The Tudors History of a Dynasty
By David Loades
This book is about one of the most powerful and influential dynasties in English history, a dynasty of five monarchs who ruled their domain for over a century. The Tudors were concerned to build a government that would endure, hence their constant concern with the succession – an anxiety which lasted throughout the century.
Although all Tudor monarchs believed that their authority derived from God, they had different ways of expressing that conviction, and above all they believed in ruling with consent and advice. For this reason they built partnerships, not with the old nobility as their predecessors had done, but with the wider community of the gentry, and above all with parliament. They were not in any sense democrats, but the partnerships which they built in church and state lasted for centuries, and still influences the way we look at our politics today.
The Tudor age was an era of momentous religious, social and political chance and David Loades provides an expert overview of this pivotal period of British history.
Initially I thought this book was simply about the lives of each of the Tudor monarchs, but as I began to read I found out it was far, far more than that. This book is truly about its name “The Tudors a History of a Dynasty” as it is not just about the men and women who were the monarchs of the Tudor realm it is about the whole world in which the Tudors lived, from their families to the men and woman that surrounded them at court, to the parliament, to the alliances and wars they had with other countries. David Loades sets his story of the Tudors within the larger world in which they lived and he did a wonderful job of detailing so many important and integral events which have shaped not only Tudor history but the world as which we know it today.
To start this book Loades sets the Tudors in the world in which they came from. He talks about the history of the Tudor name, who the ancestors of the Tudor monarchs were and how they could trace their name back to Queen Catherine de Valois and King Henry VI. Loades them moves on to talk about how King Henry VII came to the throne through defeating King Richard III at the battle of Bosworth and all the details involving his fight to obtain the throne. Loades moves onto talk about how Henry VII set up his Kingdom, his council and his family.
In his next chapter he talks about Henry VIII the heir to Henry VII and his turbulent marriages and his personal struggle for a son and heir. He details briefly each of Henry VIII’s wives, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr. I did notice one small mistake in this part in which Loades states that George Boleyn, Lord Rochford was executed on the same day as his sister Anne – May 19th. This is incorrect as history tells us that George Boleyn was executed upon Tower Hill with the other men accused of committing adultery with Anne on May 17th.
Moving on from Henry VIII, Loades writes about Henry’s children and how his only living son and heir Edward VI died before he could claim his authority as King and produce heirs of his own. The crown, after a very brief struggle, went to Mary and Loades talks about Mary’s own battles to try and find a balance between being the first successful ruling Queen of England and the need to marry and beget an heir. After Mary’s death Elizabeth, Henry VIII’s youngest daughter, took the throne and once again Loades goes into some detail about her struggle to rule successfully as Queen while juggling the need to marry and give England an heir.
I really enjoyed these few chapters which looked at the Tudor Monarchs; Loades did a wonderful job of outlining each monarch and giving just enough detail to inform the reader without overwhelming them. Obviously books upon books have been written about each individual monarch, but I felt Loades did a wonderful job of summarizing the most important and interesting points of each Tudor monarch.
Moving on from this Loades them looks at the role of Parliament and Government in the reign of the Tudors. He goes into great detail about how Parliament changed and progressed over the one hundred and eighteen years of Tudor rule. He spoke about the uses and needs of Parliament and how these changed throughout the years. He also spoke about the Privy Council and the Privy chamber and how especially Henry VIII used the Privy chamber to gather a few select men around him to be his source of information and council. It was thoroughly interesting to see how the Privy Council and Parliament changed over the years and especially in the latter part of Elizabeth I’s reign how the House of Commons gained more power and was able to better represent the wider people of England.
In his next chapter Loades talks about how one of the Tudor achievements was the domestication of the nobility. He writes about how once noblemen had their own estates which were like small states within England, each state having rule over themselves. Yet once Henry VII came to the throne and then his heirs, all of this began to change. The Tudor monarchs created rules about what the nobility could and could not do, one of those being how many men they could maintain in their personal armies. No longer could a man of noble status call to him thousands of men, which could be seen as a threat to the Crown, instead he was only allowed to keep some two hundred men. Of course in times of war he could call upon more, but that was extreme circumstances. Loades also writes of how Henry VIII promoted men he had grown up with and who were not necessarily of high and noble birth. These men were relatively low born and relied greatly upon the King for their title and status. Men like this would not oppose the King for they needed him to maintain their status. In the end it would seem that through the Tudor rule many of the nobility lost their claims and became reliant upon the crown for their place within the government and court.
I thoroughly enjoyed the chapter in which Loades looks at the different Tudor Monarchs international policies and how the greater world viewed England. It was interesting to see the ebb and flow of international relationships, how alliances were created and then destroyed and then created again all within a short span of time. England was never really a major player in the world until the reign of Elizabeth, yet before her Henry VIII and his ego seemed to think they were one of the greatest nations! He entered wars with France several times over his reign and ended up depleting the countries treasury and Parliament was forced to impose taxes to pay for Henry’s desires for war. And yet the common people still loved him because he was seen as a mighty war like King!
Loades moves on to write about the Tudors and their relationship with the Church and God. Famously history tells us of Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church and with the Pope and how he and Parliament created the Church of England. Loades writes about this but he also talks about the little we know of Henry VII’s religious beliefs and how he was a dedicated Catholic, taking pilgrimages and giving to the Church. Yet unfortunately like much of Henry VII we know very little about his personal faith. Loades also looks at religion and the changes made to the Church after Henry VIII’s death. He speaks about Mary I’s determination to reintroduce the Catholic faith to England and reunite the country with Rome and also Elizabeth’s religious beliefs and what she and her council did for religion in the country.
I really enjoyed the chapter which looked at England as a trading and merchant nation throughout the reign of each of the Tudor monarchs. Loades spent a great deal of time looking at the cloth trade and how that exploded throughout the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary and then how it hit a major hurdle during the reign of Elizabeth I due to the sacking of Antwerp by the Spanish army. Loades also looked at how naval exploration flourished throughout the latter part of Elizabeth I’s reign and how many expeditions and trading routes were set up with other countries. It was interesting to learn about England as a trading country and how people made their trade and money rather than just focusing on the nobility and their wealth.
In the last chapter of this book Loades looks at the public image of each Tudor monarch, both in the time that each monarch reigned and also in terms of how we view them today. It was thoroughly fascinating to see how each monarch from Henry VII through to Elizabeth used various types of propaganda, good works and art to portray themselves in a certain light. Even today, almost five hundred years after his death, many people still know the famous image of Henry VIII standing with his hands near his hips, legs parted, cod piece prominent – an image of strength, virility and power. Certainly each Tudor monarch did an amazing job in portraying themselves to their people, although not every image we remember is necessarily the way the Tudors would want us to remember them!
In the conclusion of this book Loades takes a step back and looks from today’s perspective at the legacy that the Tudors left the world. As well as having six wives and being one of the most well-known King’s in English history, Henry VIII also made major changes to the English Church and separated the Church from Rome. He also began the building of a bigger and better naval base which grew even more during the reign of his daughter Elizabeth I. During Elizabeth’s reign England began to be seen as a major player in the world, sending out ships for great exploration and trade all throughout the known and unknown world. The Tudors also began many changes in Parliament, using it more and more to push through laws. The use and importance of the House of Commons grew and through this the ‘common’ people of England had a greater say in what happened to their country. As well as this the English language grew in importance. Latin and French used to be the international languages of communication and trade but throughout the reign of the Tudors and by the time of Elizabeth I’s death, the English language was used more and more and became one of the most used languages for trade throughout Europe.
Although the Tudor monarchs reigned almost five hundred years ago they have had a lasting effect upon the world. In today’s times we remember each Tudor monarch for different reasons: the Winter King, Bluff King Hal who changed the course of religion, The Boy king, Bloody Mary, Good Queen Bess. No matter their names we still remember the Tudors because they were larger than life. In this book Loades gives a brief yet interesting overview of each Tudor monarch and then looks at the larger world in which they lived. By doing this Loades creates a detailed picture of life under the reign of the Tudor monarchs.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I like David Loades’ writing style as it is easy to read and straight to the point. I would recommend this book as an introduction to those interested in Tudor history as it gives just enough information without overwhelming the reader. A very good read indeed!