Posted By Claire on June 19, 2009
“The Tudors”, Philippa Gregory and people like me have all been accused of “feminising” the reign of Henry VIII and putting too much emphasis on his six wives and the roles that they played in his reign, but how can we really explore Henry VIII and what drove him without looking at his wives?
However, Henry VIII’s six wives – Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr – were not the only women in the life of this monarch and we also need to consider the King’s mistresses. As Kelly Hart says:
“These ladies carved out extraordinary lives in a man’s world, and emerge clearly through the mists of time as individuals worthy of our attention”
“The Mistresses of Henry VIII” by Kelly Hart really is the first book to consider all of the women in Henry VIII’s life. Many of you will know the David Starkey, Alison Weir and Antonia Fraser books on Henry’s six wives, but this book considers every single woman that Henry VIII was linked to and is a fantastic resource for Tudor history lovers. The chronology of Henry’s women and the births of his children, both legitimate and illegitimate, is particularly useful.
Henry VIII seems to have been a hopeless romantic who was always searching for his true love and a woman who could give him his heart’s desire, a son, and this made him easy prey for families who wanted to earn titles and recognition by pushing their pretty daughters into the King’s arms. Henry went from mistress to mistress, from wife to wife, from wife to mistress…always searching for that elusive something and, contrary to belief, Henry VIII did not treat all of his women badly. Hart concludes that:
“He has been portrayed as an unpredictable character, eager to remove the heads of his friends and wives as soon as they displeased him. There are elements of truth in the caricature, but he was also a devoted lover, providing for some of his mistresses well after their liaison had ended and moving heaven and earth to be with the lady he loved”
and uncovers the truth that Henry was actually faithful to his women, sleeping with only one at a time and showing them real love and affection, as well as showering them with gifts and their families with titles.
Kelly Hart’s “The Mistresses of Henry VIII” gives account of his six wives and the six mistresses that he definitely had:-
- Lady Anne Stafford
- Bessie Blount
- Mary Boleyn
- “The handsome young lady” of 1534
- William Webbe’s lover
- Mary Shelton
and also considers evidence for Henry having other mistresses, such as Étienette de la Baume, Elizabeth Amadas, Jane Popincourt, Elizabeth Carew, Margaret Skipwith, Elizabeth Brooke and Anne Bassett.
But this book is more than an account of Henry’s many women, it is also a journey of discovery into what drove this man and how his women affected his life and his decisions. For us Anne Boleyn fans, Kelly Hart has done a brilliant section (three chapters!) on Anne, “the woman in the world that I value the most” (Henry VIII 1527), covering Henry’s obsession with her, the “Great Matter”, and Anne’s rise and fall. Hart states that:
“It was surely Anne who was the great love of his life”
and suggests that Henry had expected Anne to change when she became queen and to behave more like the dignified queen he was used to. Was this Anne’s mistake?
I won’t spoil this book by giving any more details but it really is a “must-read” for us Anne Boleyn and Tudor fans, and people who are curious about this monarch’s personal life! What I love about the book is that Kelly Hart can back up her opinions and conclusions with real historical evidence and sources, and has obviously done meticulous research – excellent!
“The Mistresses of Henry VIII” is by Kelly Hart and is published by The History Press. It was published in the UK in April 2009 and in the US this month (June 2009) and so is up to date with current research. It is available through Amazon US and Amazon UK, as well as other book stores.