Henry Tudor is a familiar name to students of English history, especially the military side of it. Henry VII is actually a less familiar figure, despite being the same person.

So, a book on Henry VII’s reign seemed like a good way to fill in the ‘hole’ between the Wars of the Roses and the ever-popular Henry VIII. And Penn’s Winter King does a very good job at that.

I would not call this a biography. Henry VII was fairly remote as a king, watching from afar, and generally letting others be the primary face of government. Similarly, you don’t get an up-close and personal view of him here. You do see a lot of him, and his drives. The book starts with a fairly brief overview of the time leading to Bosworth, and gives an idea of how that shaped him. More importantly, it spends a fair amount of time and attention on just how unstable England was after Bosworth. No one yet knew that the trading of the throne from one faction to another had come to an end, and there were still plenty of people that the next rebellion could center around (even if some of them had to be made up for the purpose).

Much of the book therefore focuses on Henry VII’s efforts at control. This turned more and more to economic means, which people fined and held to that debt as a promise of good behavior. The truly disturbing part of this is that it was all extra-judicial, operating outside all the traditional forms of accusations and trials of Common Law. It also shows a deep concern for money matters, and Henry VII was throwing around some vast sums on the continent effectively trying to bribe/finance his way to international deals, particularly ones involving pretenders to the English throne.

One thing I do wish the book had gone into more was the flow of money. It gets touched on a lot, and there’s much that would be hard to say with certainty, but just enough is said to bring up the topic for further interest. One thread in the middle of things deals with the illegal alum trade, which Henry VII made a fair amount of money on, and was part of the shape of international diplomacy.

So, there’s a few dropped threads in what is, after all, a layman’s history. And it does a good job of covering a lot of aspects of the subject, going into the stable transition of power to his son, and perhaps leaving you wanting that little bit more. Definitely a great book to round out understanding of the end of the Fifteenth Century.