I have been an admirer of Suzannah Lipscomb’s work for many years now, as her research on the Tudor period has always been extremely insightful and revolutionary.
Yes, those ‘Terrible Tudors’ have indeed been regularly analysed by both historians and Tudor-enthusiasts alike. What more can anyone possibly learn about them?! However, Suzannah has proved time-and-time again within both her books and TV appearances, that history can be rewritten. Her many eye-opening and eyebrow-raising theories have shaken people’s perception of the Tudor world, and has made us realise that there are always new discoveries about those ‘Terrible Tudors’ which are waiting to be unearthed.
The same can also be said about Suzannah’s recent book ‘The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII’. Just by looking at the front cover, you can instantly tell that this is going to be a brilliantly beautiful book. I couldn’t help but admire the spectacular illustrations on the book’s jacket, which resemble that of a medieval manuscript. What’s more, this stunning book was signed and sent to me by the lovely lady herself! I cannot begin to tell you just how overjoyed I was to receive this unexpected surprise on my doorstep! It was certainly every History Nerd’s dream, so I’m incredibly grateful to Suzannah and the New College of the Humanities for this amazing gift.
Unfortunately, I suffer from the same curse as many other bookworms out there – I have too many books on my overflowing bookshelf, which are just waiting to be read. Therefore, I was a lil’ delayed in getting stuck into this book. ‘The King is Dead’ was actually the last book which I read in 2017… I had scanned the last sentence mere hours before the clocks struck midnight on New Years Eve, (so you could say that my year ended with a bang! in more ways than one)!
I know they say never to judge a book by its cover, but ‘The King is Dead’ was just as intriguing and captivating as its appearance. Suzannah took England’s most infamous king – Henry VIII – and delved into one major aspect of his reign which has aroused much controversy: Henry’s last will and testament.
‘The King is Dead’ not only unveiled just how extraordinary, unique and influential Henry’s last will and testament was, but it also outlined the fierce debate which still rages around it to this day. Henry’s dying wish concerning the royal succession transformed the future of the Tudor dynasty, as well as made a massive impact upon English history. It was because of Henry’s will that England was eventually governed by his two ‘illegitimate’ daughters: Mary I and Elizabeth I. However, due to the frailty of Henry’s health which coincided with the composure of his will, many historians have queried just how genuine this powerful document was. Was the last will and testament Henry VIII’s true desires, or was it a clever concoction brewed by his close advisors, who sought major advancement and influence upon the accession of Henry’s young son: Edward VI?
Within this book, Suzannah outlines the differences of opinion concerning the validity of Henry’s last will and testament. By arguing that the will was indeed genuine, Suzannah sheds a fascinating light upon the King’s complex personality and the true motives of that of his councillors. ‘The King is Dead’ is so throughly researched, so well argued and so compellingly presented, that readers cannot help but be strongly drawn towards Suzannah’s theory. Henry as both the king and the man, are brought tantalisingly closer to the reader whilst they are flicking through the pages.
By using surviving pieces of evidence – alongside regular references to the will itself, which is printed in the back of the book – Suzannah succeeds in bringing greater understanding not only to the historical debate, but also to the final days of Henry VIII’s life. The publication of Henry’s will within the book, is not only incredibly useful when reading Suzannah’s work, but is also extremely handy for any future references and research for all Tudor Geeks out there! The full list of the executors and councillors mentioned in Henry’s will, is also a brilliant idea and made the book a whole lot easier to follow. Last but by no means least, I adored the regular depictions of magnificent Tudor paintings and portraits. They brought a face to a name, and brought the alluring Tudor era vividly to life!
All in all, ‘The King is Dead’ by Suzannah Lipscomb is an incredible publication, which should be on every Tudor Fan’s bookshelf. By taking one aspect within this well-trodden period of history, Suzannah has triumphed in shedding further light on Henry’s personality and reign. Her arguments and accounts were incredibly detailed and persuasive, yet never overwhelming. It instantly hits you just how important this document was in dictating the future of England’s story, which in turn highlights just how relevant this subject is in understanding Henry’s reign. Not only that, but it is an exquisite-looking book which would take pride-of-place on any bookshelf!
After reading ‘The King is Dead’, I am fiercely encouraged to read more of Suzannah’s work and to follow her future projects. You’ll never know what she’ll discover next, about that world which we think we all know so well…
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