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Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England's Most Notorious Royal Family - Leanda de Lisle

There have been an awful lot of books, movies, and TV shows about the Tudors. Their cultural impression is larger than life. Events of historic importance certainly occurred during their reigns, probably most significantly the Protestant Reformation, but it is their colorful antics that make them memorable. Even the Plantagenets who preceded them, ruling for 331 years in contrast to a mere 118 for the Tudors, are much less prominent in public consciousness. Somehow the many wild tales of treachery and betrayal that the Plantagenets gave us pale in comparison to the doings of serial groom Henry VIII.


And really, it is Henry VIII who most represents the Tudor dynasty. There were four (and a half?) other Tudor monarchs, but Henry, and to a lesser extent Elizabeth, gets most of the press. (The recent Showtime television series The Tudors lasted four seasons but, despite the plural implied in its name, covered just one Tudor - Henry).


There isn’t much that is new here about Henry and Elizabeth, but where Leanda de Lisle’s contribution to popular Tudor histories stands out is in her treatment of the other lesser known Tudors. The story begins earlier, with events that often get just a cursory mention in Tudor books. Here we have a discussion of Henry VII’s origins, the Wars of the Roses, and the fall of Richard III. De Lisle also addresses the influence of Henry VIII’s grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, and his sisters, whose marriages had important repercussions seen much later in English history. By including these events in detail, there is a historical context for the actions of the Henrys, making some of their decisions more understandable, even if not admirable.


De Lisle also includes an analysis of the “usurpation” of Lady Jane Grey. The “Nine Day Queen” is often little more than a footnote in Tudor histories, but Jane and her sisters are an area of interest for the author, who wrote another book about them. Here she justifies their inclusion by showing how the shakiness of the succession after Edward’s death may have contributed to some of Mary’s, and later Elizabeth’s, paranoia. It seems that none of the Tudors could ever completely avoid anxiety about being ousted.


Leanda de Lisle’s Tudor history is a readable one. She avoids getting bogged down in some of the details of dress, food, and other customs. (For that type of information, Alison Weir is much more complete). Instead, the focus here is on the overarching picture and historical context.