Lolly's Library's Reviews > The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story from Inside the Vatican

The Divorce of Henry VIII by Catherine Fletcher
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's review
Apr 11, 2012

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bookshelves: amazon-vine, royal-history, nonfiction, european-history, british-history
Read from April 09 to 25, 2012 — I own a copy

2.5 stars

I tell you something, after reading this book, I think I could write a dissertation on the machinations and intricacies in the papal court of the 16th century with enough detail and scholarship to merit a Ph.D. Okay, so perhaps I'm exaggerating, but not by much. This is not an easy book. This is not a book for the general public, for someone who's read a Tudor novel or two and wants to find out a bit more about the subject. For those persons I'd recommend an accessible history as written by Alison Weir or David Starkey. The Divorce of Henry VIII is a book for someone who's a Tudor scholar. Someone who's made a study of the period and, specifically, the divorce of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Someone who could fully appreciate the amount of detail and research which went into the making of this book. Sadly, that person is not me.

From the very beginning I was overwhelmed. Names, places, dates piled on top of each other in ever increasing amounts until they all blended together into one incomprehensible mass. As a historian, it's evident Fletcher is exhaustive; she's lived with these materials for years, delving into the backstories of the players involved, understanding the shorthand, appreciating the wit and humor peculiar to the situations. It's understandable that she would want to share this depth of information. However, for a historian to become a good author, she needs to be able to translate years of scholarly study into a compelling narrative, to weed out the thicket of information and prune it into an appealing shape, taking knowledge which makes for an excellent dissertation and shaping it into a good story. This is where Fletcher fails as, basically, she's given us an expanded version of what, I'm sure, was her Ph.D. thesis. And while a thesis is great for proving one's scholarly aptitude, it's not necessarily the best entertainment.

Ostensibly revolving around the actions of one Gregorio Casali, an Italian diplomat and Henry VIII's agent at the Vatican, representing Hal's interests in his “Great Matter” (his divorce from Catherine of Aragon), the book branches out to include the entire Casali family, most of whom were also involved in some manner with the king's divorce, not to mention the stories of the many other diplomats, agents, spies, regents, rulers, pontiffs, and churchmen who moved across the giant chessboard of European politics. While we're presented with tales of skulduggery, of bribes and threats, even of kidnapping, as Henry's cause is fought for, set against a backdrop of a Rome recently invaded and ravaged by the Spanish army and a Europe divided by war, the book never really captures the imagination or the attention. To be truthful, after trying (valiantly) to fully immerse myself in the first 8 chapters (out of 17, so don't think too badly of me), I ended up skimming through the rest of the book. I just couldn't take the information overload anymore.

I would recommend this book only to someone who has devoured all available books on King Henry VIII and wishes to now delve into the minutiae of Henry's divorce--basically a colleague of Catherine Fletcher, another historian or scholar. For anyone else, I'd say to give this one a skip. Even if you enjoy Tudor history, unless you really want to impress someone with a bit of intimate trivia about the divorce, I think this book is just too much to wade through.
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Reading Progress

04/13/2012 page 47
16.0% "Not making much progress with this one. It's interesting, but there is just too much information to wade through: too many names and players, it's hard to keep what's going on and who's doing what straight. Frankly, I feel as though I'm reading something for school rather than entertainment."

Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Iset (new)

Iset Oh, now I'm intrigued! I've been reading a lot of "popular history" recently that has been by various turns enjoyable and not so enjoyable, but the lack of depth in the subject led me to feel a bit disappointed and like there was something lacking. This might be for me!

Lolly's Library Have at it. There's depth and then there's Titanic-at-the-bottom-of-the-ocean-depth depth. This book definitely falls into the second category.

graveyardgremlin (formerly faeriemyst) Boy, am I glad I skipped this on Vine. :D Thanks for being the guinea pig! LOL

Lolly's Library You're quite welcome, although I'm not too sure I liked being the guinea pig. ;D This was so disappointing; the concept had so much potential, but the finished book definitely needs work.

graveyardgremlin (formerly faeriemyst) Well, hopefully you'll get over it soon and read a dynamite book that'll lift you out of the doldrums. :) Is it me or does that seem to be the story of book publishing these days? :/

Lolly's Library I have, actually; I read Firelight which really helped. It was nice and light and just what I needed. :) No, it's not just you; I think you're on to something. It's as if editors are no longer editing, which is strange. :/

graveyardgremlin (formerly faeriemyst) I'm glad you read something you enjoyed and not something either terrible or too taxing on the wee ol' brain. :D Yes, very strange. :|

Lolly's Library Frankly, I didn't really have a choice. I needed to read something light and enjoyable, otherwise I would've been subject to an exploding brain--not something I'd like to experience. LOL

graveyardgremlin (formerly faeriemyst) Yeah, those exploding brains are really hell to clean up, as we know from a few years back. ;P

message 10: by Kiki (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kiki I saw your review on Amazon just now, after I posted mine. I didn't finish it, which I hate. It just became to torturous for me. I'm in Vine, too, and this was a complete failure for me. :(

Lolly's Library I understand, I hate not finishing books as well, which probably explains why I forced myself to slog through this one. I guess I was just waiting for the moment when I could say, "Ah ha! That's why I'm reading this!" but it never came.

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