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The Divorce of Henry VIII – – The Untold Story From Inside The Vatican, by Catherine Fletcher.
One of the slams against history, one that fiction often attempts to solve, is that history texts, research papers, biographies, and history-as-consumer-nonfiction often strike a pose from afar, leaving too many details out. Such history often supplies the broadbrush generalizations, but supplies all too little supporting verbiage, often from only one perspective.
Such isn’t the case with Catherine Fletcher’s book. She’s chosen a most specific segment of a famous life – in Henry’s case, only one-eighth of his married life. Still, the story as she tells it is almost too broad to carry out in specifics. But she does. As this somewhat melodramatic episode begins, Henry is disenchanted with first wife, Catherine, because she won’t bear him a male heir. He shuns her, bent on marrying Anne Boleyn, but England is still a Catholic nation, and Pope Clement VII won’t grant him a divorce.
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Toward the difficult end of disposing of Catherine, Henry enlists the help of the Casali family, who represent Henry’s quest for divorce before the Vatican. The details are too voluminous and tedious to even paraphrase here, but there’s a war going on between The Holy Roman Empire and France, involving the various duchies and city-states of Italy. This of course involves Clement, but he’s in no frame of mind to grant a divorce, anyway. So Henry enlists the aid of others to gather legal and moral opinions on the divorce from a number of academic institutions – and he succeeds in making a case for the divorce.
Meanwhile, Henry is cohabiting with Anne, and Clement becomes even more adamant about the divorce – to the point that a debate begins concerning Henry's possible excommunication. At this point, Henry severs the Church of England from Catholicism. Ironically, Anne bears him another daughter, Elizabeth Tudor, destined to become queen. And many of those who have aided Henry in his cause meet ill ends – including the Casali brothers.
This book is eminently researched, and the author’s story told in detail, in an often conversational voice. However, the book isn’t light nonfiction reading – the author has simply chosen to provide too many historical details, and too few personal, emotional details for that. She has, however, pieced together a lot of disparate history into a taut timeline that should be of use to novelists and historical researchers interested in these events specifically and in the nature of European diplomacy during this era. Toward that end, while it can be a difficult read, it’s a valuable book.
My rating: 16 of 20 stars