Book Review – Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor by Phil Carradice

By Nathen Amin

‘Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor’ is part of Pen & Sword’s ‘Following in the Footsteps’ series, which has so far followed historical figures such as Oliver Cromwell, the Princes in the Tower, and Edward II, with the promise of more to come, no doubt. This Henry Tudor edition has been penned by Welsh author Phil Carradice, a veteran of more than two dozen books and a native of Pembroke, and follows the first Tudor king through eleven chapters from his birth at Pembroke to his victory at Bosworth.

Carradice astutely notes in his introduction that when one considers Henry Tudor, or Henry VII as he’s become known, it is “hard to know where the truth stops and the stories begin”, for his early life before becoming king was one “shrouded in mystery and confusion”. Considering “for years he has been overshadowed by his children and grandchildren”, a scenario “both oversimplistic and unfair”, a book uncovering these early years of Henry then makes much sense for such a project.

The result is eleven chapters, the first of which includes a curious fictional account of Henry Tudor’s return to Wales in 1485 after fourteen years in exile. Though not in keeping with what is a non-fiction book, it is nevertheless one of the finest written passages I’ve read on the matter, and suggests to me this is where the author’s talent truly lies; if Carradine was to produce a full-length fiction book on Henry Tudor, I’d certainly pick up a copy without hesitancy.

The remainder of the book follows a traditional non-fiction narrative, with separate chapters covering Henry Tudor’s birth and childhood, his exile and return, the march through Wales and England, and the battle of Bosworth with a brief analysis of his time as king. Each chapter is presented in a simple, easy-to-read format that serves as a suitable introduction to the topic for the beginner. Those well-versed in the life and times of Henry VII, however, may find the basic overview somewhat too simplistic as Carradice tries to cover over 50 years in just 121 pages. The odd typo has slipped into the book (mixing up the white rose with the red, for example, or attributing the Richmond greyhound to the Woodvilles) but nonetheless it serves as an adequate springboard to learn the basics of the subject ready to delve into deeper research in future.

Two interesting aspects stand out; the first is Carradice’s intriguing argument that, contrary to several centuries of tacit acceptance, that Henry Tudor did not land at Mill Bay, but rather elsewhere on the Pembrokeshire coast. This is the one aspect of the king’s life that Carradice goes into fair detail, being otherwise restricted by the limited nature of the book. His employment of a modern geologist and personal knowledge of the coast area make for a compelling analysis that deserves some further examination. The other unusual approach Carradice takes is to include the memories of someone who personally followed in Henry Tudor’s footsteps in 1985 by walking from Pembrokeshire, through the heart of Wales, and on to Bosworth Field, gaining a unique perspective on this period in the would-be king’s life. The gentleman in question, Peter Lewis, provides us personal testimony such as the following, which is certainly new information to this reviewer:

“It was lonely up there on the hills. Every five or ten minutes a car would pass or speed towards me but mostly I was alone, staring out at the grass, the rocks and watching the buzzards and kestrels. Back in 1485 those soldiers would have seen nothing, no passing traffic. It must have been mind blowing. I know that by the end I was in poor shape. God knows what Henry’s soldiers must have felt like.”

It is not a contemporary source, but nevertheless allows the reader a moment to really visualise what the march must have been like. In a well-trodden subject, it’s certainly a different way of looking at old history. In short, ‘Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor’ is not, nor was it intended to be, a comprehensive account of the life and times of the first Tudor king, but it does provide a readable overview of events between 1457 and 1509, and should prove a useful introduction to the topic for the casual reader looking to learn more about the Welshman who became king of England. For the more seasoned reader, you will lose nothing by having this on your bookshelf. And Carradice should certainly consider penning a full-length fictional novel on the topic.