According to the author Jessie Childs Henry VIII’s Last Victim was Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey who was executed just days before the ill king died. This biography is my tenth book in March’s 12 in 12 Challenge. I picked it up in a charity shop at very little cost because I tend to acquire most books that I see about Tudor history. It is a popular history book full of facts and quotations but designed to be read and understood by the general reader (that is definitely me).
The Howards were a well-known and wealthy aristocratic family in Tudor England. They had offered up two of their daughters to the king as wives; Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. Neither of these marriages ended well for the women. In the dog eat dog atmosphere of the Tudor court the family were continually reassessing their allies and manoeuvring to retain influence. The Earl of Surrey was the eldest son of the Duke of Norfolk who was one of the richest and most important men in the land.
Surrey was a young man with an overdeveloped sense of privilege. He made enemies among the up and coming at court who didn’t have his lineage and he definitely used his position to live the life that he wanted. On the other hand he was a soldier who distinguished himself in France, a foster brother to the King’s illegitimate son and a poet who developed some interesting new styles including the sonnet.
The author tries to show us all these different aspects of the man to make him real. She also leads us through the events that resulted in his fall from grace and his arrest. What happened to him eventually happened to most prominent men at the court of Henry VIII and it seems almost arbitrary. Nothing he did or is accused of doing would have led to death in any other time – this book shows us how dangerous and fickle the king was and what tyranny looks like.
I have an ongoing interest in Tudor history and a shelf or two of books about the personalities of the time. In all my reading of the period the Earl of Surrey and his fate had somehow escaped me. This book opened up his life and times in a really readable way and added to my understanding of the court of Henry VIII.