The Tudors by G.J. Meyer book review
G.J. Meyer wrote Tudors and explains why he added yet another volume to an already limitless supply on the most popular English dynasty. He says the problem with all the resources on the Tudors is that the legend keeps building and it becomes hard to see what is true and who the people really are. For example, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are the two most popular monarchs in the Tudor dynasty and certainly well known to all English people. Meyer suggests that with so many books, they are immortalized and who they actually were is lost. He writes to bring the focus back to the personality and accomplishments of Henry VIII and his children. For example, Henry VIII is most known for his six wives, but he is so much more than that. Unfortunately at his death he left a disaster for his son, Edward VI. Henry VIII is much more of an important character than we realize and much less of an important person that we realize. He accomplished many things, but also had terrible judgment on others. Another person incorrectly idolized is Elizabeth I. She is seen as a glorious ruler who reigned in the Golden Age of England. Many people adore her and look up to her. In actuality, Elizabeth is much more complex, pathetic, and less grand than she presented herself as. She was good at putting on a strong and good front, but did not actually live up to the glorious façade she hid behind.
On the other hand, Henry VII, who started the Tudor line, along with his grandchildren Edward VI and Mary I are far more interesting than they are now remembered. They are also talked about much less than they deserve. Each of them had notable contributions and stories worth telling that have been lost in the legend of the Virgin Queen and Henry VIII, the womanizer and great Reformer.
Meyer also worries that the Tudors have been shrouded too much in religious warring and opposition. He fears that many people, including historians, pay more attention to the political ideology and controversy of religion and ignore many other important aspects of their reign.
Meyer wants to inform the public what historians are finally now learning. The Tudors have been concealed too much in legend to be seen for what they truly are. Mary Tudor was a better woman than made out and Elizabeth was not the perfect, indestructible woman people believe her to be. This is now just coming to light for historians and Meyer wants to bring this information to the public.
Meyer is an American journalist who has moved to England now to study their history and culture. He too is fascinated, as millions are, by the great dynasty that led to many religious and political changes. The more he studied them, the more fascinated he was by everything he learned, including what is not commonly known about them. The Tudors are more complex than their religious rivalries against each other. They all had hard upbringings and issues that came into play when they ruled. They are also not all as black and white as history likes to make them. They were not just good rulers, with definite bad rulers thrown in the mix. Henry VIII was so much more than his many wives. He brought about huge, radical religious change, but never actually changed the theology. It was up to his son, Edward VI, who is often forgotten by history, who mad the theological changes. Henry VIII was not all perfect either. Many see him as a hero for the Protestant cause and not much more. However, Henry VIII messed up many political alliances at the end of his life, squandered all the money his father had gotten for the royal treasury, and left a mountain of debt for his son to try to get rid of. He also bastardized both of his daughters, who had to deal with the ramifications the rest of their lives.
Meyer greatly respects all the Tudors, but wants to show that they also were not perfect or all good or bad, just like people still are today. They were complex and made mistakes and had triumphs. This book is written in a fascinating voice that shows all of this. He draws on many primary sources to show that the Tudors had problems and enemies and weaknesses. He also uses primary sources from citizens of the time who rejoiced when Elizabeth became queen and were heartbroken when they lost her. No matter what faults they had, Meyer always shows their supporters, as well as their opposition, to show that the Tudors were indeed a well loved dynasty that often was for the people and worked hard to serve them. There were bumps and tragedies that marked the way, but overall, Meyer still respects the rulers deeply and this is conveyed in his book. It is a more honest and raw portrayal of the Tudors than most works about them are today.
Meyer, G. J. The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty. New York: Delacorte Press, 2010.