An excellent biography on one of the middle ages greatest kings, Edward III of England. What makes this biography different from others is that it offers a new perspective on Edward without the need of being condescending to other historians and biographers.
Ormrod acknowledges that many of Edward’s policies were innovative, and praises his maverick nature but he points out that much of the former were nothing new. He simply built on what his predecessors had done, altering some of their statues and regulations to ensure a more stable government.
The Edward that emerges from Ormrod’s biography is ambitious, scheming (plotting with the pope and other councilors to get rid of Mortimer) but also pragmatic and a great military commander who had a great team of administrators and above all, a man not afraid to compromise when the occasion called for it. Ormrod also puts his flaws, while a careful administrator and able leader, his taxation crippled many and there were times when he was forced to submit to Parliament’s rule and the commons’ representatives. This is not a sign of weakness, as Edward was a great negotiator and nothing he did came without a price.
The last years of his reign however after his wife and eldest son died, became decadent and this is seen through the demands of the Good Parliament that Ormrod goes over in various sections. I like the narrative, and that he went step by step explaining how each group was relevant in medieval society and how much it influenced or was affected by Edward’s policies. I only wish it had more details, it seemed as if each part was a short summary and he kept repeating himself at times. Nonetheless, it was still a good book.
This is an exceptional biography that does justice to the sixth and last consort of Henry VIII. For centuries, Katherine Parr was seen in an auxiliary role. The nurse, the one that survived because she was tactful where two of her predecessors were not, and finally, the surrogate mother.
Out of these three, there is truth to the last two.
The real Katherine Parr was a reformer. She had an active role in the English Reformation. While Anne Boleyn is credited with being the first royal consort to embrace Protestantism -and she certainly does deserve some of that credit- the truth is that it was Katherine Parr who was England’s first full fledged Protestant queen.
Where Anne believed that religious reformers should thread carefully and still embraced some of her forefathers’ traditions, Katherine Parr wanted to do away with almost every aspect of the old world.
In her view, women were the Protestant Reformation greatest asset. Women were supposed to be -according to the bible- virtuous. For this very same reason, Katherine encouraged her young charges to live up to the highest standard. Among her charges were the ill-fated Jane Grey and the future Gloriana, Elizabeth Tudor.
Linda Porter understands the period and her audience, including those who are new to this era. For this reason, she decides to cut straight to the chase and exclude details that might make newcomers lose interest.In spite of this, she weaves every thread to form a rich tapestry that presents us with a remarkable woman. Out of all of the Tudor consorts, she and Henry VIII’s first wife, Katharine of Aragon whom her mother -lady Maud Parr- served and whom she was named after) were the only queens to be appointed regents in their husband’s absence. Henry VIII saw in Katherine a nobility of spirit and intellect. When he left the country to seek glory in France, he entrusted the well-being of his nation and offspring into her hands. Though he had also left competent men who’d guide her through her new duties, the sole weight of England rested on her shoulders.
Katherine proved to be more than capable.
After having a brief brush with death, she spent her last years building a friendship with many members at court.
Porter is also quick to point out that while she did not want to take any credit for the English reformation, she was one of the de-facto leaders of this religious movement. Her last book, published months one year after Henry VIII died, helped shape Anglican thought.
Aside of her strict moral code, this biography also sheds light on her social life. Katherine fulfilled the other important functions of a consort by being an exceptional hostess. She loved to dance, hear her husband’s minstrels, and dress in rich gowns that would reflect well on the crown.
Porter is not afraid to touch on the controversy surrounding her youngest royal stepdaughter and ward, lady Elizabeth Tudor and her fourth and last husband, Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron of Sudeley.
Since most of our knowledge of that incident comes from sources that were written much later; she tries to be as factual as possible, delivering the most likely scenarios and the reason behind Katherine Parr reacting the way she did.
Lastly, this is one of the few books that paints a more complete picture of her noble ancestry. Out of all the four non-royals that Henry VIII married, her lineage was the most distinguished.
As previous stated, Linda Porter is not afraid of including the darker aspects of her life. In a perfect world, in a perfect time, she would have had it all. A learned and courteous woman, who was recognized for her intellect and her active role in the religious reformation, living happily ever after with a husband who loved and appreciated her with a child that will take after her mother. Nevertheless Katherine’s legacy lives through her writings and what she taught through her actions and her self to Elizabeth.
An objective, well written biography that explores the lesser known aspects of Elizabeth’s life, from her education, her relationship with her father, siblings and her eventual rivalry with Mary I and Mary, Queen of Scots, to the last years of her reign, and people’s perception of her during and in the aftermath of her death.
Elizabeth I is glorified in English history as the greatest monarch that ever lived. Not only that, but she has accolade of fans who -in their attempt to defend her- end up doing her the same disservice her rivals did back in the day. By putting her in a pedestal, she stops being a human being -an opportunistic, politically savvy, strong woman who was also a flawed individual, but didn’t let her demons get in the way of making her country great- and instead becomes a caricature.
Lisa Hilton also dispels myths about her rivals and family members, primarily her mother (Anne Boleyn), her half-sister (Mary I), her rival (Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots), and lastly, her last stepmother, Kathryn Parr.
What emerges is a woman who was deeply scarred by her experience but, as previously stated, learned from them, and used her femininity as her shield against her enemies before she became Queen. When she was Queen, she was stern while also cautious to a fault, affirming nothing and denying nothing. She played both sides and like most female rulers, she regarded herself as half-divine, her power justified by her intellectual and political prowess. But Lisa Hilton notes that the Virgin Queen would not have been as successful had it not been for her councilors. She often clashed with the more radical Protestant faction. They wanted a republic, one modeled after the classical Greek and Roman Republics, and were emboldened by the Netherlands and their Northern neighbors, the Scots. Of the latter, the Netherlands were more successful, and it was largely in part to Elizabeth. But as with many politicians today, supporting one’s cause, doesn’t mean you agree with them.
As a pragmatist, Elizabeth was in need of allies and if the Catholic countries would continue to conspire against her, she would do the same and look elsewhere. The end result is a contradictory tale. Elizabeth applauded her father’s establishment and the supremacy of the Church of England because it placed the monarch above the law, on the other hand, she despised other Protestant doctrines that downplayed the monarch’s power and wished to return to the times of a classical republic. Elizabeth supported them because she needed them, but deep down she despised what they were doing and whenever some of her countrymen got similar ideas, she struck back.
This is a biography history buffs (especially those who are sick and tired of generalizations of their favorite Tudor monarchs) will absolutely love. If you are new to the Tudor era, worry not, this book is easy to follow, highly descriptive and engaging from start to finish.
To understand Anne Boleyn, we have to know about her world first. Her roots, going back to the very beginning, tracing her family story, her role in the shifting religious climate of the Tudor era and finally, the differing views on women. When it comes to giving these women’s a voice, nobody is more suited for this task than renowned women’s historian, Amy Licence. The past comes alive in her new biography on Henry VIII’s second consort, and the mother to one of the world’s greatest female leaders who ruled England the longest out of all her dynasty, Elizabeth I.
Anne Boleyn lived during a time when many changes were going on. Nobody could have predicted her fall, or how far Henry VIII would have gone to have her. Nevertheless, looking back further, some things about her character start to make more sense.
Like her previous biography on Catherine of Aragon, this is a very detailed book. Highlighting the difference in status and the ever-changing cultural norms regarding gender, religion, and ceremony, she pulls the reader in to the 15th and 16th century eras. Another thing that I enjoyed from this book is that she did not shy away from the brutality and prejudices that characterized these time periods.
We often forget that these were people, subject to the same emotional and physical pain, although the later was augmented two-fold given the time and place they lived in, and the large gamble many of the up-and-coming families like the Boleyns took; nevertheless, something set them apart. They viewed the world through dark-colored lens.
The courts where Anne Boleyn served women like the archduchess Margaret of Austria and Queens Mary (her future husband’s youngest sister when she married Louis XII) and Claude of France, and later Henry’s first queen, Catherine of Aragon, valued order above all else. Decorum and class were everything for these people. Everything had to be structured, otherwise, society would come crumbling down and with it, chaos would reign.
Anne Boleyn was aware of this so she chose to follow the rules unlike her spirited sister Mary. But Anne was spirited in her own way. Instead of giving herself freely to men, be it through pressure or for passion, she preferred to shine by showing off her intellectual attributes. Her etiquette, her subtle playful and comely behavior, her occasional defiance, her passion for the new learning and indulging others, including Henry Percy and later the king, in harmless games of courtly love is what made her into one of the most alluring and interesting women at the Tudor court.
But, and this is something that historians still ask (and will likely continue to ask in the many years to come), is this what she intended? Was Anne Boleyn responsible for her fall? Was she a victim, pawn, or villain, homewrecker, or all of these things neatly wrapped together? Amy Licence doesn’t pretend to know the answer and as the book progresses, she is not about to give a definite answer but merely what she believed happened given what we know so far, and leave the rest for the reader to decide.
This is what a good historian. He or she gives the reader as much information as it is available, separates fact from fiction, primary from secondary sources and explaining the why, what, where, and when of the latter- letting the reader come to his own conclusion.
Anne Boleyn was a woman of many faces. She was a woman who might not have started out as the ambitious and unique ‘it’ girl from fiction, but as things got out of hand, she saw no other way but to play the waiting game and indulge the King. Having a strong moral compass -and another one of self-preservation- she did not let him take her virtue just like that. If the two of them were going to be together, he had to propose something grander. And ultimately that was marriage.
The road to the marriage bed was paved with obstacles, and it didn’t become any easier after she was crowned Queen of England. Anne was the first and only consort ever to be crowned with the crown of St. Edward the confessor -meant only for kings and queen regnants. Henry’s choice for this was not merely because of his passion and adoration for her, it was to symbolize something greater. He was not going to let anybody question their unborn child’s legitimacy, hence, his wife was going to have a coronation unlike something that hadn’t been seen before.
This is what the monarchy meant. Displays of force and splendor -and if there was something that Henry loved most of all, was wasting no expense on the latter.
But things turned sour and the rest as they say is history. Anne Boleyn’s story plays out like a Greek tragedy. A woman who chose to take the reins of her own destiny like her ancestors before her and navigate dangerous waters. Her gamble paid off (in the beginning). But she ended up losing everything. Yet, something of her remained, something which has catapulted her to fame. Her daughter. Elizabeth I is remembered as one of England’s greatest rulers. “Good Queen Bess”, “Virgin Queen” “Glorianna”, there is no shortage of titles that history has bestowed on her. But when it comes to Anne, people are still divided.
How do we view her? How do we judge a woman whose moral ambiguity still troubles many? The answer is simple and sometimes the simplest answer is the best: We view her as a woman of her times, a woman of her status, who rose too high and who was brought down by various factors. Some of them her doing, many of them not. Once we do this, a new picture of Anne starts to emerge -the same one which Amy Licence brings back to life in this stunning biography of one of England’s infamous femme-fatale.
Those of you interested in learning more about women’s lives, the struggles they faced, and how they used their different strengths to survive and fight against the rising tide, will devour this book.
Few historians choose to focus on women’s lives, and on the harsh realities that others had to face. And even fewer historians choose not to shy away from the less than flamboyant details that these people had to face, and this includes women’s hygiene, their ordeals during pregnancy, widowhood, and general views regarding these by the old and new church.
Ultimately, this biography is a great addition to our Tudor history bookshelves and more importantly to women’s history as it reminds us why Anne Boleyn is still relevant, and how easy it is for her story to be misappropriated or distorted. It is a product of the ever changing times just as she was a product of hers.
Martin Luther has become a firebrand icon but like so many firebrands, a lot of his story is steeped in myth. It has become another case of fiction replacing history, with novelists and (some) historians choosing that over reality. Eric Metaxas does a good job by deconstructing Luther and presenting us with the real man behind the leader of the Protestant reformation.
Novelists do not have an obligation to their readers, unless they feel they do. Some include author’s note explaining where they drew the line between fact and fiction, where they erred on the side of caution and where they took liberties for the sake of making their story more interesting. Historians on the other hand, do have a responsibility to their readers. Their jobs is to educate, but like Luther, they are trapped by their own biases. And we shouldn’t fault them for that, but we should hold them accountable when they let that take over the historical record to promote their agenda.
Martin Luther was for lack of better terms, a man of his times. Not ahead of them. He did what he did out of conviction and later desperation. His movement is also the product of centuries of heresies and attempts to reform the church that did not go unnoticed by the author.
By painting a vivid picture of the times he lived in, including explaining his background and the different customs in Western Europe, Eric Metaxas draws us the reader in right from the start. You don’t have to be a history buff and if you are but are new to this period, you don’t have to know a lot, to find this book engaging. Drawing on primary sources (and to some extent to understand where the fictional Luther comes from, secondary sources), and citing the archaeological evidence that still remains, Metaxas paints a vivid portrayal of the rebellious German ex-monk.
The man who rediscovered God and who changed theworld is an accurate way to describe the figurehead of the Protestant movement -a movement he did not intent to create but like so much of what history has taught us, once things got out of his control, he had no choice but to push forward or to face certain death which would have meant being burned as a heretic like one of his idols, the infamous Dominican friar who also preached against the excesses of the church a century prior, Savonarola.
Ironically though, for better or for worse, Luther has also come to be seen as an icon and a source of inspiration for many political, religious and civic leaders. Some went so far as to change their names, and while others wasted no time placing him in a pedestal. Just as Luther did not intend to break away from the church, he did not intent to replace the cult of saints that he so much detested and railed against. But in the end, not even he would have gone against the power of the pen, nor controlled how he’d be remembered by his followers (or his rivals). And that is, as the author of this book points out, his greatest legacy -a legacy that will continue to be felt for decades to come.
Thomas Cromwell is one of the most controversial figures of the Tudor court. He is cast either as a villain or a saint. In a man for all seasons he is the main villain who does everything in his power to convict the saintly Thomas More of treason. Thomas More in contrast, represents all the goodness in the world. But in real life, he wasn’t devoid of demons as Boarman shows us in this book. And neither was Thomas Cromwell whose reputation has been blackened since the nineteenth century. In actuality Thomas Cromwell was a man of many faces. The face he projected in the work place -in the Tudor court- was the face he likely wished to be remembered as. And then there was the face he kept at home, the one that people rarely saw or knew about, except for those he helped or were closest to him. As a man of his own times, subject to the era’s prejudices; Thomas was not devoid of cruelty. It was a dog-eat-dog world and coming from a lowly background, Thomas Cromwell had to be more ruthless than his enemies -the nobles- to advance in the world. But the Tudor statesman could also be loyal to a fault. He tried to help his master Wolsey as best as he could until he realized that he was finished and he had to move on.
As a father, Thomas Cromwell was diligent and attentive. In an age where parents were strict with their children and they were not far from hitting them to get results; Thomas Cromwell showed himself very different from most of his lower and upper class peers. While not much is known of his life with his wife and daughters, Boarman shows us his accounts to demonstrate that he did take an interest in his daughters’ education and wanted to give them significant dowries for when the time arrived for them to marry. As well all know, that time never came because they were taken shortly after his wife by the sweating sickness.
As a politician, Cromwell was highly pragmatic and this helped him in the difficult years following the demise of his master, Cardinal Wolsey. Yet he wasn’t without his faults. While he helped Henry get his annulment and his much wanted union with Anne Boleyn (recently elevated to Marques of Pembroke) and then her demise after she failed where her predecessor had failed, and made him rich with the money begotten from the dissolution of the monasteries; he was also arrogant and over-confident. As he grew more powerful and more sure of himself, he believed that nothing would bring him down. After all, his network of spies was immense, for every move one noble made, he was two steps ahead of him. And what was more, the king trusted him. The money made Henry one of the richest Kings in Europe after all, the treasury was overflowing with money, in addition to making him Head of the Church and helping him submit the opposition with an iron fist. But as the old saying goes “too much pride can kill a man” and that is exactly what happened in Thomas Cromwell’s case.
After the King lost Jane Seymour, Thomas Cromwell wasted no opportunity to push forward for a new alliance. While he favored an Imperial alliance since Anne’s downfall was on its way; he was more interested in promoting religious reform. When all of the King’s outrageous proposals to France and the Empire failed, Cromwell convinced him to turn to Cleves. Cromwell was very astute to know how dangerous Henry was at this stage, yet so powerful he had become, that he believed he could keep on his hold on the King. This proved to be a grave mistake. By the late 1530s the King’s behavior was becoming more unpredictable, and he started to distrust Cromwell, possibly (as Boarman explains) suspecting of his Protestant sympathies. Cromwell realized this and believed his best bet lay with the King’s wife to be. If he brought the King into the Schmalkadic League, it would drive England further away from the Roman Catholic powers, and if Anna of Cleves gave him a Duke of York, it would make Cromwell strong again. None of these things proved true. Cromwell over-exalted Anne of Cleves’ appearance. Besides telling Holbein to draw a favorable portrait of Anna; he also gave extreme compliments about this unknown bride, telling the King that there was no bride more beautiful than and that the sun shone upon her, etc. Age was catching up with Henry at this time. He was no longer the young man he had been when he married his first Consort or when he’d begotten his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy. He was now morbidly obese, suffering from an ulcer on his leg, and tyrannical. It was a far cry from the athletic, noble, handsome, scholar he had been in his younger years. If Anna was to his liking, she could make him feel young as he once was. She was after all a year older than his eldest daughter, the Lady Mary (whom Cromwell negotiated [in theory] a marriage between her and the future queen’s brother, the now Duke of Cleves. Yet Cromwell saw Mary as a threat. Even if the girl were to turn, she would still be a threat, so while he told the ambassadors to praise her, he also said not to overdo it so they wouldn’t convince the Duke to take her as a possible wife. Ironically, that is exactly what Cromwell did with Anna). When the day finally came to meet her, it proved a disaster and Henry was reputed to have said “I like her not” and urged Cromwell to break his engagement. Cromwell the faithful servant that he was, but also interested in this alliance, told Henry he could not since they were already promised and so the King was forced to marry his unwanted bride. But Henry was not one to be patient. Once an idea got in his head, nothing was going to take it away. He got rid of Anna, and once again Cromwell helped him for his own sake; and after he did, he paid the price for his initial mistake by being arrested at a dinner in 10 June 1540 on charges of treason. He was executed a month afterwards, and on the day he was executed, Henry married the cousin of his direst enemy (the Duke of Norfolk). The bride was Katherine Howard and in another ironic stroke of fate; Henry would also annul his marriage to this woman and like her cousin Anne Boleyn, cut her head.
In the epilogue, Boarman states that while Henry didn’t feel any remorse for Cromwell initially, he did at the end and according to some sources said that he needed a Cromwell. We will never truly know if this is how Henry felt, or he was just saying this so he could press his councilors to work harder to get what he wanted. In the end though, one thing was clear: His master secretary was loyal. He did everything and anything to get what the King desired, regardless of how he might have felt. And like so many of his contemporaries he was ruthless in getting his own way. His mistake? Was becoming too overconfident. You didn’t bet lightly when it came to Henry VIII, by 1539 Cromwell should have known that –especially since he had been witnessed to his master Wolsey’s downfall.
Cromwell is for posterity a mysterious figure and perhaps that is how he wanted to be. To be two steps ahead of his enemies, he wanted to keep the image of the ruthless and conniving man; he succeeded. For many years people have seen him in such a way, and fiction has not been too kindly to him until recently. While Boarman credits Hilary Mantel’s novels for revitalizing interest in Cromwell, I think the interest for him has always been there and hopefully it will continue to be, and he will be seen for the complex individual that he was –neither villain nor heroic, but a consummate politician, a good father, and a survivor first and foremost.
Boarman weaves a good factual tale of betrayal, intrigue, and paternal love. And while she gets right all the things regarding Cromwell, including his charity to his friends and the poor widows whom he gave homes and money; her portrayal of the second, fourth and fifth wives are questionable. Recent biographers and historians have dispelled myths regarding Katherine Howard as the harlot and giddy young girl as well as of Anne’s appearance. Nevertheless, this biography continues to be one of the most groundbreaking biographies about the once maligned councilor in the court of Henry VIII. For many years, Cromwell was depicted as a conniving, amoral, uncaring, cold, cruel man whose thirst for blood could not satiated. In one of the most iconic historical dramas of the 60s ‘Anne of a Thousand Days’, he was a one-dimensional character whose specter lingers there at the court. First he helps Anne rise then he is the cause of her downfall. There is no emotion in his face, he looks more like a mobster hit-man than the intelligent, cunning politician he really was. In the Six Wives of Henry VIII and its movie version Henry VIII and his Six Wives, in the 70’s, he is pretty much the same. It is not until the Tudors, the semi-historical drama, where James Frain finally gives birth to a multi-dimensional (and likeable) Cromwell. A Cromwell who is neither hero or villain but a human being like you and me who loved, who hated, and hoped. Hilary Mantel’s most recent portrayal in her Cromwellian saga ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ and the adaptation of these on TV, presents us with a more positive portrayal –one that has inspired people to look at him in a different way. This biography offers the same, using primary sources and revealing a man of many faces, one he presented to the king, another he presented to his enemies, and another he presented to his family and friends.
This is a book I have been meaning to review for a while but never had gotten around doing it until now that I have some free time. I read this book when it first came out. I …was looking for a new book to read and this one was the first one I found literally when I was walking into my bookstore and I am glad I did. I digested it in two days. Everyone complains about challenging reads and while there are challenging reads, it does not mean they are not enjoyable. This is written in a very easy to read style as most good books are, and I enjoyed reading about the many socio-cultural transformations that Anne Boleyn has suffered throughout the years, including when she lived. The first chapter starts out with the headline ‘Why you shouldn’t believe everything you’ve heard about Anne Boleyn’ and from there it explains a lot of the slander and myths about Anne that many fictional writers have used in their novels, including filmmakers, and dispelling and going even further explaining why they were made in the first place.
One thing that Susan Bordo did for Anne in this book is not only clear up the many myths surrounding her -as well as pointing out the slander by writers such as Sander during her daughter’s time- but also to point out that how we view her today says a lot about us. She also made an important point about how other wives are viewed. For example Katherine of Aragon who is derided because she was ugly and then praised for being too saintly. While the book offers a different interpretation of her saying she was not as saintly but in fact overtly pious and stubborn and casted her own downfall out of her own basic beliefs, it is vital to read every opinion regardless if we like it or not. And she does point something very important too, that Anne is often blamed and used as the scapegoat for Henry’s actions and that this view doesn’t do her any favors nor does it help us understand the period any better. Furthermore it doesn’t help us seeing Katherine as a saintly or old and ugly figure. She had her flaws as Bordo said, and as with every historical person we must see them and accept them as they were, with their flaws, strengths and other dimensions and in the context that they lived.
Unfortunately not many can swallow this view because history needs to have a villain and most of the times the villain tends to be a woman and for many years this villain was Anne Boleyn. She recounts the Catholic Slander and from other sources that Anne Boleyn received. Though these have been disregarded, there continues to be a view of Anne as the temptress, seductress and home-wrecker. This is slowly fading away but it is nonetheless problematic that this view continues to be held by half who base most of their opinions on historical fiction.
Susan Bordo says that the reason why Anne Boleyn continues to captivate us is because she continues to be reinvented and has been in need of rescue. While I do agree that Anne is in need in rescue and she is in an important symbol for the third wave of feminism thanks to her recent portrayal in “The Tudors”, we must also remember other women who can be seen in the same light and while not enjoying much fame -largely because colonial powers have erased them from the face of the map and on some occasions distorted them to the point that even today when they are rescued, they are not seen in a fair and objective light- they were remarkable and some of them did not possess as Anne through her mother Elizabeth Boleyn nee Howard and the other five wives, royal blood. Growing up, me and my friends would try to find out about these women because we yearned to find about these women who could give us strength, women from our native ancient past from pre-colonial times who even today hardly gain any recognition. The Creation of Anne Boleyn offers new perspective and also the opportunity of doing character study on other historical women.
It is a detailed and enjoyable biography, one that ever Anglophilie will enjoy.
The way Amy Licence writes the story of the wives and the mistresses is so unique and beautiful and this is a must-read for everyone that hasn’t read about the wives yet. Amy starts with setting the stage by explaining about the different beliefs regarding sex, conception, and the many methods …used in each. Religion also played an important part in this period, so a lot of the book focuses on the religious aspect from Catholicism to the different sects of Protestantism that were taking over England. The book dedicates a huge chunk on Henry’s first wives and deconstructing these women from what is believed to what actually happened. There were many other things that I wasn’t completely aware of this period that blew my mind when I found out. And this is how Amy writes, she does it in such a way that she dispels all the myths regarding these elusive figures, namely the women who are still seen through a male objective lens. She starts by Katherine of Aragon, including all the important details regarding her education, her preparation for her future role as Princess then Queen of England to all the contributions she did when she finally became queen, from being a great patroness of artists and humanists, to being the first of Henry’s wives to become Regent and on top of that, enjoy a very amorous and passionate relationship with him. The image that we have of Katherine as prude and old is not very accurate. As she got older she did become more pious and secluded from the material world -though she still enjoyed many of his banquets and participated in the jousts, observing her husband ride like he was still the passionate youth from his younger days. But in her youth she was a highly pragmatic, energetic, passionate and attractive young woman who probably caught Henry’s attention since he led her down the aisle to marry his older brother, the crown heir, Arthur. But there was also another aspect to Katherine and that was that in her years of political limbo, when her father’s enmity with her older sister and her husband forced her to be stranded on England with little to no help from anybody, made her highly dependent on her lecherous priest Friar Diego which in turn, turned out to damage her reputation for a while.
This is not to say that Katherine wasn’t strong. She was but she was also human and very young at the time and with her mother gone, her father and sister far away and at war with each other, she had very few people she could trust, and there was also that cunning and ambitious element of her that is often neglected. Katherine did everything she could after her father came with a temporal solution to alleviate her status by making her his unofficial ambassador. She sought Henry out more, she ingratiated herself with his sister, made sure she was pleasing to both of them, especially the young boy who turned out to be more handsome and athletic than his late brother at his age. By all means, crowned jointly and enjoying equal status, Katherine believed her marriage would be successful but two things happened: Her new year baby died and she suffered a horde of miscarriages and as she did, she also lost her figure and as her looks faded Henry turned his attention to other women. And this is where the author provides evidence that defies the notion that Henry was a prude with only two official mistresses.
Henry wasn’t the libertine monarch that Francis was. He didn’t flaunt his mistresses in Katherine’s face or showed them off to everyone or gave them official status of mistresses as he did. Henry, always concerned with his image, was cautious and with a great network of servants who were willing to do anything to please their king, they helped him keep most of these affairs secret. But occasionally word got out and on two of these occasions it put a strain on his first marriage. Katherine was humble and loyal but she could not accept at first that there was another woman besides her sharing her husband’s bed, she didn’t believe his servant was sleeping with Anne Hastings and argued ferociously with Henry about it but she soon became pliant and docile but her anger turned up again after he had a son with Bessie Blount which he showed off to prove that the fault lay in Katherine not in him for his lack of legitimate sons. Katherine’s discomfort became well known when Henry ennobled him with titles and mansions and gave him almost equal status to that of her daughter.
The most opposition that Henry would face however would not come from his first wife but from Anne. Katherine despite failing to keep her anger and hatred over his affairs secret at times, was true to her motto of ‘Humble and Loyal’ and became beloved by the people for the charity work she did, her time as Regent defending the English borders from the Scots and emulating the virtues that were expected of women -especially royal consorts- at the time. Anne was very different in that respect. She was a cosmopolitan and highly energetic and like Katherine, highly educated woman who sported different religious ideas and whose path with him might not have been intentional as Amy Licence points out. After all, who could refuse the king of England? Nobody. Anne’s strong moral convictions and her refusal of Thomas Wyatt years before, as well as learning from experience after Wolsey had broken up her intended union with Percy, echoed those found in Vives’ books that women had to be on the look out for men’s attentions and refuse any sexual advances. Yet, the author also defies the notion that Henry abstained himself from sex the entire time and the proof of this once again lies in the contemporary sources listing the women present at the time who served or whose husband served Henry and whom he might have fathered illegitimate children with.
Anne’s tragic fall from grace lay in her failure to deliver (as her predecessor) a son. Shortly after her brother and alleged lovers and her own execution, Henry remarried. His third wife, Jane Seymour is more of a mystery and I wish there was at least one more chapter dedicated to her but this is possibly owed to the fact that her reign was very short. However she does dedicate a great deal of attention regarding the time of her son’s conception to Edward’s birth and her death and the possible causes for it. It is well known that Jane died of childbed fever but what led to it? At the time of the birth she was attended by male doctors who did not have the experience or knowledge that midwives did. It is at this point that women stories start to get omitted and women’s labor changes drastically because of it. Midwifery is start to be seen as superstitious whereas ‘learned’ men such as doctors are the new norm. Unfortunately theory is very different from practice and if they had just bothered to ask one of their female counterparts for directions like washing their hands, etc, Jane could have avoided her death.
Between the period of his mourning and courting for royal matches, Henry might have been spending time with other women and this is not such as a stretch as we have seen by the earlier examples. But as a king he needed to marry and unlike two of his wives, he needed a royal match to cement an alliance and the lucky bride was Anne of Cleves whom he later declared was unattractive and that she was not a virgin just by looking at her. The notion is so ridiculous as Amy notes, yet once Henry’s mind was made up, it was made up! And what could you do about it? Poor Anne of Cleves knew very little about the country she was about to get married in. She had been pre-contracted to the Duke of Lorraine and that was used as an excuse to annul her marriage. As a girl she had been trained to be the perfect duchess, not a queen. When she reached Calais her brother wrote to Wriothesley and other royal officials to teach her sister of the English ways and they did just that, but they failed in teaching her about the masques that her future husband loved to engage in. This one omission made a great difference. When Henry met her in disguise, Anne had no idea he was the king and turned away from him coldly exclaiming she didn’t find his attentions funny. This was the whole catalyst for his dislike of her. His next wife was the contrary. She was energetic, to his judgment she was a virgin, and like his third wife Jane Seymour she adopted a similar motto that was meant to express she would be the perfect docile wife. But her past soon caught up with her and when Henry was told of it in a letter he devastated. Katherine Howard would share the same gruesome fate as her first cousin, Anne Boleyn. But her relationship with Thomas Culpeper is also put into question. Was it sexual or just platonic? We will probably never know.
The last wife to take the center stage is the rich (twice) widowed, Katherine Parr. Like the first Katherine she inspired confidence and she was kind, humble and loyal. She was married to Henry for nearly four years, his second longest marriage. She encouraged him to see his children more and she was partly responsible for reinstating Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession. And far from the ‘nurse’ stereotype that is attached to her figure, she was an educated, highly pragmatic and religious advocate whose work helped fast forward the Reform movement in England.
Like with all her books, Amy Licence lays out the facts for you but it is up to you to make the decision whether you believe them or not.
This book is a great addition to the Tudor shelves and to women’s histories which she tells in such a way that hasn’t been told before.
When it comes to my books everyone who knows me, knows I am very critical. Everything has to be well researched and well structured. I want my history books to be detailed because as they say, the devil is in the details and details are very important. Even when you know the period really well, it is important to include them. So I was very happy when I finished reading this book by this author and learned so much that I didn’t know about Henry’s medical history and his possible ailments, which I do believe after the evidence this author showed and doing some digging of my own and comparing notes with other biographies of him and his six wives, that he did suffer them. I do think that he was Positive Kell Blood Type and that accounted for many of his first two wives’ miscarriages as well as his personality changes because that brought about McLeod Syndrome and of course the fall from his horse when he was jousting in 1536, affected him even more and turned him from the renaissance prince that everyone -including foreign ambassadors- praised into the tyrant we all know from his later in life iconic paintings of his standing proudly, judging the watcher with his menacing eyes.
When we look at history, we rarely take genetics into account because we really do not want to think too hard, or we simply do not think it was a big deal but it was. In the past decades we have learned more about ourselves through genetics. Perhaps we are pre-disposed to certain things due to them, more so than we think. If so, then does that make us responsible for our behavior? It is one of the many questions that the author tries to answer in her book. While Henry most certainly did suffer from these ailments, this doesn’t excuse him from most of his actions. Henry grew up in an environment where Kings were seen as sacred, half-divine, his actions meant that he could do no wrong. Even before the symptoms of McLeod began to show up, he was already exhibiting traits of narcissism and superiority and these came largely in part because of the way he was raised and because of the talents he possessed.
“As a young man Henry was a handsome, genial and rational ruler. The youthful King was described, in the private letters of more than one foreign ambassador or other court contemporary, as having incredible physical beauty … Henry was also uncommonly tall for his time, well over six feet, with the chiseled physique of a champion athlete. The fact he was an excellent dancer and a model of chivalry further added to his attractiveness. He was a master horseman, excelled at jousting … and early in his reign Henry enjoyed theological debates and would listen to opinions which differed from his own with remarkable calm.”
Indeed he was all these things and more and add to that, the fact that this was the time when Kings were also seen as semi-divine.
Even when he lost his looks, people still kept praising him as the most virtuous of princes to keep his favor. And there was no reason for Henry to think that this praise was ill-begotten or fake. He really “seemed to think that God agreed with him on every topic since he seemed to feel Heaven was always on his side” and everyone who defied him in the smallest of things was not only defying his authority but God’s as well.
It is no wonder then, why Henry turned from the prince everyone was rooting for, to the man every grew to fear and was obliged to pay homage or otherwise they would risk losing everything as others had done before them for less.
Blood Will Tell is a must have for every Tudor and history buff who wants to know more about Henry VIII, and find out the possible reasons behind his sudden change in personality.