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.