Book review: Four Princes by John Julius Norwich

Four Princes by John Julius Norwich

An enjoyable, fast-paced four pronged biographical telling of the first half of the 16th century. The titular princes included two emperors, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, and Suleiman, the Ottoman Sultan, as well as two kings, Francis I, King of France, and Henry VIII of England. The four men were all born within ten years of each other and their rivalries defined the new world that was breaking through the old certainties during the half century in which they held sway.

It makes for a good way to pull disparate historical threads together and their personalities are each big enough to fill books on their own (even poor Charles with his Hapsburg chin was more interesting than his detractors claim). However, in the areas in which I am knowledgeable, I did spot a couple of errors (Ibrahim did not become Suleiman’s caliph until after the siege of Rhodes in 1522 and the Italian military engineer who masterminded the Knights Hospitaller’s defences during the siege was Gabriele Tadino not Tadini), so it suggests that other details might be inaccurate too. Nevertheless, the book is a good introduction to possibly the most crucial fifty years in the last millennium.


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