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'Children of England' by Alison Weir

Updated: Jun 24, 2022

Absolutely indispensable book when it comes to Tudor history.

Children of England

Children of England by Alison Weir, the volume dedicated to the years after Henry VIII's death and the chaos that ensued. In this story, Henry's demise is only the inciting incident that kicks off the narrative and Elizabeth's accession is the 'Happy Ending' of it. Henry VIII and his second daughter, Elizabeth I are the most famous Tudor monarchs, yet eleven years between their reigns have played a vital part of English history, and they represent the sequence of events that helped make England - England.

The Introduction of the book is called The Lion's Cubs, which is brilliant and in my opinion really covers the theme of the book - the protector and the sovereign is dead. His cubs are not yet beasts themselves, they have not come into their own yet. Predators are lurking about. What do you do? Go...

Usually the stories that are always told in popular culture - are that of Henry, the despot and the story of his daughter, the Virgin Queen. Jane Grey is usually left behind, apart from one film, Lady Jane (1986) and Mary I features as a supporting villain in the majority of these stories, the exception being The Tudors (2007-2011) but yet again, she was sidelined.

With Starz making The Spanish Princess (2019 - 2020), which focuses on Catherine of Aragon's early years in England, we may yet see a show telling Mary's story come season two. *

*Spoiler alert - we didn't.

Hampton Court Palace where Edward VI was born

This book tells you about the interim years, and just how much real life drama was a-happening. The sexual assault on the teenage Elizabeth, the kidnapping of Edward VI (by the same person, curiously enough), the religious persecution of Mary (yes, it worked both ways), her attempt at fleeing England, Edward's prolonged suffering and eventual death, Jane Grey's rise in station, her imprisonment, Mary taking the crown...

The Old Palace at Hatfield
The Old Palace at Hatfield

After Henry's Church, that kept things a bit too Catholic for some Protestants (read more on this in 1536 book, listed above) - Edward's rule started (what I call) a Tudor pendulum - he turned the country much more Protestant than it was under his father. His sister Mary turned everything around - into the Catholic direction. Their sister saw the improbability of choosing one of the two different religions, so she opted for the middle way.

St. James's Palace where Mary I died

Actually, if you look at it, the pendulum started much earlier and it wasn't just about religion - Henry VII was frugal and secretive, his son was spendthrift and lavish. Henry VIII was much-married - his three royal children could only boast one failed marriage among the three of them. His illegitimate son did get to be married, but the marriage was unconsummated.

N.B. It would be great to see a book and/or a film about Henry's relationship with his illegitimate son - Henry FitzRoy.

Here's a documentary that covers this period, presented by Helen Castor:

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