Subtitled Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions that Forged Modern Europe this fascinating quadruple biography traces the contemporary lives of the four men, sometimes rivals, sometimes allies, who ruled most of Europe for the first half of the 16th century.
It was, perhaps, a unique half-century, where four skilled monarchs ruled in direct contact with each other. None of their immediate successors was either as successful or ruled as long. Suleiman brought the Ottoman Empire to its peak. Henry laid the groundwork on which Elizabeth made England both a great sea power and a bastion of Protestantism. Charles, arguably, ruled at the height of Habsburg power. He was the most powerful ruler in Europe throughout the period. Finally, Francis, with the weakest position, surrounded as France was by Charles and his subordinates, played the foil skillfully, keeping a balance in Europe and, eventually, breaking up the amalgamated possessions of Charles, leaving his successor, Philip II, weakened and the position of France improved.
The book deals with the monarchs and their wives and mistresses, their courtiers and ambassadors. It delves into their obsessions - Henry's with procuring a male heir, Suleiman with conquest in eastern Europe, Charles and, later, Francis, with religion. Norwich describes the relationships between the four men who knew each other well and, with the exception of Suleiman, spent time with each other. The pomp and extravagance, the patronage and great works are described, providing a fullness to each character as they progress, and age.
A most excellent biography and history of Europe in the first half of the 16th century. Recommended.
Me as a critic (be careful! the harshness will be well concealed!)