The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers (1986)

by Margaret George

A historical fiction writer has to imagine what her characters thought. In The Autobiography of Henry VIII, Margaret George puts herself in Henry VIII’s head and sees insecurity and suspicion. Maybe Henry Tudor really did think that the lack of a male heir was God’s way of saying his marriage to Katherine of Aragon was invalid. Maybe Henry really did think that Anne Boleyn was a witch responsible for the illnesses and deaths of his relatives and the oozing sore on his leg. Maybe these weren’t self-serving rationalizations.

But George’s characterization of a sentimental romantic is probably too sympathetic to a six-times-married ruler who was able to executive his wives and friends when they got in his way and to tear down monasteries to fill his coffers. And a softer Henry just doesn’t seem interesting enough to justify the massive size of this book (more than 900 pages).

This novel is titled an “autobiography” because George chose the format of a journal. Her premise is that Will Somers, Henry’s jester, supposedly salvaged the late king’s diary and added his own notes here and there to correct Henry’s bias.

The Autobiography of Henry VIII was the first of the epic historical novels for which Margaret George became famous. Continuing the Tudor story are Elizabeth I, about Henry VIII’s daughter, and Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, about the cousin who was executed for treason for plotting to assassinate Elizabeth and claim her throne. George is an American who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.


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