Monday, January 2, 2012

Review: The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers

Title: The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by
         His Fool, Will Somers
Author: Margaret George
Date of Publication: 1986
Genre/Pages: Historical Fiction / 930 pages
Source: Amazon Purchase for my iPad
My Rating: 4.5/5

This novel was written as though Henry is the author and Will Somers, his fool, has added his thoughts to the King's journal after Henry has died. This "autobiography" starts with Henry's first memories and ends with Will Somers asking the King what are his actual first memories, the day before Henry dies. This is an account of Henry Tudor and his reign of England with all the details of his relationships with his wives, councilors, courtiers, and family members. It puts a positive spin on Henry's decisions as king because this novel is told as if directly from Henry's viewpoint. Somers' notes serve to give the reader background information which Henry would assume, if he had actually written this autobiography, the people reading it would know and understand. I found the notes added by the fool Somers to be witty and informative.

From the beginning we can see that Henry spent very little time with his mother and that his father was devoted to Arthur, the oldest son and future king. This was very common for the children of nobility to spend years away from their parents and be raised by governesses and other tutors. It is also shown in this novel how gullible Henry allowed himself to be, having been tricked by many of the women in his life. Maybe this is because of his lack of a close female relationship growing up, in particular with his mother.

This novel focuses on Henry's desire to bring changes to the Catholic church in England, but not to change it so much so that Protestantism would grow out of control. It's interesting to me that Henry was really a Catholic at heart, but he did not want the Pope telling him what to do, or anyone else for that matter.  Henry did not like to follow the rules, so his philosophy was to get rid of anyone who tried to control him with said rules. Henry was brought up to be a religious man as an adult, and Arthur was to be the king of England. But it did not turn out that way, when Arthur died at the young age of 15. Henry studied and knew much about Catholicism; he appears to have been very religious with his attendance at daily mass. This was a given practice for all the nobility. It is ironic that Henry's personal goals (closing the monastaries and confiscating their treasures and divorcing whenever it suited him) would lead to the rise of Protestantism in England, but this may have happened anyway with the rise of it on mainland Europe. 

It is hard for me to understand how one minute Henry could absolutely love a person, such as Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell, taking their advice for many years and knowing them on such a deep level, and then completely reverse his feelings for them.  It is difficult to try to place oneself in Henry's shoes and see if you would be able to command their heads to be chopped off.

This novel is a very good narrative about the life of Henry. It made me feel sympathy for him, and I did not think that would ever be possible. This book accomplishes the goal of getting the reader in touch with what must have been the feelings of Henry, gaining insight into his fluctuating behavior.  I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and learned even more and with greater depth a knowledge of Henry Tudor, the man and King of England.

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