Henry VIII in 100 Objects – The Tyrant King who had Six Wives – By Paul Kendall
Review by Sarah J. Hodder
I was hugely excited to read and review this book as Henry VIII is such a giant of a historical figure and I was intrigued to learn about 100 objects linked to him. I also adore visiting historical houses and castles and looking in the display cases at the fashion, letters and bits and pieces that have survived over the centuries so this book really intrigued me. However, it was my initial expectations of what I would find between its covers that led to my one tiny critique of the book – the title. While there certainly are objects mentioned throughout the 100 chapters – The Coronation Chair for instance, or The Bronze Watch Bell from The Mary Rose and one of my personal favourites, Henry VIII’s portable lock at Hever Castle, which he carried with
him on his travels for his own personal security, a large proportion of the 100 ‘objects’ are not actually what I would call objects. Many are actually better defined as places associated with Henry VIII. There are chapters on Glastonbury Abbey, Hever Castle, Leeds Castle, Dover Castle, Tower Green and even one on Charles Brandon. All in all, the title I felt is perhaps a little misleading, although I accept that perhaps others will not make the assumption I did as to what the content of the book would be. And I also appreciate that finding a singular term to cover all 100 chapters in the book was probably an impossible task and it is ultimately a small point about what is really a very good book.
But once I began reading and had in my mind what the format of the book now was, the idea is actually really clever. As the author mentions in the introduction, we are introduced to each place, each person, each piece of furniture or memorial statue in chronological order of Henry’s association with it, allowing the author the opportunity to take us on a journey through Henry’s life. Beginning with the memorial commemorating his birth at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich all the way to number 100, his tomb in St George’s Chapel in Windsor, along the way we learn about his family, his wives (all six of them), his ministers, his relationships with his subjects and courtiers and of course his famous or infamous decision to make himself head of a new Church of England so he could divorce his wife and achieve what his heart most desired, a son and heir.
Because the items and places are so varied, the book has a wealth of information and the author has done a lot of research to present as much detail as possible. The accompanying illustrations, so important to this type of book, are really well thought out and I loved some of the little gems like the house in Ipswich, built in the fifteenth century with a plaque commemorating Wolsey’s birth. I find little snippets of everyday life fascinating and the description of the plaque to Mr and Mrs Wolsey who had no idea that their son would become part of history are the kind of treasures I love to discover: ‘Near this 15th century house on the opposite side of the way, stood in 1479 the home of Robert and Joan Wolsey…’
As I was reviewing the book, I read it from start to finish and in some places little pieces of information were mentioned more than once. But in this book, this is not a criticism, it is actually necessary for the format of the book. Although reading from cover to cover does, as intended, take you on a journey through Henry’s life, I think the book also serves well as a dip in and out text because each of the 100 objects can be read as a standalone chapter or reference source. All in all, this is really well-written and illustrated book about the people, places and objects that would have been familiar to Henry VIII. A great addition to any bookshelf.