The Year that Changed Henry VIII

Published by Lion Hudson, 2009. Reprinted 2012.

Henry VIII fascinates, compels and repulses us, in equal measure. After all the films, novels and paintings, Henry VIII is the British monarch we like to think we know.

Yet, one central mystery has remained unexplained. Why did Henry VIII change from being an genial, generous and acclaimed young prince into the obese, ruthless, paranoid tyrant which whom we are all familiar?

‘Suzannah Lipscomb has achieved the near-impossible: she’s found an intriguing new way of imagining the king we thought we all knew about.’

Dr Lucy Worsley

1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII

What’s new about this book?

This book argues that the key to his mystery is to be found in the year 1536. In this one pivotal year, an astonishing number of important events decisively shaped the character of Henry VIII, his succeeding reign, England’s history, and even the image of this king that has descended to posterity. 1536 explores this year of threats, betrayals, losses, ageing and misfortune. This annus horribilis had within it all the necessary ingredients to catalyst, foster, and entrench this change in Henry. Where early ambassadors to Henry VIII’s court had written of the king being ‘affable and gracious’, a man who ‘harmed no one’, later observers would cower instead before his ceaseless ‘dip[ping] of his hand in blood’.

Suzannah Lipscomb is the first historian to chart and seek to explain this fundamental character change that shaped Henry VIII’s reign so profoundly. She suggests that to fully understand Henry VIII’s character and reign, we need to realise that there was a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ 1536: only then, can we fathom the heart of this enigmatic and important king.

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What are people saying about the book?

‘Lipscomb has woven [the events of 1536] together to give us a new appreciation of how these different events were interrelated, combining to bring Henry’s fear and ferocity alike to unprecedented levels…. The real achievement of the book, though, is… to bring 1536 vividly to life, and to turn Henry from a two-dimensional if commanding image into someone we might begin to understand in human terms. … the result is fresh and lively, historically accurate and also entertaining… a chatty, original, readable and engaging account of the personal and political transformation of the man, the kingdom and the legend. Henry might not have appreciated its conclusions, but he might well have approved of the depth it imparts to a sense of what it meant to be a king in 1536.’

Dr Lucy Wooding, Times Literary Supplement

‘Lipscomb’s suggestion that the events of 1536 triggered or awakened a brutality at the heart of Henry’s psychology is largely convincing… Lipscomb makes a good case that 1536 marked ‘a turning point’ in Henry’s reign… [an] original argument that has a viable place in historical debates’

Dr Jason Powell, Notes and Queries

‘a short but fascinating investigation of the psychology of a much stereotyped monarch’

Dr Juliet Gardiner, History Today

‘A bold and original attempt to unravel one of the great mysteries of English history: how, when and why Henry VIII changes from a handsome Prince Charming into a fat and loathsome Bluebeard.’

Dr David Starkey

‘Strong or weak? A sexual predator or an insecure cuckold? Master of events or manipulated by others? The paradox of Henry VIII is brilliantly unravelled by Suzannah Lipscomb as she reveals the multiple nightmares of the King’s annus horribilis.’

Peter Furtado

‘At once both scholarly and a joy to read’

Prof. Thomas Betteridge

‘Suzannah Lipscomb shows vividly how the events of a single tumultuous year, from marital betrayal to mass rebellion, crystallised Henry’s personal fears, religious priorities, political style and visual image, shaping the tyranny of his last years, the idiosyncrasies of his Reformation and the lasting myth of the wilful colossus.’

Dr Steven Gunn

‘An engaging and splendidly readable account of a pivotal year in Henry’s fascinating, terrible, reign.’

Prof. Greg Walker

‘1536 is a lucid and evocative account of Henry VIII in his times, and a finely-judged portrait of the pomp, envy, fury and melancholy of kingship. It is also an object lesson in male vainglory, and the precipitous decline even the most gilded life can lurch into: of how the best-known and most naturally gifted monarch in British history succumbed to the strange, familiar passions of age, arrogance and insecurity.’

Dr Tom Chatfield, Prospect Magazine

‘An enlightening and comprehensive analysis of a pivotal year in Henry VIII’s reign.’

Dr Tracy Borman

‘A wonderful book by historian Dr Suzannah Lipscomb… her book really offers an insight into the man we’re all desperately trying to understand… this book is a must-read for anyone interested in Henry VIII and the fall of Anne Boleyn, it won’t disappoint’.

The Anne Boleyn Files

‘Suzannah Lipscomb’s book is one of the best that I have ever read about Henry VIII. She gives us a wonderful insight into the mind and actions of Henry VIII and how all the events of 1536 rolled together to forever affect the personality, emotions and beliefs of Henry VIII…. I thought this was an absolutely brilliant book and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Henry VIII – it is a must have for the bookshelf!’

Anne Boleyn: From Queen to History

Other books by Suzannah Lipscomb