What is your favorite book about Henry VIII
January 11, 2010 4:58 AM   Subscribe

What is your favorite biography of King Henry VIII? I am looking for something both historically accurate and readable.

posted by 4ster to Education (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I really enjoyed The Autobiography of Henry VIII, (with notes by his fool, Will Somers), though I can't attest to how accurate (or not) it is. It is, however, eminently readable.
posted by Shohn at 5:45 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

by Margaret George, BTW
posted by Shohn at 5:46 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Frasier is incredibly detailed, meticulously accurate and very entertaining. If I remember correctly (it has been a couple of years since I read it), there is incredible detail about Henry's childhood and adolescence prior to the first marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Yes, it is focused on the wives and the religious issues, but those aspects of Henry's life are incredibly intertwined. I don't think you can understand any parts of the story, without the whole.
posted by bunnycup at 5:51 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, I messed up. Frasier's book is "The Wives of Henry VIII' (which I realized when I pulled it out to flip through its references section). "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" by Allison Weir. I have read both, I loved both, both are meticulously researched.
posted by bunnycup at 5:56 AM on January 11, 2010

Many years ago I read and enjoyed Great Harry, The Extravagant Life of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson. Not intended to be the definitive, detailed sort of work as Frasier's, it still works quite well as a straight-ahead biography, without any of the sort of posthumous psychoanalysis many contemporary biographers feel compelled to indulge in.
posted by briank at 6:13 AM on January 11, 2010

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is oft-raved about, and it won the Man Booker prize too. I must confess that I haven't read it yet, but Mantel spoke at my university late last year and her insights into the process of writing and her inspirations were absolutely fascinating.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 6:19 AM on January 11, 2010

I read Wolf Hall and am very confused as to what the fuss is all about. It read like average, slightly boring historical fiction to me.

I'm seconding Alison Weir. Her focus is Tudor England in general and all of her books are fantastic.
posted by something something at 6:29 AM on January 11, 2010

David Starkey's Henry: Virtuous Prince (2009) is probably the one to go for, if you want a biography that's up to speed with the latest scholarship while still being readable and accessible. I'm not a big Starkey fan, but Henry VIII is home territory for him, and he certainly knows his stuff. If you want something shorter, Richard Rex's Henry VIII (2009) would be a good alternative.

Wolf Hall is a great novel, but it probably helps to know some of the historical background first. 'Average historical fiction' it certainly is not. Colin Burrow's review describes it as 'less a historical novel than an alternative history novel', which is why you need to know the background in order to appreciate some of the clever things that Mantel is doing with her sources.
posted by verstegan at 7:27 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Since the good folk above have you well set for Henry histories, I'll swerve off-piste a bit and suggest Peter Ackroyd's biography of Thomas More as a compact and readable companion to the above which will of course let you see aspects of Henry from another contemporary perspective.
posted by Abiezer at 7:56 AM on January 11, 2010

I have a very large Tudor-related library and one of the best is a book called Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. It calls itself a "Feminist Reinterpretation" of Henry's life, but don't let that be off-putting. Its an extremely readable, interesting, and useful book.

In the Lion's Court is a little uneven, but might give you more perspective than a head-on biography.

FWIW I personally think that Starkey is a little too full of modern pop-culture psychology to be really useful. He's readable, and certainly complete, but often offers interpretations of things that are a little to Dr Phil for my taste. Erickson and Fraiser are very readable and good history. For straight on biography, though Henry VIII, the King and his Court by Alison Weir is going to be the gold standard.
posted by anastasiav at 8:30 AM on January 11, 2010

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