... those six women who married that most famous of English kings, Henry VIII. I've read so much about all six, and find that in fiction they're portrayed differently each time. Anne Boleyn: hard-hearted and ambitious or a pawn of her father and uncle? Katherine Howard: victim or gold-digging minx? We don't know for sure ~ all we can do is read the best researched books on the subject.
My novel Kings and Queens, is a look through a mirror at their story, taking it into the twentieth century; it tells of Harry Lanchester, successful property developer, and the women in his life. I wrote it because the women have always fascinated me; I used to draw them when I was a child. Writing it gave me an opportunity to present them as I saw them, even though I am not a historical fiction author.
I've given my own opinion of the six here, and a word or two about how I translated them into my own characters ~ it's far from an in-depth anaysis, just a brief snapshot of each.
Which was your favourite of Henry's wives?
~ Catherine of Aragon ~
The first wife, to whom Henry was married to for longer than all the others put together, and whose religion mattered more to her than anything else, even having a close relationship with her daughter, and her own happiness and comfort. I know Catherine was a dutiful, loyal, selfless woman who was loved by many, and so supportive to Henry when he was young, a truly good wife ~ but I've never warmed to her very much. Of course, it's impossible to put myself in the position of a 16th century member of the Spanish aristocracy who'd been brought up to revere the Virgin Mary above all others, but I tried to see her just as a woman, too. I put all of her sterling qualities into Cathy Ferdinand, Harry's first wife, but also her stubbornness - and what I consider her decision not to acknowledge certain realities.
Maria Doyle Kennedy as Catherine of Aragon in the Showtime production of The Tudors
~ Anne Boleyn ~
Probably the most well known, and certainly my favourite. Anne Boleyn was enigmatic, alluring, beautiful, intelligent, witty, clever, with enough feminine mystique to bring a King to his knees. So much has been written about her; I hardly scratched the surface. Historian David Starkey devoted more than a third of his book Six Wives to her. A wonderful picture of her early years and formation of her character is given in Gemma Lawrence's La Petite Boulain. For me the big question was always whether or not she really did love Henry, or whether her seduction of him remained a political move, as portrayed in Phillipa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl. I like to think there was genuine love on both sides; I showed this in the grand passion between Annette Hever and Harry, in my novel. Being set in the 20th century, Kings and Queens is somewhat light on beheadings, though my husband pointed out that eventually poor Annette did, in fact, lose her head...
Natalie Dormer as Anne, in The Tudors; I thought she was perfect in this part
~ Jane Seymour ~
Jane Seymour is often thought of as the 'good wife', meek and mild, the antithesis of Anne Boleyn. She was said to be his favourite, not least because she was the only one to bear him a son. I wonder, though; had she not met an early death, might she not have bored him or displeased him, too? Also, I wonder if her marriage to him was every bit as much a product of her own and her family's ambition, as that of her predecessor. I show this in Jenny Seymour, Harry's third wife; as well as being demure and sweetly girlish, she is also very determined, a little smug - and very sure of what she wants....
Anita Briem alongside Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the Showtime production; I preferred her as Jane, rather than Annabelle Wallis who played her in the subsequent series
~ Anne of Cleves ~
Oh, poor Anne of Cleves! She is my second favourite after Anne Boleyn. Many people know, now, that it's a myth that she was ugly; I read that Henry never actually called her a 'Flanders Mare' at all. It was more that they had an unfortunate first meeting, the 'chemistry' was not there, and she'd had a very sheltered upbringing and had no idea how to be alluring to her husband. Once the unconsummated marriage was annulled, she continued to be welcome at Court and outlived them all; I have illustrated her disappointment and subsequent survival in Hannah Cleveley, who has proved to be most readers' favourite character in Kings and Queens.
Joss Stone made a charming Anne of Cleves!
~ Katherine Howard ~
I always felt sorry for Katherine Howard. She was little more than a child; in those days you didn't get any choice in the matter if the King of England wanted to marry you ~ and thus her youth was cut short. Of course she was not wise to have begun an affair with Thomas Culpepper, but she was a young girl in love who was too daft to realise what would happen. In Kings and Queens, however, I decided to make Keira Howard something of a gold digger; keeping the story feasible was one of the biggest problems I faced, and I reckoned that this would work better as an up to date translation of her circumstances - not to mention her somewhat lurid past....
Tamzin Merchant as Katherine, facing her death
~ Catherine Parr ~
Here's another one I felt sorry for; Catherine Parr, who wanted to marry Thomas Seymour, and had to quell not only her feelings for him but also her Lutheran leanings, in order to marry the ageing king. I knew little about her before I did my research, and was surprised to find her one of the most interesting; I hope this comes across in the character of my final wife, Kate Latimer, which was one of the chapters I enjoyed writing the most; she, too, has turned out to be a readers' favourite.
Joely Richardson, intelligent, dignified and charming, which is how I saw both Catherine and Kate.
Kings and Queens is essentially a contemporary drama; it is not necessary to know anything about these fascinating ladies in order to enjoy it. For those who would like to know a little background about the life of Henry VIII before reading, there is a link to my mini-bio blog post in the front of the book.
Here is the book, if you would like to have a look:
ps: February 2015
The sequel to Kings and Queens, LAST CHILD, is now live. I've written about it, with links, HERE