Review Blog

Dec 15 2011

VIII by H. M. Castor

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Penguin, 2011. ISBN 9780 14 356728 8.
(Ages: 14+) Historical Fiction. Castor writes the story of Henry (Hal), who became arguably the most famous English monarch, Henry V111. From his beginnings as the Duke of York (a spare heir) loved and protected by his mother and shunned by his father, the handsome young prince believed he was destined for greatness.
Tall, broad-shouldered and accomplished at all aspects of courtly life: religion, poetry, music, languages, history, hunting, sport and swordsmanship, Henry was eager to be noticed and believed he had an important role to play. His father, Henry VII, doted on his older brother Arthur, and could not persuade Henry that his role was to be un-noticed, that he should be no threat to the heir to the throne.
Portents, omens and visions proved to Henry that he was to be the greatest king England had seen. He and his sons would provide England and France with a dynasty that would last through history. His belief that God had shown him the visions and given him the omens and would annoint him as King ruled the rest of his life.
He believed that the inability of his wives to provide him and England with a son was God's condemnation of his wives not himself. The two biggest ambitions of his life; to reclaim France as his rightful inheritance and to establish a stable dynasty were denied him (even though he had a son, Edward, he wasn't Henry's idea of a strong healthy heir).
Castor depicts Henry towards the end of his life as losing touch with reality as his visions became more regular, more disturbing and his reaction to them more public. This view of Henry VIII is different and interesting but glosses over many of his actions.
The book is very readable and moves at a pace which keeps the reader involved. It is an insight to aspects of the Tudor Court but tends to skip over the more bloodthirsty moments, and there were plenty of those!
Mark Knight

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