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Divorced, Beheaded, Survived

Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation Of The Wives Of Henry VIII by Karen Lindsey

Despite the subtitle, it's an investigation into what can be reconstructed of their character and their interactions with the king.  It's very hard on Henry, but never without evidence.  (I'm using her spellings.  She used the irregular orthography of the day to separate the women of the same name with different spellings.)

It actually opens with his grandmother Margaret Beauford and her intrigues to put her son, Henry VII, on the throne.  And it ends with the reign of Elizabeth, having briefly gone through Edward's reign (in part to cover the deaths of the last two wives), Lady Jane Grey's forced rebellion and death, Mary's marriage and death.  Both sections are brief.

A long section on Catherine's adventures ending up married.  After Prince Arthur died, they betrothed her to Henry, she started to look like a bad bet and weak alliance, Henry repudiated her on the grounds he had been underage, she hung about, finally getting access to Henry VII when her father appointed her ambassador. . . only when Henry VII died did Henry VIII announced that it had been his father's dying wish that they marry, and did it.

She was queen the longest, so there's a lot to review in her time.  Flodden was her victory, not Henry's -- Henry being on the Continent.  Also the time of his sister Mary's becoming queen of France and quickly arranging in her widowhood to marry as she choose.

The appearance of Ann.  She marshals quite a bit of evidence that Ann merely prompted the time of his wish to get rid of Catherine, that he was already wishing to be rid of her -- and that it was Henry's relentless pursuit, which Ann could not safely dismiss, that triggered the problem.  (She observes that over in France, Louis had also had daughters but no sons.  He had married with indecent haste after his wife's death, but then, he also safely married off his daughter to his heir.  When he didn't get a son, his grandson succeeded in due course.)

The whole ugly adventures of the annulment.  Ann being pregnant, Henry went through the ceremony with her before he had even gotten his own court to annul his first marriage.  The troubles after.  Catherine's Spanish servants, forced to take an oath to remain with her, quibbled about taking it in their own language, and deliberately if subtly mistranslated it.  Followed by Catherine's death, and the king's losing interest in Ann, and his growing interest in Jane Seymour.  The farce of her trial, which seemed bent on making Henry look innocent by making Ann look insatiable.  His open wooing of Jane during it, which managed for the first time to rouse popular sympathy for Ann.  And his quick betrothal and marriage once free.

Jane Seymour is much of a cypher.  Very little of her character comes out in the records -- though she did get Princess Mary back to court.  (With her mother dead, Mary could of course accept Jane as the new queen.)  But in due course, she died after childbirth.  This did not help his reputation, actually -- there were stories that he had spoken lightly of getting a new wife if she died in childbirth so they should save the child by preference, and that she had died of being forced to leave her bed too soon -- and when he looked aboard, princesses reportedly rejected him as an unhealthy bridegroom.  He managed Anne of Cleves.  Much discussion of how she looked.  In particular, that Holbein's portrait can't have been too far off; Henry, with his habit of severely punishing those he disliked, would certainly not have kept him on as a portrait painter if he had done that.  All claims she was ugly stem from after he decided she was, and may have just been falling in line with his decision.  Not that Anne minded much.  In a discussion with ladies she knew were spies, she earnestly professed that the king came to her bed every night so she couldn't be a maid -- while making it clear nothing had happened, and making herself look so innocent that she didn't even know what happened in bed.  Her only concern was staying in England.

Meanwhile, Katherine Howard had already caught his eye.  I don't think the author is entirely level-headed about her.  Having an affair under the nose of a king known to be particularly paranoid and overbearing is really stunningly stupid, however affairs kings had.

Finally Kathryn Parr, who managed to hold out to the end.  Being a widow giving her a legitimate reason not to be a maid -- and after Katherine Howard, the law was that anyone who married the king without being a pure maid or confessing to the fact was a traitor, as was anyone who hid that.  Being barren was more interesting.  A widow with children had at least proven fertility, even if a queen ought to be a maiden.  Perhaps Henry wanted an excuse.  There was a truly ugly point where she had disputed with the king about a theological point, and a counselor persuaded him to make out her arrest warrant.  Fortunately for her, she found out and staged a little scene to claim she hadn't meant it -- she had only hoped to distract him from the pain in his leg and to draw out his excellent reasoning so she could learn from it -- and then she had to keep her mouth shut.  Forever.

Well, she made it the end.  And managed to marry the man she loved after.  Which brought it all to a close.

Lots of interesting bits of info and glances at court life of the era.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 10th, 2014 02:42 pm (UTC)
You, reading a book with "feminist" in the title? :o

Sounds interesting. I keep meaning to read up more on the Tudors and all the more interesting periods of English monarchical upheaval.

Edited at 2014-01-10 02:42 pm (UTC)
Jan. 10th, 2014 03:21 pm (UTC)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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