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The Divorce of Henry VIII
by Catherine Fletcher

Everyone knows the story of Henry VIII and his infamous divorce form Catherine of Aragon, right? Thanks to TV shows like The Tudors and books like The Other Boleyn Girl, the King’s womanly woes have become rather well-known. These events were certainly big news in England during the mid-16th century, but many of the other courts of Europe watched the soap opera enfold with great curiosity. But over in Italy, Henry VIII’s “Great Matter” was only one of many problems confronting the Pope, who was besieged with war and turmoil amongst his own people. It was up to diplomats like Gregorio Caseli, the King’s man in Rome, to push the Pope on toward a resolution on the situation with Henry – no matter what he had to do to get results.

This is much less a book about Henry VIII and his glittering English court than a book about the Caseli family and their political intrigues in Rome. Gregorio Caseli, Henry’s ambassador to Rome, has brothers and cousins in every major Italian court, and it was thought that these connections would help the diplomat bring Pope Clement VII ‘round to Henry’s way of thinking. But it might have helped if the author had given more page time to events back in London in order to provide context for the machinations at the Papal court.

This Italian perspective on Henry VIII’s shenanigans is rarely explored – perhaps with good reason. The text is incredibly dry. Kudos to Ms. Fletcher for avoiding the biographer’s urge to turn novelist, but the minutiae of Italian diplomacy can make for pretty tedious reading. The information’s good, and meticulously researched, but I have a hard time imagining anyone but the most dedicated scholars making it through this book.

3 out of 5 stars

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