There are some books that leave a very good impression on you. Books that even when you stop reading it and move to another, you keep thinking about it. For me, this is one of those books. “So Great a Prince: The Accession of Henry VIII 1509” by Lauren Johnson is a page turner, but not because of the main character Henry VIII, but because Johnson writes about how the average citizen was affected by the accession of Henry VIII.
Johnson breaks down the book into chapters based off of important days and times for medieval society: Lady Day, Easter, St. George’s Day, May, Midsummer, Lammas, All Saints and All Souls, Christmas, Plough Day, and Shrove. Unlike our modern calendar, Lady Day was the start of the new year which was on March 25th and for this book, its theme was new beginnings with the death of Henry VII.
Each chapter in this book not only has a specific day or time, but it has a theme such as religion, education, death/ illness and the judicial system. Johnson is able to give a new perspective on this time with the amount of research she had done to make this book possible. She tells the stories of the King and his court but she also tells the stories of the common person. Common people like Alice Middleton, the wife of a mercer who would later marry Thomas More, and John Rastell who was a coroner, had his own legal practice and a printer.
In this book, Johnson reminds us that 1509 may have been a big deal for the Tudor monarchy, but for the common people, it was just another year. Johnson makes this perfectly clear by saying:
Through the eyes of those who lived through it, we can experience the wealth of a world that was vibrant, vivid and exciting, where London streets fluttered with cloth-of-gold to welcome a new king, the shrines of Canterbury Cathedral groaned under the weight of precious stones and vast pageants played out the ideals and fears of communities across the country. A world of peace and of danger. Of prosperity and plague. A world that would be swept away during the course of its young king’s reign. (page 3)
Johnson is able to masterfully give us a snapshot into the world of the young king. I found myself so enthralled by this book. I felt like Johnson wrote this book in such a way that it feels like you could walk the streets of London during 1509. We all know the facts about this time from the perspective of the monarchy, but the monarchy was only one piece to the puzzle that is this time. This book was so educational and entertaining at the same time. Johnson is a new historian, but she is making a big impact with this book. If you really want to understand the world that the Tudors lived in from the commoner to the king, this is a definite must-read. It will be a book you want to read again and again.