Book Review: “Henry VIII – and the Men Who Made Him” by Tracy Borman

Jane Seymour (1)

I purchased this book with a bit of hesitation because my library is full of book on the most infamous Tudor king. I wondered if Borman would be able to open my mind to any new information, or if I would be disappointed in the regurgitated information that I have read over the years.

Here is a bit about the book in case you are not familiar:

Henry VIII is best known in history for his tempestuous marriages and the fates of his six wives. However, as acclaimed historian Tracy Borman makes clear in her illuminating new chronicle of Henry?s life, his reign and reputation were hugely influenced by the men who surrounded and interacted with him as companions and confidants, servants and ministers, and occasionally as rivals?many of whom have been underplayed in previous biographies.

These relationships offer a fresh, often surprising perspective on the legendary king, revealing the contradictions in his beliefs, behavior, and character in a nuanced light. They show him capable of fierce but seldom abiding loyalty, of raising men up only to destroy them later. He loved to be attended by boisterous young men, the likes of his intimate friend Charles Brandon, who shared his passion for sport, but could also be diverted by men of intellect, culture, and wit, as his longstanding interplay with Cardinal Wolsey and his reluctant abandonment of Thomas More attest. Eager to escape the shadow of his father, Henry VII, he was often trusting and easily led by male attendants and advisors early in his reign (his coronation was just shy of his 18th birthday in 1509); in time, though, he matured into a profoundly suspicious and paranoid king whose ruthlessness would be ever more apparent, as Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and uncle to two of Henry?s wives, discovered to his great discomfort, and as Eustace Chapuys, the ambassador of Charles V of Spain, often reported.

Recounting the great Tudor?s life and signal moments through the lens of his male relationships, Tracy Borman?s new biography reveals Henry?s personality in all its multi-faceted, contradictory glory, and sheds fresh light on his reign for anyone fascinated by the Tudor era and its legacy.”

The author of this book, Tracy Borman, is a Historian and “joint Chief Curator for?Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that manages Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace, the Banqueting House, Whitehall and Hillsborough Castle.” Borman also is a frequent visitor to our TV screens with appearances of historical programs. Many of us believe she has one of the best jobs in the entire world.

Keeping all that in mind, Borman has amazing access to documents and history that many of us could only dream about. She shows her skill as a researcher and writing in this piece of nonfiction. If you believe that you know everything there is to know about Henry VIII I implore you to read this book.

With the interesting insight of the men who surrounded the King we can see how loyalty could both raise you to great heights and bring you down in a spectacular fashion. We also learn that Thomas Cranmer’s undying loyalty to his King is what inevitably saved him during the reign of the fearsome Tudor king. We learn from the book that after the death of King Henry that Cranmer wept by his bedside and in honor (most likely) of his king he began to grow out his beard. Cranmer went on to be a father figure to Edward VI.

I really do not want to spoil this book for you – please pick up a copy and see for yourself. Borman’s ability to report history in an easy to read manner is refreshing and definitely puts her at the top of my list of favorite authors. I have also read her book on Thomas Cromwell, as well as Elizabeth’s Women – both fantastic reads. Currently I am reading her book Private Lives of the Tudors.

Find this book online:

Barnes & Noble

Amazon – US

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Hugh Latimer’s Slander of a Dead Man

This post was originally made on my Thomas Seymour Society blog.

I recently picked up The Reign of Edward VI by James Anthony Froude and started looking for information on Thomas Seymour. It was while searching that I came across some new information.

On page 77, in the section of the book about the Protectorate, I found this line:

the admiral had seduced and deserted at least one innocent woman, who fell into crime and was executed.

The source for this statement is merely listed as “Latimer’s Sermons before King Edward”. So, of course, I went looking for this story in Latimer’s sermons. Unfortunately for me Froude did not give a more specific location in Latimer’s sermons. Luckily for me, the book is available online and I could do a search within it to find the reference to this woman.

The book is titled Sermons by Hugh Latimer, sometime Bishop of Worcester, Martyr, 1555, and I found the reference on page 164 (Latimer’s fourth sermon preached before Edward VI).

“I heard of a wanton woman, naughty liver. A whore, a vain body, was led from Newgate to the place of execution for a certain robbery that she had committed, and she had a wicked communication by the way. Here I will take occasion to move your grace, that such men as shall be put to death may have learned men to give them instruction and exhortation. For the reverence of God, when they be put to execution, let them have instructor; for many of them are cast away for lack of instruction, and die miserably for lack of good preaching. This woman, I say, as she went by the way, had wanton and foolish talk, as this: “that if good fellows had kept touch with her, she had not been at this time in that case.” [And amongst all other talk she said that such an one (and named this man) had first misled her: and, hearing this of him at that time, I looked ever what would be his end, what would become of him. He was a man the farthest fear of God that ever I knew or heard of in England. First, he was the author of all this woman’s whoredom; for if he had not led her wrong, she might have been married and become an honest woman, whereas now being naught with him, she fell afterward by that occasion to other: and they that were naught with her fell to robbery, and she followed; and thus was he the author of all of this.

After reading all that I was left wondering: Who was this woman? Did this really happen or was it fabricated by Latimer to further tarnish the reputation of Seymour to the King?

This got me thinking…how well did Latimer know Thomas, or the Seymour family at that. I found online, “Hugh Latimer; a biography” and in Chapter Four it states that Latimer was in Wiltshire from 1531 to 1535. During that time Thomas Seymour was employed by Francis Bryan at court.

If you are not familiar with the Seymours, their home at Wolf Hall was in Wiltshire. In the book “Ordeal by Ambition” by William Seymour, states that their home was in Burbage. Hugh Latimer was preaching at West Kington. I used Google maps to see what kind of distance were between the two locations and it appears to be about 36-38 miles, a bit far for the family to attend mass. In “Hugh Latimer; a biography”, the author states that while Thomas Seymour was in the Tower he requested that “Mr. Latimer might come to him”. The author believed that Seymour had heard countless praises of Latimer from his late wife, dowager queen Kateryn and that Latimer had converted Parr to the Protestant faith. Latimer visited Seymour in the Tower and may have attended him the day of his execution.

Latimer, indeed, without mentioning Seymour’s name, assumed that his audience “knew what he meant well enough.” But there were many who doubted his guilt; Latimer’s words were consequently much censured; and in his next sermon before the Court, on March 29, he deemed it necessary to defend himself by narrating all that he knew of Seymour’s death.

Latimer was also the person who reported the small notes that Seymour had written:

The man being in the Tower, wrote certain papers, which I saw myself. They were two little ones, one to my Lady Mary’s Grace, and another to my Lady Elizabeth’s Grace, tending to this end, that they should conspire against my Lord Protector’s Grace; surely, so seditiously as could be.

These notes were reported to Latimer by his servant and were found in Seymour’s shoe. The notes were sewn between the soles of a velvet shoe. He also goes on to mention how creative Seymour had been in creating ink to write. “He made his ink so craftily and with such workmanship, as the like hath not been seen.” “He made his pen of the aglet of a point, that he plucked from his hose, and thus wrote these letters…

Image Courtesy TheCostumeWardrobe – Etsy

John Lingard of Lingard’s History of England was no fan of Latimer or Somerset. He said that Latimer was merely staying on the good side of Somerset with his sermons.

So, from all this we can determine that Thomas Seymour may have known, or at least known of Latimer through his late wife. We can, if we believe Lingard, determine that Latimer was a man who understood he had to appease the Lord Protector.

I have been been unable to corroborate Latimer’s sermon about the wanton women who was executed because of Thomas Seymour. But it is my belief that Hugh Latimer’s sermon was fabricated to further slander Thomas Seymour’s name – many of the King’s subjects had become sympathetic to his story after his execution, just as they had with Anne Boleyn.



Hugh Latimer; a biography. by Demaus, R. (Robert), 1829 -1874; Tract Society, London. Publication date [1881]
Lingard’s History of England by Dom Henry Norbert Birt, O.S.B.. London. George Bell & Sons [1903].
The Reign of Edward VI by James Anthony Froude. Published by J. M. Dent & Company [1926].
Sermons by Hugh Latimer, sometime Bishop of Worcester, Martyr, 1555. Publisher Cambridge : Printed at the University Press [1844].
Ordeal by Ambition: An English Family in the Shadow of the Tudors by William Seymour. Published by
Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd [1972].

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Queen Kateryn Parr’s Presence Chamber at Sudeley – Location Discovered


This blog was originally posted 30 November 2018 on The Thomas Seymour Society Blog:

My effort to uncover the true Thomas Seymour has led me to Sudeley Castle once again. While reading The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor, by Elizabeth Norton, I discovered that the Queen’s Presence Chamber had windows that ran floor to ceiling and made you feel like you were outside in the Queen’s Garden when you stood in the bay window.

That got me thinking – could I locate through images and videos the section of Sudeley Castle that contained the Queen’s Presence Chamber?

In this below screen cap from a video you can clearly see large windows (white arrow) that appear to go from floor to ceiling, but it was not confirmed to me until I noticed the fireplace (green arrow) – the fireplace would obviously be at floor level and so, that to me, indicates that the ruins are indeed part of what Thomas Seymour had built for his queen.

In addition, the Queen’s Garden (pink arrow) are just on the other side of the windows but is now obstructed by a tree, or trees. This could most definitely be the Presence Chamber with dowager queen Kateryn Parr would have accepted visitors to her court as Sudeley was considered a second court. It is uncertain whether or not the chamber was ever used by the dowager queen.

The Presence Chamber Thomas Seymour built for Kateryn Parr. It is said that it had ceilings that went from floor to ceiling and that the windows made you feel like you were standing in t

Now it stands in ruins at Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe, most likely destroyed during the Civil War. We can only imagine the magnificence that would have appeared before visitors who entered.

This theory has been confirmed by Dr. Sarah Morris of The Tudor Travel Guide.

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Quiz: General Tudor History

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Book Review: “The Path to Somerset” by Janet Wertman

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If you know anything about me at all you know I love all things Thomas Seymour. It’s because of my love for Thomas that I tend to hold Edward Seymour in a bad light – he, after all, was at the helm when Thomas was executed.

The Path to Somerset is the second book in the Seymour saga by Janet Wertman – her first book was on Jane Seymour, called Jane the Quene. This book covers the career of Edward Seymour starting in March 1539. Queen Jane has been dead for a year and a half and the Henry VIII is considering a foreign bride.

Wertman was very generous and sent me an advance review copy. Here is a blurb about the book from Wertman’s website (

After the tragic romance of Jane the Quene, the second book in The Seymour Saga trilogy, The Path to Somerset, takes a dark turn through an era in which King Henry VIII descends into cynicism, suspicion and fits of madness ? and in which mistakes mean death.

Edward?s future is uncertain. Although his sister Jane bore Henry the son he?d sought for twenty years, when she died in childbirth, Henry?s good nature died with her. Now the fiercely ambitious Edward must carve a difficult path through Henry?s shifting principles and wives. Challenged at every turn by his nemesis, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, Edward must embrace ruthlessness in order to safeguard not only his own future but England?s as well.

This is the account of Henry?s tumultuous reign, as seen through the eyes of two opponents whose fierce disagreements over religion and common decency fuel epic struggles for the soul of the nation. And for power.

My Review

As I stated previously I was concerned that I was going to have issues with Wertman’s portrayal of Edward. It was to my surprise that I grew to love his “character” as well as his chosen path in life.

Edward Seymour’s first marriage left him a damaged man – he felt betrayed by his wife and his father for having an affair – as anyone would be. Edward apparently made amends with his father but never forgave his first wife, Katherine Fillol. It’s when he met Anne Stanhope that the pieces began to come together for Edward.

I might sound like a hypocrite but Wertman even made me like Anne Stanhope – a woman whom I have dubbed as a “wicked woman” many times in the past few years. I always saw Stanhope as more ambitious and vindictive than her husband. It’s in Wertman’s superb storytelling that I looked at the couple in a completely different light – they were a team, and in Tudor England it was important to have strong allies. Were they ambitious? Sure. But they were also the aunt and uncle of the future King of England and it was in their best interest to secure their future.

In The Path to Somerset, Anne plays the uber supportive wife who always has the right advice for her husband. Often Edward recalls the advice given by Anne and admits that she was right. So refreshing to read that in a book about this time period.

Edward Seymour, was human – he had emotions and opinions like any of us but his “boss” was the tyrannical King Henry VIII. He had a job to do and was loyal to his King. Having an opinion that differed from or displeased the King could cause you to quickly lose favor or worse, your head. He also understood how, as brother to Jane (Henry’s beloved third wife), he could use that card to get the King to see his way.

The way this story is told truly makes history come to life. Page after page you get the sense that you are back in Tudor England when things began to really change with Henry VIII – when he lost his temper quickly and had no problem signing a death warrant if the men around him convinced him to do so. He could be smiling one minute and yelling the next. Henry was in constant pain from the ulcers in his legs and the stench that surrounded him somehow became unbearable. Imagine walking into a room with the worst smell every punching you in the face. If the King saw you make a face regarding the small you could lose everything.

The Duke of Norfolk and Gardiner are definitely the antagonists in this book. There were times when I wanted to reach inside the book and strangle both men because of their scheming to advance themselves and the Catholics. In the end they both got what was coming to them.

Wertman mentions in her “Author Note” after the story that she tried to stay as true as possible to the history and she did a wonderful job doing so – the dialogue could very well have been what these men (and sometimes women) said to one another and it made the story flow.

I highly recommend ordering this book! The?The Path to Somerset?covers a very important part of Tudor history and you will not be disappointed. It will be available in August 2018 and is available for pre-order.

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