Ackroyd, Peter. Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. (History of England, Vol. 2). Oct. 2013. 512p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781250003621. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781250037596. HIST
The second book of Ackroyd’s projected six-volume history of England dives headfirst into its subject matter—with Henry VIII’s ascension to the throne. Ackroyd (London: The Biography) covered the roots and earlier years of the Tudor dynasty, including Henry VII’s reign, in his previous volume, Foundation. Readers wanting the author’s views on the Tudors as a whole should take note. He interweaves his narrative of the Tudor monarchs here with a detailed exploration of the religious reformations and upheavals of the era, sparked by Henry VIII’s break with the Roman church and destined to have tremendous and long-lasting effects on English history and culture at all levels. VERDICT A weightier and more focused read than Leanda de Lisle’s study, below, this work should be of particular interest to those seeking an in-depth look at the religious changes of the Tudor period and the complex and often violent ways in which religious upheaval intertwined with politics.
de Lisle, Leanda. Tudor: The Family Story. Public Affairs. Nov. 2013. 560p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781610393638. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781610393645. HIST
UK historian de Lisle (The Sisters Who Would Be Queen) takes an expansive view of her topic, covering the Tudors from the supposed marriage of Henry V’s widow, the dowager queen Catherine of Valois, to modest squire Owen Tudor (grandparents to Henry VII) to the last days of Elizabeth I.
The book’s subtitle is particularly apt as de Lisle makes significant efforts to touch on all members of the Tudor family and gives substantial attention to oft-overlooked figures such as Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister, and her daughter, Margaret Douglas. While not eschewing the importance of the era’s religious conflicts, de Lisle gives the matter less foregrounding than Ackroyd, balancing it with issues such as the Tudor struggle to establish royal legitimacy. As a result of the title’s scope, however, the treatment of several subjects is somewhat abbreviated, particularly in the last third of the book. VERDICT Lighter in style and rather more accessible than Ackroyd’s volume, this makes an excellent choice for readers seeking a broader look at the Tudor story, especially those interested in the dynasty’s founding and early days.
Mortimer, Ian. The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England. Viking. 2013. 416p. index. notes. ISBN 9780670026074. $27.95. HIST
Presenting delightfully constructed vignettes, rich in detail, Mortimer (A Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England) comes as close to transporting readers to another time and place as is possible without an actual time machine—significantly aided by his use of the present tense (e.g., “…people mix Spanish sleeves with French gowns and Dutch cloaks”). This is a meticulously researched, comprehensive journey through Elizabeth I’s reign, illuminating the ins and outs of everything from food and clothing to proper forms of address and the varieties of script used in writing, all covered within 12 thematic chapters. Mortimer includes information not generally known among most readers or misconstrued in popular culture. For example, unlike under Henry VIII, from 1547 to 1563 the practice of witchcraft was not against the law. The writing is succinct yet all encompassing, incorporating contemporary statistics, quotations, and even authentic Elizabethan dialog to illustrate the complexity and intrigue inherent in the era. VERDICT The perfect book for those new to the subject, interested in learning more about Elizabethan England, whether for academic grounding or purely for entertainment. Recommended.