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Monday, June 18, 2012

The Divorce of Henry VIII (Review)

I've always found the termination of Henry VIII's first marriage to be much more fascinating than all the beheadings to follow. The marriage was to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of the Queen Isabel who sent Columbus on his voyage in 1492, all figures dear to my own heart. Catherine never acquiesced to the divorce. To make matters even more exciting, in order to complete the divorce, Henry would have to establish an entire new church and proclaim himself its head. This divorce changed the Western world forever.

Catherine Fletcher's The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold History from Inside the Vatican finally focuses on the behind-the-scenes characters who did all the political schmoozing, financing, backstabbing, and running for their lives that made the final outcome possible. Fletcher is our eye on English concerns at the Vatican, which at the time was run in a manner indistinguishable from the other power states that surround it. The insults and bribery may or may not surprise readers, but they make for a great story.

Like most books of original historical research, this is dense with names, places and dates, but if the reader looks carefully, she will find all her favorite Tudor characters and many colorful Italian ones besides. It is written in a readable style with the kinds of conjectures about character motivation and the feel of place that will keep steadfast fiction readers involved to the very end.