Oct 4, 2010

The Autobiography of Henry VIII With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George: A Guest Post by Zibilee

Today’s guest post is a review of a historical novel by Margaret George, The Autobiography of Henry VIII With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers, kindly donated by Zibilee at Raging Bibliomania. Zibilee originally wrote this review during her early days as a blogger, and allowed me to repost it here because Margaret George’s novel is one she’d like to bring to the attention of more readers. I always look forward to Zibilee’s posts, as I know that even if the book she’s writing about doesn’t particularly interest me (and mind you, most of the time it does), I’ll still want to read what every word she has to say. Zibilee’s reviews are detailed, perceptive and personal – and for that and for her constant friendliness and kindness, she’s one of my favourite people in blogland. Also, she has recently met Emma Donoghue, and you know you want to head over to her blog to hear all about that.

The Autobiography of Henry VIII With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret GeorgeI have to say that I went into reading this book hating Henry VIII. I thought he was a power-mad egotist, as well as a cruel misogynist with no respect for human life. I was prepared to read the book and joyfully hate Henry as the pages flew by.

This book made me see the man behind the crown. Yes, Henry was hasty and foolish in his choice of partners. Yes, he was manipulative of the people he claimed to care about. Yes, he used the church to finagle himself out of more than one marriage, and what the church couldn't do for him, the scaffold could. All these things went pretty much along with my expectations of Henry, but Margaret George rendered her Henry on a much more fulsome background. This fictional Henry was mercurial, yet he could also be doting and affectionate. He was sometimes reverent and humble. He even had moments of intense loyalty and repentance. His relationship with Jane Seymour, in particular, was extremely touching.

As I read and read and read (and this book topped out at about 900+ pages), I became aware of Henry as a confused man who looked all around him for people to tell him the truth and to love him for himself. Although all he got was a profusion of compliments and flattery made for a king, he never stopped looking for that genuine appraisal. Yes, at times he was a petulant child, but at times he had to make and live with decisions no mortal man should ever have to. At times, the breadth of his naiveté (especially regarding his cuckolding wife) was sad.

His struggles with God were particularly moving and interesting because he never could seem to figure out what God made of him, and what he made of God. He seemed to genuinely believe that his actions (including divorce and beheadings) would somehow make God find favor in his life. He seemed to be fighting with God most of the time, either for his approval, or against his perceived cruelties.

Though this portrayal of Henry VIII was able to let the reader see the more human side of the famous king, I would be remiss to leave out the cruelty that he dealt out so generously. He seemed to have a problem with everyone sooner or later, and the easiest way for him to solve his problem was by execution. The list of the executed was so long that I lost count. It was clear that he was particularly unjust at times. Although his punishments were legendary, towards the end of his life he grew extremely remorseful and anguished by these horrible acts. Some would even say haunted. It was then that he moved me.

I found it very interesting to find Henry such a contradictory character. Most of the time, he was an insufferable bastard and a spoiled child. Sometimes though... he was a touching man who didn't ever understand his place in the world, or how he got there.

The interjections by Will, his fool, were scanty and didn't really shed a lot of light on Henry the man. Those parts of the books were irrelevant and almost pointless. It may have been better had she left them out.

I got used to having Henry around. I became accustomed to hauling him all over and reading scandal after scandal. Now that it's done, I miss the old bastard.


  1. Oo, sounds good! I love reading about the Tudors (apart from horrible Henry the Seventh). They were all so different to each other and crazy in their own special ways. :p

  2. Thanks for giving me the chance to dust off my old Henry review, Nymeth! It's been such a long time that I had almost forgotten about the book, and it's one that I think more people should get the chance to read.

  3. Heather writes the best reviews. I never thought I'd be interested in reading about Henry VIII, but after that review, how can I not want to?

  4. I really want to read this one. I bought this one about 10 years ago and not sure what ever happened to it. I must have loaned it to someone and never got it back. I've heard Cleopatra by George is quite good as well.

  5. Your review actually makes me consider reading a 900+ book about Henry's crazy antics even though I was getting slightly sick of the Tudors after one too many classes on them :)

  6. Sounds like an interesting read. Even the most despicable rulers are interesting characters to read about. I visited several exhibitions on Henry last year, the 500th anniversary of his accession to th throne, and learned a lot about his life as from a young man right through to his death. Interesting chap ;)

  7. I just love zibilee too - definitely a blogger worth knowing :D This book sounds really interesting. WAYYY longer than I am comfortable with (scared!), but interesting that it shows other parts of him. Thanks!

  8. I'd been meaning to read this for ever & your post inspired me to pick a copy up at the library. Thanks for spurring me on.


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