cover image Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I

Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I

Peter Ackroyd. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $30 (512p) ISBN 978-1-250-00362-1

The theme of novelist and historian Ackroyd’s second title in his projected six-volume history of England (after Foundation) is the 16th-century religious reformation that began, as a dynastic matter, with Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon in 1533. While there was neither an Inquisition in England as in Spain, nor the wholesale slaughter of citizens as in France’s 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the Reformation in England was marked by upheaval and bloodshed, as the Tudors imposed religious changes upon an initially reluctant populace. Henry VIII, for instance, dealt harshly with critics, ordering the executions of “a good number of the inhabitants of every town, village and hamlet” that dared join a 1536 popular revolt against the new order. And, while 300 English “heretics” were burned at the stake during Mary I’s four-year reign, earning her the nickname, “Bloody Mary,” Ackroyd points out that 200 Catholics were executed during Elizabeth I’s 45-year reign. While the author focuses on the politics of religious change, this is an accessible account, made even more so by anecdotes revealing the personalities of the main characters (e.g., Henry VIII became so obese that his bed had to be enlarged to a width of seven feet, and Mary Stuart wore crimson underclothes at her execution in 1587). (Oct.)