Divorced, Beheaded, Died
Divorced, Beheaded, Survived
I’ll be honest with you, my prior knowledge of Henry VIII’s wives didn’t stretch much beyond that little rhyming couplet.
But then I found a proof of the newest Alison Weir – the first in a series of (presumably) six books that track the lives of Henry VIII’s wives. The first one covers the life of Katherine of Aragon, although, there is as you might expect a guest starring role for Anne Boleyn – plus a cameo Jane Seymour (not Dr Quinn)
The book begins, not at the beginning of Katherine’s life, but at the beginning of her new life as she travelled from Spain to England to meet her future husband – PLOT TWIST – Prince Arthur.
I’ve got to admit, that had me hooked. I suddenly realised how little I knew about that period in history. This is the sort of thing that comes up in pub quizzes, and I would have been absolutely stumped.
So I read on, wondering what else I would learn.
I actually learned quite a bit, and I enjoyed doing so, but it didn’t quite feel like fiction. Perhaps because it’s fiction based on real people, written by a historian. Essentially all the salient plot points and letters have been assembled in chronological order and then connected with some well-written prose.
I was keen to learn what happened to Katherine after her divorce from Henry, and it seems she refused to acknowledge the divorce and became a prisoner of the king – although a prisoner in some comfort, however limited some of that comfort might have been.
With it being a book about someone’s life (I’ve written this before) it’s no surprise to discover that it ends in death. She and Henry were together for some time and Katherine was an old woman when the divorce happened, so not an awful lot more happened after he banished her.
However, we still had around a hundred pages and three years to cover before we reached the end. What we had then was a never ending cycle of Katherine moving to ever smaller residences and writing letter after letter to anyone who might listen.
It was a little tiresome for me as a reader, but I guess that just illustrates how tiresome Katherine’s final years were.
With it being a fictional account of a real life, the loose ends are not neatly tied up, especially as it ends with the death of Katherine. We don’t learn what happens to her daughter Mary, we never find out if Henry gets a son, or if there are any ramifications to England leaving the Catholic church.
Of course, we do actually know what happened, but it doesn’t get picked up in the book. Other fiction takes all the loose ends and neatly ties them up.
Perhaps we have to assume that this is not a story about Katherine, but the first part of a story about Henry. We learn a lot about him, although never from his viewpoint, and presumably we will continue to learn about him in the subsequent books.
Perhaps these tales about his wives, will end up telling us more about the man himself.
I found the book flat in places, perhaps a little too historical, it was a little emotionless in places, as if the author was reluctant to put too many words and thoughts in the mouth and mind of what was a real person.
This was a bit of an experiment for me, not something I would normally read – although I’ve said that so much recently, I’m not sure what I do normally read any more.
Will I read about the other wives when the books are released? Definitely. It’s an odd mix between fiction and non-fiction so it’s hard to compare it to other books, but based on my scoring system I’ve been using all year, it scores 3.4 out of 5.
Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen by Alison Weir is published on 5th May.