The Children of Henry VIII

ISBN: 140254703X
ISBN 13: 9781402547034
By: Alison Weir

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Biography England Historical Historical Fiction History Non Fiction Nonfiction To Read Tudor Tudors

About this book

At his death in 1547, King Henry VIII left four heirs to the English throne: his only son, the nine-year-old Prince Edward; the Lady Mary, the adult daughter of his first wife Katherine of Aragon; the Lady Elizabeth, the teenage daughter of his second wife Anne Boleyn; and his young great-niece, the Lady Jane Grey. In her new book, Alison Weir paints a unique portrait of these four extraordinary rulers, examining their intricate relationships to each other and to history.Weir opens her narrative with the death of Henry and the accession of the boy king Edward VI. Often portrayed as weak and sickly, Edward, in face, had a keen intelligence and flair for leadership. Had he not contracted a fatal disease at the age of fifteen, Edward might have become one of England's great kings. Instead, his brief reign was marked by vicious court intrigue that took the monarchy to the verge of bankruptcy.Edward's death in 1553 plunged England into chaos, and it was in this explosive atmoshpere that the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey was crowned Queen of England. A fragile, intellictual girl, Jane was only too happy to end her nine-day rule when the rioting English populace proclaimed Mary their true and rightful sovereign. Despite her innocence, Jane was brutally executed at the age of sixteen.Mary's reign was marked by her savage persecution of heretics (non-Catholics) and by the emotional turbulence of her marriage to King Philip II of Spain. Weir describes the mounting tensions of the final days of Mary's bloody reign, as the shrewd, politically adroit Elizabeth quietly positioned herself to seeume royal power. The Children of Henry VIII closes with Elizabeth's accession and most spectacularly successful, reigns in English History.Deeply engrossing, written with grace and clarity, The Children of Henry VIII combines the best of history and biography. Weir's devoted readers will recognize this as her finest book yet.

Reader's Thoughts


Best place name: FotheringhayBest adjective: bedeckedBest phantom pregnancy: Mary's firstMost unwelcome death: Jane Grey'sMost welcome deaths: Tie between John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland's and Queen Mary'sBiggest asshole of a Pope: Pope Paul IIIMost unfit parents: Henry Grey and Frances Brandon (Duke & Duchess of Suffolk and Jane Grey's parents)Most scantily mentioned former queen: Anne of ClevesBest hunchback: Mary Grey


I recommend reading this book after Alison Weir's "the Six Wives of Henry VIII" as this picks up right where that left off. At his death in 1547, King Henry VIII left four heirs to the English throne: his only son, the nine-year-old Prince Edward; the Lady Mary, the adult daughter of his first wife, Katherine of Aragon; the Lady Elizabeth, the daughter of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, and his young great-niece, the Lady Jane Grey. Weir examines the relationship between Edward and Mary, Edward and Elizabeth, and Mary and Elizabeth. The reigns of Edward and Mary are covered in good detail: Edward the Protestant, and Mary the Catholic who became known as "Bloody Mary."


One of those rare history books that's actually interesting and enjoyable to read. I couldn't put it down, and now I feel compelled to get and read all her other books. I did have a major problem with the book (hence the loss of a star) in that nothing is mentioned about Elizabeth's reign. A book titled The Children of Henry VIII should include far more on the child who ended up reigning the longest. Then again, the author is coming out with a book on Elizabeth in February 2009. As long as you're aware that Elizabeth the Queen won't be covered, you won't be disappointed in this book.

Ana Mardoll

The Children of Henry VIII / 9780307806864I picked up this book after finishing Weir's excellent "The Six Wives of Henry VIII". This book follows straight on from the end of that one, and is an excellent and engrossing look at the interactions between Edward, Mary, Elizabeth, and Jane Grey as they each in turn took the English throne whilst maintaining complex relationships with the others. There's really not much to be said here that I haven't said already with regards to Weir's books: her scholarship is (as far as I can tell) excellent, her writing is fascinating, and she takes a great deal of care to cite her sources as she goes, along with the bias and relative trustworthiness of that source. I greatly appreciate her style, as it really conveys what was gossip, what was possibly true, and what was most likely true in her estimation. If I have any criticism to give on Weir's writing, it would perhaps be that I wish she would use a few more commas -- sentences like "In late May Mary moved..." give me a moment of pause while my brain sorts out what I am reading. But this is a very minor point. The only other issue I have with this book is that it feels like it short-changes us a touch on the Elizabeth front. The book covers Edward's ascension to the throne and ends with Mary's death and Elizabeth's rise to power. In a way this makes sense, given that the theme of the book is the interactions between Henry's heirs, and once Elizabeth is queen, there are no more heirs to interact with. And it's not like the book is lightweight, since it comes in at over 400 pages in the eBook version. But there's something rather disconcerting about reading so much about Elizabeth's struggles under Mary's reign and then signing off just as she comes into her own. I note that Weir has an entire volume solely on "The Life of Elizabeth I", so you might want to follow this book with that one. ~ Ana Mardoll


** spoiler alert ** I'm copying this from other posts I made on the Tudor group but thought I'd share here, as well. July 15/09"I'm really enjoying learning more about Jane in The Children of England, also by AW. Thought I'd share a little for anyone who, like me, doesn't know much about her. The first part of the book takes place directly after the death of Henry VIII and goes into a lot of detail regarding Jane's feelings toward her parents and her preference to learning above all else, as learning was the only thing she could do safely, without fear of punishment. It also speaks of her betrothal to Lord Hertford being broken in favor of her parents' desire for higher position, as well as to fit the Duke of Northumberland's schemes to raise his family's stature by marry his own son, Guilford Dudley (younger brother of Robert) to Jane. AW states that Jane would have preferred to never marry at all but accepted that marriage was a part of her role as an one in line to inherit the throne. She did, however, 'hate the Dudleys' and refused to marry Guilford on the grounds of her previous betrothal. Her parents finally won that argument when they flogged Jane into submission. When reading about Jane, you can't help but feel for the sweet girl who would have preferred to sit with a book than sit on a throne. She was incredibly Protestant and very intelligent. It would have been interesting to see what sort of Queen she would have made or what sort of life she would have lived had she been able to follow through on either of these paths. The second part of the book focuses on Jane and Mary after the death of Edward VI. I'll be reading that in about 10 pages or so. I'll write more when I learn it. I highly recommend reading the book :) July 17, 2009 From what I've just finished reading, Edward's Lord Protector at the time of this death was the Duke of Northumberland, who was Robert Dudley's father. He overthrew Edward's uncle, Lord Somerset (Edward Seymour - Jane Seymour's brother) and took total control of the ruling. Northumberland convinced Edward to change the line of succession set forth in Henry VIII's will to skip over Mary, Elizabeth and Frances Brandon (Henry's niece by his sister Mary), which was illegal and traitorous to defy. However, Northumberland had so much power that the other advisors felt that they could not go against him for fear of their lives. The doctors all deemed that nothing could be done for Edward, who was incredibly sick at the end. He was coughing up blood, he had boils, ulcers and bedsores (to name a few) and could barely get out of bed, write letters or even speak. Northumberland was not yet prepared to let him die. He needed more time to set affairs into order in a way that would benefit him (by getting Jane on the throne, who was married to his youngest son, Guilford Dudley). Northumberland hired what AW calls a female 'quack' - a woman who fed aresenic to Edward, which apparently prolonged his life though to great suffering on Edward's part. When the new line of succession was agreed upon (unwillingly) and sworn to by all advisors in front of Edward himself, Northumberland no longer had a need to keep him alive and got rid of the 'quack', ending the poisoning. Interestingly, this woman was never seen or heard from again and some think that she was murdered. I have no doubt that Northumberland would not be above getting rid of a woman who helped him to poison a King! Anyway, Edward, pre-illness, was really trying to participate and "do" more by way of ruling. He attempted to emmulate his father in all ways. If you look at pictures of him, he even stands like Henry did, feet apart and hands on hips. He wasn't as athletic as Henry but enjoyed watching sport and loves the masques, etc. When his uncle was Lord Protector he did not let Edward take part in many decisions. This led Edward to hate his uncle. Northumberland was smart even to realize that he needed to at least make Edward believe that decisions were his to make but was also smart enough to know how to make Edward's decisions mirror his own. July 22/09 Mary, for all of her good qualities, of which she apparently possessed many, was a brutal queen, relentless in her persecution of the Protestant heretics. She was very much a maternal figure. She acted as mother to Elizabeth at a young age and wanted nothing more than to be a mother and provide a son for Phillip and for England. Obviously, this was not destined to happen. Mary was older when she married Phillip and probably in the beginning stages of menopause. She probably suffered from what is known as a phantom pregnancy; wanting so badly to be pregnant that she convinced herself and her body that she was. The worst part of this section of the book was reading about the burnings. So many men and women died as a result of heresy. During Mary's 'pregnancy', she convinced herself that in order to safely deliver a child, she must first rid England of all the heretics and she increased the persecution at this time. One woman was burned when she was 8 months pregnant. While burning, she delivered the baby. The executioner picked up the baby and threw it back in the fire! I can't imagine what it must have been like to have lived during a time like this, always in fear of your life and the lives of your friends and family.


I picked this book up to "soothe" my sadness that the Showtime cable series, "The Tudors" was officially over. WOW! Gotta love it when a history book reads like a novel, which this one does!Allison Weir does a masterful job of presenting 4 very different people to us: Edward VI, Henry VIII's only legitimate son who takes the crown at the tender age of 9, and who by no means is a "sickly youth" as is often described, but a mirror copy of young Henry, with extremely rigid Protestant leanings. His oldest sister Mary, a girl who spends a bulk of her childhood and adolescence longing for her father's love, and desperately trying to hold onto the principles passed on by her mother, especially that of her rigid Roman Catholic faith. Elizabeth, the middle child, who is anything but typical; it is she who will bring prosperity to England, who will truly define the Church of England, and who will go down in history as one of, if not the, greatest monarchs in British history...but until all this comes to pass, she must wrestle with her own destructive demons. And finally, poor Lady Jane Grey, not an actual child of Henry's, but a child of his realm, who becomes a chess piece in her father-in-law's scheme to take the throne and keep Mary off of it...and who unjustly suffers because of it. It sounds so outrageous, one who doesn't know any better would think it's a soap opera, not genuine history! But that's what makes it all the more juicy, that it truly is historical fact...I knew bits and pieces about all these post Henry VIII monarchs, but there were details that even I couldn't have imagined. What was most astonishing were the stories of Mary and Elizabeth's childhoods, and how too many times they either came close, or were actual victims of sexual abuse and scandal. There is more to Lady Jane Grey than her 9 day reign, and certainly a great deal more to Edward than the simple fact that he ruled...and died far too young. This is a *must* if you are a fan of Tudor Britain, or simply a fan of history. And if you're worried about reading a history book because you're afraid it will be stuffy and dry and will not find that here. This is the first book I have read by Weir, and I will certainly be looking for more!


I've read very little in the way of history books - I honestly cannot say when I last read a book of history before this one, so bear that in mind.I found this book extremely readable in many, many ways. Weir does a very good job of moving things along at a pace that keeps the reader from feeling bogged down, and in such a way as I also did not end up feeling like things were rushed through in the book. It was quite interesting to see how much of a particular individual's personality Weir was able to eke out from the letters, diaries, and accounts she investigated in the writing of this book. In that vein, however, I am tempted to also read another account of the events described in this book to see how another historian might interpret the same texts.As I am certain is the case in all history books, there were a lot of dates and locations bandied about that I retained almost nothing of. Lots of people had lots of castles. I can tell you that.I'm quite enamored with this particular period in history - it's really quite the guilty pleasure of mine, and it was very satisfying to read something that was as close to truth as Weir could get it rather than overly-romanticized fiction. I ended up feeling for Mary (though I have a friend who claims that Weir is more unkind of Mary than is necessary) and really, reading about the latter part of her reign was painful.Definitely very readable and engaging if you have an interest, but I'd say don't read this book if you're not already somewhat interested in Tudor history - it's a lot to get through, and minor players can easily get confused/confusing. I have to admit I really enjoyed it a lot, and it made for great escapist-but-not-embarrassing reading over a tough couple of weeks in my life.

Theresa Sivelle

Okay, so I just can not finish this book. It seems to go on and on and I just couldn't get attached to any of the characters. Maybe more of an educational type book than an enjoyable reading thing. I'm going to move on to different book for another one of my book clubs.

Jill Myles

So I've been on a total nonfiction kick lately. NO IDEA WHY. But I'm filling my brain with court politics and this was a fascinating read. I've always loved the story behind Lady Jane Grey's doomed ascent to the throne, and this provided a lot of backstory and filled in the holes. Toward the end, I started to get tired of poor Mary's reign though, and some of the religious machinations started to run together. Fascinating reading, though.

Ray Campbell

Weir does a terrific job of storytelling. There are histories that are dry and impersonal, this is not one of them. By focusing on a narrow window, Weir makes it easy to connect to the characters in the book as though it's great fiction rather than history. Never the less, her research is amazing and she has many scholarly points to make.The book begins with a quick run up and review of the reign of Henry VIII in order to set the stage for the assent of his son, Edward VI. It is easy to skip over the reigns of Edward, Lady Jane and Mary on the way from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. However, much of the molding of the culture, government and religion of England was reaction to and grew out of the context of the radical positions of Edward and Mary. The personal details tell the story of the evolution of ideas, theology and policies. I respect the histories that cover the centuries in broad strokes, but Weir's style of writing is entertaining and informative at a much deeper level. Accounts taken from letters, diaries and testimony give us the expressions on faces, laughter, horror as well as what they wore, ate and really looked like. This level of detail makes it possible to experience history in a full color world experienced by the senses. Mary loved her little sister, Edward idealized and played with his older sisters, Mary fell head over heals for Philip and real people died for what they believed in grotesque ways while wars raged on the continent and an international cast of supporting characters came and went with news, influence and intrigue.I've read more exciting history, but only because the stories were more exciting. Alison Weir is as gifted as any historian I've read. She doesn't document every phrase in the narrative. She tells the story with details and mentions sources in context making her prose flow in a natural and unobtrusive way. It is really easy to forget that this is not fiction. I look forward to reading more of her work including her historical fiction. Michael Schaara's "Killer Angels" comes to mind. The events can be real and dialogue can even be taken from primary source, but there is a line where an honest historian can decide to write from his or her own point of view and personal understanding without qualification in a literary style rather than as a scholar. The style of Weir's writing here is just to the history side of the line. I understand that other works of hers are fiction, though I imagine them, as with Schaara, fictionalized history rather than fiction in a historical setting.Excellent book, I highly recommend. A must for Tutor enthusiasts. By the way - this covers Henry VIII through Jane Seymour and then the lives of Edward, Mary, Jane Grey (though she is not Henry's child) and Elizabeth until Elizabeth takes the thrown. The coverage of Elizabeth's life is equal in the time frame, but the time frame ends with the death of Mary. Just a brief epilogue foreshadows the actual reign of Elizabeth.


One of Alison Weir's most popular books does not disappoint. Its material flies off the pages and makes you really think about what happened between Henry VIII's death and Elizabeth I's succession. I thought that I would already know a lot of what was in this book, having read a multitude of other books on this period, but I was very, very wrong. Firstly is Edward VI's succession. A man hailed as 'the next King Solomon' - as such a young boy when he came to the throne (9 years old) he was manipulated and pushed by his advisors to agree to everything they ever wanted. Consequently, he rarely made any of his own decisions. But he pushed England to such a fervour of Protestantism, he was prepared to write his own sister out of the succession. Putting Lady Jane Grey in her place. Jane Grey, also manipulated and incredibly ill-treated by her parents, was forced to take the crown, but she was not forced to die. After Mary took the throne, she did not want to kill her cousin, and gave her many chances to take up the Catholic faith, but Jane was a fierce protestant, and, you could say she had a hand in signing her own death warrant. She wanted martyrdom, or at least she would not be persuaded to follow Catholocism. Queen Mary's reign started with happiness and support from her people, but such misery and horrific atrocities were performed during her reign, (300 people burned at the stake within 4 years) that when she died, the English people were glad to see the back of her. Marrying King Philip of Spain was a desperate decision for a 38 year old woman who had never allowed herself any pleasures of the flesh. She was a sad and melancholy woman, trying to convert England back to Catholocism for her own selfish pleasure. Thinking God would punish her if she did not. After Mary's death, there is a small part on Queen Elizabeth I, as the next book in the series is 'Elizabeth the Queen' - which I have already read, and is also fantastic. Weir is brilliant. I really cannot fault this book.

Erin Germain

Virtually everyone knows about Elizabeth I and her long reign. Many have heard of Mary I ("Bloody Mary"), who ruled before her. But how many know about Edward VI or the Nine-Day Queen, Lady Jane Grey? These were the children (and great-niece, in the case of Jane Grey) of Henry VIII. The book begins with Henry's death and the Council who ruled in the young Edward's name, his assertion for power, and the political and religious wrangling that happened after his early death. It provided a nice map of the political scene of the time, in terms that were easy for the average reader to understand. It also gives some insight into what life was like for Mary and Elizabeth, both declared illegitimate, yet put back into the line of succession (Henry was nothing if not a master at adapting the law to his purpose) after their younger brother. It then goes through the extremely short reign of Queen Jane, Mary's tenure on the throne, and ends with Elizabeth about to take the throne. There are also some very nice photos, albeit in black and white, of the four heirs, political figures who surrounded them, and homes which were important to them. Despite the subjects being gone for 450 years, it is not at all dry and was very entertaining.


I love those Tudors. And I'll read just about anything about them.The Children of Henry VIII is a work of non-fiction and covers the span of time from when Henry VIII dies to when his second daughter, Elizabeth I takes the throne. So though the title says "children," the book covers the reigns of Edward VI, Jane Grey (who was Henry VIII's great-niece), Mary I, and finally Elizabeth's ascension. This book is a straight-forward look at the time and the players. Not much new, just solid stuff. It would have been more fascinating if there was more to the story than what I have already read before. If you are interested in the period, I would recommend half a dozen historical novels that you can get close to the real story but in a more entertaining way.

Lukasz Pruski

And now for something completely different. Not a mystery book review. First, a disclaimer: I have quite a limited experience with history books, having read fewer than 10 of these in my lifetime, in contrast with well over a thousand mysteries and several hundreds of “serious fiction” titles (not to mention non-history non-fiction titles or books in my profession). I understand that Ms. Weir’s “serious” books, meaning her historical non-fiction, are frowned upon by “serious” historians as being too popular, simplistic, and too focused on the “plot”. This may well be true; however, on the spectrum whose endpoints are research-level study of history on one side, and fictitious story based on selected historical facts on the other side, “The Children of Henry VIII” lies quite close to the former, “serious” endpoint, in my view. True, there is perhaps too much focus on stories of individual people, the movers and shakers. Critics claim that there is not enough emphasis on socio-economic and global factors in Ms. Weir’s non-fiction. I tend to disagree. She shows how the heavy political interplay between the Habsburgs, France, and the Holy See affects England. She also shows the influence of mass movements (protests or expressions of sympathy) of “ordinary people” on the course of political events. And even if the socio-economic background is missing, I can always read a “serious” history book for additional depth. Also, the focus on the intertwined stories of individual people makes this book so interesting to read.Ms. Weir vividly presents the four children of Henry VIII (three children and a grand-niece): Edward VI, Jane Grey, Mary I, and Elizabeth I, each of whom would end up ruling England. I find the characterizations deep and revealing. The book is also a fascinating study of how powerful people’s greed for more wealth and more power is not an insignificant driver of history. The events take place in the 16th century so religion plays a crucial role; these are the times of Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Ms. Weir’s portrayal of the contrast between religious fanaticism and treating religion as an expediency is quite sharp. I would love to learn more about where would most of the so-called “ordinary people” be on this spectrum. The real-life “plot” of this book is more thrilling than the plot of 90% of the so-called thrillers, with their contrived, artificially convoluted, and obfuscating “twists and turns”.For the Internet generation, it must be hard to take that in the 16th century news traveled by foot or, at best, on horseback. It might have taken days or even weeks for people in the country to learn that the king is dead, even if it was not a secret. Finally, I loved the book because I had to read it slowly; it took me so much time to get through it! There was no skipping over sentences or paragraphs! Four and a half stars.


I thought this book was wonderfully written. It provided so much information while keeping me intrigued throughout its entirety.

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