G.J. Meyer takes a thorough and unusual look behind the curtain at England’s most infamous dynasty. It is interesting that hundreds of years after their bloody reigns, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I still remain two of England’s most famous and enduring monarchs. Meyer points out that what we have long thought to be fact when it comes to the Tudors, is actually a “Hollywood version” and more than likely clouded by years of careful propaganda and image crafting by the Tudors.
Meyer does an excellent job taking us behind the scenes to really understand what was going on in England and the world at large while the Tudors sat on the throne. Few historical accounts help readers truly evaluate other circumstances that influenced and were influenced by the Tudor reign. He works hard to correct common misconceptions and gives us a more accurate look into the Tudor world. His irreverent way of writing and untraditional take on events pull you in and make the topic that much more enjoyable.
Most of Meyer’s book is fascinating and very revealing. Meyer’s historical professionalism slips a bit however, especially at the end, when he seems to resort to what could be interpreted only as personal attacks against Elizabeth – focusing on her vanity, mocking her declining beauty, and poking fun at the fates of her “favorites”. Although fair, and in my opinion sometimes more than generous, to some of the Tudors, it appears Meyer harbors a real hatred of Elizabeth, and that ends the book on a disappointing note. Rather than objectively discussing Elizabeth’s strengths and weaknesses as a monarch, you read nasty personal attacks about how haggardly she appeared towards the end of her life, something that is mentioned, but only in passing, about Henry VIII.
In fact, Meyer’s seems to take sides at times in the book, excusing most of Mary’s associates for any part in the burning of so-called “heretics” that gave Mary the name “Bloody Mary”, but then never really identifying the real culprit except to say that it was ultimately Mary’s fault. He says this even though he goes out of his way to say that cruelty went against her nature (paraphrasing). (If she wasn’t the slightest bit cruel, then why did she turn a blind eye as so many of her subjects went to the stake?) This uneven portrait of Mary is almost like the author is trying to excuse and de-emphasize anything bad associated with Mary while stirring up every unflattering rumor possible against Elizabeth.
Most of the book is enjoyable. It’s only when Meyer’s objectiveness slips that the book takes a dive. If you are looking for a fresh, in depth look at the Tudors, I would recommend this book….just stop at the point when Edward VI dies.