Ferguson has written a detailed account of the life and era of Wolsey. The book was written not for a young adult audience but for the knowledgeable lay reader. Yet the young reader who is interested in the time period will be intrigued by the concept of a poor boy rising to power and bringing England to the center of the international stage in an extremely turbulent period in early modern European history.
Ferguson was impressed with his subject and with his accomplishments and failures. An example is found in the author’s story of the preparation for the Field of Cloth of Gold meeting in 1520, which was to be between Henry VIII and Francis I, the French king, and to take place in the midst of much pomp and luxury. Both monarchs had committed the preparations to Wolsey, and he was determined to put on a show. He spared little expense in creating a rich and impressive setting for the meeting. Palaces, fountains, chapels, and many other items were either built or brought in to make the setting truly spectacular. Perhaps the most famous incident arising from the meeting was the wrestling match between the two kings, in which Henry VIII was thrown to the ground. Henry did not appreciate this result; while Wolsey had created the setting, he could not control the outcome.
Probably the most fascinating story in Naked to Mine Enemies deals with the fall of Wolsey. The event involves one of the most famous controversies of Henry VIII’s rule—the attempt to obtain an annulment from his wife, Catherine of Aragon. Henry VIII believed that he needed a legitimate male heir to succeed him on the throne in order to preserve his dynasty. His wife had...
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For most readers, Naked to Mine Enemies is a delightful book. If readers have little knowledge of the period, then they will gain much from the book because it explains the major political characters of not only Tudor England but Europe as well. Ferguson is careful to describe each person’s role and place in the scheme of events in the first decades of the sixteenth century. Yet the books’ details may make it hard to understand for the general young adult reader. The book is five hundred pages long and is, at times, somewhat difficult to comprehend. Ferguson uses many unfamiliar words but generally explains their meanings. An example would be the use of “praemunire”; he defines it as meaning treason, but a particular type of treason performed by the clergy when they favor the church in Rome over the monarch. Terms such as these are not familiar to the average reader, but they are needed in such a detailed study. Nevertheless, they tend to make the book somewhat confusing.
Ferguson succeeds, however, in capturing the essence of Wolsey. The reader will have little difficulty in seeing the proud, arrogant cardinal of the sixteenth century. On Ferguson’s pages, Wolsey’s desire for power, and his skill in using it, are quite evident. Because no major biography had appeared in some years prior to the books’ publication in 1958, Naked to Mine Enemies was a significant contribution to historical literature.