Book Review: Henry VIII’s Children: Legitimate and Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Tudor King by Caroline Angus

Genre: History, nonfiction
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Pub date: 30 May 2023

Of the five Tudor monarchs, only one was ever born to rule. While much of King Henry VIII’s reign is centred on his reckless marriage choices, it was the foundations laid by Henry and Queen Katherine of Aragon that shaped the future of the crown. Among the suffering of five lost heirs, the royal couple placed all their hopes in the surviving Princess Mary. Her early life weaves a tale of promise, diplomacy, and pageantry never again seen in King Henry’s life, but a deep-rooted desire for a son, a legacy of his own scattered childhood, pushed Henry VIII to smother Mary’s chance to rule. An affair soon produced an unlikely heir in Henry Fitzroy, and while one child was pure royalty, the other illegitimate, the comparison of their childhoods would show a race to throne closer than many wished to admit. King Henry’s cruelty saw his heirs’ fates pivot as wives came and went, and the birth Princess Elizabeth, saw long-term plans upended for short-term desires. With the death of one heir hidden from view, the birth of Prince Edward finally gave the realm an heir born to rule, but King Henry’s personal desires and paranoia left his heirs facing constant uncertainty for another decade until his death. Behind the narrative of Henry VIII’s wives, wars, reformation and ruthlessness, there were children, living lives of education among people who cared for them, surrounded by items in generous locations which symbolised their place in their father’s heart. They faced excitement, struggles, and isolation which would shape their own reigns. From the heights of a surviving princess destined and decreed to influence Europe, to illegitimate children scattered to the winds of fortune, the childhoods of Henry VIII’s heirs is one of ambition, destiny, heartache, and triumph.

When we think of the children of Henry VIII we generally think of Mary, Elizabeth and Edward so it is wonderful that Caroline Angus has expanded to include his illegitimate children including Henry Fitzroy and Henry’s relationship with their respective mothers.

The book doesn’t focus on one aspect of their lives but instead walks us through their lives, beginning with the early years of their father, the future Henry VIII. Through the following chapters, we get to find out where the children were at specific points in time, who they were with, how they spent holidays, and even the gifts they received. It’s certainly interesting how the lives of Mary and Elizabeth differed to that of their male siblings. We are given a wealth of information on the interactions between the royal siblings, including Mary receiving gifts from Fitzroy. This insight is something usually not covered in much detail.

The research Caroline Angus has done is meticulous, referencing primary sources throughout to paint a picture of not only milestones of these children but their daily life and how the actions of their father impacted them. The author keeps the focus on the children, and Henry is almost a background figure, enabling the children to step out of his shadow. Through the lives of the children, we also gain insight into events of the period, the people the children interacted with, such as their governesses, tutors, friends, and courtiers. Caroline Angus gives the reader more than enough information to make this a very enjoyable read without unnecessary fillers.

The epilogue of this book is extremely interesting, discussing other possible illegitimate children of Henry. Catherine and Henry Carey are, of course, included, but there are also others who Caroline Angus provides an overview of, their family, and the circumstances surrounding the possibility of Henry being their father. The author does not try to persuade the reader either way, leaving room to come to your own conclusion.

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of this, but I enjoyed it so much that I’ve also preordered a hard copy. I will certainly be using this in the future, particularly in my current work in progress, as there are references to the subject of my work, Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk. I was thrilled to read snippets of Mary’s life and her relationship with her niece, Princess Mary.

With her works on Thomas Cromwell and now this, Caroline Angus has quickly become a favourite author of mine. I am looking forward to seeing what comes next.
For those interested in the Tudor era, I’d highly recommend you add this to your shelves. It truly is a wonderful contribution to the contribution to the Tudor book collection.

Lastly, I have to say how much I like this cover, it’s beautiful!

Henry VIII’s Children: Legitimate and Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Tudor King is available for preorder.

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