Book Corner: The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

For a King renowned for his love life, Henry VIII has traditionally been depicted as something of a prude, but the story may have been different for the women who shared his bed. How did they take the leap from courtier to lover, to wife? What was Henry really like as a lover? Henry’s women were uniquely placed to experience the tension between his chivalric ideals and the lusts of the handsome, tall, athletic king; his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, was on one level a fairy-tale romance, but his affairs with Anne Stafford, Elizabeth Carew and Jane Popincourt undermined it early on. Later, his more established mistresses, Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn, risked their good names by bearing him illegitimate children. Typical of his time, Henry did not see that casual liaisons might threaten his marriage, until he met the one woman who held him at arm’s length. The arrival of Anne Boleyn changed everything. Her seductive eyes helped rewrite history. After their passionate marriage turned sour, the king rapidly remarried to Jane Seymour. Henry was a man of great appetites, ready to move heaven and earth for a woman he desired; Licence readdresses the experiences of his wives and mistresses in this frank, modern take on the affairs of his heart. What was it really like to be Mrs Henry VIII?

I love the writing style of Amy Licence, she makes history enjoyable and accessible; so much so that when The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII dropped on my doormat I put down what I was reading and jump straight in. And I was not disappointed. A thoroughly fun and entertaining read, this is a book that examines every aspect of Henry VIII’s love life, with particular focus on the women, rather than the king.

No stone remains unturned in Amy Licence’s hunt for the women in Henry’s life. Each rumour is examined in great detail, with comprehensive arguments for or against their actual relationship with Henry. As you would expect, Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon, and the other 4 wives, all find their place within the pages of this book. Bessie Blount and Mary  Boleyn are also discussed in detail. Amy Licence does not judge, she tells their stories, the highs and lows, with great sympathy and compassion. The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII also brings to the fore the less well-known women who have been linked to this most controversial of kings. Etiennette de la Baume, Jane Popincourt and several other, even more obscure, women have their relationships with Henry examined.

Investigations are also made into the claims of the illegitimate children, not only those of the children of Mary Boleyn, but also those less well-known, such as Thomas Stukley and John Perrot. Amy Licence expertly investigates their claims and convincingly argues the truth – or not – of their parentage.

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The watchwords for Mary’s relationship with the king were secrecy and discretion. Yet history has tarnished her with scandal and rumour, insults and aspersions, leaving her with a reputation worthiest of the greatest whore at Henry’s court. Just like so many of the facts of Mary’s life, her real personality and appearance elude us. Historians and novelists have deduced various things from the known dates of her service in France, particularly her comparative lack of education and the circumstances of her marriage, yet these have often raised more questions than they have answered. Mary is illuminated in history by the light that fell upon her sister and she has suffered from the comparison ever since. Sadly her light will always be dimmer, her biography more nebulous.

Amy Licence has a reputation as an excellent researcher and writer, she shines a light into the deepest, darkest corners of the Tudors and, indeed, history itself. In  The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII she brings women into the limelight whose fifteen minutes of fame have long since been extinguished. And that is what is truly amazing about this book, not only are the famous and infamous discussed, but the author also highlights those women who have become footnotes in Henry’s life. Every woman who has been linked to Henry, before and after his death, is examined, as is the veracity of their interractions with the king. She tells their stories, examines their relationship with Henry, the rumours and the truth to them.

Through looking into the women involved, Amy Licence also paints a picture of Henry that is rarely seen; Henry the man and lover, rather than Henry the king. Her diligent research and well-thought out arguments demonstrate Henry’s continual search, not only  for an heir, but for love itself. We discover a complex man, a king who can have whatever he wants in material possessions, but who is continually searching for the immaterial, a son and true love.

The text is supported by over 30 gorgeous, colourful images, photographs and reproductions of paintings which help give the reader an impression of the life and times in which Henry VIII, and the women associated with him, lived. Written in a relaxed narrative, the book is as easy to read as any novel, and as exciting as enjoyable as the best of them. Accessible, engaging and brimming with original research, it would be difficult for anyone to not learn something new when reading this wonderful book.

The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII is a wonderful, exquisitely written investigation into the lives of the women in Henry VIII’s life.

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Amy Licence has been a teacher for over a decade. She has an MA in Medieval and Tudor Studies and has published several scholarly articles on the Tudors. She is an author and historian of women’s lives in the medieval and Tudor period.

The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII is available on Amazon in the UK and in the US.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Jezebel Effect by Kyra Cornelius Kramer

indexThe fact that Cleopatra is better known for her seductions than her statecraft, and that Jezebel is remembered as a painted trollop rather than a faithful wife and religiously devout queen, isn’t a way for historians to keep these interesting women in the public eye, rather it’s a subversion of their power, a re-writing of history to belittle and shame these powerful figures, preventing them from becoming icons of feminine strength and capability. Slut shaming has its roots in our earliest history, but it continues to flourish in our supposedly post-feminist, equal-rights world. It is used to punish women for transgressions against gender norms, threatening the security of their place in society and warning that they’d better be “good girls” and not rock the patriarchal boat, or they, too could end up with people believing they’ve slept with everything from farm animals to relatives. This is The Jezebel Effect

The Jezebel Effect: Why the Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters by Kyra Cornelius Kramer is a remarkable, thought-provoking analysis of the way queens have been treated and judged, based on their sexuality. The author is passionate about her subject and pulls no punches. Her arguments are well thought out and presented in such an honest, forthright manner that it is as if she is talking to you personally. It is a surprisingly enjoyable book; and I guarantee you will learn something new and find yourself re-appraising your own thoughts and approaches to women in history.

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Anne Boleyn

Starting with the biblical queen, Jezebel, and including Cleopatra, Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Catherine the Great, Kyra Kramer  uses these queens as case studies demonstrating the way a woman’s reputation can be won, lost or destroyed through her sexual activities. Taking each queen in turn, their lives are analysed in great detail, demonstrating how political and personal slander were used by their enemies to create their bad-girl images.

For the last 500 or so years, the most popular version of Anne’s life has her playing the role of sultry harlot, a woman willing to use her sexuality as the bait to trap a king. At the very least it has been taken for granted that she wanted to be queen and manipulated Henry in order to achieve her goal. She looms in the public mind as “the most popular femme fatale, far outranking Cleopatra or Catherine the Great of Russia”. Inasmuch as Anne has been cast as a sly temptress making a gambit for the throne, here execution seldom engenders pity…

Kyra Kramer uses the queens as examples of how the stories of their lives have been manipulated as a political weapon to discredit and to apportion blame. The author goes on to present modern-day situations and makes an amazing case of showing how the way women were treated and vilified in the past is informing our thoughts and opinions of today, and how the shaming of women due to their sexual practices is continuing, and expanding, especially in the internet age.

This book will make you think again about how you present and represent women in your own life – it made me rethink a portion of my book as I realised I had conceptualised one of my ‘Heroines’ based on the deeply entrenched way women have been viewed for centuries. We see it in everyday life: a woman has an affair with a married man and it is she who is blamed, not the man; a female politician gets threatened with rape because she acts against the norm, Kyra Kramer demonstrates how such concepts have been used and developed throughout the centuries.

The Jezebel Effect: Why the Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters is a fabulous, fascinating read that will make you think again of how women have been viewed in the past, and are still being viewed today. It’s an enjoyable read that combines the history with the philosophy and politics of the sexual activities of some of the most famous – and infamous – of queens. It is a forthright analysis of women’s history that will leave you not only thinking about its contents for days afterwards, but about your own approach – whether you’re a man or a woman – to how women are seen and appraised every day.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: Catherine of Aragon by Amy Licence

indexCatherine of Aragon continues to fascinate readers 500 years after she became Henry VIII’s first queen. Her life was one of passion and determination, of suffering and hope, but ultimately it is a tragic love story, as circumstances conspired against her. Having lost her first husband, Henry’s elder brother Prince Arthur, she endured years of ill health and penury, to make a dazzling second match in Henry VIII. There is no doubt that she was Henry’s true love, compatible with him in every respect and, for years, she presided over a majestic court as the personification of his ideal woman.

However, Catherine’s body failed her in an age when fertility was a prerequisite of political stability. When it became clear that she could no longer bear children, the king’s attention turned elsewhere, and his once chivalric devotion became resentment. Catherine’s final years were spent in lonely isolation but she never gave up her vision: she was devoted to her faith, her husband and to England, to the extent that she was prepared to be martyred for them. Banished and close to death, she wrote a final letter to her ‘most dear lord and husband’. ‘I pardon you everything… mine eyes desire you above all things.’ The fidelity of this remarkable woman never wavered.

Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife by Amy Licence is one of those incredible books that you can’t get away from. Days after you’ve finished it, your mind is still pondering the twists and turns in the incredible story that has unfolded before you. And yet, this is not a gripping novel, it’s a biography … a real-life story of one of England’s most famous queens, told in an expert, accessible fashion by one of today’s most prominent historians of women’s history.

330px-juan_de_flandes_002The level of detail in this book is incredible, Amy Licence has looked into every corner of Catherine’s life-story. It paints a wonderful, vivid picture of the life of a Renaissance princess. From even before her earliest years, the author charts Catherine’s life in its entirety, giving us a complete picture of the world that surrounded the young princess from the moment she was born to the moment of her death.

Plans for Catherine’s marriage started early. As far back as the spring of 1489, Ferdinand and Isabella had received a delegation sent by Henry VII of England, seeking her as a bride for his son. That March the royal family were at the castle of Medina del Campo, a blockish red medieval fortress situated on a mound dominating the town, to hear the culmination of a year’s worth of offers and promises, conditions and stipulations, about the futures of two small children. Catherine was then three years old, a small sturdy princess with auburn hair … Her prospective husband was barely out of the cradle. Henry VII’s eldest son Arthur, was the first-born child of a new dynasty, and nine months Catherine’s junior …

Not only does the author retell the events of the life of Catherine of Aragon, chronologically, but she also highlights the influences that affected her decisions and actions throughout that life. From her parents and the reconquest of Spain, through her marriage to Arthur and the lonely years following Arthur’s death, we see the events that influenced and shaped Catherine’s life as Queen of England and wife of Henry VIII.

Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife discusses the personalities and character of those who had a major effect on Catherine’s life, giving us an unprecedented, detailed view of those who surrounded her at various stages in her career as princess and queen. Catherine’s marriage to Prince Arthur is thoroughly examined, giving an insight into the relationship of this young couple, a relationship that would eventually change the course of English history. We see the good and bad of the men who were to decide Catherine’s fate, in her father, Ferdinand, and father-in-law, Henry VII, and learn of Catherine’s struggles to stay positive in the face of the two kings trying to get the best deal for themselves in Catherine’s marriage. And we see an intriguing biography of Henry VIII as he grows from being Catherine’s saviour and a magnificent Renaissance prince, to being her jailer and tormentor.

330px-catherine_aragonAmy Licence places Catherine’s life firmly within the Europe of the time, displaying a brilliant understanding of the Reformation, and its progress from central Europe to Henry’s court. Moreover, despite the eventual failure of the marriage, Amy Licence paints a glittering picture of the court of Henry and Catherine at its height, when this young, formidable couple were the superstars of Europe.

The most revealing part of the book is in the character of Catherine herself. The author has researched every aspect of Catherine’s life and personality, providing a portrait of a formidable woman navigating her way through a male-dominated world while trying to hold true to her deeply ingrained Catholic principles. And with this comes the realisation that it must have taken an inordinate amount of personal courage to face down Henry and his demands, and the overriding fear for her own personal safety.

Of course, the latter part of the book focuses on the divorce. I am no great fan of Catherine of Aragon and have often wondered at her stubbornness and why she was so unmovable in the face of Henry’s desperate need for an heir. Amy Licence explains Catherine’s viewpoint with absolute clarity; the reasons she stuck to her guns at the risk of her own safety and that of her daughter. The author’s theories and arguments are well though-out and incisive, giving an unprecedented insight into  the mind of this amazing queen and evoking empathy in the least sympathetic of readers, I’m sure.

I have no doubt that Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife will be seen as the definitive biography of Catherine of Aragon. It is an impressive, essential complement to any Tudor library.

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10384680_10153841333263942_6977345604197683474_nAmy Licence has been a teacher for over a decade. She has an MA in Medieval and Tudor Studies and has published several scholarly articles on the Tudors. She is an author and historian of women’s lives in the medieval and Tudor period.

Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife is available on Amazon in the UK from 15th October and in the US from 14th March 2017.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Book Corner: In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger

51C52QElN8L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_This book provides a fresh perspective on the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives by embarking on a journey through the manors, castles and palaces in which their lives were played out.

Each location is described in a fascinating narrative that unearths the queens’ lives in documents and artefacts, as well as providing practical visitor information based on the authors’ first-hand knowledge of each site. Accompanied by an extensive range of images including timelines, maps, photographs and sketches, this book brings us closer than ever to the women behind the legends, providing a personal and illuminating journey in the footsteps of the six wives of Henry VIII.

In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger, is an absolute treasure trove of pictures and information of the many historic locations associated with Henry VIII’s 6 wives. The book is divided into 7 easy-to-follow sections; the 1st covers the principal Royal residences of the period and the 6 subsequent portions are each dedicated to one of the 6 wives, in chronological order.

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St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury

The book examines each of Henry’s queens in turn, looking at the locations associated with them, not only when they were queen, but also from their childhood and early life. In each section, we are treated to the queen’s story, her triumphs and failures, told through the palaces in which she experienced them.

In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII takes you on a visit of each location, whether it’s a palace or manor house, the authors give vivid tours, telling you what to look out for, what is still extant – and what is lost to history. In one location, they guide you to a housing estate and point out the walls which once made up the exterior of a Henry VIII’s now-lost palace. You are also provided with a practical guide to the locations covered, giving you visitor information, parking suggestions, details on refreshments and facilities.

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Windsor Castle

With Katherine of Aragon, we visit the magnificent palaces of Spain, while Anne Boleyn takes us from Burgundy to the Loire Valley. Jane Seymour allows us to investigate the renowned Wolf Hall and Anne of Cleves gives us a fascinating glimpse into Germany’s wonderful castles. Jane Seymour The tragic story of Katherine Howard allows us to join Henry’s great progress of 1541,  through Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, before the tragic last months of imprisonment at Syon House. Which finally brings us to Katherine Parr, investigating the locations associated with her first 2 marriages, her life with Henry and then her final years with Thomas Seymour.To walk the grounds and corridors of Hampton Court Palace is to walk in the footsteps of all the Tudor kings and queens. Within the Tudor palace’s russet-coloured walls, the present fades into the brickwork and the past emerges to greet us. Although mush of the Tudor palace has, over the years, been modified or demolished and replaced with William III’s and Mary II’s baroque palace, the buildings that survive propel us back through the years to a time when Hampton Court was one of Henry VIII’s most beloved palaces, at the centre of court life and politics.

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Hever Castle, Kent

If nothing else, it is worth reading In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII for the research the Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger have conducted into the Anne of Cleves panels. These wonderful wood carvings are discussed and investigated in detail; their fascinating story told for the first time in its entirety. It is not hard to imagine the feelings of curiosity and, sometimes,  disappointment the authors must have felt as they tried to uncover the provenance of these panels, and their associations with Henry VIII’s 4th wife. Their eventual success and discoveries are a testament to the author’s persistence and tenacity.

This book is amply supported by quotes from primary sources, describing the locations as they were at the time the queens lived. The authors have a wonderful habit of discussing the difficulties involved in locating and identifying some of the less famous sites, making you feel part of their investigations.

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The Bishop’s Palace, Lincoln

An abundance of photographs and illustrations are included in the book. These include colourful photos of the sites as they are now, black and white floor plans from the Tudor period and artwork painted through the ages.

Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger have created a wonderful book, which is a combination of history book and travel guide. They have worked so well together it is impossible to see the join; they speak with one voice in this stunning collaboration. The book is produced in a way to make it easy to dip in and out of, making it possible to read only about the locations you are currently touring, or to read from beginning to end in a couple of sittings. But be careful, in just looking up one specific location you may find that you lose an entire hour without noticing.

The only criticism I would have is that there are no footnotes to clarify the source of quotations, which makes it harder to use as a research tool, but not impossible. This fault is partly offset, moreover, by an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the book as a whole.

Remarkably, the authors give equal empathy to each of Henry’s wives. It is impossible to discern a bias for Katherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn (a remarkable achievement). Each property is subject to the same attention to detail, whether it was a frequently occupied palace, or a manor house visited for just a few days while on progress.

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Gainsborough Old Hall, Lincolnshire

In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII is beautifully written and thoroughly engaging. You can practically hear, see and smell the Tudors. The book is a detailed, enjoyable and enlightening read, no matter whether you are intending to travel to the palaces, or visiting them through the book, you are in for a real treat. The authors have an incredible ability to invoke the past and recreate the sumptuous, lavish lives of England’s most fascinating queen consorts. It will be a valued addition to anyone’s Tudor library.

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Photographs ©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016