Book Review – ‘An Alternative History of Britain: Tudors’ by Timothy Venning


An Alternative History of Britain Tudors - Timothy Venning

Timothy Venning, An Alternative History of Britain: the Tudors (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books, 2014) ISBN 9781783462728

Thank you to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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I had been wanting to read this book for a while, so when I was given the chance to get a review copy, I was thrilled! I also wasn’t disappointed, as I thought that this book was thoroughly engaging and I just wanted to keep reading. The chapters each deal with a separate issue running chronologically through the Tudor period, though I could have done with more around Henry VII and the rebellions against his reign – what could have happened had one of them succeeded?

The sections I found particularly interesting were the ones on Henry VIII’s tiltyard accident of January 1536 and Jane Grey. They are two instances which have always really interested me, as it has been suggested that Henry’s tiltyard accident resulted in a change of personality and, had Jane Grey managed to hold onto the throne, would we still have had Queen Elizabeth I? There are questions stemming from questions in this book, and it covers a lot of the major possibilities, while also intertwining some of the more minor decisions that were made.

The clever way that the book intertwines what happened in reality with the what ifs makes it easy to compare the different scenarios, and you think about things that you hadn’t really considered before, like what if Henry VIII had liked Anne of Cleves more? What if Katherine Howard’s adultery hadn’t been discovered? What if Prince Arthur hadn’t died in 1502? All of these questions open up a minefield that could have changed the whole course of English history.

Venning writes in an engaging way, though I do think this isn’t really a book for the general reader, as it is quite heavy on knowledge, and it assumes that you know the basics of the period – not a problem for me, but it might be for people not as familiar with the history. Nevertheless it is a really interesting book and thoroughly recommended as it opens your mind to things you might not have considered before, while giving a comprehensive overview of how things actually played out.

This book is also one in a series, all of which can be found on Pen and Sword’s website (see bottom of this post). Other titles include the Wars of the Roses, the Anglo Saxons and the English Civil War. I am particularly hoping to read the Wars of the Roses one, as that was such a fascinating period of history, and my favourite time to study apart from the Tudors.

Chapter Titles

  1. What if the early Tudors had not had such dynastic bad luck?
  2. Early Tudor dynastic bad luck
  3. What if Henry VIII had been killed in the near-fatal tiltyard accident of January 1536?
  4. Other possibilities to be considered for Henry VIII’s reign – three queens survive for longer, or a different queen in 1538/40
  5. What if Edward VI had not died at fifteen in 1553, and the ‘Edwardian Reformation’ was not halted by Mary I?
  6. What if Jane Grey had been successfully installed in power in July 1553?
  7. Late Tudor ‘what ifs’
  8. 1588: a close-run thing? The Spanish Armada – could it have landed successfully, and what then?

Pen and Sword Books – https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/

Twitter – @PenSwordBooks

Instagram – @PenSwordBooks

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Author: Helene Harrison

I have an MA in History, with a thesis entitled 'The Many Faces of Anne Boleyn: Perceptions in History, Literature and Film'. I have an interest in the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses along with my love of reading and literature.

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