Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

Richard Rex – The Tudors

Book Cover

‘Defender of the Faith’ was more than just a motto given by the Pope. You also had to have faith in your successor’s ability (or willingness) to have children.

Publisher: Amberley Publishing
Pages: 203
Type: Non-Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-4456-0280-6
First Published: 2002
Date Reviewed: 26th September 2011
Rating: 4/5

The Tudors were an intriguing bunch of people. Strong-minded and self-righteous often, they caused much joy and much sorrow. Obstinate when it came to the succession, they tended to leave their counsel with plenty of work to do in wondering who should be next up for the crown and whether or not so-and-so was a good choice. Yet there is little doubt that what they did is still worthy of being so famous, or rather infamous, today. Rex gives a quite broad and detailed account of those five people, from the man who wasn’t really in a position to be king, to the woman who refused to provide for the future of the dynasty.

Rex sets out with a couple of goals. He says his mission is to write from the royal perspective, and that his book is for readers rather than academics. The first he succeeds in doing completely – what social information there is in the book is there because it needs to be there to set the rest in context, and it truly is a book about the dynasty rather than anything else. The second is more difficult to rate. The book is humorous – Rex presents the facts while allowing himself and his readers to have a good laugh in places where people were a bit silly. But this humour is quite okay considering that Rex is clearly passionate about his subject; knowing all that he does it’s fine to have a laugh now and again. The humour is what makes it a book for readers, along with the obvious influence of David Starkey, who is a historian Rex admires. However there are a lot of extra details on aspects such as taxation, war, and money in general, and while this is interesting it does move the book more into the realm of academia. There are times when the book is like those you read for study purposes, and indeed the information included is written in a way that makes it perfect for university essays.

Henry Parker… an old-fashioned aristocrat who often bestowed upon his sovereign the fruits of his limited literacy skills…

Like all historians, Rex has his opinions, but he is very good at presenting several arguments and telling you why they could be possible and why not. Obviously he tends to lean towards his own thoughts, so for example after he has covered the possibility of Elizabeth’s having a sexual affair with Robert Dudley, it is mentioned no further. Something that is also intriguing is that he tells you where different theories have stemmed from, and why they have been discounted in modern times, or why they are continually believed. He refers to a range of different types of primary sources and the book itself, at least this edition, is full of pictures of these written and artistic sources. This visualisation of the sources, however, could have been better handled by whoever decided where they should be placed. There are a lot of them in the chapter on Elizabeth and although it makes you feel like you’re reading very fast (because the sources often take up most of the page) it breaks up the text in a way that disrupts the reading experience. This reviewer must also mention the pages of colour images in the book as she found them rather strange – they are copies of originals, however whether they are the originals or not she cannot say as in many places the colours of people’s eyes have been changed.

In the preface Rex says that he hasn’t worried too much about references, and he hasn’t, preferring to simply leave the vast majority to the further reading section. While this does help the flow of the book, it means that if you want to find out exactly whom he has referenced you may need to do a bit of research. What this lack of references does mean, though, is that Rex escapes the trap that many others fall into of unintentionally (or intentionally, if we consider G W Bernard) moaning about his fellow historians. In fact Rex tends to lump groups of people together in a loose way rather than point anyone out, except of course people of the past, which is the starting point of his polite disinclination to favour opinions that do not match his own.

The act included a declaration that it was treason for a woman to marry the [aging] king if she had had premarital sex. As the Imperial ambassador caustically observed, this rather narrowed the field.

There is a chapter for each of the monarchs, though anyone seeking to learn about Henry VIII’s wives in detail, or the ‘reign’ of Lady Jane Grey should understandably not expect to gather much information from this book. Rex has defined his book as one of rulers, so there is little about, for example, Henry VIII’s brother Arthur.

On first glance, The Tudors appears to be a quick introduction into each of the monarchs between 1485 and 1603, but when you read it you discover that it is in fact rather in depth and a sometimes hefty read. True, as Rex says himself, most of the content is general Tudor knowledge, but it is the way that it is presented and the afore mentioned depth that make it worth a read no matter how much you already know.

It is definitely written by an academic, and it is definitely written by someone with a sense of humour. The Tudors is a very good starting or continuing place for anyone interested in the dynasty.

Related Books

Book coverBook coverBook coverBook coverBook coverBook coverBook coverBook cover



October 9, 2011, 1:55 am

I’m definitely going to see if I can find a copy of this one. I’m reading Philippa Gregory’s new book, The Women of the Cousins’ War, which is really the first book of its sort I’ve read. I’m enjoying it! I’d love to learn more about the Tudors, so this book sounds great.

Charlie: Enjoy the Gregory but don’t trust that it will be true! That said it should set a good basis to follow up with this book as the section on Henry VII looks at pretenders to the throne.


November 5, 2011, 2:17 am

I’m definitely going to see if I can find a copy of this one. I’m reading Philippa Gregory’s new book, The Women of the Cousins’ War, which is really the first book of its sort I’ve read. I’m enjoying it! I’d love to learn more about the Tudors, so this book sounds great.



Comments closed