Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Grove Press

Four Princes

Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions that Forged Modern Europe

by John Julius Norwich

Renowned historian John Julius Norwich has created a brilliant portrait of four dynamic rulers—all born between 1491 and 1500—who collectively shaped modern Europe and the Middle East.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date April 17, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2809-6
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $18.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date April 11, 2017
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2663-4
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $27.00

About The Book

John Julius Norwich—”the very model of a popular historian” (Wall Street Journal)—is acclaimed for his distinctive ability to weave together a fascinating narrative through vivid detail, colorful anecdotes, and captivating characters. Here, he has crafted a bold tapestry of Europe and the Middle East in the early sixteenth century, when four legendary rulers towered over the era.

Francis I of France was the personification of the Renaissance, and a highly influential patron of the arts and education. Henry VIII, who was not expected to inherit the throne but embraced the role with gusto, broke with the Roman Catholic Church and appointed himself head of the Church of England. Charles V was the most powerful industrious man of the time, and was unanimously elected Holy Roman Emperor. Suleiman the Magnificent—who stood apart as a Muslim—brought the Ottoman Empire to its apogee of political, military, and economic power.

Against the vibrant background of the Renaissance, these four men collectively shaped the culture, religion, and politics of their respective domains. With remarkable erudition, John Julius Norwich delves into this entertaining and layered history, indelibly depicting four dynamic characters and how their incredible achievements–and obsessions with one another—changed European history.


“In prolific historian Norwich’s well-articulated appraisal, these four giant figures can, and should be, perceived as a ‘single phenomenon’ that deeply imprinted sixteenth-century Europe. Through Norwich’s perceptive eyes, we see that the four monarchs certainly did not exist in a vacuum, that each one was not a completely separate entity . . . A superb group portrait.” —Booklist

“A fascinating quadruple biography of four of the greatest monarchs of the Renaissance by this true master of narrative history.” —Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of The Romanovs and Jerusalem: The Biography

“As we have come to expect from John Julius Norwich, Four Princes is filled with surprising details about these familiar figures, as well as revealing insights into the seminal events of this rich period. But the great value of the book is putting Suleiman the Magnificent on an equal plain with Henry VIII, Francis I, and Charles V, and thereby, providing an expanded view of Europe during this turbulent era, a better understanding of the clashes between their empires, and the personal aspirations and foibles of these giants that shaped the continent’s history.” —James Reston, Jr., author of Defenders of the Faith: Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent, and the Battle for Europe, 1520-1536

“With characteristic deftness of touch, Norwich brings each character vividly to life and skillfully weaves their stories together . . . a genuinely inspired idea for a book, and Norwich executes it with typical aplomb.” —Tracy Borman, BBC History Magazine

“Wonderful . . . This was indeed a glorious age and Norwich has made a brilliant decision to study four idiosyncratic rulers as an interacting quartet . . . A lively and charming book.” —Times (UK)


After nearly a week spent in frenzied preparation, Henry and Francis came together—for the first time in their lives—at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

It was a magnificent name, and the occasion was more magnificent still, with each of the two protagonists determined to outdo the other in splendor. Henry brought with him a suite of well over five thousand men, together with nearly three thousand horses; another six thousand artisans from both England and Flanders—builders, stonemasons, carpenters, glaziers and the rest—had been working flat out for months, transforming the castle of Guînes and surrounding it with temporary structures so elaborate and fantastical that they seemed to have come straight out of a fairy tale. Francis, we may be sure, kept a close eye on their work; whatever Henry could do, he was determined to do better.


When Henry met Charles on June 11 between Calais and Gravelines, the atmosphere was very different [from Henry’s meeting with Francis].

Despite appearances, he had never really taken to Francis—who offered, apart from anything else, too much serious competition. For Charles, on the other hand—who was still only twenty—he felt a genuine affection. After his visit to England the young man had written a letter thanking him and Catherine warmly for their hospitality, and in particular for the advice Henry had given him “like a good father when we were at Cantorberi”; and it may well be that the King, who was, after all, already his uncle, did feel in some degree paternal—or at least protective—towards him. What seems abundantly clear is that Charles endeared himself not only to Henry but to all who were with him, in a way that Francis, with all his swagger, had completely failed to do.