My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.
The lives of Henry VIII's queens summed up in seven short words. You think someone would've made a better rhyme. I mean it works, but well it lacks. True, "Sing a Song of Sixpence" might be the ladies, but it gets one upped with the debate about "Mary, Mary Quite Contary".
There have been volumnes written about the wives, some, though while lacking "a feminist reinterpretation" in the sub-title , are still one. The wives at this point seem to have be more fame than their infamous husband whose infamy comes from his treatment of them, and the fact that he is played by a hottie in the Showtime series. So why read this one about
Because Lindsey does present, in some cases, an unique look or highlights something that may be glossed over in other works. It isn't an earth shattering book, but it is far better than Joanna Denny's Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England's Tragic Queen. While it is true that like most biographers of the Tudors, Lindsey concludes what the women thought with little proof (there are letters, but that's it), and while she does spend the most time on Katherine of Aragorn and Anne Bolyen, and while she doesn't full protray Jane Seymour, who remains the aptly titled vessel, there is something here.
Lindsey does make some thought stirring, if not thought provoking, ideas in the often trod ground of the first two wives of
For instance, it is hard to argue with Lindsey's claim that today we would find Henry's pursuit of Anne Bolyen to be sexual harassament. She points out, makes it very clear that such terms would not be used at all in the time, but she makes a good case that Anne might have been making the best of a situtation that she could not escape. Additionally, Lindsey gives reasons why Katherine of Aragorn and Anne Bolyen should be admired, liked, and pited. She doesn't paint them as sister queens, but she doesn't take sides, making one look good at the expense of the other. She takes them as they are.
But the main reason why you should read this book are the chapters on Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. Now, I've always liked Anne of Cleves, who strikes me as the combination of Bluebeard's wife and her sister Anne. Not only does Lindsey make a case that the epitaph "Flanders mare" or "drayhorse mare" should not be used to describe the woman, but she argues that Anne of Cleves took a more active role in her annulment from Henry VIII than most people give her credit for. I'm not sure if I fully buy into the agrument, though the point about sex education seems likely. Could Anne of Cleves have really been that thick? Wouldn't someone mention something before her wedding night? However, Lindsey's theory is really stirring and makes Anne into a true winner, in some ways like the often esteemed Katherine Parr.
The chapter on Katherine Howard lacks this totalling redesign or recasting of character. Yet, Lindsey does make this young Katherine into her own woman. Lindsey has a point - most writers do tend to see Katherine Howard as whore or victim (or a innocent whoring victim ala the Tudors). The idea of Katherine Howard as sexually free woman does, one most admit, become overshadowed by Howard the idiot, but Lindsey does make her human.
Overall, while the book didn't really add knowledge, it did make me think differently about we know about the Tudors.
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