John Guy’s short but shocking The Children of Henry VIII delivers on its promise of a story of ‘jealousy, envy and even hatred’. Yet the Tudor siblings seem kindly when compared to their fratricidal, usurping antecedents, the children of Richard, Duke of York. And that, I think, was their mistake. They were horrid to each other, but not nearly horrid enough.
Henry VIII’s eldest surviving child, Mary Tudor, in particular, would have done well to have emulated such examples of Yorkist family feeling as Edward IV’s order to drown his brother, George, Duke of Clarence, in a butt of Malmsey wine, and Richard III’s seizure of Edward’s 12-year-old heir (who subsequently ‘disappeared’ in the Tower, along with his little brother).
For the first three years of Mary Tudor’s life, she was an only, beloved child. Nevertheless her father judged that, as a daughter, she was unfit to inherit his crown. Guy believes that, for a time, Henry considered making Mary’s younger, illegitimate half-brother, Henry Fitzroy, his heir, bestowing family titles on the boy and declaring that he loved him ‘like his own soul’. Fitzroy died aged 17, but Guy gives us a real sense of the boy who, while Mary was proving the perfect student, would escape his lessons to hunt and shoot.