Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions that Forged Modern Europe
By John Julius Norwich
Published in April 2017
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
During the Middle Ages, Europe was divided into a cacophony of small feudal land holdings and city states. As gunpowder technology made the destruction of castles easier, large territorial states began emerging in Western Europe for the first time since the collapse of the Frankish empire. These large states were characterized by a new class of posh, style-obsessed, arrogant elites. Four prices who are emblematic of their era - Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and Sultan Suleiman all coexisted and interacted.
All of them come off as horrible power-obsessed human beings, who care little for either their own people or morality. None were looking out for the good of their people; all were instead focused on their own careers and families. Out of these four, the only exception being Charles V, who was a genuinely pious monarch.
This book isn’t extremely interesting, but it gives some insight into a time of scheming and political trickery.
What is interesting to me is that during the Middle Ages, these schemes took place but didn’t affect nearly as many people. Average, everyday people could safely ignore the plots and delusions of their rulers. The power of the state was so weak, governments were so localized, and wars were so small-scale that normal people could ignore politics. However, the early modern era was a very different time. This was the time of totalitarianism and state-control of society. As a result, ordinary people suddenly found themselves at the whims of their elites.
I don’t recommend this book. It is very similar to a similar book that I recently read called Defenders of the Faith which is much better.
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