Winner of the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography 2007
A truly superb biography
…Jessie Childs is a true scholar.
A. N. Wilson, Daily Telegraph
A deservedly award-winning debut
Rarely have I felt so utterly captivated by a history book. It is stunning!
Henry VIII’s Last Victim
The Life and Times of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
Published: Jonathan Cape, October 2006
A pioneering poet, whose verse had a profound impact on Shakespeare and the English Renaissance, Surrey was nevertheless branded by one contemporary as ‘the most foolish proud boy that is in England’. He was the heir of England’s premier nobleman, first cousin to two of Henry VIII’s wives – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – and best friend and brother-in-law to the King’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy.
Celebrated for his chivalrous deeds both on and off the battlefield, Surrey became, at only twenty-eight, the King’s Lieutenant General in France. He had his portrait painted more often than any other Tudor courtier, but his confident exterior masked insecurity and loneliness. A man of intriguing contradictions, Surrey was both law enforcer and law breaker, political conservative and religious reformer. The self-styled guardian of the traditional nobility, he was recklessly outspoken against the ‘new erected men’ of the court. Cromwell was a ‘foul churl’, Paget a ‘mean creature’ and the problems that beset Henry VIII’s realm were, Surrey hinted, ‘the bitter fruit of false concupiscence’.
He witnessed and was inextricably caught up in all the major events of the reign: the Break with Rome, the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Reformation, the executions of his two cousins, Henry’s French wars and the brutal power struggle at the end of the reign to which he fell victim. His life, replete with drunken escapades, battlefield heroics, conspiracy and courtroom drama, sheds new light on the opulence and artifice of a dazzling, but deadly, age.
A truly superb biography…Jessie Childs is a true scholar. She has been through a vast number of manuscript archives to recreate these 30 terrible years of English history…A poignant, vivid narrative.
A. N. Wilson, Daily Telegraph
Rarely have I felt so utterly captivated by a history book. It is stunning! Jessie Childs is a major new talent. She brings her characters to life so vividly, and the narrative just flows, packed with amazing detail. This, for me, is a surprisingly fresh view on a period with which I am very familiar.
This is a rumbustious tale and well worth the retelling but what makes this biography special is the quality of the writing. It is as fluid and engaging as the research is careful and penetrating…This is narrative history at its best and it is heartening to be able to recognize a fresh talent among the new generation of history writers.
Derek Wilson, History Today
It is a virtue of Jessie Childs’s biography that she shows Surrey as he really was – vainglorious, violent, outspoken to the peril of himself and others, something of a preposterous figure at court by 1546 – yet retains empathy with him. She also analyses his poetry with a sensitive eye, giving us an unusual insight into a Tudor mind…Childs’s description of these complex manoeuvrings [at Henry’s court], as of the French wars, is excellent…this book opens a fascinating window on the mid-Tudor world.
C.J. Sansom, The Guardian
One of the most fascinating men at Henry’s perilous court was the restless, gifted Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, the subject of Jessie Childs’s compelling new biography… Childs’s beautifully written and researched book, her first, explores with subtlety the forces that made and destroyed Surrey…Childs makes use of every scrap of evidence, creating an insightful portrait of an extraordinary man.
Lucy Moore, Mail on Sunday
Such is the wealth of her material and the brilliance of her research – her knowledge of letters, ambassadorial dispatches, church records, inventories, hunting accounts and 16th century archives and chronicles is momentous – that this book clatters along like an epic gangster movie…so gripping…Childs is excellent at depicting the background details.
Roger Lewis, Daily Express
This dazzling biography of a flawed but fascinating man living in a dangerous age is her first book. Let’s hope it’s not her last.
Keith Richmond, Tribune
…a fascinating story…[Childs] weaves the threads of his poetry into the overall description of his life whilst giving a faithful account of the difficulties and doubts that must remain. She is to be congratulated on a very readable and diligently researched book.
Lucy Wooding, Literary Review
Judging from her début with this riveting life of the brilliant, doomed Earl of Surrey, Jessie Childs is a rising star among historians. Just when we thought everything had been said about Henry VIII she makes us see him from a completely new angle – through the eyes of a poet aristocrat. Her scholarship is inspired and her prose sparkles.
A deservedly award-winning debut…Among its virtues are the skill with which she introduces absorbing essayettes on aspects of aristocratic life in Tudor England, ranging from marriage to what Surrey had for breakfast.
The Guardian (paperback)
The snake-pit of Henrician politics is exposed in Jessie Childs’s elegant biography of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey…In the process of debunking this romantic hero, Childs also offers plenty of empathetic insights into the 16th-century mind.
The Independent (paperback)
Childs’s riveting biography highlights the sheer ruthlessness of life at the top in Tudor England.
Mail on Sunday (paperback)
Well-connected (son of the Duke of Norfolk), a favourite at court, a ridiculously rich dandy, a great rip-roarer and a notable poet, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, had everything, and Jessie Childs does him more than justice.
Sunday Telegraph (paperback)
tell[s] the story of Surrey’s life…stylishly and movingly.
Professor G.W. Bernard, BBC History Magazine (paperback)
A brilliant biography
East Anglian Daily Times
A detailed and vivid picture of the daily and seasonal life of the landed aristocracy of the time, as well as of the political scheming and backbiting which in Henry’s last years were all too often fatal.