Book review – The Winter King by Thomas Penn

Arthur Prince of Wales c. 1500, 39.1 x 28 cm.,...

Arthur Prince of Wales c. 1500, 39.1 x 28 cm., oil on panel, in the Royal Collection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When people think ‘Tudor’, it’s usually to do with Queen Elizabeth I, or more likely Henry VIII.  In this book, it’s the founder of the Tudor Dynasty that gets put under the spotlight.  And it’s true that Henry VII, sandwiched between two of the most famous English monarchs, often gets forgotten.  Penn sets out to redress the balance with an in depth look at the man, his world and his method of government.  Let’s get the negatives done with first.  The publisher’s blurb speaks of an easy to read and accessible book – one that reads more like a novel than a historical textbook.

Sorry, but that’s not what I picked up.  I sometimes found muself wondering if Penn was trying to cram the maximum amount of detail into the book, possibly worried that readers would accuse him of leaving something out.  For example, ten pages are devoted to the marriage of Catherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur and there is such a large cast of supporting characters that the novel-type approach to the book sometimess bogs down and lacks pace.

That said, there’s still a great deal to recommend this book.  Henry’s tenuous grip on power for the first ten years of his reign is well described and explained, as is his crafty use of the legal system to ensure that potential troublemakers were kept loyal, or at least behaving loyally.  Much of the early part of his reign was devoted to building the edifice that would be inherited by Prince Arthur and Penn gives us a good picture of the turmoil following Arthur’s death in 1502.  Going into more detail would add unecessary spoilers, so suffice it to say that Penn’s image of Henry VII is an absorbing and thoroughly believable one.  Well worth the effort and a good four out of five stars.


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