This review, which I wrote in 2013 for BookLoons, is reprinted here for your convenience.
Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I by Peter Ackroyd
(St. Martins, 2013)
First things first: Peter Ackroyd's Tudors is the only book you need to read if you want to understand one of the most fascinating periods in English history - the 16th century.
Beginning with an extended focus upon the ruthless Henry VIII (for 40% of the book), touching briefly upon the youthful Edward VI (for barely 10% of the book), looking only momentarily at the abbreviated reign of Lady Jane Grey (the usurper remembered by nearly no one), and focusing far too quickly upon Bloody Mary (another 10% of the book), Ackroyd finishes his presentation with an examination of the powerful Elizabeth's reign (the final 40% of the book).
It must be noted that Ackroyd's overarching theme throughout this book is the political and cultural transformation of the English Church. If you want to know how the Tudor monarchs were responsible for this transformation, one sentence says it all: 'Power may be glorious but it can quickly become fierce.' And two words in that sentence say it even more succinctly: fierce power (with an added emphasis on fierce).
I could write a dozen paragraphs, heaping effusive praise upon Ackroyd's book, the second in his magisterial English history series, especially by telling you of the engaging style, the richly abundant (sometimes horrifying) details, and the accessible scholarship, but I will say it all instead in an abbreviated way: I have read dozens of books that focus on this historical era, and Tudors is absolutely the best. This is the one you must read!