Book Review: “Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI” by Lauren Johnson

50270709._SY475_Medieval kings are often painted as strong, colorful figures in history. They were warriors who fought to protect their families and countries. Often, we tend to think of men like King Henry V and King Edward IV when it comes to the late medieval kings of England. However, there was a man who was sandwiched between these two pillars of strength. He was the son of Henry V, the king who came before Edward IV, and the man who started the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses. Unlike these two men, Henry VI was a pious peacemaker and is often viewed as a mere man in the background who never measured up to the standards his famous father left behind. His story is often incorporated into other biographies of people of his time; Henry VI has not had a solid biography about his life in a long time. That is until now. Lauren Johnson has taken up the challenge of exploring the life of this often-overlooked monarch in her latest biography, “Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI”.

When Lauren Johnson announced she was writing this book, I knew that I wanted to read it. As someone who finds the Wars of the Roses fascinating, I have wanted to read more about the Lancastrian side of the conflict, especially about Henry VI, to understand the conflict completely. This remarkable tome delivered everything that I wanted in a biography about Henry VI.

As the only son of the great warrior king Henry V, Henry VI had enormous shoes to fill, especially when his father died while Henry VI was just a baby. To add to the complicated situation of a baby king in England, with the death of the king of France, Henry VI was also the king of France. Until Henry became of age to rule both countries, he relied on the men around him to rule, while he continued his studies to become a strong ruler. Many books on the Wars of the Roses tend to skip over these informative years of Henry VI’s minority, but by delving deep into this time, Johnson gives the reader an understanding on why he made the decisions that he did later in life and why he was more of a pious scholar who wanted peace rather than a warrior.

Johnson meticulously goes through every decision and every flaw of Henry VI’s rule to show why the Wars of the Roses began and the toll that it took on Henry’s health. Her reassessment of Henry VI’s mental health and its deterioration over the years is eye-opening and gives an entirely new perspective into his reign. His peace-loving nature explains the actions that he took while he was king and also when he was an exile on the run from Edward IV while his wife, Margaret of Anjou was trying to stage a comeback that would fail, resulting in the death of her son and husband. Johnson’s exploration into Henry VI includes the afterlife that presented him as a holy man.

It has been a while since I have read a biography with such vivid descriptions and was so meticulously researched that it leaves me speechless. It was a sheer delight to read this masterpiece. I did not want it to end. I truly felt sympathy for King Henry VI. Lauren Johnson’s magnificent biography, “Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI” is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to know more about the Wars of the Roses and the peace-loving king who started it all.

Book Review: “So Great a Prince: The Accession of Henry VIII 1509” by Lauren Johnson

51xezQP1DTL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_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.