King Henry VIII and his wives are among the most well-known historical figures in the world; their stories have become absorbed into Western culture through biographies, documentaries and dramatisations. However, what is still not greatly appreciated is that Henry VIII was one of the most intelligent and widely read kings who ever lived. He read or dipped into a huge range of books, in many languages, and amassed several libraries. From surviving catalogues, which tell us what books he had, it is clear he was deeply involved in theological debate and monastic history, especially when moving to the Break with Rome (the English Reformation). At the same time, he was a Humanist scholar ahead of his time in all the liberal arts, especially music and poetry. Equally, most of his wives were also avid readers who collected a variety of books. The fact that we know what they owned, and then left to posterity (including several now in The British Library), gives us a fascinating new perspective on their personalities. This book is a major contribution to the study of Tudor intellectual life as well as the history of the book.
James P. Carley is a distinguished research professor in the Department of English at York University.