honey.


The Tudors is the second volume in Peter Ackroyd’s History of England after Foundation. It follows the Tudor dynasty from Henry VIII to Elizabeth II and chronicles the events that led to the establishment of the Anglican Church. From its beginnings as Henry VIII’s power-play, through the short reign of Edward VI and the reinstitution of the Catholic faith under Mary I all the way to the reign of Elizabeth I, under whom England became firmly Anglican.


There is just something really fascinating about the Tudor Age. There is a reason why so many stories are set in that period.

One of the reasons are the larger-than-life characters. And this is the part where this book gets utterly interesting: when Ackroyd tells us about the little anecdotes of court life and the pecularities of the royals.

When Katherine Grey gave birth to a son while in confinement, her anxieties increased; the possibility of a male heir materially weakened Elizabeth’s position. She was determined to declare the infant illegitimate, thus debarring him from the crown. In a display of alarming incompetence, Katherine Grey had in fact lost the marriage documents and had forgotten the name of the cleric who had married them; the one witness to the ceremony had recently died. Fate, or providence, was against her.

Henry VIII for instance, is a fascinating man and a huge asshole. I was aware he was an ass before I started this book, but The Tudors drove it home for me.

On discovering the relationship Anne confronted Henry and used ‘certain words which the king very much disliked’. His royal temper flared up and he is reported to have told her to ‘shut her eyes and endure as her betters have done’; he also declared that he could lower her as well as raise her.

I also enjoyed the balanced way the book looks at the different historical figures. Queen Mary is not portrayed as entirely evil. In fact, she was a tragic figure that from very early on in her life had to struggle.

Mary was now alone in the world, and her thoughts turned to the prospect of escape to her mother’s imperial family in Brussels. She spoke to the imperial ambassador about the possibility of fleeing across the Channel, but he advised caution and circumspection. In the meantime, he said ‘ she is daily preparing herself for death’.

However, the book main focus of the book is religion. It was of course a huge part of the Tudor Age but it makes for very boring reading. I really struggled through those parts of the book that detailed the different religious schools of thought

We return to the great theme of this volume. The reformation of the English Church was, from the beginning, a political and dynastic matter; it had no roots in popular opinion or the principles of humanist reform.


A comprehensive history of the Tudor dynasty and the English Reformation, a bit long-winded in parts.


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