Thursday, September 17, 2009

Question from Katlyn - Recommendations for resources on the men of Henry VIII's court

Hello! I have been reading this site for a long time but post only occasionally. I am in my junior year of college and working on a year-long, thesis-style research project about Henry VIII. My topic, though not completely narrow since I haven't done the appropriate amount of research for it to be thus, is a study of male members of Henry VIII's political / personal circle. These will include Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More, Thomas Howard, Thomas Cromwell, and Charles Brandon. My aim will be to evaluate each man's relationship to Henry and each of their downfalls, save Brandon. From this I hope to be able to make conclusions about the political and social atmosphere at the time, factionalism, and so on.

There is available work on each of these men, but I am hoping that someone could recommend the most applicable books, be they biographies of one of the above (or anyone you can think of that I should add to the list?), something on Henry pertaining to this topic, or a general book on faction or these types of relationships. I would love to go all out and just buy anything that I think is related, but that would not be wise. I am hoping that you all could help me choose some appropriate sources. I would appreciate it! Thank you!


  1. I'm sorry Katlyn, I don't know any sources really that are about those specific people but I suppose if you went on the internet on Amazon or whatever you might find something. I'd just like to suggest that maybe you could include Archbishop Cranmer in that list? I mean, he was kind of an important man in Henry's political circle, especially during Henry's divorce from Katharine of Aragon. That is only a suggestion though.

  2. Katlyn, the only real scholarly work that has been done on Charles Brandon is Steven Gunn's book, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, c.1484-1545. It is a pared down version of his doctoral dissertation. Unfortunately it is out of print now, but your college library might have it. If not, you can probably get it through interlibrary loan. You can also probably get a copy of the original dissertation through your library. Just ask the librarian.

    There really isn't much else out there of any value on Brandon, and certainly nothing in any depth, though he is included in biographies of Henry VIII's sister, Mary and various biographies of Henry.

    I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Gunn lecture on why he thought Brandon and the king became such close friends. I wrote a review of his lecture that Lara posted in the July Blog Archive. While it's certainly not as complete as the lecture was, I did list all the points he made about the why he thought they became fast friends. It might be a place to start.

  3. First, have a look at the RHS Bibliography of British and Irish History Online, and search under the names of each of the major men involved (Wolsey, More, Howard, Cromwell, Brandon). You will find a vast amount of secondary sources arranged chronologically.

    Then, find whatever volumes on that list that your college library actually has. Look at the bibliographies in each to get more ideas, especially for primary sources that may be available online. Much of the Letters and Papers from the reign of Henry VIII are available online, for example, and fully searchable using keywords.

    Also, one excellent book that already covers your specific topic in a general sort of way is Derek Wilson's In the Lion's Court: Power, Ambition, and Sudden Death in the Reign of Henry VIII. And the bibliography contained in that book should give you lots of clues for further research.

    Good luck! Let us know how it goes.

  4. Hi Katlyn,

    You have quite a range of men in your sites all with very different relationships to the king. Wolsey and More were a generation older than the king. Which Thomas Howard? The 3rd Duke of Norfolk? If so, he was also older. Cromwell and Brandon were closer in age to the king and so necessarily would have different outlooks.

    Aside from the age difference there is the very different attitudes towards government and the church as well as these men's relationships with the women around Henry. For instance, Cromwell's attachment to the Cleves marriage; Brandon's marriage to Mary Tudor and then Katherine Willoughby. So there are a lot of themes available for you to look at. Perhaps after more research these will narrow down some more.

    Relationships that developed through the privy chamber were different than those that developed through the church, say - or in the case of Wolsey, who essentially ran the country on Henry's behalf for much of his early reign, the administration of policy.

    You might want to look at David Starkey's 'Intimacy and innovation: the rise of the privy chamber, 1485-1547' in "The English Court: From the War of the Roses to the Civil War" (1987) pp.29-58 which discusses some of the relationships between kings and the members of their privy chamber as well as the chamber's political development. [Also read the introduction which is a tight summary of his position]

    Also look at Starkey's 'Court, council and nobility in Tudor England' in R.Asch and A.Birke (eds.) "Princes, Patronage and the Nobility" (1991). [I know, I know, I usually can't stand Starkey but this was his territory when he was still an academic historian.]

    For context, you might want to check out Guy's "Tudor England". In another of his works he defines the court as "politically fluid and culturally polycentric". This is a very academic way of saying that the idea of 'court' was dependent on whoever was attendant on the monarch at the moment and the monarch's mood.

    Factionalism is a popular topic in the historiography. You might find however that factionalism as a force in relationship to the king was subject to other pressures. Clearly Norfolk's influence rose when his niece was courted by the king, but how does that affect Brandon's relationship with the king, or his political influence?

    Sorry. Gone on a bit long here. Hope this helps a bit.

  5. Thank you all so much for your help. I am going to begin research as soon as my first books arrive, and I am so excited for my project. I will keep you updated, and I am sure I will have more questions! Thanks again!


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