Peter Ackroyd, one of Britain's most acclaimed writers, brings the age of the Tudors to vivid life in this monumental book in his The History of England series, charting the course of English history from Henry VIII's cataclysmic break with Rome to the epic rule of Elizabeth I.
Rich in detail and atmosphere, Peter Ackroyd's Tudors is the story of Henry VIII's relentless pursuit of both the perfect wife and the perfect heir; of how the brief reign of the teenage king, Edward VI, gave way to the violent reimposition of Catholicism and the stench of bonfires under "Bloody Mary." It tells, too, of the long reign of Elizabeth I, which, though marked by civil strife, plots against the queen and even an invasion force, finally brought stability.
Above all, however, it is the story of the English Reformation and the making of the Anglican Church. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, England was still largely feudal and looked to Rome for direction; at its end, it was a country where good governance was the duty of the state, not the church, and where men and women began to look to themselves for answers rather than to those who ruled them.
The theme of novelist and historian Ackroyd's second title in his projected six-volume history of England (after Foundation) is the 16th-century religious reformation that began, as a dynastic matter, with Henry VIII's divorce from Katherine of Aragon in 1533. While there was neither an Inquisition in England as in Spain, nor the wholesale slaughter of citizens as in France's 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, the Reformation in England was marked by upheaval and bloodshed, as the Tudors imposed religious changes upon an initially reluctant populace. Henry VIII, for instance, dealt harshly with critics, ordering the executions of "a good number of the inhabitants of every town, village and hamlet" that dared join a 1536 popular revolt against the new order. And, while 300 English "heretics" were burned at the stake during Mary I's four-year reign, earning her the nickname, "Bloody Mary," Ackroyd points out that 200 Catholics were executed during Elizabeth I's 45-year reign. While the author focuses on the politics of religious change, this is an accessible account, made even more so by anecdotes revealing the personalities of the main characters (e.g., Henry VIII became so obese that his bed had to be enlarged to a width of seven feet, and Mary Stuart wore crimson underclothes at her execution in 1587).