Sometime previously this year - during the summer, to be precise - I purposely searched Peter Ackroyd as antidote for my than-current obsession with horror genre. I enjoyed horror very much to the point, but honestly there was nobody around who could even kiss the hem of Shirley Jackson's garment so I needed a break and decided to check out this celebrated writer whose body of work actually appealed to me greatly, since I am a bit of history nerd. First I listened the BBC radio episode of Desert Island Disc with Ackroyd as a celebrity guest and liked what I heard, than read the first title of his "History of England" ("Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors") which was actually surprisingly delightful - Ackroyd managed to somehow clear up the mess of centuries, kings, emperors and long forgotten names, making it all slightly easier to understand (if not necessary remember) and I promised myself to continue with this saga eventually. Well, the time has come - I had very unusual month-long absence from reading (first time in my life, as much as I can remember) where I just didn't have interest in books at all and now since I am comfortably nested at work again, reading before sleep is again my favourite pastime. Naturally I had to face the consequences of hoarding e-books in my virtual library so it feels like Ali Baba's cave, instead of choosing for days between 1597 titles, I simply picked up sequel to Ackroyd's "Foundation" and this one concerns exclusively Tudors - it continues exactly as the previous volume ended, with death of Henry VII and now the first chapter deals with coronation of his seventeen year old son Henry VIII who will eventually become history's most famous Bluebeard.
So far it has been the most enjoyable surprise, because tons of books I have read previously were too fascinated with Henry VIII and his numerous wives - this book actually takes a wider perspective and deals with what was going on during his reign - religious reformations, political machinations, uprisings, wars and such. Wives are mentioned but they are not necessary the main focus, in fact they are in the background just as they were in the real life ("The wives of kings were generally considered to be little more than brood mares." notes Ackroyd, matter of factly) With Henry's passing, his underage son (who sounds dangerously obsessed with religion and could have been grand inquisitor in making) Edward VI was manipulated around by various powerful dukes from the Regency Council and perhaps its better that he died as young as he was, because the friction between him and council would surely lead to a civil war. Right now I am exactly at the point when his long-suffering half-sister snatches the crown from would-be-usurpers, but she is still not known as "Bloody Mary" as posterity would remember her later. Elizabeth is somewhere around but not in the centre yet, so far only Thomas Seymour shows great interest in her buttocks - which would lead to his beheading (signed by his brother!) and Elizabeth herself will get so close to danger that the traumatic experience will forever make her increasingly cautious when it comes to any kind of relationships. Tudors were naturally extremely well covered in popular culture so yes, I am familiar with many of the stories here but Ackroyd still weaves very interesting story, gripping and fresh enough to enjoy like we hear it for the first time.