Triumph and Tragedy: The Enduring Appeal of Henry VIII’s Six Wives by Conor Byrne

six-wivesThank you to author and historian Conor Byrne for writing this guest article for us today.

Yesterday, the Guardian published a provocative article entitled “Six Wives with Lucy Worsley: Why TV shows are for the chop.” The article, which reviewed the Oxford-educated presenter’s new television series on Henry VIII’s consorts, was highly critical. Joel Golby deemed the show ‘awful, tedious history’ and ‘Game of Thrones without any of the good bits’. The comment section indicated that many agreed with Golby’s scathing analysis. One lambasted the ‘tedious focus’ of ‘Henry VIII’s dysfunctional spouse-making’; another questioned why ‘in the case of Henry VIII we re-visit him and his wives again and again.’

In fairness, these criticisms are not new. The eminent historian and presenter Dr David Starkey objected, some years ago, to what he perceived as the ‘feminisation’ of history – by which he meant the widespread popular interest, shared by professional historians, in Henry’s wives and mistresses, rather than in the ministers, politicians and scholars at court. Never mind that Starkey himself produced a biography of Henry’s wives in 2004, and later presented a television series on them. Other historians, such as Linda Porter, have suggested that the public is tiring of the Tudors and are moving towards the Stuarts – her Royal Renegades, detailing the lives of Charles I’s children, was published in October of this year. Other historians, including Leanda de Lisle and Anna Whitelock, have moved away from Tudor monarchs in favour of the issues of the English succession that brought James VI of Scotland to the throne.

Popular writers and novelists undoubtedly deserve credit for influencing the general public’s historical interests. Philippa Gregory, who published a series of novels about the Tudor court, later turned to the houses of York and Lancaster, embroiled in the fifteenth-century Wars of the Roses. The success of these novels, including The White Queen, led to a BBC drama adaptation by the same name. Conn Iggulden, more recently, has published a series of successful novels about the same period, albeit not from the exclusively female perspective that Gregory favours. As mentioned earlier, there appears to be, at present, a much greater interest among historians in the Stuarts, and it is possible that this interest will be replicated in the world of fiction. Perhaps, indeed, we are moving away from the Tudors in favour of their Plantagenet ancestors, or in favour of their Stuart successors.

And yet, two television series about Henry’s six wives have arrived this year. The first, presented by Suzannah Lipscomb and Dan Jones, was followed by that of Worsley’s. The BBC and other television channels have also presented television documentaries about other aspects and figures of the Tudor dynasty, including Henry VII (the ‘winter king’), Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, and Thomas Cromwell (the latter likely in response to increased interest in the Tudor minister as a result of the success of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall). But the interest in Henry’s wives appears second to none. Millions flock to Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, Hever Castle, Westminster Abbey, Sudeley Castle and Windsor Castle every year – and for many, it is because of the association of these palaces and fortresses with the six wives. Perhaps playing on this interest, consider In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, and In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, both written by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger, which provide an exhaustive list of properties associated with Henry’s queens, mainly in England but also in Spain, France and Germany. Lissa Chapman’s Anne Boleyn in London, moreover, offers a more specific consideration of the properties in which a Tudor queen lived and died.

TheTudors Season 1

In little more than a century, between 1485 and 1603, England was convulsed by religious turbulence and political revolution. This period witnesses the break with the Roman Catholic Church and the triumph of the English Reformation. It encompasses incredible military, diplomatic, political, social, cultural and artistic developments, including reforms made to the navy, the flowering of English literature (plays, poetry and religious literature), the emergence of the theatres, global expansion, and voyages to the New World. Incredible figures abound from all walks of life, from the kings to the poets, the queens to the lawyers, the scholars to the politicians, the playwrights to the pirates, the reformers to the recusants, the preachers to the schoolmasters, the actors to the authors. We have the expansion of knowledge, with the development of natural philosophy (‘science’) that culminates in the so-called Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. We have the flowering of poetry, plays and religious texts; we have the first queen regnants in Scotland; we have turbulence in Ireland and Scotland; we have far-reaching governmental reforms made across the kingdom, including in Wales; we have the first contacts made with Russia and we have assassination plots, executions, monstrous births, religious violence, usurpations and rebellions.

We have a pregnant woman on the Channel Islands cruelly forced in the flames for her heresy, her baby thrown in after her. We have a merchant tailor dying in suspicious circumstances in a London cell, the clergy implicated, the so-called Hunne affair. We see London apprentices rising in anger, rebelling; we observe northern rebels fighting for their religion, furious with what they perceive as ungodly reforms made by the ‘evil counsellors’ at court and the displacement of the rightful heir in the succession. We witness playwrights congregating in inns and taverns, developing their works, seeking patronage. We have a queen deprived of her crown and kingdom, humiliated, tried and executed in a lonely castle, forsaken by her son. We have a royal family extinguished and stamped out by a ruthless dynasty, the white rose of York ripped from the hedgerows for the final time. We have two brothers mercilessly executed within several years of one another, their wives having used jewellery to fight for precedence at court. We have foreign ambassadors influencing the decisions of their governments, we have pretenders raising support across the shires, arriving in harbours and seeking the throne. We have women giving birth to cats, we have widespread iconoclasm and the destruction of medieval Catholicism, we have voyages across the Atlantic, we have royal princesses confined to lonely palaces and houses, separated from their families and friends, starving to death, deprived of their husbands, or executed on scaffolds. We have a young woman, forgotten in exile, dying at the bottom of a flight of stairs; as a result, the virgin queen can never marry her true love. We have the so-called miserly king who pursues security and financial stability, who produces several children, enjoys a loving relationship with his wife, defeats all pretenders and achieves governmental efficiency. We have his son, who reforms the navy, seeks foreign glory, builds a series of castles and fortresses in defence of his kingdom, authors religious tracts, pursues unity with Scotland and involves himself in a whole host of architectural projects. We have the young Protestant boy who authorises the destruction of his kingdom’s churches, whitewashes the walls, rids the parishes of Catholic idolatry and chooses to remove his sisters from the line of succession. We have the Tudor queens regnant, who pursue a policy of terror against their cousins and rivals, encompassing imprisonments, executions, banishment and disgrace; who sentence hundreds to death for their religious crimes, who send armies abroad to fight in foreign battles, who act as patrons of poets and playwrights, who give speeches to inculcate loyalty in their subjects to their queen, the mother of the kingdom, and who ultimately, as sisters, loathe one another. We have not just England, but Scotland, Ireland, Wales and briefly Spain.

And yet… despite all this, we return to the stories of six individuals: Henry VIII and his six consorts. Is it because their stories continue to resonate with us today, almost five hundred years later, and if so, why? Is it the courage and resilience of Katherine of Aragon, who fought endlessly for her daughter’s rights and for her marriage, ultimately dying alone, a virtual prisoner, in a lonely Cambridgeshire castle? In her own lifetime, Katherine’s subjects rallied to her, just as she had rallied the English soldiers to her cause in 1513, to defeat the Scots, her husband’s traditional enemy. Women sympathised with her, for they knew what it was to experience losses in childbirth, to experience a husband’s infidelity and loss of interest. Even today, perhaps, women can relate to Katherine.

But most of all, Anne Boleyn is the queen that the general public wants to hear about. We cannot get enough of her. Novels and biographies are written about her every year; television and films produced about her; news of her portraiture features in all of the major British newspapers. It is hard to imagine that happening for any of the other wives. And yet, she died in obscurity and shame, a traitor to her husband, a monstrous lecher, an adulteress, a suspected would-be murderess. In her own lifetime, she polarised opinion. Her defenders hailed her as a sixteenth-century Esther, a generous and sincere reformer who did much to further evangelicalism in England. In doing so, she contributed to the development of her daughter’s religious establishment. Anne’s enemies identified her as an evil seductress, probably deformed in appearance, who lured her brother into committing incest with her. These opposing sets of views have mostly been discarded today, in favour of a more nuanced understanding, but even so, notions of witchcraft and rampant sexuality continue to be associated with Anne as individuals visit Hampton Court and Hever. Perhaps, in part, due to the success of The Other Boleyn Girl and The Tudors, which favour sensationalism over accuracy. And yet, when all is said and done, the competing versions of Anne as martyr, witch, saint and wh*re are ultimately discarded in favour of Anne the tragic victim, in that haunting, poignant scene on the scaffold, betrayed by her husband.

The Other Boleyn Girl

The stories of the successors of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn lack the religious upheaval, political revolution and personal drama that, perhaps, ensure the greater interest in Henry’s first two wives. Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard are, in Starkey’s words, ‘creatures of the moment’, but even so, they have their admirers and defenders, their detractors and their slanderers. Internet battles pitch ‘Team Anne’ against ‘Team Jane’, while Hilary Mantel’s novels have offered to us a new version of Jane as an intelligent, resourceful and observant intriguer at court. However, the scarcity of actual facts about Jane, as observed in the attempts to write modern biographies of her, ultimately ensures that she remains an elusive figure – tantalising, in her mystery, but frustrating, in that we can’t form a real sense of who she was. Perhaps, in a way, she is the most elusive of Henry’s queens, and is, therefore, the perfect subject for a novel.

Anne of Cleves, the so-called ugly queen, got pushed aside in favour of her younger, beautiful maid-of-honour – but what’s often forgotten is the widespread admiration and respect with which Anne was greeted in England, from the moment of her arrival in a December winter to her death in obscurity during the reign of her stepdaughter. Her marriage to Henry was the shortest, but she is perhaps one of the most misunderstood of his wives. Even today, she is often viewed with a snigger as the Flanders mare, even though that name was only coined the following century, and the causes of the failure of her marriage continue to be woefully misunderstood. Only recently are we coming to view Katherine Howard as a victim of neglect and possibly of abuse, a young girl in a large household in which predatory behaviour could – and did – flourish. Because we seem to view youth as synonymous with foolishness, we ignore her intercessions, her patronage and her ceremonial activities and focus on her doomed encounter with her husband’s courtier as evidence of her flightiness. While happy to regard Anne Boleyn as innocent, because she did not confess to any crime while in the Tower, we ignore Katherine’s statement that she was not guilty of adultery and instead allude to her as ‘the guilty one’ or the ‘wh*re’.

And last but not least? Katherine Parr, the first queen to write her own books, the one of all Henry’s wives, perhaps, who most influenced her stepdaughter Elizabeth’s model of queenship (whether, and how, she influenced her other stepdaughter Mary is an issue that is often not addressed). The one who married Henry, despite her love for Thomas Seymour; the one who ultimately got her happy ending, but was then betrayed by her husband. The Duchess of Cornwall’s favourite wife, apparently.

Could any of these women have envisaged the impact they would continue to have hundreds of years after their deaths? Almost certainly not. Two of them died in shame and disgrace, hastily buried in the Tower chapel. Anne Boleyn would never have known her daughter would one day reign in triumph. One died a virtual prisoner, in exile, as if she were a traitor to her kingdom when, in fact, she saw herself as its saviour. One died, forgotten, but widely respected, even admired. Another died shortly after giving birth to a short-lived daughter, raging at her husband. And another died after producing a son; she, alone of all the six, lies buried with that most enigmatic king, Henry VIII, at Windsor.

Conor Byrne studied History at the University of Exeter and is currently studying for a Masters. He is the author of Katherine Howard: A New History and the forthcoming Queenship in England. He specialises in late medieval and early modern European history, with a focus on gender, sexuality and the monarchy.

Episode 1 of Six Wives with Lucy Worsley can be viewed on YouTube – click here – and if you’re interested in learning more about Henry’s six wives then offers a 7-unit online course, “The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Monarchy and Matrimony in Tudor England”, by historian Gareth Russell, click here for details.

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43 thoughts on “Triumph and Tragedy: The Enduring Appeal of Henry VIII’s Six Wives by Conor Byrne”
  1. Few monarchs have had the influence on English or American history that Henry VIII had. With such an impact, how could any aspect of his reign be ignored? That historians approach it with varied views and conclusions — and without anachronistic biases – is the nature of the free-for-all we know and love as historical research and discovery. As to novels, a novelist isn’t bound by a historian’s strictures, whether guided by fact, as in an exercise of the historical imagination or as a total flight of fancy, as in “Game of Thrones.

  2. I enjoyed the new Lucy Worsley episode one, Six Wives, probably as it was almost an inside view. The drama was well done, although I would criticize some aspects of historical deviation, characterization and tit bits. I understand for dramatic purposes historians have to speculate, but Katherine of Aragon striking Henry round the face….questionable? Otherwise it was accurate, intimate, the costumes great, it gave an intimate view of a loving relationship, which is very clear from the contemporary records, but which was blighted by saddess and loss, Henry and Katharine were very close, Katherine we also saw as a fun loving and successful Queen, there was excellent narration and drama, plus, yes, yes, yes, jump for joy, Katherine had red hair. The series looks much better than several others. I even liked the fact that we see a side of Katherine that was ruthless, please send my dead enemies body to my husband….love it. I knew this, but seeing someone dramatically say it brings it to life…. Brutal times, even for battlefield dead. James ivs body was brought to London but it was merely coffined, never buried and as de Lisle explained in her book on the Tudors, it then vanished. (please don’t dig up London carparks to find without permission lol)

    There was a lot in there and I am looking forward to more next week. I must admit though, my first reaction to the announcement of the series was not another on the Six Wives. But I love Lucy Worsley and reenactment stuff, so I did what all Tudor and history addicts do, set it to record and popped it in the planner and then watched it. It was much better than I had expected. My only complaint is that the series appears to only be three episodes. This means Katherine and Anne get two, the other four squashed into one…typical BBC can’t be bothered to spend money on decent history….I may have it wrong, but if true then shame on the BBC for each wife deserves one week and if not then it deserves at least four parts.

    I enjoyed all of the series, save Wolfe Hall and I don’t really care if a drama is totally accurate, it entertainment, not documentary. I do get fussy, however, over documentary history which should be as accurate from original sources as possible, show all sides, plus proper details and good drama reenacted. I also believe expert assessment and criticism should be present. Not all stories from sources are correct. Not all stories are reported correctly, even by historians and numerous things are myth. All items in a documentary that are presented as someone or something should also be double checked as viewers from that field of study do have a keen eye.

    One thing did strike me as a bit fanciful and I would like it clarified. Lucy Worsley claimed to be the first person to be allowed to film the original letters of Anne Boleyn. Please can anyone clarify this as the original letters were filmed years ago on a documentary showing the inside secrets of the Vatican library and archives. I know other people have seen the original letters, but most people have seen copies or facsimiles of the letters. I would love it if anyone could confirm this.


    1. Yes, I thought the bit with Catherine slapping him was a bit odd and another bit I found odd was the mention of Henry Fitzroy’s birth as if it was before Mary’s birth but that may have been due to editing.

      I’m not sure about the letters and whether they’ve been filmed before, sorry!

      Re it being 3 episodes, I just looked on the programme guide on the BBC website and it looks as if episode 2 goes up to Jane Seymour’s death, by the description on there, so that leave episode 3 to cover Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr which does seem very odd. What a shame!

      1. Thanks for your helpful and swift response, Claire, anyway, appreciate it as always. Agree, a shame. Especially with the renewed interest in Katherine Howard, plus Katherine Parr had a few dangerous moments to face as well. Oh, well, will just record and watch several times.

  3. Fascinating article! Thanks! I think one reason we are so fascinated with Henry and wives is that they seem so human in many ways: Catherine, losing all those children; Anne, disappointing the king with a daughter and desperate to survive; Jane, who married Henry in an indecent amount of time after Anne’s execution, but dying after childbirth; Cathrine Howard, the child-bride who loved a good time and Katherine Parr, the wise, educated woman of contemplation, yet passion about Tom Seymour. Larger than life, but also human and therefore, relatable. Thanks!

  4. Poor old Anne of Cleves. Still being relegated to a footnote, apparently, despite managing to outlive all the other five wives. Will no one ever give her an hour’s TV to herself?

    1. James, it often astonishes me that Anne lived for seventeen years in England following the annulment of her marriage in 1540. She died in obscurity and yet no one seems to wonder how she spent almost two decades. It’s a great idea for a novel. While I agree with you that Anne deserves more attention on TV, at the end of the day she was queen for only six months – compared to the others, she was not especially important in the long term. But her personal story deserves to be considered.

      1. James Harris and Conor: There’s a great novel, MY LADY OF CLEVES, by Margaret Campbell Barnes (the original copyright is 1946, and it was renewed in 2008) that I highly recommend.

        Yes, it is historical fiction, but Campbell Barnes is a world-renowned historical fiction novelist (she also wrote BRIEF GAUDY HOUR about Anne Boleyn) and her book takes fictional license, but there is no “outrageously concocted” instances.

        Check it out, guys!

      2. Yes I agree Conor she lived like an English country gentlewoman quietly in solitude but I think she used to go to court from time to time, she was it is said of her a most gracious mistress to all who served her and she was remembered with affection always.

  5. Yet another program ‘cashing in’ on the re-newed interest in the Tudors. Yet again I learned nothing new, and was concerned about the use of ‘real’ written evidence- never calling into question whether the author was biased, impartial or prejudiced. I’m also becoming concerned with 21st century interpretations being placed on the characters of ‘the wives’, Scenes/actions happened in episode 1 that simply did not happen.

  6. The reality is there is very little information on certain wives and therefore far more speculation on what might have happened, which I suppose I have to concede some Tudor Fans are interested in and there is a market for it. Just not this one.

    1. We have to remember that, in a one hour programme, it is very difficult to explore a wide range of issues. A biography or journal article, for example, is much better equipped to provide new evidence or to offer a reevaluation of an accepted theory. Moreover, Lucy Worsley is presenting Katherine Howard in a later episode as an abused victim, which is drawing on modern research. This is a view that, to my mind, has never appeared in any previous television adaptation. Regarding the most important – historically speaking – wives such as Katherine of Aragon, I think it is difficult to provide a new angle, but because so little is known about figures such as Katherine Howard, the evidence we do have can be reinterpreted and reevaluated to offer interesting alternative theories. I for one am delighted that Lucy is offering, in my opinion, a truer account of Katherine Howard’s life than the scandalous version presented in dramas such as The Tudors.

  7. We have to remember that, in a one hour programme, it is very difficult to explore a wide range of issues. A biography or journal article, for example, is much better equipped to provide new evidence or to offer a reevaluation of an accepted theory. Moreover, Lucy Worsley is presenting Katherine Howard in a later episode as an abused victim, which is drawing on modern research. This is a view that, to my mind, has never appeared in any previous television adaptation. Regarding the most important – historically speaking – wives such as Katherine of Aragon, I think it is difficult to provide a new angle, but because so little is known about figures such as Katherine Howard, the evidence we do have can be reinterpreted and reevaluated to offer interesting alternative theories. I for one am delighted that Lucy is offering, in my opinion, a truer account of Katherine Howard’s life than the scandalous version presented in dramas such as The Tudors.

  8. Thank you Claire! I am especially fond of the Tudors because of how they touch our lives. Their experiences with marriages, births, miscarriages, loneliness, power, egos, secrets, games, etc. We hear their stories and feel their joys and sorrows and no matter their wealth or position could all end in a dark, dirty prison. Wonderful article!

    1. If they had wealth and position, yes it may end in the Tower, but they were kept in the better apartments, not dirty dungeons, those were unfortunately were ordinary people went. If you were important to the state you were imprisoned according to their status and if you could pay you got better food, better rooms and some other privlages. Queen Katherine Howard and Anne Boleyn were housed in the royal palace, others like Sir Walter Raleigh had luxery, paid for his own furniture and bed, for a second floor for his family and new wall hangings. If you could persuade the warden to bring you more food, you ran up debts and then if you were cleared you could only leave once you paid those debts.

      We get most of our information about how ordinary people were kept in dirty overcrowded cells from the records of large trials when numerous people were kept awaiting trial in terrible conditions, such as the dark subterranean cells in Lancaster Castle where the suspected Pendle witches were held. In Salem everyone were put in the same cells regardless of status, so after a number of people were cleared and released, even the innocent had to remain in jail until their prison accommodation was paid for. In some drama the noble families are also depicted as being thrown into dark cells as it is dramatic.

      What all prisoners had in common, however, was the terror and fear of facing a charge that potentially ended in death. Hundreds of offences, between 200 and 300 by the eighteenth century up to the late 1800s carried the death sentence. Some, like begging without a licence or petty theft at this time carried hanging as an automatic punishment after the third time. Others like sheep stealing over 30 shillings carried it for a first crime. Heresy for repeated offences carried the death sentence, warnings and penance often for first offences, Henry Viii made witchcraft or malficia, harming others by sorcery punishable by death, plus of course many more things came under the Treasons Act. Henry, via Thomas Cromwell made treason more or less a thought crime, for thinking or criticism of the King or his new Queen, their marriage or heirs, even the slightest thing in writing or speech was treason. Intent was also treason. There was no system of rights for the prisoner, save to speak, no counsel, no defence lawyers, although these began to appear in the seventeenth century, no forward knowledge of the evidence against you, no presumption of innocence, it was a presumption of guilt and juries sat to decide on the evidence in advance. There were a few rights, but the case was loaded against them. Richard iii increased access to bail and scribes for counsel but any earlier rights were abolished by Henry Viii in the last decade of his reign.

      The fear and anguish and pain of the loss that people felt, the fear in prison, whether or not high born must have been terrible as death or physical punishment awaited as prison was where you awaited trial and punishment, not the punishment itself. Some prisons did exist for lesser crimes, two in Southwark for one that were famous, one a female only prison. The Fleet also had temporary prisoners , with Henry Howard spending time there, after a night of drunken behaviour and fighting. There are also tales of people who died in some prisons, forgotten. Church prisons were far more humane, but the state took control here too, making heresy a more serious crime as the state and church became one. We do indeed feel their pain and in drama they become real again, for a short time at least.

      1. ALWAYS enjoy your comments. I have read ( although perhaps in historical fiction) that the Fleet prison was a place where prisoners sometimes were starved to near death unless there families could afford to bribe the goalers to keep the prisoner reasonably fed. It supposedly had all the things we associate with the most horrific conditions.

  9. Cardinal Wolsley was often pilloried for being drunk and disordley, iv often thought what a droll picture that conjures up.

  10. I enjoyed it. I never get tired of the Tudors. Lucy is very good and her being part of the scenes dressed as a servant was a nice idea. She really does immerse herself in the subject
    I agree with others that it would have been better to devote a programme to each wife.
    At least for once we had a Katherine with the correct colouring.

    1. Yes Caro your right, Katherine has always been depicted as dark where in fact she was fair skinned with auburn hair, her hair was said to be glorious and of great length, in The Tudors which I personally thought was nonsense though I did enjoy it, Katherine was tall thin with black hair and it’s not realistic to portray them as looking completely different, in all her portraits Katherine to me looks English, she did have an English grandmother so that’s possibly where she got her colouring from, Anne Boleyn is always being shown as a raven haired beauty so why do they divert from the truth where Katherine’s concerned, Anne Of Cleves is always shown as a plain faced German with bad English so that’s true there and Catherine Howard as a flighty wanton and Henry’s last wife as matronly and a bit of a blue stocking, she was very intelligent but she had a frivolous streak to.

      1. Yes Christine I always believed Katherine Parr to be a matronly nursemaid and very serious. When I visited Sudeley Castle it was interesting to see that she was very different and much more interesting than the description I was taught at school.
        I find it quite exciting that the modern Historians are interested in finding out as much about the real characters as possible.

  11. I have to say, I am quite bored with the Tudors. I’ve read extensively, and really don’t think I need to watch a modified tv series. I like the thought of the Stuarts. As long as they don’t produce another POS series, like Reign.

  12. I would love to see a remake of FOREVER AMBER as a series on one of the cable channels which would do the book and characters full justice, as opposed to the 1950’s film starring Cornell Wilde and Linda Darnell (whom my father always said my mom looked like. *smile*)

    As far as I know, Kathleen Winsor’s novel was the first historical fiction that encompassed the era of the Restoration.

    I do wish there were more documentaries about the Restoration and Charles II–can anyone recommend some books or docs about the Stuarts?

    1. I agree I absolutely adore that book, my mum read it as a girl and she told me to read it she bought me it and I couldn’t put it down, the author captured perfectly the court of Charles 11 and the London of that era, cobbled streets and taverns and the mistresses of the King in all their finery, I could see all the sights and sounds and smell the food, Winsor was a great author I saw the film to and thought it was very dull in comparison, but in all fairness the book was huge and they couldn’t fit it all in the film, I wished she had written a sequel, the heroine Amber St Clare was such a bitch and the man she loved was never really hers and yet they had several children, but to him she was just his mistress and he married another woman, the characters were fiction yet the tale was set in Restoration England and carried you through the horrors of the great plague and the fire of London, I recommend it to anyone on this site who loves a good old fashioned historical romp.

    2. I read Forever Amber when I was 15. A very long time ago. I fell in love with the period. It was myfirst introduction to British history, and I fell head-over-heels in love with Charles II. Loved the book and the movie. I often wondered if I was the only who ever read it. Nice to see there are others who enjoyed it.

      1. I found that though Kathleen Winsor was American she seemed to capture England in the 17th century perfectly, the language and sayings they used, the customs and superstitions and of course the King himself, Charles 11 has always been my favourite monarch because he was kind, loved women and was a most lenient benign monarch, when London burned he stood side by side with the common man and helped put out the fire, he wasn’t called the merry monarch for nothing, unlike his Tudor predecessors he was merciful and was said to be charming beyond measure, he had had a terrible start in life being forced to flee with his mother to France and living in exile, his father being executed by Cromwell, when the monarchy was restored he returned to England and had such a joyous welcome people lined the streets clapping and cheering, I no this is digressing from Conor’s article but I’m sure he won’t mind, since we’re all history buffs!

        1. Ah, now you are making me pine for Forever Ambre, both books. A repeat, film or series please now need desperately. Wonder if its on Amazon Video?

        2. Banditqueen, you must read the book it’s wonderful, you both love admire and often dislike the heroine, don’t bother with the film, the actors were insipid and it wasn’t a patch on the book, it truly is a masterpiece of historical fiction, in fact all this discussion about it is making me want to read it again.

        3. Hi Christine, I loved the books, mine were in two parts, two dusty, creased old paperbacks, read many times over, but classic, just classic. Yes, must dig them out or get a kindle reprint. The series really was good, the film missed too much out, well films do. Now I pine even more. Addicted to history….is there a self help group.. lol? Never mind, some history coming with the Christmas holidays and I have several documentaries lined up recorded for the season. I am certain, Bannockburn, Napoleon, Drake, the White Queen, Tudors, Great Fire, several 1916 Rising and two docs on Six Wives, plus the Hundred Years War and Game of Thrones will keep me busy. Can’t get enough really. Help.

        4. I know what you mean I really enjoyed Dickensian shown last year and the BBC were going to make a second series, the writer was keen but for some reason they scrapped it, I heard it maybe too costly to make but when you consider the cost of the wildlife documentary series they churn out you would have thought they could do a second series, maybe one day.

    1. What about the BBC iPlayer? It was on Bbc one, and is now on demand so you can watch online or your devices, phone, so on. It is also repeated Tuesday 11.45p.m and Wednesday midnight. I noticed it had gone from utube yesterday but thought I had a poor connection. Oh, sorry, silly me, didn’t read all of your post, just realised your in America. BBC America? Hope you get it over there soon and boo boo on YouTube for taking it down. Thanks for your kind comment on my post.

  13. I enjoyed the first episode. Some of the costumes looked as if they were borrowed from Wolf Hall. I loved the part where Katherine of Aragon faced Henry in the court and declared she was a true maid. She was word perfect. Looking forward to the next episode.
    Was she really told after the first stillbirth that she was expecting twins and the other baby was safe? It turned out she had an infection. Perhaps someone can clarify this for me.

    1. Hi Carol, I don’t have the source to hand, but apparently, yes, Katherine did lose a child in early 1510 and because she had a swollen belly, her doctor believed that she had been carrying twins. It did appear to become clear that she was no longer pregnant and the King was told that she suffered a miscarriage. From what I have read, it all gets a bit murky as to what happened as Katherine concealed her earlier miscarriage, but she confessed that she had miscarried in a letter to her parents. It is a bit unclear as to whether Katharine knew she had no child, wishing she did, was convinced by her doctors or whether she was unaware that she no longer had any child. She knew that she had miscarried, but her belly was swollen and her instincts seem to have taken over. However, for some reason the original loss was concealed, but Katharine must have conceived very soon afterwards as by May 1510 it was known she was pregnant and she gave birth to a healthy son on 1st January 1511. It is unknown why Prince Henry died 52 days later, but he does not appear to have been ill and his baptism was celebrated with wild parties and jousts. Cot death may have been a cause. The infection may have been caused by her miscarriage, but what a carry on. Real life is better and stranger than fiction.

  14. Conor – Lucy has previewed Katherine Howard in this month’s BBC History magazine. While this may be a fresh interpretation on tv about Katherine, and has been written about by Joanna Denny and yourself, it’s a view Katherine herself wouldn’t understand. Doubtless she was exploited by older men. It would not have been recognised by Tudor people at that time. Victims of child abuse would surely have to also include Margaret Beaufort? Mary de Bohun? Edward of Warwick? Even the ‘Princes in the Tower’, locked up and deprived of their freedom. The list goes on. I do object to Katherine being called ‘a wh*re’ in the recent Channel 5 ‘drama documentary,’ as well as referred to as’the sexy one’, the ‘dumb one’ and was out-raged by her portrayal in ‘The Tudors, particularly the nude ‘preparing for the block’ scene – disrespectful and exploitive of the actress involved. Girls of 13, 14, 15 were regularly married and bore children – I think calling it child abuse is a step too far. We know it’s wrong now, but it was cultural and of it’s time.

    1. Conor may be thinking of her earlier relationship with Mannox which was abusive, although there is some debate on her relationship with Francis Dereham, which most historians accept as consensual but Katherine tried to say was rape. There were elements of both, as she enjoyed a relationship but
      it also became more of a power struggle. Dereham did become a pest. Mannox was her tutor and used his position to gain favours, that is abuse, especially as Katherine was a young girl. Her age with Dereham some historians believe was fifteen and not abuse, Denny does put her agre lower and even Professor Wilkinson falls into the trap of marriage at the age of 15 to Henry, but other evidence does not support this theory. It is more likely that she was 17 at the time of her marriage. As you correctly point out girls did marry and give birth before the age of 15, although they were meant to be 14 before consumption, but husband’s did not always wait. Margaret Beaufort may have given birth aged 13, but this was more productive of her husband’s choice not to wait than hers. She suffered internal damages as a result. It is indeed a stretch to call early sexual relations child abuse, but they did stem from power and the pressure to produce sons quickly, the fear that a woman could die in childbirth and a belief that she became a woman at the age of 14, or after pubity. Katherine had two pre marital relationships that entailed sexual contact, one can be viewed as abusive, one as consensual. I think we should wait and see how the documentary deals with the questions of her abuse or sexual partners, the evidence it presents, before we are too critical.

      1. Bandit Queen, you are likely right that Katherine was aged about seventeen when she married Henry. A few years ago I wrote an article for On the Tudor Trail about her birth date. There are several indications that she was born in 1523. The argument that she was born in 1525, which is suppprted by Denny and Wilkinson, rests mainly on the unknown Spanish chronicler’s statement that she was about fifteen when she met Henry, but the chronicler did not provide dates, and referred to Katherine as Henry’s fourth wife and Anne of Cleves as his fifth. He also seemed to suggest that Katherine met Henry soon after Jane Seymour died, in 1537.

        While a 1525 birth date is unlikely, it is similarly doubtful that she was born about 1521 or even as early as 1518-9, for this rests on the problematic identification of a portrait of a lady dated to around 1540 as Katherine. Antonia Fraser suggested the sitter is actually Elizabeth Cromwell, sister of Jane, and the art historian Roy Strong agrees, for the portrait was owned by the Cromwell family. Indirectly or otherwise, Katherine Howard was associated with the ruin of their ancestor, Thomas, and so they would not have dreamed of owning a portrait of her.

        If neither the early birth date or the very late birth date make sense, then a date of circa 1523 is explicable. Contemporaries emphasised Katherine’s youth – George Cavendish noted the word ‘youth’ ten times in his verses about her – and a merchant described her as ‘that young girl’; he probably would not have done so had she only been five years younger than Anne of Cleves. Moreover, a portrait at the MMOA in New York, which was identified by scholars such as Susan James as being a portrait of Katherine, references a woman aged seventeen in about 1540.

        1. Plus, of course, there is evidence that it was only in the autumn or winter of 1536 that Katherine was provided with music lessons under the tutelage of Henry Manox. It stretches credulity to think that she would have been between sixteen and eighteen at this time, when contemporaries believed that women of the nobility and gentry should be well-educated, especially in the domestic arts, in order to ensure their success as wives.

          More probably, she would have been about thirteen in late 1536 when these lessons took place, especially if one considers the type of education afforded to Anne Boleyn: for a woman to serve as a maid of honour to the queen, as Katherine’s step-grandmother hoped for Katherine to do, it was expected that she would possess at least some talent in music, dancing and singing.

          Ultimately, the exact ages of Henry’s four English consorts remain a mystery, although Katherine Parr’s biographer, Susan James, has convincingly dated her birth to about August 1512. But as for the other three, who knows.

        2. Thanks for your excellent assessment Conor, very well put as always. We tend to take dob for granted, today, after all we have an official certificate and registration to back it up, in most cases. We forgot that they were not required to do such things and births have not been generally recorded, save for very important people, like the heir to the crown. For girls they were even more neglectful, even though the household possibly knew, so it is indeed a case of being a detective, looking for clues and reconstruction of a probable birth date. You would think that a baptism would be officially recorded, but parish records are chaotic and there are gaps as wide as the River Mersey. Girls were not always mentioned in wills either. Baptism was often done immediately after birth by the midwife who were licensed for this sacrament without any official records. I believe Thomas Cromwell attempted to introduce registration of birth, marriage and death, but without a lot of success. Our ancestors certainly did not make it easy for those of us who wish to research their lives, but then again, they had no reason to either. Thanks for your response, very interesting.

  15. I really enjoyed this new series and am quite happy for more Tudor programmes to appear . Although I enjoy other periods as well, War of the Roses , French Revolution etc , we have such a rich and exciting history to look back on . Our history is so exciting it virtually cries out to made into films and documentaries dramas. I can’t think of any European country that embraces its past in the way we do . Our past is part of what makes our present and future.
    Quite honestly if history bores you just don’t watch it , remain ignorant of our evolution but you are missing out on some of the best real life drama .

    1. Can I also recommend Isabella, a Spanish language drama with Subtitles, which recently aired on Sky Arts. It was very powerful and as I have never seen any drama on Isabella before, other than a film about Christopher Columbus. It had English subtitles, but it made me concentrate and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended if you ever see it on repeats or as a boxset. In fact, it was one of the best dramatic portraits I have seen for years.

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