Henry VIII is most often remembered as the king with six wives. But in her fascinating new biography, Henry VIII: And the Men Who Made Him, Tracy Borman argues that as a monarch and as a man, Henry is best understood by examining his relationships with the men who surrounded him.
Throughout his life, Henry was at the center of a tumultuous group at court, from advisers like Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell to scholar Thomas More and the powerful dukes of Buckingham and Norfolk. Borman writes, “It was these men who shaped Henry into the man—and the monster—that he would become.”
Borman, who serves as curator of Britain’s Historic Royal Palaces, has a long familiarity with the Tudors. She has written a book about their private lives as well as a biography of Cromwell. (A confession: I can no longer imagine him as anyone other than Mark Rylance, thanks to his masterful portrayal in the BBC’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.) Here, Borman’s deep background knowledge serves her—and the reader—well. The pages and years fly by, and one has the feeling of stepping into an engaging historical lecture by a master of the subject.
The study follows a chronological approach, and Borman shines a light on some lesser- known characters as well as the major players. We also see more of how those in Henry’s inner circle of advisers, aristocrats and servants interacted with one another. Throughout, Borman uses events to peel back layers of Henry’s character, arguing that his relationships with men “show him to be capable of fierce, but seldom abiding loyalty; of raising men only to destroy them later.”
For readers curious about royal history or fascinated by the styles of leaders in our own time, Henry VIII: And the Men Who Made Him makes for a compelling read. And it will hopefully tide committed Tudor fans over until Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, the final book in her trilogy about Cromwell, comes out—whenever that may be.