Like most history enthusiasts, I do my level best to view everything I read with an objective and critical eye. When it comes to unearthing the secrets of the past, loyalty to any historian or school of thought is misplaced. The truth is all that matters.
Nonetheless, we wouldn’t be human if, when it came to authors and historians, we didn’t develop our favourites. People whose style, both of writing and research, not to mention interpretation, seems to grip us; often for the very reason that they think differently to ourselves and challenge our thinking.
As many of you know, my favourite is Alison Weir. So it was with great excitement that I discovered she had announced she was revisiting the subject of ‘the six wives of Henry VIII’ both in the form of a revision of her early 90’s work and in six new novels, one for each wife.
All new works are exciting, but there’s something extra special about the novels. As the author herself has said, the novelist has a great deal more freedom than the historian. She can use this medium to test theories and speculate in a way that wouldn’t be appropriate in a history book. However, if this speculation is rooted in well-researched fact, it still has a high degree of historical value.
The first book on Catherine of Aragon will be released later this year and so I wanted to take this chance to say which six things I am most looking forward to discovering as the series unfold.
- Was Catherine of Aragon’s first marriage to Arthur, Prince of Wales consummated? It was the peg that Henry VIII later hung his divorce case on and Catherine went to her grave denying that she had known the touch of man prior to marriage number 2. Recently, based largely on Alison’s arguments in previous books, I argued that Catherine was probably telling the truth. However, Alison has been tantalising teasing that new evidence has come to light which solves the question conclusively. I will be very interesting to see what path she takes in the novel…
- Had Anne Boleyn sinned against Henry in her heart? In Alison’s excellent book ‘The Lady in the Tower’ she notes that second wife Anne, swore that she had never sinned against Henry in body, potentially suggesting that she could have in some other way. I will be fascinated to see whether Mrs Weir interprets Anne as having a heart which belongs to another.
- Exactly what kind of person was Jane Seymour? Jane is famous for giving Henry his longed for only (legitimate) son but I’ve always felt she died too suddenly for history to make much of a judgement on her. I can’t wait to see how Alison interprets her personality.
- What did Anne of Cleves make of Henry VIII? It’s well known that Henry was not enamoured with this German Princess (“she looks like a horse”) but history is generally silent on what she thought of the obese, older man. I’m sure however, that Alison will have a view…
- How old was Catherine Howard? The age of wife number 4 is disputed by about 4 years and I actually think it makes quite a big difference as to how we interpret her ‘flighty’ behaviour. It might sound geeky (and it probably is), but I’m keen to see what Alison’s current view on it is.
- How close did ‘the one that survived’ come to not surviving? Henry was the King of mind games (actually, he was the King of England, but you know what I mean). I’ve never been sure how much he considered getting rid of Katherine Parr (a warrent for her arrest was prepared and discovered) or whether that was just another trick. Alison, no doubt, will be able to set me straight.
Anyway, as you would expect, I will review all the books on the site as they are published.
So geeks…over to you. Anyone else looking forward to the series? What things would you most like to learn about Henry VIII’s six wives?