The Magazine

Henry’s Legacies

One family, two generations, and modern England.

Dec 9, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 13 • By J. J. SCARISBRICK
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Ackroyd does pretty well. His Elizabeth is a remarkable woman, but more than a bit cantankerous and mean. He could add that, since she never ventured further north than Kenilworth in the Midlands, and never visited East Anglia, let alone Wales or the southwest, the majority of her subjects never saw her. She spent much of her time on progress at a few miles’ radius around London, enjoying the increasingly reluctant hospitality of some of her wealthier subjects, and probably patronized her dressmakers more than the arts and learning. The famous Elizabethan sea dogs, like Drake and Hawkins, were little more than pirates. 

If we take away the things that happened to her, that is, that were not of her making—the plots, the unwelcome arrival in England of the fugitive Mary Queen of Scots, the Spanish Armada, and so on—there is not much to show for her reign, not much positive achievement initiated by her or her ministers. And, of course, we must always remember that Shakespeare did not belong to the Elizabethan establishment. He was likely a serious Catholic in his younger days, and he remained an outsider to the end.

But none of that detracts from the fact that, if you want a finely written, racy account of the monster Henry VIII and his brood, a history book that really fires your imagination and is often so exciting that you cannot put it down, you should get this book. 

J. J. Scarisbrick, professor emeritus of history at the University of Warwick, is the author of Henry VIII