The Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman

the-private-lives-of-the-tudorsEngland’s Tudor monarchs—Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I—are perhaps the most celebrated and fascinating of all royal families in history. Their love affairs, their political triumphs, and their overturning of the religious order are the subject of countless works of popular scholarship. But for all we know about Henry’s quest for male heirs, or Elizabeth’s purported virginity, the private lives of the Tudors remain largely beyond our grasp.

“In The Private Lives of the Tudors, Tracy Borman delves deep behind the public face of the monarchs, showing us what their lives were like beyond the stage of court. Drawing on the accounts of those closest to them, Borman examines Tudor life in fine detail. What did the monarchs eat? What clothes did they wear, and how were they designed, bought, and cared for? How did they practice their faith? And in earthlier moments, who did they love, and how did they give birth to the all-important heirs?

Delving into their education, upbringing, sexual lives, and into the kitchens, bathrooms, schoolrooms, and bedrooms of court, Borman charts out the course of the entire Tudor dynasty, surfacing new and fascinating insights into these celebrated figures.”

As far as I’m concerned, being fascinated with historical figures is no different from our modern fascination with celebrities.  People want to know every detail of the lives of movie stars, music icons, and political figures–and as you may know, Henry VIII was considered to be the rock star of the 1500s.  The difference is that knowing what happened behind closed doors of people like the famous king is more difficult for many reasons.

One of those reasons is that such a public figure would guard his private time carefully.  Another reason is that our only sources for the knowledge we want is written documents from the time period, many of which have been lost.  Yet another reason is the fact that some of those written sources may not be trustworthy.

Nevertheless, there is a wealth of knowledge out there if you know where to look for it.  Borman is able to go into exhausting detail about such things as clothing, meals, worship, and social status.  Clothing is especially prominent here, either because Borman finds it the most compelling aspect of Tudor private life, or because clothing really was that important.  I suspect it’s a little of both, since the impression I got from reading this was that clothing could give a lot of information about an individual.

For me, though, this book started slowly.  I think the author was having trouble deciding if this book was supposed to be a straightforward history or a true behind-the-scenes look at Tudor life.  This leads to the first third or so of the book being some broad strokes of historical fact interspersed with smaller nuggets of information on clothes, food, and other such subjects.  As it progresses, Borman seems to find a better balance between history and personal facts, but the history still feels a bit slapdash.  Granted, the story of the Tudor reign, and the story of Henry VIII in particular, are immensely complex, but perhaps the transitions between parts of this tale could have been smoother.

Nevertheless, I found this book to be enjoyable and to provide many tidbits of info that I wasn’t previously aware of.  I wouldn’t recommend this to someone who wasn’t already familiar with the historical facts, but for someone with that knowledge who wishes to go deeper, this book will satisfy a lot of curiosity.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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