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the Complete Review
the complete review - history

The Books of King Henry VIII
and his Wives

James P. Carley

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To purchase The Books of King Henry VIII and his Wives

Title: The Books of King Henry VIII and his Wives
Author: James P. Carley
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2004
Length: 153 pages
Availability: The Books of King Henry VIII and his Wives - US
The Books of King Henry VIII and his Wives - UK
The Books of King Henry VIII and his Wives - Canada
  • Includes 139 photographs
  • With a preface by David Starkey

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Our Assessment:

-- : beautifully illustrated, interesting overview

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Books of King Henry VIII and his Wives is a companion volume to Carley's The Libraries of King Henry VIII, a more approachable (and much shorter) general introduction. Richly illustrated (139 pictures, many in colour), it offers more of an overview than detail, but nevertheless provides a great deal of (often fascinating) information.
       Books were important to Henry VIII: "Henry's world was a bookish one and he was a bookish king from beginning to end", Carley maintains -- and this volume suggests he's right. Henry VIII had a reputation for being more of an intellectual than many monarchs, and he collected books not just for aesthetic reasons (as this volume shows, many are works of art completely apart from their content) but because he was interested in learning. He also lived at a time when the printed book was supplanting the hand-written one, making a great deal more literature readily accessible.
       Of specific interest, also, are Henry's efforts to justify his many marriages, and Carley finds his book-holdings also to be an attempt to find support for his position. In addition, Carley looks at the books of Henry's wives, several of whom were also fairly bookish and had their own areas of interest to protect (rarely with much success).
       The overview of how Henry came to his books, the selection, and how he used them -- from his often extensive annotations to, later, his having others read books and summarise them for him -- is interesting. Books were often precious objects, too, ornately illustrated, the covers bejewelled, and the history of the collections, from origins to final fates (as many were, for example, purged in accordance with the 1550 Act against Superstitious Books and Images) is also of considerable interest.
       This is a volume filled with fascinating titbits, giving good insight into what books were being produced at the time, which ones were of interest to Henry (and his bookish wives) -- and why --, and how they were treated. Though relatively short, there's a surprising amount of information here, though the many examples (of often obscure titles, most of which are unfamiliar to contemporary readers) and the clutter of illustrations make for a less than ideal narrative flow.
       The illustrations are stunning and do help give an idea of what Henry had, and the book is worth a look just for these, but all in all its quite an overwhelming little work.
       Very attractive, often fascinating and revealing, but not the easiest volume to work one's way through. Still, certainly recommended for anyone interested in Henry VIII and his wives, as well as anyone with an interest in the history of books and book collecting.

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The Books of King Henry VIII and his Wives: James P. Carley: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       James P. Carley teaches at York University.

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© 2005-2008 the complete review

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