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


History fads may come and history fads may go, but the Tudors will always be with us. The above is the mnemnonic for remembering what happened to Henry VIII’s six wives: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Katherine Parr.

Perhaps the most recently popularized author in a long (and talented!) series of authors covering the Tudors is Philippa Gregory, as a result of her novel The Other Boleyn Girl, having been made into a movie starring Natalie Portman, but she’s written other novels set in the same time period of similar quality and tone….but what do avid readers do when they finally come to the end of her collection but not to the end of their interest in the time period? If you’re looking for a quick read, Eleanor Hibbert has written a number of novels about that time period, though not all set in Tudor England, under the pseudonym Jean Plaidy. She also wrote under the pseudonyms of Victoria Holt and Phillippa Carr, among others, thus providing several summers of beach reading for avid lovers of romance novels.

For readers who prefer long involved novels to the quick lightweight read, there’s always Margaret George’s The Autobiography of Henry VIII (and its sequel of sorts, Mary, Queen of Scots) Surprisingly for 900 page novels, both are fast reads. The Autobiography of Henry VIII is George’s first and (in keeping with my thoughts on followup novels!) possibly the best of her works of fiction; the conceit in this novel is that Henry VIII wrote a journal of his life, which was then discovered by his ‘fool’ and confidante, Will Somers, who interspersed his own comments into the journal before sending it along to Catherine Knollys. Mary, Queen of Scots is a more straightforward novel about Mary’s life from, quite literally, cradle to grave.

As with The Autobiography of Henry VIII, Mary, Queen of Scots is not entirely historical accurate but rather worth reading for little details that might hook avid readers into moving on to the multitude of well written non-fiction books about this period; the banquet upon Mary’s return to Scotland after growing up in the French court and her reaction to cock-a-leekie soup sticks with me even after 17 years. Even such a well written novel as Katherine, by Anya Seton, plays somewhat fast and loose in regards historical accuracy in the interest of enthralling fiction; the titular character was married at fourteen, not sixteen, according to Alison Weir. Readers who prefer punctilious historical accuracy or those left wanting to learn more actual history of the period will want to turn to Carolly Erickson and Alison Weir, both of whom have written eminently readable works about the Tudors.

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2 thoughts on “Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived.

  1. And those who do not insist their reading include the Tudors directly but simply love the period could do a lot worse than to read Dorothy Dunnett’s “Lymond Chronicles”. They feature the adventures of a young Scots nobleman, Francis Crawford of Lymond, from 1547 through 1558. Impeccably researched, dense, richly textured, and full of unforgettable characters, including Lymond himself, whom one more than occasionally will wish to strangle for being so incredibly self-destructive. Dunnett’s writing is superb. As is often the case, some readers will not “get into” her books; those who do, frequently do so with eagerness bordering on fanaticism — even now, 50 years after the first book was published.

    The first book, Game of Kings, can be read on its own; the next five books — Queen’s Play; Disorderly Knights; Pawn in Frankincense; Ringed Castle; Checkmate — build directly upon the first and should be read in order.

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