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Unconvincing; this was no apologist this.
on 18 February 2011
I seem to be in a minority here. I was disappointed with this book.
May I say that I am no scholar; I am 58 years of age and a hobby historian at best but I have gained, over the last two decades, a reasonable knowledge of English history - mostly of the period starting with the beginning of the so called War of the Roses and ending with the death of Elizabeth in 1603. I have no in depth training or academic learning in history.
I have read umpteen books on the aforementioned period; naturally many, if not most, of these focused on the Tudors and Henry VIII's reign in particular. Some were awfully heavy going works aimed squarely at the academic, but with, so far at least, only one exception (Peter Gwyn's study of Cardinal Wolsey - and one day I shall get through this too) I have persevered and learned much; others have been easy reads, allowing the reader to trip along the pages and absorb knowledge effortlessly, aided by the relaxed style. I make no secret of the fact that my interest was triggered initially some 20 years ago by Alison Weir's Six Wives of Henry VIII and I have never looked back.
I found Giles Tremlett's style clumsy. Perhaps it was the journalistic technique - sometimes staccato, sometimes rambling and altogether too much scene setting, usually vague and imprecise, and especially prevalent at the commencement of new chapters. Such scene setting added nothing and left a disjointed feel to the narrative, always going into reverse to put the scene into context.
Especially in the first hundred or so pages there seemed to me to be a lot of padding and very little detail. Perhaps this was because so little detail exists but if this is so then say so and move on. Too many pages of repetitive, wooly narrative without detail almost caused me to abandon this after about 150 pages. Perseverance is rewarded with a distinct acceleration of pace and a good deal more detail - probably from about the time that Anne Boleyn emerges as a real threat. Even then I was unconvinced by so much of it. Great play was made of the Spanish "brief" but it seemed ultimately to have little or no bearing on events and I was unclear if this so called brief was a new discovery made by Tremlett. I do not recall reading of it before or certainly not any emphasis being placed on any such document.
I disliked the way key events were often passed over with barely a mention. Eustace Chapuys just suddenly appears, with almost no detail about his coming, his importance to our knowledge of Tudor history (albeit naturally inclined to bias it must be said) and with very little emphasis about his huge significance in the last years of Katherine's life - not to mention Mary's. Sir Thomas More resigns as Lord Chancellor, with no explanation of why - though this does come several pages later; another journalist trick.
Other reviews here make a play of Tremlett's pro-Katherine stance. But this did not come through to me. This was no apologist this. Perhaps I was expecting a page by page defence of Katherine and thus was disappointed by what I felt was a half hearted justification of her stand against the divorce and all the consequences that came with it. Katherine's strength and determination and her ability to stand against the injustice of her situation were portrayed negatively as stubbornness and intransigence. Her integrity was often questioned and the key question about her virginity was certainly left in serious doubt. Katherine had lied about a pregnancy - why could she not lie about the consummation, or otherwise, of her marriage to Arthur? I was left thinking that Tremlett had more reason to think that this marriage was consummated than not. This might not have been what he intended, but it was how I was left. And, by the way, in case any reader who has done me the courtesy of reading my review this far assumes that I am the apologist for Katherine that Tremlett appears not to be, then you're wrong. I find it very hard to accept that a fifteen year old boy would not consummate his marriage - even a sickly one and even in 1501.
For me the final indignity was to suggest that the entire Reformation might have been avoided but for Katherine's actions or lack of them. We might yet have been a Catholic nation had Katherine had the foresight to enter a nunnery when this was asked of her. But even then, she had a second chance. Could she not have forced her nephew's hand and asked him to invade England and make war against Henry? Would this not have stopped the move to Protestantism?
It is difficult to blame Henry for a Reformation that would almost certainly have happened anyway, let alone Katherine! To suggest that blame for our Protestant state can be placed at Katherine's door, even by proposition if not conclusion, strikes me as the possibly the wackiest interpretation of English history ever.
I believe that Julia Fox's biography of Katherine is to be released soon and I look forward to this. Her study of Jane Boleyn was lovely to read, even if the gloss she attempted to paint over Lady Rochford had some serious difficulty in sticking.