Henry V111 the heart and the crown by Alison Weir

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Just when you think there couldn't be another book about Henry V111 (possibly the most famous/infamous king of England) there is another book and it's a tome! Readers of Historical Fiction love tomes, expecting abundant historical people, events and details viewed through the lens of authors' imagination and interpretation. Alison Weir's Henry V111 the heart and the crown, true to its title, considers Henry's (Harry's) personal life and kingship. Helpful to the reader, at the back of the book, is a chronology of Harry's life, a family tree and a list of over 400 historical characters who appear in the story and shaped Harry throughout the journey of his life.

Alison Weir is a prolific writer, historian and best selling author of historical fiction that focuses on British royalty, especially of the Tudor period.  She has a particular interest in the lives of royal women and the intricacies of court life. Preceding (2023) Henry V111 the heart and the crown, Weir wrote a book/year focusing on King Henry's wives. Very reasonably she says in her Author's Note..."I have long been saying that it was about time Henry V111 had his say in a novel all to himself..."

Henry V111 the heart and the crown presents Harry's point of view as he navigates personal and political life. Weir calls Henry "Harry" and his first wife "Kate." The machinations of the courtiers, the intricacies of the family dynamics, the fact that Harry is the spare may sound uncomfortably familiar to those who follow the English Royal family of today.

There is no doubt that whether he was a tyrannical, egotistical, paranoid chauvinist or an attractive, charismatic, educated King, the 36 years of Henry's rule (1509-47) encompassed an enormously important period of history. Amongst many other events England broke away from papal rule, the "divine right of kings" was introduced and England was led towards parliamentary democracy. Great houses and castles were built, the navy was established and relationships with other European kingdoms waxed and waned. At all times it seems that Harry was driven by his overriding desire for a strong male heir. This coloured everything for him and led to multiple marriages, executions and intrigues. Whether Harry used his royal perogative to ruthlessly drive events or whether his power was curtailed by his ministers and factions in his court is up to the reader. Was he swayed by manipulators? Did he send the wrong people to their deaths? Was he reasonable or driven by paranoia?

Weir's portrayal of Harry is more nuanced than what readers may have read before. He is not a flat character. One is left wondering. Of course, he lived in a time when values were different, especially in relation to the role of women. For the curious reader, it would be interesting to follow up by reading Weir's previous books that focus on Harry's wives to see where Weir's sympathy truly lies... is it with the women, with Harry or somewhere in between?,

Henry V111 the heart and the crown is an interesting, challenging but accessible take on a very significant historical figure who, although best known for his numerous marriages, also had an extraordinary impact on the institutions, establishments and practices of politics, foreign policy, religion, music, education, architecture and culture that have become the rich inheritance of England today. 


Themes: Tudor King Henry V111 kingship and personal life, Renaissance, Reformation.

Wendy Jeffrey