I am not sure Anne Boleyn is my favorite wife of Henry VIII.
Perhaps Anne is the favorite wife of historical novelists. Jean Plaidy, Philippa Gregory, and now Hilary Mantel have written lively novels about Anne Boleyn, her lascivious sister Mary, and her spying sister-in-law, Jane.
If I ever go back to feature-writing, I hope to get an assignment to read historical novels about Henry’s wives, and to analyze the relative popularity of the wives via the popularity of the novels. (They are Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Kathryn Howard, and Katherine Parr.)
The historical novel world is catching up, if it was ever behind: Hilary Mantel’s new novel, Bring up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall, her Booker Prize-winning novel about Thomas Cromwell, focuses on the downfall of Anne of Boleyn. And, yes, even if the critics don’t like popular novels by Jean Plaidy and her ilk, they admire Mantel’s new literary historical novel. (I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my list.)
Here is an audiobook clip, which seems surprisingly easy to follow:
Real life, however, is seldom so easy.
Katherine and Juana were both daughters of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, and both have reputations that are not supported by the facts. Katherine is remembered as a cast-off perfect wife and devoted mother; Juana of Seville as a madwoman who kept the coffin of her husband beside her and refused to bury him for years. (The latter rumor has a fascinating political reason, which I won’t reveal to you.)
There is more to both these women. These intelligent, well-educated politically savvy queens were ousted from their power by men.
I still have 200 pages to go, and Katherine and Juana are still very young, so I’ll leave you with the barest outline.
Julia Fox says in her introduction:
The more I delved into the lives of these two remarkable women, the more I realized that looking at their stories together enriches our understanding of both, even though Juana’s long years of incarceration inevitably prevent a totally equal allocation of space within the pages of this book. The sisters complement each other, they epitomize their era. They are linked not only by blood, but by their fight against the forces ranged against them, for they were born female in a male-dominated society. I hope I have done them justice.”
Both girls were well-educated in the liberal arts, and knew they would grow up to be queens. At the age of three, Katherine was betrothed to Arthur, the son of Henry VII. The separation from her mother was devastating when she left Spain to sail for England. At 16 she married Arthur, who died five months later. She was left in an untenable position, barely able to support her household (and both her father and Henry VII were stingy about an allowance), hanging on for years in England while it was decided whether she would marry the young Henry or someone else. In 1509, after much royal intrigue, she married Henry VIII. But after more than 20 years of marriage, and the birth of only one daughter, Henry VIII wanted to discard her and marry a younger woman, Anne Boleyn, who might provide him with a male heir.
He would do or say anything to end the marriage, even that their marriage was illegal and the papal dispensation that allowed him to marry his late brother Arthur’s widow was wrongly granted. (Katherine said the marriage to Arthur was never consummated, and the Pope accepted that.)
It’s my second “sisters” biography in a month: the other was Elizabeth Goldsmith’s The Kings’ Mistresses.