I received a free digital ARC from Pen and Sword via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I would probably even be willing to give 2.5 stars on this one. I am not quite sure what it is, but it was not as good as I hoped it would be. The author takes a look at the possible outcomes of crucial events in the era of the Tudor monarchs. The historical research is there, and Venning clearly knows the period well. None of the possible outcomes are crazy or outlandish, and any one of them could have happened. Even so, I was not enthralled by this one, which is unusual because I do enjoy alternative/speculative histories about my favorite periods and historical figures.
Venning explores some fantastic avenues of the 'what-ifs'. My most favorite situations to play this game with were all discussed here, such as what might history look like had Arthur lived to be crowned king? Same with Edward VI as well, what might things look like had he not died so young? The problem with those two questions, however, is that they were so young when they died, we have literally no idea what kind of men they would have grown to be. Thus, it is impossible to even capture all the possibilities of how the course of history might have changed had either of them ruled. Venning also looks at the what-if regarding Henry Fitzroy and his potential rule, had he not died young as well. Based on everything I have ever read about Henry and his illegitimate son, I think it was entirely possible he was setting the stage for Fitzroy to be crowned, should he have no other sons. Henry could do whatever he wanted, and no 'stain' of illegitimacy was going to stop him.
Venning also considers the possibility of Queen Jane retaining the throne, another of my favorite what-ifs. Now, I am firmly a supporter of Queen Mary taking the throne, as was her right as the eldest child of Henry VIII. I feel nothing but pity for Mary, who was deeply scarred for life by the actions of her father. But, research has also shown that Jane was quite intelligent and astute. Imagine if she had reigned, perhaps she would be the Tudor monarch called Gloriana. The problem would always have remained, however, that the scheming Dudleys were the family to married into and no doubt his father would have pushed for Guildford to rule instead.
When it comes down to it, I think the writing style itself might be to blame for my mixed feelings about this book. In theory it is one I should love; the period and the scenarios, the endless game of what-if; all of that is exactly what I love about history. But sometimes there would be these incredibly long tangents and if it was easy for a Tudor buff like me to get lost, I can only imagine how a more casual reader might come away feeling. Shorter and more concise phrases/sentences would help immensely.
I do wish the author had explored how these various scenarios would have impacted England as a whole. The focus remained on the Tudors themselves, and their court/government. But surely had the Spanish Armada been successful, life for the commoners would have changed drastically as well, and probably in a much more violent and harsh way. Life as England knew it would have been radically altered, not just for the ruling class.
In the end, I would still recommend this to Tudor history enthusiasts, because there is some good here. Just keep in mind the issues I have briefly addressed.
It's a period that I really need to dive back into - both in fiction and non-fiction. Definitely one of my faves. NEVER a dull moment! Can't agree on Mary though. She might have had a tough life but that's no excuse for all those people she had killed. I should learn more about her if my blood pressure can stand it.... [grin]ReplyDelete
You know I will have tons of recommendations if you want them - although as someone who actually lives in the UK and this being part of your history, you probably already now of some great ones to read. As for Mary, she executed fewer people than Elizabeth or Henry, so the Bloody Mary myth is so frustrating to me. All were guilty of ordering unjustified murders, but we still have to consider this being the norm for the period. It doesn't make any of it right, though.Delete
I'll do some digging and see if my opinion of Mary changes much..... I do have a fair few books on the period in various piles. But even with lots of time on my hands these days its a case (as always) of *so* many books, so little time.... [muses]Delete
I think it's not the numbers so much as the reasons (AFAIK). Liz had people executed (mostly) for political reasons. Mary had people executed for reasons of belief - again AFAIK. I'm nowhere near an expert on the period or the people though so I could be wrong. Reading excuse ahoy!!
As always, I would definitely encourage any scholarship I can of Mary. And this is not to say I believe she was right in everything she did. I just don't believe she is given a fair shake next to Elizabeth - and Elizabeth did end up executing many Catholic priests who performed Mass in secret. I will have to look back in my research, but I do think the numbers came out fairly even. And even so, it all looks barbaric and inhumane to as now, as it should.Delete
And no matter how many incredibly stupid decisions she made, MQoS was still a Queen and QEI had no right to execute her! Okay, that one reeeeeally gets to me. I'll stop now, lol.
Any excuse to read is a fine one, I do believe.
I went through my Tudor stuff on my blog (fiction & non-fiction) and only came up with 13 hits which is a bit weak for one of my fave periods! I created a label so I could keep track of them if you want to check it.. I've got about 5-6 Tudor/Wars of the Roses books as yet unread so.... I also added 2 books on Mary Tudor to my Amazon Wish List for later... [grin]Delete
ONLY THIRTEEN?!?! Shame, shame, lol. Dan Jones wrote a book called The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. That's the US title anyway, I think the UK title is Hollow Crown. Great book though! It's basically a follow-up to The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England.Delete
Turned out to be 17. Plus the 5-6 unread turned out to be 16 not counting several biogs and the unread fiction..... Oh, and I checked your (much longer) Tudor list. As far as I could tell there's only *3* in common..... [grin]Delete
That's insane that we have so few in common. Looks like I need to peruse your list here shortly!Delete
I get that a LOT with Stephen. We're interested in similar things but (mostly) read different books on most topics. It's actually quite rare when we read/have read the same book.Delete
I have never really looked into how many books we have in common, despite our tastes all being so similar. I can't remember, do you use Goodreads? There's a neat feature where you can look at any users books and see what you have in common.Delete
I think it's very rare when we match books. Odd, as you say considering.... I only use Goodreads when I'm looking for new books to buy.... Sad, I know! But I do that a LOT. Everyone needs a hobby as they say!Delete
So you don't have your whole collection on there?! well, I think I found a project for you to work on now during your retirement, lolDelete
Thanks for your review. I probably will never go this deep into the Tudors in my lifetime but I love reading about reading about them!ReplyDelete
And if by chance you do, this is definitely one you can skip!Delete