The Children of Henry VIII

ISBN: 0760738610
ISBN 13: 9780760738610
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

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.

Kelsey McKim

I read The Six Wives of Henry VIII a couple years ago, so this seemed like the logical next Weir book to pick up. It did not disappoint! Weir is unlike almost any other historical author in that she can write about dry facts and integrate scattered contemporary quotes in a way that reads like a story. Her writing is dense and you have to take your time with this book or you'll miss things, but it doesn't get boring. The tumultuous passing of the crown between Edward, Mary, Elizabeth, and Jane Seymour provides more than enough action and drama to keep the reader intrigued, and Weir doesn't let the drama get lost.I'm very impressed with this book, as I was with The Six Wives of Henry VIII. I didn't think it was possible to reconstruct the lives of these sixteenth-centry monarchs with such detail!


Alison Weir always does a nice job of blending history with a sort of understandable drama that makes it easier to read, and more interesting. This book focuses primarily on the short reign of Edward, the even shorter reign of Lady Jane Grey, and mostly the reign of Mary, the Catholic Queen later called "Bloody Mary". Elizabeth is featured here and there, but she is not the primary focus here. I always enjoy Alison Weir's lively recapturing of the court life and personalities involved which is something I find lacking in many other historians who cover the same historical figures. If you're not familiar with the Catholic/Protestant issues happening at this time in history, I'd recommend beginning off with the War of the Roses, and then the reign of Henry VIII, which in itself was really interesting, as he flouted his power any way he could.


The Children of Henry VIII, by Alison Weir"The Children of Henry VIII" is a nonfiction history that reads like a narrative. One interesting, engrossing, detail-filled narrative. The book follows the ascent of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, and Elizabeth I to the English throne. Also covered are the men around the throne, such as John Dudley, Thomas Cranmer, Edward Courtenay, Philip II, etc.The basic story is known by many, especially fans of the Tudor period. Weir's book is perfect for lovers of historical fiction, because this history is so easily readable, yet also very educational. The author clearly did her research, and includes abundant source material in the text, including quotes from letters and privy purse accounts; and also tells the reader the importance of the historical material. I found myself reading late into the night. I was a little sad when I finished this book; I greatly liked living in the world Weir recreated, an England awash in political and religious machinations. An uncertain world, to be sure. And while I knew the outcome, who would succeed who, I wasn't sure of the exact route each monarch took. For example, my view of Edward and Mary changed quite a bit after reading Weir's book; I used to think Edward was a sickly boy, and Mary heartless, but I learned that wasn't necessarily true. Definitely recommended for anyone interested in the Tudor dynasty. 4/5.


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

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.

Steven Peterson

The title of this book is a bit misleading. While Weir does her usual fine job of elucidating characters and their times, calling this "The Children of Henry VIII" is a bit misleading, since Lady Jane Grey's nine day reign is included. Her story as a child until her brief reign is also told. This makes a great deal of sense historically, since she was labeled sovereign by some lords upon the death of Edward VI and before Mary's supporters drove Grey's "handlers" from power.The book does a nice job of outlining the personalities, experiences, and beliefs of Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth, the children of Henry VIII as well as Lady Jane Grey, also of royal blood. Edward's reign after his father's death was brief, with his death from tuberculosis in his middle teens. Weir outlines his personality and his positions on issues of the day. He never ruled as full sovereign because of his age, but many thought him promising material. He was strongly supportive of a more radical religious stance, moving further from the Catholic Church. The story of efforts by his Council members to manipulate him and compete with one another for influence through him is well told. When his health began deteriorating, with Mary the heir to the throne, some of the nobles realized that they could be in serious trouble, given her know adherence to Catholicism and to her anger at her poor treatment by some of those nobles.Hence, the coup that placed Grey on the throne, even if only for a short while. It was an effort surely doomed to fail. When troops flocked to Mary to support her claim on the throne, the conspirators were defeated. The sad ending of Jane's life is spelled out. Mary did not want her death, but she served as a symbol for those who did not want the return of the Catholic religion. Thus, she was disposed of as an effort to defuse unrest.Far more troublesome, as discussed here, was the prickly relationship between the sisters--Mary and Elizabeth. The latter ended up in the Tower of London for awhile, sometimes sure that she was to experience her mother's fate (Anne Boleyn was her mother). Mary's marriage to Philip of Spain and her inability to produce an heir; her efforts to return England to Catholicism and the ensuing burnings at the stake for heresy (she was later referred to as “Bloody Mary”).And, with her death, the book ends with Elizabeth learning that she was now Queen.This is a standard Alison Weir work, which for me means a well written story, with plenty of details of the main focal characters and the contexts in which they found themselves. There is a nice genealogical table at the end, to see how Jane was related to Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth. Another good product from Weir's pen.


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!


this reads too much like a text book from school and not really my type of enjoyable reading.


For all his worry about heirs, he spawned three drastically different Monarchs, one a puppet, one infamous for religious fanaticism and murder and one celebrated as the greatest Monarch in English history. I knew of their adult lives, but reading this really put the pieces together for me and I saw how their childhoods dictated their future actions. I thought it was a fascinating peek inside, so to speak.

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

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.


** 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.

Janastasia Whydra

I think the United States public school history lesson can be summed up as: Britain was our enemy during the American Revolutionary War, the British Empire during Queen Victoria's reign, and Britain was our ally during World War II. When it comes to European history, American education is lacking... then again, it is lacking in regards to the history of the United States as well. So, reading Alison Weir's The Children of Henry VIII was not only educational and enlightening, but also entertaining with humor and drama among the three children of the late King Henry VIII. Although the focus on this book, in my opinion was dominated by Mary- the eldest who would later be nicknamed as 'Bloody Mary'-, Edward VI- the youngest and first heir to the throne-, and Elizabeth- the popular Queen from Shakespeare time according to our English high school teachers. Weir also discusses the short rein of Queen Jane, which was in between Edward and Mary, but I was more interested in the political sibling rivalry.What I think was most impressive about this book if Weir's ability to make her historical figures come to life. Instead of just reading about their lives, I could actually imagine what they may have been like. Edward the young and impressionable with the "I-already-know-everything-about-anything-that-is-worth-knowing-about" attitude of teenagers. Mary the conservative and pious matron who longed to be a mother. And Elizabeth, a young liberal-minded (for her time) woman who is conscious of how she is perceived by others and is careful about how she is making waves, but none-the-less is still making changes that will affect generations for years to come. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about history, politics, royalty/nobility or is looking for a unique perspective on sibling rivalry.

Trache Can

When reading, getting distracted easily doesn't really fair well for the whole expierence. But that's just a problem I have, the book now?Alison Weir calls this a more personal story, to which I agree. There are politics, as is necessary when talking about royalty, but more than anything, the book is dominated by the four mains, Ed, Jane, Marye, and Liz.The Marye thing is gonna stay, btw.Mostly, you just feel bad for everyone. Ed was a spoiled kid who was taken advantage of; Jane was a less spoiled kid who was taken advantage of and killed because of it (that and her Protestant convictions); Marye was an unhappy person who seemed to be a half decent sovereign until her shit hit the fan and she started burning protestants in the hundreds; and Liz, as it seemed she always did, was trying to survive.It's hard to look past tyrannical rule, but given their ages and their upbringing, there's a good deal of sympathy we can afford to the lion's cubs.Until Marye starts her fires of course. O! and Liz trying to kick all the black people out of England (that actually happened guys).Weir shows a good deal of sympathy for the chillens and seems to show them all im what is a fairly honest light. They aren't divided into saints and sinners, more just kids thrown into turbulent times, often without the tools or the guidance to help them properly navigate.I actually came out really loving Marye, up until the whole burning Protestants thing came along. She has complicated relationships with most of her family, and you really can't help but wonder: what would she have been like if she had a better childhood?All and all, a fairly enjoyable book! Pleasant and rather informative informative.

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