Choose your Tudors here

5th December 2003 at 00:00
THE TUDOR YEARS, SECOND EDITION. Edited by John Lotherington. Hodder and Stoughton pound;16.99

THE TUDORS. By Richard Rex. Tempus Publishing pound;20

Keith Gregson reviews an update and a newcomer to the bookshelves

It is a delight to be able to examine two very different books on the same topic and come up with positive reviews of both.

The Tudor Years is a nuts-and-bolts textbook aimed at students hoping to succeed in the Tudor modules at sixth-form level. This is the second edition of a well-known work first published in 1994. Running at more than 400 pages and sparse on illustration, its aim is to guide pupils through the Tudor period by means of the written word. Key issues and key words and phrases are outlined by clever use of marginal space. The main text is also backed up with primary source material, bibliographical suggestions, exercises and sample questions.

The text, which has been provided by a number of writers and revised in some cases, is informative and often lively. The simple aims of the publication are clearly set and followed throughout. If this book is not well thumbed by the end of the course then it has not been used properly.

"Nuts and bolts" is a term that certainly cannot be applied to the second book. When popular historian David Starkey describes a new book as "the best introduction to England's most important dynasty" then it must be worth examining. In The Tudors, Richard Rex, director of studies at Queen's College, Cambridge, also sets out a clear list of aims. A major one is to share his life-long researches into the Tudors with others. History "is about people and it is for people", he writes and the book is "for readers not scholars". I recall my old history professor once attending a seminar wreathed in smiles because a tutee had "used an adverb in a history essay".

Rex's work abounds with delightfully descriptive language.

Another stated aim is to produce a work about the Tudors themselves rather than the more fashionable "Tudor Britain". To Rex, this is not diminishing the subject. Such was the power of the Tudor monarchs that "political biography" or study of their "public lives" is to be considered a worthwhile exercise. His tale is thus a tantalising one of monarchs who, he says, exude "charisma and danger in equal measure".

As with most good reads, Rex's book gives plenty of food for thought and discussion. He asks us to consider a Henry VII "haunted by awareness of the political realities of his own success" and an Edward "in no position to make his own mark on history". There is an argument for history to be considered as both science and art. These two books amply reflect each end of this spectrum.

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