Rating: 4 Stars
Damn, that cover is gorgeous. I fully own my cover snobbery and freely admit to judging books by covers. But an aside, even if I think the cover is trash, if I am interested enough in the topic, I will still read it. Sometimes the content changes my opinion of the cover, sometimes it doesn't. Luckily there is no problem here, the cover if beautiful and the content was full engaging.
Dr Lipscomb's account is thoroughly researched and detailed here, getting to the true heart of the matter and Henry's intentions for this final document as he lay dying. I appreciate that, in the course of this investigation, Lipscomb was willing to go against some other heavyweight historians (which she fully is in her own right as well, just so that is clear; Dr Lipscomb is pretty much bomb.com) and the opinions they hold - which have been accepted as gospel for years. The last will and testament of this tyrant of a king is such an important document in history, and especially of course to the Tudorphiles who will endlessly and happily debate every last detail possible. I am one of those people, so books like this are absolutely my favorite. So much has been written on the subject of the Tudors in general, so these kind of micro-histories in the broader scope of the dynasty are wonderful.
Basically, there are many theories about several aspects of this document. In it we are given pretty straight forward orders - Henry confirms the succession of those who should come after him, Edward, then Mary, then Elizabeth. Beyond his own children, Henry then set up the future rulers to be of the Grey and Suffolk branches of the family tree, completely excluding his sister Margaret's progeny in favor of Mary's line. We all know how that works out in the end though, don't we? The Greys get pushed to the front, Jane loses her head for a throne she never wanted, and then in the end James VI of Scotland adds the title of James I of England to his name and never returns to Edinburgh again So much for Henry barring the descendants of Margaret from the throne, eh? Henry also specifies who is to get which of his possessions, all given to his most trusted servants - you know, those who survived his mercurial temper and whims.
There is much debate, however, about the authenticity of the document as we know it today. The will was read out in Henry's final hours, then stamped and sealed. But there are many who believe that Henry's words have been misinterpreted, forged, and/or that the document is invalid for a variety of reasons. Lipscomb dives right into this debate headfirst, armed with a plethora of primary sources. In addition to the will itself, she makes great use of the records from privy council meetings and letters written by various important players. In doing so, Lipscomb makes a solid case for dismissing many of the rumors that have persisted for years that the will was altered after Henry's death, or even beforehand, and then stamped with his signature. Given the evidence collected from those primary sources, I feel that Lipscomb is correct in her conclusion and that this is the document Henry intended it to be. Controlling to the last, it is interesting to see what provisions Henry assumed would ensure that everything would be carried out the way that way he specified. Spoiler Alert: didn't happen.
I feel like I need to go back and talk about the cover some more, as well as the artwork within the pages. I absolutely love manuscripts dating back to medieval times and the Renaissance. The colors are so vibrant and the detail is sometimes breathtaking. The "font", as we would call it today, is equally as beautiful and it all fit together in quite a lovely way. There are several plates included, reproductions of original works from the period that add such a historic feel. Even the pages are different, much more closely related to parchment than we typically find in books printed today. Not only did the content pull me back nearly 500 years, but these aesthetic elements did as well.
In addition to delving into Henry's final years, months, and days, Lipscomb has produced the will in question, in its entirety. This is presented in Appendix I and was such an important piece to include. I find historical documents from this period interesting anyway, but to be reading Henry's will was something else altogether. Imagine being able to look at the actual thing, instead of a manufactured copy. That would really be something.
This beautiful little gem is a must-read for Tudorphiles, 100%. Highly recommended.