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Our Man in Rome: Henry VIII and his Italian Ambassador [Hardcover]

Catherine Fletcher
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Feb 2012

1527. Gregorio 'The Cavalier' Casali is Henry VIII's man in Rome. An Italian freelance diplomat, he charmed his way into the English service before he was twenty. But now he faces an almighty challenge. Henry wants a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and Casali must persuade Pope Clement VII of his master's case.

Set against the backdrop of war-torn Renaissance Italy, Our Man in Rome weaves together tales from the grubby underbelly of Tudor politics with a gripping family saga to reveal the extraordinary true story behind history's most infamous divorce.

Through six years of cajoling, threats and bribery, Casali lives by his wits. He manoeuvres his brothers into lucrative diplomatic postings, plays off one master against another, dodges spies, bandits and noblemen alike. But as the years pass and Henry's case drags on, his loyalties are increasingly suspected. What will be Casali's fate?

Drawing on hundreds of unknown archive documents, Our Man in Rome reconstructs his tumultuous life among the great and powerful at this turning point for European history. From the besieged Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome to the splendours of Greenwich Palace, we follow his trail in the service of Henry VIII. Lavish ceremony and glamorous parties stand in contrast to the daily strains of embassy life, as Casali pawns family silver to pay the bills, fights off rapacious in-laws and defends himself in the face of Anne Boleyn's wrath.

This vivid and compelling book will make us think anew about Henry, Catherine and the Tudor world.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head (2 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847921760
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847921765
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 444,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in Birkenhead and spent my teenage years in Scotland. After graduating from the University of Liverpool I moved to London. I had a stint in student politics then went to work at the BBC Political Unit. I started out on a three-week temp gig making the coffee and five years later found myself producing BBC Parliament's live coverage. During that time a holiday in Florence sparked my interest in Renaissance history and in 2004 I went back to university to study for a PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London. Since then I've lived and studied in Bologna, Rome and Florence. I'm now back in the UK and lecture in history at the University of Sheffield.

Product Description


"An eye-opening book, an intricate and fascinating story of an elusive man with an impossible job. A brilliant and impressive feat of original research, and necessary reading for anyone fascinated by the story of Henry's divorce." (Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall)

"Catherine Fletcher rescues from undeserved obscurity a key player in one of history's great events. With impeccable scholarship and a zest for the delightful minutiae of history, Fletcher navigates the intricate byways of Renaissance diplomacy to bring this vital new figure into the story of Henry VIII's "great matter"" (Ross King)

"Fletcher does her subject great credit. She makes no attempt to either embellish or simplify. She simply tells a cracking story well, in plenty of detail with clarity and insight" (Sarah Vine The Times)

Book Description

The inside story of Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Our Man in Rome 15 Feb 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
There are so many books on the Tudor's and on Henry's break with Rome, that is is hard to see how an author can come up with something different. However, in this case, I think the author has a really original story to tell and she tells it very well. Gregorio Casali was an Italian freelance diplomat who was, essentially, Henry VIII's 'Man in Rome'. Born around 1500 in a Rome ruled by the Borgia's and during a time of wars and upheaval, he found himself in the 1520's charged with convicing the Pope, Clement VII, to grant Henry a divorce from Catherine of Aragon.

Casali's world is one of Catholic princes at war, Protestant challenges and Ottoman Turks pushing west. He came from a family emeshed in diplomacy and at the heart of power politics. Involved in the English royal service, besieged with the Pope when Charles V sacked Rome, during a time of plague, war and upheaval, Casali shuttled around Europe pleading Henry's case. Henry had a troubled backdrop to an increasingly troubled divorce.

The author paints a detailed picture of Europe at that time and it is interesting to see how closely Casali worked with Wolsey, who allowed Casali a certain amount of leeway in his dealings. When Wolsey fell - knowing that his career and reputation depended on his ability to deliver the divorce - Casali had to tread carefully. It was perilous to incur Henry's displeasure and Henry wanted far more control over what Casali was allowed to promise without permission. Having brought Wolsey down, Henry coveyed to the Pope that he would tolerate no further excuses in his great matter and, indeed, both Pope Clement and Henry himself spend an awful lot of time delaying matters for their own ends.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER
British scholar Catherine Fletcher has written a fascinating view of both the political and religious machinations behind the divorce of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, Her book, "The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story from Inside the Vatican", is just that, and spotlights the work done by "agents" of Henry and their work in Italy. Also interesting are the actions of the pope, Clement VII.

One of the most interesting points that Fletcher makes is that through Henry's "agent", Gregorio Casali, "we see England from the outside, from Rome, from Italy, from Europe. There, Henry VIII was not the caricature fat tyrant, nor yet the virtuous Renaissance prince, BUT A MID-RANKING NORTHERN MONARCH, a player on the European stage, but FAR FROM THE STAR OF THE SHOW." The "stars"? Oh, those would be the Habsburg Charles V, France's Francis I, and to a certain extent, Pope Clement. Lurking in the background of power would be that pesky Augustinian friar, Martin Luther, who was very upset about abuses of power and other corruption of the Catholic Church.

Henry's desire for first an annulment, and then a divorce from wife Catherine, began in the mid-1520's, when he realised that he would never get a son as heir from Catherine. Their marriage had produced only a daughter, the Princess Mary. In love or lust with a fast-rising young woman at court, Anne Boleyn, Henry thought that youth and beauty and political sophistication would be just the thing in a second wife. So he began to work towards that end. An annulment of a royal marriage was not unheard of in 16th century England; Henry's older sister Margaret successfully petitioned for the annulment of her marriage to Scottish noble Archibald Douglas, the Earl of Angus a few years previously.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A different angle on Tudor diplomacy 10 Aug 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Our Man in Rome" tells the story of Henry VII's ambassadors in Rome and Italy doing their best to achieve their master's divorce, although some of his servants probably felt sympathy for the Queen's cause. It is an interesting angle on the well-known story of Henry's intrigues to get Pope Clement VII to declare his marriage to Catherine of Aragon null and void, encompassing the fall of both Cardinal Wolsey and Anne Boleyn. Catherine Fletcher has done a remarkable job of producing an interesting and eminently readable book from sources that are diverse, scanty at times and certainly difficult. Her book is a valuable addition to Tudor history.
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By Sixtus
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An excellent study of a man who has appeared more often in footnotes to historical work than in any study
of the personalities of the time. Catherine Fletcher brings him to life as an individual as well as a diplomatic, trying to
serve his various masters with skill and some emasure of success. Her chance discovery of his papers is a major
triumph for historical research.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Curiously lifeless 16 Dec 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Henry VIII's break with Rome was a truly epochal event in a way that Marlborough's victory at Blenheim or Blackburn Rovers winning the FA cup weren't. So a new perspective on the affair is most welcome.

Catherine Fletcher has dug out the correspondence of Henry's ambassador in Rome in the period when he was seeking his divorce from Catherine of Aragon: Henry was only the second generation of his clan on the throne, so needed a male heir, and Catherine had provided but one sickly female. Henry needed results, fast.

But most of the other actors in this history wanted delay. Charles V (Catherine's nephew) had just sacked Rome, the Pope was playing for time (though surely he'd eventually agree to an arrangement?) and ambassadors are notoriously prone to exaggerate difficulties.

The correspondence is copious (we even get to hear about the ambassador's legal tussles about his wife's inheritance) but the author, sadly, can't bring this thing to life. What motivates them? (A period when Henry is himself asking for a delay goes unremarked.) This book is a footnote for the specialist, pretty boring for the armchair historian.
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