The Tudors by G. J. Meyer

I was a history major at U.C. Berkeley, and my specific field was English Tudor-era history, so you can imagine that a huge hunk of my bookshelves are devoted to this subject. There is something of an embarrassment of riches on this topic, from J. J. Scarsbrick's definitive biography on Henry VIII to Antonia Fraser's book on Mary, Queen of Scots. I can say with confidence that there isn't a popular history of the Tudors that has been published that I haven't read, and I've read a great number of the academic studies as well. So yeah. I get them, I know them, and I looked at this book sitting on the shelf of my local bookstore and thought, please, do I need to read yet another book on the Tudors?

Yes, I did, as it turns out.

Other reviews that I've read focus on the problem with the scope of this book, with literally half of the content devoted to Henry VIII. Which begs the question, why is it called "The Tudors"? I won't say that it's not a problem. Clearly, Meyer is fascinated with Henry VIII and the men who served him (Woolsey, Cromwell, and More are not your run-of-the-mill bureaucrats), and I think that he very much shortchanged the last fourth of the book, which is devoted to Elizabeth Tudor. I get the sense he was exhausted and gliding over events that really could have used some of his tremendous insight and turn of phrase that makes the first two-thirds of this book so enjoyable. Because really, when you've read as many books as I have on the Tudors, it's the writing that becomes paramount, and this man can write. He's got an ease and facility for taking fairly complicated events and parsing them down to the bones. His chapters regarding Cromwell's stealth and ever-increasingly fatal attacks on the Catholic church are so well done that it's worth buying this book for those chapters alone.

There are a series of sidebars that I know annoyed some people, but I liked them. They take you out of the "story" to a certain extent, but I didn't mind. For an overview history, you don't NEED to read them, but they are, in and of themselves, interesting. The out-take on exactly what societal functions the Catholic church performed and how the break with Rome and cannibalization of the Church as a way to seriously pump-up Henry's power and coincidentally boost the Crown's coffers is especially well done.

I think that the point of the structure (front-loading the book with so much "Henry") is that Henry VIII so fundamentally changed the nature of kingship--castrating the Catholic Church in the process--that his heirs were not only dealing with the usual problems of a small island nation trying to play with the big boys (Spain and France), but faced the double whammy of trying to establish order in the wake of Henry's determined (some might say maniacal) juggernaut to establish his dynasty, regardless of the cost. And this book explains that cataclysmic upheaval (on all levels of society) very nicely, with Henry's heirs struggling to impose order on a society where all of a sudden the rules have changed.

I do think the section on Elizabeth could have benefited with a more rigorous treatment. Having said that, Meyer's writing is engaging, witty, and humorous, with a fresh take on a topic that has been revisited many times in the last twenty years. I found myself smiling and enjoying every word. Highly recommended. .



Debris and Detritus (available in trade paperback and ebook formats).

Pen and Prejudice (available in trade paperback and ebook formats).

Roux Morgue (available in hard cover, trade paperback, audio, and ebook formats)

Beat Until Stiff (available in trade paperback, audio, and ebook formats)

Poisoned Pen Press

Mystery Writers of America

Sisters in Crime Northern California Chapter

Independent American Booksellers Association