Henry VIII

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 08 Jan 2019

Member Reviews

This book is a very welcome addition to literature about Henry VIII. By focusing on those around him, Borman helps us see Henry not just as a shaper of events, but as someone who is shaped by those around him. The people are fascinating; the politics are both interesting and appalling. A great book for those who have read Hilary Mantel's Cromwell novels—as well as for fans of Tudor biography.
Was this review helpful?
I enjoyed reading this book. Ms Borman did a excellent job researching for this book. Thanks to Netgalley for this free copy.
Was this review helpful?
An interesting look at Henry VIII and the male relationships that shaped his life. I've read many books on the Tudor era that discuss Henry's marriages and romantic relationships, but this was a fresh take on the men that influenced HVIII.
Was this review helpful?
Tracy Borman’s examination of Henry VIII and the impact that the men surrounding him had on his actions and his characters is an interesting idea: thoughts about Henry VIII almost inevitably always head in the direction of his six wives but, even in cases like Anne Boleyn, the strictly patriarchal structure of the day meant that these women had little agency and the chess pieces of the medieval court were instead being moved by the women’s male supporters.
And, Henry VIII was definitely a chess piece.
Reckless, fickle, spoilt - the more I learn about the man, the more I despise him, even when considering him only in the context of the time period in which he lived - he was pushed and pulled by his own whims and the whims that those around him had planted in his mind.
More religious reform, less religious reform.
More wars, less wars.
Same wife, different wife.
His mind changed hour by hour and, when considering the strong personalities (and the stronger ambitions) of those around him, it is not difficult to understand why he catapulted himself through a do-si-do of conflicting religious reforms and six marriages.
The problem is that, 99.9% of these changes in temperament were not caused by a hive mind or a council of his favourites, but two specific men in his inner circle: namely, Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. Chief manipulators of the King in their time, villains in the view of the British public and a majority of the aristocracy, these two men cast a dark shadow that manages to obscure the rest of Henry VIII’s favourites.
And, therefore, aside from figures like Charles Brandon and Thomas Cranmer (who could be termed as rather like background characters), the rest just fade into little more than nothingness; occasionally mentioned, but often neglected. 
I think that Tracy Borman wanted to do too much and, by attempting to expel insights on ALL of the King’s men, the book lacked any sort of focus that could have come from streamlining the book. It could have very easily just been a book about Henry VIII’s relationship with Wolsey and Cromwell.
Ultimately, it would have achieved far more and, let’s be honest, I don’t even think you would have to cut much out of it.
Was this review helpful?
As someone who finds all things Tudor fascinating, I couldn’t resist requesting a copy of Henry VIII when I saw it come up on NetGalley.  Even though I’ve read plenty of other books on Henry VIII, I never seem to be able to get enough.  Plus, this book offered new insights by taking a different approach, focusing not on Henry and his wives, which most biographies do, but looking at Henry through the eyes of the men who were his friends or worked for him (and sometimes both) during his reign.

I already knew a fair bit about some of these men – Thomas More, for example, and Cromwell – but others were less well known, if known at all, which I actually found the most interesting part of the book.  There were so many men that came and went from Henry’s life, that sought favour and then – when they got on the King’s wrong side – probably wished they’d stayed at home with their family.   Their scheming and conniving puts today’s politicians to shame!

I am not sure how much more I’d learnt about Henry by the end, or that his wives still weren’t too much of a focus (though is it possible to write a book about Henry VIII without his marriages being front and centre?).  However, I do feel like I understand so much more about the politics of the day and how the system work.  In that sense, this book was a big win for me and – just like the Tudor’s themselves – fascinating.
Was this review helpful?
Tracy Borman has written an engaging and well-researched book about an aspect of Henry VIII we rarely consider - the men who influenced his life. I enjoy Tudor history and was pleased to be presented with new information. I really like Tracy Borman's style - she made the stories that are integral to history stand out; this book was much more than a parade of names, dates, and events.
Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him should be put on the TBR list of anyone who is interested in Tudor history.
Was this review helpful?
My first thought when I think about King Henry VIII is this:

Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced Beheaded, Survived.

It's almost automatic to think of Henry in terms of his disastrous marriages....and the effect those dramas had on English history, religion, and the monarchy. 

Tracy Borman wants to redirect the focus from the women in Henry's life to the men -- his father, his older brother who died, his advisors, councilors, friends, frenemies, servants -- all the men surrounding Henry from childhood, helping form his character and behavior. From Hans Holbein, the court painter who created the portraits we still see today, to the powerful Dukes of Buckingham and Norfolk, all the way down the court pecking order to Will Somer the Court Fool...Henry was surrounded by men all his life from his birth to his death at 55. And those men had a profound effect on Henry, his decisions, his personality....and his cruelty. 

I enjoyed this book! I read it slowly over a two week period, letting the history and information soak into my brain. I came to this conclusion...if Henry VIII was truly fickle, paranoid, vain, obsessed with a male heir, cruel and horribly misguided at times....who made him that way? The men who surrounded him -- giving advice, scrounging for power and favor, practicing deceit to influence Henry's decisions, always watching, always waiting, always wanting....     No wonder Henry was paranoid. No wonder he was obsessed with leaving an heir to the throne. No wonder he turned on faithful advisors, friends, and nobility when it pleased him to have them executed. The treatment of Henry's wives was brought about not only by Henry's obsessions and fickle nature, but also by the advisors that surrounded him. They whispered the lies. They arranged the trials. They pushed their daughters in front of him. They gave Henry what they told him he wanted. They created the king who has a high spot on the list of worst monarchs in history. So while Henry VIII is responsible for his own behavior (as are we all), the men around him that helped mold him are also partially (maybe even mostly) to blame. 

Awesome book! I thoroughly enjoyed this look at Henry VIII, the men in his life and court, and how they molded the king. 

This book is non-fiction and contains a lot of names, dates, historical facts, etc. Great for those who love reading about the Tudors....not so great for those who don't enjoy non-fiction or pure history. Those who enjoyed Borman's earlier book -- The Private Lives of the Tudors -- will also enjoy this book. I enjoy Borman's writing style. She presents the facts in an interesting way. I never feel like I'm reading a stuffy textbook. Great information -- I loved it!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Grove Atlantic. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. No advisors or spouses were beheaded in the writing of this review.)
Was this review helpful?
When it comes to English history, it’s hard to find a time period more salacious and intriguing than the Tudor era. And while the Tudor royal dynasty didn’t begin with Henry VII, he is the one who may have left the most memorable and permanent mark on England and its people—though not necessarily for the reasons he intended. In Tracy Borman’s Henry VIII: And the Men Who Made Him, she looks beyond the notoriety he gained for how he treated his six wives, instead examining the impacts the numerous men in his life had on him. For it was their influence over him—or his defiance and baiting of them—that ultimately shaped the legislation that disrupted so many lives as it dismantled religious institutions and traditions that had existed for centuries and pitted reformists against conservatives, wavering in support of one then the other over several decades. 

Beginning with Henry’s childhood under the shadow of his older brother and their strict but distant father, Borman’s book explores the examples set for him and the expectations put on his shoulders as the ‘spare heir.’ Several of the men who would feature so prominently in his court during his reign began as tutors and visitors in his household as a young prince, including Thomas More. The death of his brother, Arthur, while Henry had not yet reached his teens shifted the responsibility of inheriting the throne to him along with the heaviest of his father’s restrictions and expectations. Resentment for his father shaped a great deal in Henry VIII’s early reign, along with his closest advisor and administrator, Cardinal Wolsey. But the friends who filled his privy council wielded their own influence with him and not always towards the same goals as Wolsey. The impact of age and injury—both physical and perceived—led to incredible paranoia in Henry VIII and to more ruthless conflict among the men who served him so that even those closest to him weren’t safe.

Based on the book’s description, one of the aspects I was expecting there to be more of throughout was a specific exploration of masculinity in the period. There was a little here and there about how Henry VIII aspired to chivalric ideals, but never went into much depth about what that meant. Granted, there is a lot to get through when tackling the plotting and rivalries, the rise, fall, and/or survival of so many men over so many decades. 
A great deal of what I’ve already read about the Tudors has either been in academic articles concerning influences on Shakespeare’s works or in historic fiction. With much of the latter sensationalized (though less than would be necessary in other historic settings) and focused on women’s perspectives, it was fascinating to see how much the rivalries and conflicts amongst the men of the court reminded me of high school cliques, but with much higher stakes; the resentments between those born to power, money, and privilege matched against those whose hard work and skill have helped them rise to unprecedented levels; Henry VIII pitting his closest friends and advisors against each other to assert his dominance over and independence from both; the obsession with perception as much as (or more often, more than) with what’s truly best for everyone. 

Learning more about Henry VIII’s life before becoming king was the most enlightening as I feel that’s a part of his life that is largely left out of general histories. So much of his story seems to start when he seeks to end his marriage to Catherine of Aragon that to read about his familial relationships in his youth felt fresh. Though it’s impossible to write about Henry VIII without including a bit about his marriages, it also added depth to see just how many men were pulling strings behind the scenes in each woman’s direction as well. Anne Boleyn wielded great influence over him but she had help in plotting and executing her ascension to the throne and she wasn’t alone in her fate when she fell. 

There are so many more contributing factors to how and why the reign of Henry VIII became so infamous and Borman does a fantastic job of showing that the king wasn’t the only man at court who could be ruthless and calculating.
Was this review helpful?
A very well written and informative book that was not a chore to read. I did enjoy it. My favourite period of history and I learned some things that I had not come across before, 4 stars.
Was this review helpful?
Henry’s Men by Tracy Borman

4 Stars

Henry’s inner circle

Who were the men accepted into Henry VIII’s inner circle and what were the political games they played? Over 400 years ago power, greed, corruption and self-gain were just as palpable in men of power as is the case today. Henry’s men, however, were in a slightly more perilous position, but this did not weaken their resolve to seek a close connection to the monarch.

This biography portrays Henry’s evolving character during his 37-year reign. It paints a portrait of a charismatic and exuberant youth who develops into a powerful monarch and, mainly through his pressing need for a male heir, defies all conventions of that time. The biography clearly depicts how his engaging character becomes increasingly paranoid and tyrannical, leading to the annihilation of any man or woman who dared to oppose him. What is interesting is the exploration of his deep-rooted insecurities born from a distant relationship with his father and a childhood spent in the shadow of his brother, Arthur. 

We are first introduced to Hans Holbein, Henry’s favourite court painter. Not only was he to paint the iconic image of Henry in his imposing, and gargantuan, opulence, but his paintings are a record of court life during Henry’s reign. The timeline then moves to Henry’s early years where at the age of 11 he had outgrown the care of his mother and his nursemaids. Arthur Plantagenet, his uncle, and his mentor Lord Mountjoy would act as Henry’s first role models. Later William Fitzwilliam became and remained one of Henry’s closest companions. He is said to have understood the king’s ‘nature and temper better than any man in England’. This read shows the machinations of some of the most astute, renowned and powerful men of the time. Henry surrounded himself with men such as Thomas Cromwell and Cardinal Wolsey whose ambitions were quite evidently political from the outset. Under the king's protection, they were provided with an opportunity to question the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, justifying the annulment of Henry’s first marriage and driving a full-scale dissolution of the monasteries in England. Along with ruthless noblemen such as the Duke of Buckingham and the Duke of Norfolk, who used their allegiances with the monarch to elevate themselves, Henry drew prominent scholars such as Thomas More and Desiderius Erasmus into his circle.

This biography skilfully offers a fresh perspective on the king who is mostly known by the mnemonic, ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived,’ to describe the fate of five of his six wives. It is an academic read which will interest readers who are keen to study Henry VIII and the powerful influencers in his world. It provides a detailed view of the men who surrounded him for over 40 years and shows how they used their positions for personal gain, often losing their heads, quite literally. Although I am not a historian and cannot vouch for the historical accuracy of this read, it is well-annotated and captures interest in a detailed depiction of Henry VIII’s life.


Breakaway Reviewers received a copy of the book to review.
Was this review helpful?
The blurb was very promising, but the book did not meet all my expectations. It was a pleasant read, it’s the Tudors after all, but I had hoped for a more comprehensive, academic work.

The focus is indeed on the men surrounding Henry, an approach that I found very intriguing. Though interesting and informative, the book very nearly reads like a summary of names and titles with at times very subjective, strongly expressed or oversimplified conclusions linking everything together. 

I prefer more historical background information and nuance in a biography as well as a better clarification of the sources used, with their bias and the agenda of the narrator always clearly kept in mind. The author often quotes from the Spanish Chronicle, which I didn’t much care for since it is a rather unreliable source, feeling more like a gossip mag at times. Occasionally, she used sweeping statements herself, without giving a source or the reasoning behind her conclusion. 

I also feel that the author made far too light of Henry VIII’s religious scruples and his genuine and legitimate concern regarding the importance of an heir for his dynasty and the benefits of a peaceful succession to the nation itself. I don’t mean to imply that he was a stand-up guy, but perspective and nuance are so crucial for any historical research. Well-known aspects of Henry’s life like his being conferred the title of Defender of the Faith for writing his Defense of the Seven Sacraments, his genuine grand passion & love for Anne Boleyn, the reformation of the Church of England etc. are only touched upon in the briefest manner, or even made light of.

The women are understandably relegated to the background in this book on Henry and “the men who made him”, the author didn’t stop at shifting focus in this way, however, but went a bit too far the other way, diminishing their actual importance in Henry’s life and their worth as people in their own right. She treats Henry’s wives almost like mere puppets on a string being moved about by the men in their lives and doesn’t give them enough credit for their many qualities like piety, loyalty, intelligence, courage, political acumen and resourcefulness, to name a few. 

The e-book didn’t have any pictures in it, which really should go hand in hand with a biography. A pity.
Was this review helpful?
A well written, meticulously researched biography and Henry and the men who surrounded him. Some for better, some for worse.  Easy to read.  I've read countless books about the Tudor period, and some (many) fail to hold my interest throughout the book.  I read this book in a day, it was fascinating and insightful.
Was this review helpful?
Rating:   3 stars  
Tracy Borman’s most recent entry into the history of the Tudors, “Henry VIII and the men who made him: The secret history behind the Tudor throne” is a good solid work of non-fiction.  It joins her previous book about the Tudor dynasty, “Elizabeth’s Women:  Friends, Rivals, and Foes who Shaped the Virgin Queen” and it does a serviceable job of painting the picture of Henry’s court and the myriads of men surrounding him throughout his life.  Unfortunately for me, it paints the picture in fits and starts.  Due to how it is structured, I often had a hard time keeping track of all the significant players in Henry’s court.  

The book is told in chronological order from the beginning to the end (and a bit beyond) of Henry’s life.  It focuses on how Henry used to his men in often impetuous and petulant ways.  He was nothing if not mercurial.  There is no better illustration of this than by seeing the multiple times those close counselors and nobility swung rapidly from boon companions and confidants, to traitors on trumped up charges where the best outcome that could be hoped for was a swift death by beheading.

I have read quite a bit about all the Tudors, so I am familiar with Henry’s story.  This book did shed new light on how capricious Henry could be, and suggests some of the reasons why that was.  While the book did provide good information, it was a bit long.  At times I found it either tedious or hard to follow.  I’m not sure what suggestion I’d make to help organize it a different that would have enlightened me in a more entertaining way.  Currently, it’s just a bit too fragmented for my reading taste.   I think it’s suited to a reader with a fairly good knowledge of Tudor history.  The casual reader might soon be daunted or discouraged by all the details.

‘Thank-You’ to NetGalley; the publisher, Grove Atlantic; and the author, Tracy Borman; for providing a free e-ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Over the last few years I have come to rely on Tracy Borman’s books about Tudor England.  She is an excellent historian, and has a clear-eyed and fresh approach to this well-traveled subject.  In this book we do not spend the majority of our time on Henry’s wives, interesting though they are, nor on his split with Rome, momentous as that was.  This book is a look at the men with whom Henry surrounded himself, men great and small, and their influence on the king.

Henry was not meant to be king, as the second son he was the spare of the “heir and a spare.”  He became king after his brother Arthur’s death, upon the death of their father.  He was only eighteen, and who knows how this affected his personality?  Borman makes the case that it is hard to grapple with Henry as he was so changeable over the course of his life, and she is very persuasive.  

Notwithstanding his marriages, I have always thought of Henry VIII as, in that old-fashioned phrase, a man’s man.  Although much-married, Henry was surrounded by men after he left the nursery, and had them as his friends and mentors.  These men ranged from the high-born to the low, and from those in positions of grandeur and power to those of lower estate.  The interesting biographies of many of these men, drawn from a number of sources, are fascinating, and for many of them would be even without their connection to the king.

I am glad to say that this book is as readable as Borman’s other writings.  Without in any way compromising her solid scholarship, “Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him” is never dry nor dull which is another mark in her favor.  All in all, for anyone interested in Henry, or one of the major figures covered therein, or for anyone interested in the period in general, this is an excellent work to add to one’s interest, and is highly recommended.
Was this review helpful?
When people think "Henry VIII" they probably think of beheadings and serial marriages. But there is a great deal more to his legacy than this and Tracy Borman explores all of it in Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him.  Borman examines Henry's life by looking at the men he surrounded himself with.  Henry loved to have intelligent, active young men around him who shared his interests in hunting, hawking, dancing, and every other form of sport available.  After a difficult relationship with his father, Henry wanted to be a king as opposite his predecessor as possible.  While he may be more well known today as a harsh and paranoid tyrant, in his youth Henry was trusting and could be easily led by trusted confidants seeking power.

Borman explores Henry's relationships with Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Moore, the Howards, the Seymours, and the Boleyns as well as less well known figures.  A refreshing amount of the book is based on contemporary sources, most notably ambassador Eustace Chapuys. This means the reader is treated to the gossip and rumors that swirled around Henry's court as well as the reality of court life- brilliantly and subtly illuminating the court's atmosphere of infighting and backstabbing as individuals and factions sought Henry's favor and the money and power that came with it.  While Henry's controlling disposition and violent temper increased as he aged, the reader discovers that the popular image of a king who routinely beheads people was enhanced by his followers at court who used their king's paranoia to get rid of their competitors- thinking of themselves more often than the king.  

A well-researched, well-written, and entirely fascinating book, Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him is a must-read for anyone interested in English history, and the Tudor dynasty.  More readable than might be expected from a tome of its length, readers who know something about Henry's reign will discover new fascinating gems of information and readers new to the time period will get a wonderful and thorough introduction to the life and times of Henry VIII and the men who helped make him who he was.
Was this review helpful?
A fascinating and informative account of the many men who helped to shape the life and legacy of one of the most famous, or infamous men in history. Henry VIII is a fascinating man , and while we often hear about him in the context of his many wives, it was interesting to see the influence of family , companions and advisors in both his public and personal lives.
The book is both well researched and well written, and would be a welcome addition to the library of anyone with an interest in Tudor history. 
I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed Tracy Borman's biography on Thomas Cromwell, so I was excited to start reading Borman's new book, Henry VIII. Henry VIII did not disappoint; like Borman's previous work, this almost read like a novel. It was an entertaining read that had me invested in the various characters that played a role in Henry VIII's life.
A good deal of time is spent on the "major players" at the Tudor court such as Wolsey, Cromwell, and the Duke of Norfolk, however, you get a better glimpse at the lesser known courtiers such as Hans Holbein and Dr. William Butts. 
My biggest complaint with Borman's Cromwell biography was that the English spelling for cited passages wasn't modernized, so it often took a while to decipher certain passages. However, for Henry VIII, they took the time to modernize the spelling of cited contemporaries which really helped improve the flow of the work.
I would recommend Henry VIII to anyone who has a basic understanding of the Tudor court and wants to learn more about the men who influenced Henry VIII throughout his reign.
Was this review helpful?
Henry the VIII Is best known for his marriages and relationships with women.  This book is not about that.  Rather it tells things that I didn’t know about his own father and their relationship besides his relationships with his sister and older brother or lack of.   The book tells stories of the advisors and servants of King Henry the VIII.  The king relied on them from private and/or secret concerns.  However betrayal and power-grabbing schemes made him turn from being a cheerful and friendly king into a paranoid king.  I found that there was a large cast of characters spanning the years of his life to death was written well and gave me different insights to the king.  Henry started to favor the low-born as he became more paranoid.  This didn’t go over well with the high-born.  Whoever opposed him met violent downfalls.  He did manage to assume control of his reign but it was too late.

The author has written a fascinating book about King Henry the VIII that is seldom discussed in books.  It is not boring.  It brings to the reader how dangerous life could be for those who served King Henry the VIII.
Was this review helpful?
This is a fairly good book about the life of my favorite king, Henry VIII and how he was controlled by outside forces that had designs upon changing England for the better and sometimes the worse. I found it absolutely fascinating.
Was this review helpful?
Divorced, beheaded, died.
Divorced, beheaded, survived.

This oft-repeated rhyme is what many first think of when the name of Henry VIII is mentioned. Thanks to their impact, the conflicts between Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, and Anne Boleyn is probably the most famous segment of English history outside of World War II. New biographies and novels centered upon one or more of the six wives of Henry VIII come out every year, and each of those queens-- particularly Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn-- has developed a small but passionate fandom. We view Henry VIII through the lens of his wives, but there was more to the glamorous, yet dangerous, court of this capricious king who changed England so profoundly.

If you don't know much about the court of King Henry VIII, then names like Charles Bradon, Duke of Suffolk, Cardinal Wolsey, and Thomas Cromwell won't mean anything to you, but their influence on the king cannot be understated. In her new biography, Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him, Tracy Borman sheds a light on these men and others in order to provide a more rounded view of Henry VIII.

The book begins during the reign of Henry VII, the first Tudor king who was desperate to legitimize his line, as his claim to the throne was dubious at best and there were many nobles who had nearly as much claim as he did. Young Henry was the spare heir for the first years of his life and was largely left in his mother's care and that of tutors, who provided the first influences on the young prince. Upon the death of his older brother, Arthur, young Henry's status rose immediately, and his companions changed radically, too. The story passes quickly through Henry's childhood, and once he ascends to the throne, we begin to see the rise of such court officials as Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. Borman details how these two men learned to handle Henry VIII's changeable nature and navigate the treacherous waters of the Tudor court until they, born as commoners, rose in turn to become some of the most powerful and wealthy men in England. We also see the rise and fall of Thomas More and Stephen Gardiner and discover how a previously unknown church official named Thomas Cranmer helped change the course of England's future. And winding through nearly all of Henry VIII's life, his friendship with Charles Brandon threads through it as Brandon's status rises and falls and rises again, depending upon Henry VIII's moods and Brandon's actions.

These are not comprehensive biographies of these men. This book serves as a sort of survey overlooking Henry VIII's life and times, and many lesser names pass in and out of the narrative without seeming to have much impact upon it. But we get a clear sense of how men like Cardinal Wolsey manipulated the king when he was young, and how an aging Henry turned into a moody tyrant who was easily influenced by whoever flattered him the best. We also see how these men worked behind the scenes to bring about Henry VIII's marriages and divorces, and how their own fortunes could rise and fall if they allied themselves with the wrong woman at the wrong time. As a longtime fan of Tudor history, I was fascinated by this book. While I was already familiar with these men and what they did, Borman's decision to focus on their stories rather than looking at them through the lens of Henry VIII's wives brought new life to historical details I wasn't completely familiar with.

If you are just starting to look into Tudor history, I would probably not recommend Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him, simply because these men are not as familiar to modern readers as Henry VIII's wives. In that case, I would recommend something like Antonia Fraser's Six Wives of Henry VIII or Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. But for readers who are already familiar with the essential details of the Tudor court and wish to know more, I would definitely recommend this book. It is full of excellent details about the lives of the men who are often pushed to the side in favor of sexier stories about, say, Anne Boleyn or Katherine Howard. These men are fascinating in their own right, and their influence upon Henry VII was every bit as important as his wives.
Was this review helpful?