Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George - 944 Pages

Book CoverI have to say that I went into reading this book hating Henry VIII. I thought he was a power-mad egotist, as well as a cruel misogynist with no respect for human life. I was prepared to read the book and joyfully hate Henry as the pages flew by.

This book made me see the man behind the crown. Yes, Henry was hasty and foolish in his choice of partners. Yes, he was manipulative of the people he claimed to care about. Yes, he used the church to finagle himself out of more than one marriage, and what the church couldn't do for him, the scaffold could. All these things went pretty much along with my expectations of Henry, but Margaret George rendered her Henry on a much more fulsome background. This fictional Henry was mercurial, yet he could also be doting and affectionate. He was sometimes reverent and humble. He even had moments of intense loyalty and repentance. His relationship with Jane Seymour, in particular, was extremely touching.

As I read and read and read (and this book topped out at about 900+ pages), I became aware of Henry as a confused man who looked all around him for people to tell him the truth and to love him for himself. Although all he got was a profusion of compliments and flattery made for a king, he never stopped looking for that genuine appraisal. Yes, at times he was a petulant child, but at times he had to make and live with decisions no mortal man should ever have to. At times, the breadth of his naiveté (especially regarding his cuckolding wife) was sad.

His struggles with God were particularly moving and interesting because he never could seem to figure out what God made of him, and what he made of God. He seemed to genuinely believe that his actions (including divorce and beheadings) would somehow make God find favor in his life. He seemed to be fighting with God most of the time, either for his approval, or against his perceived cruelties.

Though this portrayal of Henry VIII was able to let the reader see the more human side of the famous king, I would be remiss to leave out the cruelty that he dealt out so generously. He seemed to have a problem with everyone sooner or later, and the easiest way for him to solve his problem was by execution. The list of the executed was so long that I lost count. It was clear that he was particularly unjust at times. Although his punishments were legendary, towards the end of his life he grew extremely remorseful and anguished by these horrible acts. Some would even say haunted. It was then that he moved me.

I found it very interesting to find Henry such a contradictory character. Most of the time, he was an insufferable bastard and a spoiled child. Sometimes though... he was a touching man who didn't ever understand his place in the world, or how he got there.

The interjections by Will, his fool, were scanty and didn't really shed a lot of light on Henry the man. Those parts of the books were irrelevant and almost pointless. It may have been better had she left them out.

I got used to having Henry around. I became accustomed to hauling him all over and reading scandal after scandal. Now that it's done, I miss the old bastard.


Anonymous said...

well... this is all very exicting--way above my mental capacity...good luck on your new adventure...dad

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