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The Divorce of Henry VIII by Catherine Fletcher

Posted By Claire on July 12, 2012

I was kindly sent a copy of Catherine Fletcher’s “The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story from Inside the Vatican” by the publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, and I’m so glad that they sent me a copy.

I have been researching Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII for three years now, but I must admit to only looking at the English sources and the letters of men like Eustace Chapuys, in Letters and Papers or the Spanish Calendar of State Papers, when digging into Henry’s Great Matter, the struggle for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. I had never looked in depth into the Italian side of things, what was going on in Rome at this time, so without realising it I had a very one-sided account of things. This book has corrected that and I am indebted to Catherine Fletcher’s meticulous research.

You only have to look at the book’s bibliography of archives, manuscript sources and printed works (11 pages of small type) to see just how much research has gone into this book. Catherine Fletcher used the archives of Bologna, Florence, Modena, Rome, Venice and  the Vatican, amongst others, as well as the archives of the Casali family, the descendants of diplomat Gregorio Casali, Henry VIII’s man in Rome at this time. Her research has led to a book which gives a detailed account of what was going on in Rome in the late 1520s and early to mid 1530s, who the key players were, what they were doing, how they were playing people off against each other and using stalling tactics and white lies, and also what life was like for them there. Here were men having to cope with the demands of a King and the lobbying of a pope, while also trying to survive on insufficient funds in a rather treacherous climate where bribery, corruption and kidnap were rife. These were dangerous times, as we know from the Sack of Rome.

In Catherine Fletcher’s book, the reader is introduced to Gregorio Casali, Henry VIII’s resident diplomat in Rome, and also other key players like his brother, Giambattista, and his cousin, Vicenzo; Sir Francis Bryan, Stephen Gardiner, Edward Fox, Pope Clement VII, Pietro Vanni, Charles V, Richard Croke, Sir Nicholas Carew and Dr Richard Sampson. Gregorio is the main character, yet he is a man who most Tudor history lovers will not have heard of, and I enjoyed getting to know him, his wife, his family and the life that he led.

Book highlights for me included:

  • The different perspective on the annulment proceedings.
  • The insight into “sexual service” in Renaissance Rome and the snippet about Pope Leo X and his affair with courtesan Imperia, which resulted in the birth of a daughter.
  • The mention of Anne Boleyn sending cramp rings with a letter to Stephen Gardiner, Gregorio Casali and Pietro Vanni in 1529.
  • The Casali brothers’ relationship with Richard Croke, “the colleague from hell” and the accusations he levelled at the brothers.
  • Learning about the diplomatic tactics that ambassadors used; for example, they tried to keep it quiet in Italy that the legatine court had started in England.
  • The insights into what life was like as an ambassador.

As you read all about the efforts of these men to secure the annulment, you cannot help but think of what a waste it all was. Henry VIII was married to Anne Boleyn for just three years! As Catherine Fletcher points out, no diplomat lost his head for the cause but they did put themselves at risk: “the natural hazards of disease and the multiple dangers of early modern travel caused far more untimely deaths”.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Henry VIII’s reign. You can tell when I’ve found a book useful because I fill it with post it notes and turn down the corners of the pages – sorry to those who think that’s sacrilege! I also found it readable and interesting. Congratulations to Catherine Fletcher on a wonderful book.

Review from Advance Reader’s Edition, an uncorrected paperback version.

You can read a guest article, Henry versus Catherine: Who’s Who in the Diplomacy, by Catherine Fletcher over at The Anne Boleyn Files.

UK Version

UK version

This book has been published in the UK under a different title, “Our Man in Rome: Henry VIII and his Italian Ambassador” and with a different cover.


US Details
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (June 19, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0230341519
ISBN-13: 978-0230341517

UK details
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Bodley Head (2 Feb 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1847921760
ISBN-13: 978-1847921765

Buy from Amazon US – click here, Amazon UK – click here, or your usual bookshop.


2 Responses to “The Divorce of Henry VIII by Catherine Fletcher”

  1. Wonderful, wonderful book filled with amazing detail of the Italian politics that poor Henry faced in his endeavour to secure his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. I highly recommend it to readers and scholars alike who are interested in what was going on at the Holy See and in Rome while Henry grew frustrated.

  2. Catherine says:

    Claire, what are your feelings towards YA novels? I am currently in the process of writing one, and I would really like your opinion 🙂

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