Sunday, 4 May 2014

Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived...

**Kings and Queens and Last Child are both just 99p/99c from April 23-26 only**

... 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


  1. During my studies, I also had to read good deal about these ladies. I think that my response to them is much the same as yours bar one. I actually felt sorry for all of them except Anne Boleyn, who I personally felt got what she deserved (in the context of the times of course). Maybe I'm too harsh, but it seems to me that in the catholic world in which they lived at the time, she behaved pretty badly considering she was not a member of Henry's court when she met him and she knew he was a married man. Her subsequent scheming really lost her my sympathy. I felt extremely sorry for Catherine Howard, baby as she was, and was very glad Catherine Parr outlived Henry. He must have been pretty disgusting to be with by then! I'm also glad Anne of Cleves suffered nothing worse than a centuries old bad reputation for her looks :-)

    1. Ah, thanks for your views, Val, most interesting! Of course I do know what you mean re Anne Boleyn; I just find her so fascinating, and I am not put off by people being clever in getting what they want, necessarily. Also, she didn't sleep with him for years, whereas others did. The main reason I feel sorry for her is that I think she was just a pawn used by her uncle. Thank you for reading - and my preference for Anne doesn't mean I've necessarily portrayed her 20th century counterpart with total sympathy!

  2. I was always fascinated by Anne Boleyn. She was an intelligent, cosmopolitan woman who spoke 6 languages fluently and could hold her own in the company of men of affairs, and yet she was obliged to comply with the dictates of her male relatives, because that was the way it was in those days. I also love the story of Anne of Cleves - she was given a reprieve from being involved in Henry VIII's life, with enough money to live independently. She became a sophisticated, happy, self-defining woman whose company was sought by others, answerable to nobody - my ideal life, actually!

    1. It occurred to me when I was thinking of how to write this, that Jane Seymour was actually in exactly the same position as Anne Boleyn had been, and did nothing different, but she was seen as 'good' whereas Anne was seen as 'bad'; shows how it is seen as more favourable for a woman to be demure and biddable, seen and not heard, and not too intelligent. And yes, Anne of Cleves rocks!

    2. Haha, good to see Anne Boleyn has some staunch supporters. You may be right. Maybe too she was a woman born out of time, so frustrated at the limitations of her world. Another possibility is that when I was studying, the history books and papers were not as open-minded as they are now, so that would have influenced me. Maybe I should go back to school…:-))

    3. Val, I think that's so right - I was thinking about all this as I read about them all prior to writing the book. Jane's situation was EXACTLY THE SAME - she caught Henry's fancy because she was so different from his current wife, and was pushed forward by her family, and was maybe a little ambitious herself, yet she does not have the rep of Anne! Imagine how far a woman like AB would have gone in the 21st century ~ she probably would have told the Duke of Norfok, Thomas Boleyn et al to stuff it, and gone off to have a wonderful life!

  3. Looks really fascinating Terry. I look forward to reading it!

  4. I remember watching "Anne of a Thousand Days" and just feeling so sorry for Anne Boleyn. Natalie Dormer played her well, but different, in The Tudors. I also liked Ann of Cleves portrayal in The Tudors by Joss Stone. Her story was so poignant. The Anne's have it!

    1. Yes, they do, Cindy! I loved both of them in The Tudors; I thought it was very clever of the producers to pick an attractive, sweet girl for Anne of Cleves; it was how I've always seen her.

  5. Love this post and your book sounds like something I might enjoy. Back in high school, I was not a fan of Social Studies, but the section on Henry and his wives kept my attention because my teacher cleverly presented it to us as a soap opera.

    1. Aha, yes, Christina, history is so fascinating if taught properly, but it so rarely is, is it? Thanks for reading and commenting - I hope you do get to read the book; it's had some wonderful responses so far, for which I am endlessly grateful as it was definitely a 'labour of love'! x

  6. This has always been my favourite period of British history and I'm really looking forward to reading your book when I get a chance. Anne Boleyn has always been my favourite too. Possibly because the most has been written about her and so she comes across as a more 3 dimensional rounded human being than the others or perhaps it's because her story really is the one which was the catalyst for the massive changes which happened here. Having read David Starkey's book as well as other notable historians, I always feel sorry for her. I think she was a victim as much as anyone of the way women were viewed and treated back then. I too like to believe they genuinely loved each other. Yes, she undoubtedly played with fire however, she paid the ultimate price and I always view her as a pawn in the power games of powerful men. Great post. Look forward to delving into your book in the near future. Definitely sounds like fun. :)

    1. Joanne, thanks so much for reading and leaving this interesting comment - I don't know if you read the comments of Julia and myself earlier, but we think the same as you do. I loved David Starkey's book, it taught me so much. I do want to read more about her, too, and also Catherine Parr, about whom I have only scratched the surface, too.

      I think something that people often forget is that the strength and character possessed by Elizabeth Ist came as much from her mother as her father, if not more. Wouldn't it be wonderful to go back in time and meet them all...! I do hope you like my book, if you get to read it. Thanks again!