Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn

winter kingThe Hybrid Rose…

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Like many people, I have always had an interest in perhaps the most famous of all the Kings, Henry VIII. However, prior to reading this book, I really knew nothing about the reign of his father, Henry VII, or indeed of Henry VIII’s early years. This book has helped fill much of that gap in my knowledge. As a non-historian, I wouldn’t pretend to be able to comment on the historical accuracy, but I found the book very well written, the arguments convincing and the whole a very interesting read.

Henry VII
Henry VII

Penn paints a picture of a monarch who spent his early years fighting first to gain and then to hold the throne at the tail end of the Wars of the Roses and who in his later years became obsessed with the need to consolidate his position and ensure an undisputed dynastic inheritance for his son. The author’s study of how Henry VII used bonds and fines as a method of exerting control over the aristocracy and of curtailing the power of any potential rivals was fascinating although, for my personal taste, a little over-detailed at times. I found it both interesting and unexpected that Henry VII chose to do this by financial control rather than by the axe later so beloved of Henry VIII.

Thomas Penn (photo: Justine Stoddart)
Thomas Penn
(photo: Justine Stoddart)

The most interesting parts of the book to me were those that dealt with the young Princes Arthur and Henry and with poor Catherine of Aragon, used for years as a pawn in a game of diplomatic chess. The author paints a sympathetic picture of how powerless Catherine was in influencing and determining her own fate – not unusual, of course, but often left undescribed. Penn also gives some great descriptions of state occasions: the marriage of Catherine to Arthur and later to Henry VIII, coronations, funerals, and the socially important jousting tournaments. We also learn who were the influences on Henry VIII’s education, both intellectual and chivalrous, and learn about the early careers of some of those who would be so significant in his later reign – More, Wolsey et al.


The Tudor Rose (wikimedia)
The Tudor Rose

The book is very much a biography rather than a social history and as such concentrates almost exclusively on royalty, aristocracy and the rich. Personally, I would have liked the author to shed a bit more light on how Henry VII’s reign impacted on the commoners. But that small criticism aside, I found this an entertaining and educational read, accessible to the non-historians amongst us, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Tudor period.

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

7 thoughts on “Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn

  1. Oh, you’ve piqued my interest! I really do like history, and this is an era I don’t know enough about myself. Time to add this one to my list…


    • No I haven’t read anything by Alison Weir, I’m afraid, though she’s been in my wishlist for ages. So I could be completely wrong but I think this one is probably a bit more like a traditional history book than her books are, with lots of detail, though still very readable. And the stuff about young Henry VIII and Catherine was particularly interesting – it made me feel considerably more sympathetic to poor Catherine than I was before.


      • I think you should try The Lady in the Tower. I am not a historian, but it appears to be extensively researched and gripping in its political intrigue. Occasionally, I had a difficult time following all of the threads of what could possibly have happened at any given moment because she includes a variety of accounts, but I still found it fascinating.


        • I’ll move it up the priority list – for once, my TBR pile is going down rather than up so this is a good time to add new things. In return, if you enjoy that kind of thing, I’d highly recommend John Guy’s My Heart is My Own – a really great biography of Mary, Queen of Scots. I haven’t got around to sticking my review of it on the blog yet, but will do soon. In fact, anything John Guy writes is well worth reading – he gets the history right (as far as I know) but he tells a great story too.


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