And off we go! Here's the initial entry from PhD Historian, but the rest will be in the comments. Anyone else who is reading along, feel free to add your thoughts as well!
[Update March 24 - changed date to move thread back up for a while]
From PhD Historian:
Derek Wilson, A Brief History of Henry VIII (London and Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 2009). 386 pages, 14 B&W illustrations.
Derek Wilson is, in my opinion, one of the few historians writing today who is able to write with credibility what might be termed “psycho-biographical history,” or history that examines the individual “movers and shakers” of events, their personalities and characters, and seeks to determine why they did what they did. Psycho-history was popular in the 1960s and 1970s but has since faded from favor, especially among “hardcore” academics. And not without reason, for it sometimes bordered on the absurd in the lengths to which some writers would go to create a psycho-profile from little or no evidence. But I have read many of Wilson’s books, and I respect his work immensely, in spite of the prevailing attitude that discounts his methodology.
Wilson is a prolific writer, having produced more than fifty books over the past forty or so years. He is one of only a handful who write both fiction and non-fiction and who still have my full respect when he lays claim to being a “historian.” His non-fiction works have focused heavily on a variety of figures from the Tudor period of English history, and his titles include:
Sweet Robin: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1981);
In the Lion’s Court: Power, Ambition and Sudden Death in the Reign of Henry VIII (2002);
Uncrowned Kings: The Black Legend of the Dudleys (2005);
Sir Francis Walsingham: A Courtier in an Age of Terror (2007).
He also wrote a marvelous comparative biography of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, The King and the Gentleman (1999), that shed an entirely new light on the British Civil Wars of the 1630s and 1640s.
A Brief History of Henry VIII is Wilson’s latest foray into the area of psycho-history. It is perhaps a dangerous expedition, considering the massive amounts of material already written on England’s best-known monarch. Wilson is tackling a legendary figure and the iconography and mythology that has developed around him over the centuries. The scope of the endeavour would no doubt frighten any less-experienced or less-confident writer. But Wilson dives into the study fearlessly.
The back cover of the paperback volume begins with a question in bold-faced type: “Was England’s most famous king ‘A fool, a liar, and a damnable rotten worm’?” The accusation is quoted from Martin Luther, whose religious views Henry had famously challenged in 1521 with his own Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defence of the Seven Sacraments,) ... though almost certainly with the help of “ghost writers.” I suspect we are getting a taste here of what is to come ... Henry Tudor propped up and made larger than life through the efforts of those around him, and not himself actually as formidable as the man in the carefully crafted image.
The back cover observes that “in the portraits of Holbein, Henry Tudor stands proud as one of the most powerful figures in renaissance Europe.” But it then asks teasingly, “But is the noble stance a bluff? ... Wilson explores the reality behind the image of the Tudor Lion.”
And the cover is a detail of that same Holbein masterpiece in which Henry is shown standing tall and solid, fists on hips, feet spread wide, with a stern facial expression suggesting supreme self-confidence and more than a hint of bravado. The image, both in terms of the painting and the characterization, are so inextricably linked to “Great Harry” that it will be a true challenge for Wilson to dismantle it.