Every inch a king

Antonia Fraser

  • Great Harry by Carolly Erickson
    Dent, 428 pp, £8.50, July 1980, ISBN 0 460 04366 8

It is legitimate to ask whether there is a need for another full-length biography of Henry VIII. In 1968, Professor Scarisbrick’s great work dramatically revised our thinking about the bloat King. Three years later appeared Lacey Baldwin Smith’s rich and racy study of the King’s character, taken from the viewpoint of old age and subtitled ‘The Mask of Royalty’: here Tudor history and modern psychology made slightly strange but nevertheless exciting bedfellows. Both books are of lasting interest – not least because both have that happy combination of scholarship and ease which makes rereading them a positive pleasure. Nevertheless, the answer to the aforesaid legitimate question must be yes. There can be no state planning over biographies of major figures: here if nowhere else a free-market economy reigns. Even if there is no scholarly gap – and in the case of Henry VIII there is not – there is absolutely nothing wrong with the famous military pair beloved of publishers, General Reader and Major Biography, getting together yet again on the subject.

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