When we think about the Tudor dynasty, we often focus on the women in King Henry VIII’s life and his children, at least when it comes to novels. Writing about this larger-than-life figure, this notorious king and controversial figure in English history, are usually considered ambitious. Few have attempted to write a book about the king’s entire reign, but Alison Weir has embarked on this endeavor in her latest novel, “The King’s Pleasure: A Novel of Henry VIII.”
I want to thank Ballantine Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this novel. I have not read many books about the reign of King Henry VIII, except for “The Autobiography of King Henry VIII” by Margaret George, so when I heard that Alison Weir was writing a novel about the titular king, I knew I had to read it.
Weir begins her novel with a moment that must have been difficult for young Prince Henry or Harry as he is referred to in this book. His brother died recently, and his beloved mother, Elizabeth of York, just died, leaving Henry as King Henry VII’s only heir. Henry does not have the best relationship with his father, but he now must fill the void as the heir apparent after Arthur died, leaving his young wife, Katherine of Aragon, a widow. When King Henry VII died, Henry became King Henry VIII and selected a woman he had fallen for to become his queen, Katherine of Aragon.
The bulk of this novel revolves around the relationships between Henry and his first two wives, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Weir is sympathetic toward Katherine of Aragon’s struggles, whereas her portrayal of Anne Boleyn may come across as a bit harsh. Jane Seymour is portrayed as a quiet and obedient queen, and Anna of Cleves’ focus is more on her looks and how Henry treated her more as a sister than a wife. Katherine Howard is someone Henry falls for hard and is devastated by her downfall, and Katherine Parr is the firebrand reformer who wants to heal Henry’s family at the end of his life.
Weir also touches on the complex political web that Henry was involved in, not just in England but European politics of the 16th century. We also see how Henry interacted with his children and how the emotional weight of all of his decisions weighed on him.
I think for how much of a challenge it is to write a novel about King Henry VIII, Alison Weir has done an admirable job in the king’s portrayal. I don’t necessarily agree with how some of the queens were portrayed, but I did enjoy this novel as a whole. I would suggest reading this novel before the Six Tudor Queens series to understand Henry’s perspective before his wives’ stories. If you have enjoyed the latest books about Henry VIII’s wives and his mother, Elizabeth of York, you should read “The King’s Pleasure: A Novel of Henry VIII” by Alison Weir.