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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Book Review: Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All by multiple authors

Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All 
by M. T. Anderson, Candace Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Lisa Ann Sandell, Jennifer Donnelly, Linda Sue Park, Deborah Hopkinson
Schwartz & Wade
May 1, 2018
416 pages
The tragic lives of Henry VIII and his six wives are reimagined by seven acclaimed and bestselling authors in this riveting novel, perfect for fans of Wolf Hall and Netflix's The Crown. 

He was King Henry VIII, a charismatic and extravagant ruler obsessed with both his power as king and with siring a male heir.

They were his queens--six ill-fated women, each bound for divorce, or beheading, or death.

Watch spellbound as each of Henry's wives attempts to survive their unpredictable king and his power-hungry court. See the sword flash as fiery Anne Boleyn is beheaded for adultery. Follow Jane Seymour as she rises from bullied court maiden to beloved queen, only to die after giving birth. Feel Catherine Howard's terror as old lovers resurface and whisper vicious rumors to Henry's influential advisors. Experience the heartache of mothers as they lose son after son, heir after heir. 

Told in stirring first-person accounts, Fatal Throne is at once provocative and heartbreaking, an epic tale that is also an intimate look at the royalty of the most perilous times in English history.

Who's Who: 

M. T. Anderson - Henry VIII
Candace Fleming - Katharine of Aragon
Stephanie Hemphill - Anne Boleyn
Lisa Ann Sandell - Jane Seymour
Jennifer Donnelly - Anna of Cleves
Linda Sue Park - Catherine Howard
Deborah Hopkinson - Kateryn Parr

Henry VIII is favoured fodder for historical fiction writers, readers, and watchers. His story, and that of his ill-fated queens, is rife with lust and betrayal, murder and manipulation, heartache, and tragedy. I’ve consumed more than my fair share of Tudor drama. I wasn’t sure Fatal Throne would add to my already extensive knowledge of and appreciation for the story of Henry, his wives, and children. I was delighted, nonetheless, to reacquaint myself with this complex dynasty with a creative retelling.

This book is a collaborative reimagining of the Henry VIII saga. Each wife, written by a different author, is given a section of the book to tell her side of the story. Of course, all roads lead to Henry and so Henry’s perspective is given following each section. The women’s stories are all told memoir style as they face their fate; divorce, execution, tenuous survival. This book is rich, enlightening, and entertaining with enough of a feminist critical voice to make it appealing to a modern reader.

Anne Boleyn has always been my favourite; to love and hate. She doesn’t disappoint in this text. Her influence is far reaching and indelible. With a craftiness trumped only by impulsivity, Anne is written with a deeper understanding of her tenuous and desperate situation than I’ve encountered in the past. The dark horse story of the collection is that of Anna of Cleves written by Jennifer Donnelly. As an arranged, political connection, the marriage of Anna of Cleves and Henry VIII hasn’t held the same appeal for me as others. Their awkward first encounter notwithstanding, the foundational storytelling elements aren’t as obvious. Donnelly’s imaginative method for revealing Anna’s tale was as intriguing as the tale itself. And perhaps I have a new favourite in Anna of Cleves, a woman who, in this reimagining at least, managed to find happiness on her own terms.

Despite the voice given to these women, it’s still made abundantly clear: “Henry may be a powerful king, but he is also a man, and like all men, he requires only two things of a woman: that she keep her legs open and her mouth shut.” Each woman is used and abused by a temperamental king, who, sadly enough never quite found what he was looking for: unconditional love and a son. We already know how this ends, so I don’t feel I’m spoiling the story. The irony of ironies of course, that Henry’s greatest achievement was his daughter Elizabeth whose rallying cry is written, “I know I have the body of a woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king”. It leads me to believe that fate may have a feminist sensibility as well as a wry sense of humour.

Four Sheep

Bianca Greenwood

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
24 July 1527
The world is still dark beyond my window, but I can make out the tall figure of my husband, King Henry VIII of England, in the stable yard below. Beside him stands his lover, the torchlight glowing on her smooth, young skin. They are readying to ride out. Just the two of them. Together.

I watch as he helps her up into her saddle, lifts her easily, holds her. For a moment, he cradles her little leather boot in his hand, caressing it tenderly, before making sure it is safe in the stirrup. My breath snags.

She laughs playfully, flirting, her eyes never leaving his as she places a hand on his upturned face.

I sink into a chair. “Madre de Dios, ayudadame,” I whisper. Mother of God, help me.

My lady Maud Parr comes into the room. She looks startled to see me. “Your Grace, what are you doing up so early?” she asks.

“Sleep is impossible.” I pick up my sewing, a shirt I am embroidering for Henry.

Maud sits across from me. “I must tell you something,” she says.

I try very hard to listen. But the memory of Henry laughing with Anne, of him holding her in his arms, blots out everything else.

“Your Grace?” Maud says.

I blink. “Please, begin again.”

I slip my hands inside the sleeves of my husband’s shirt as she gathers herself to tell me about the letter Cardinal Wolsey has sent to His Holiness in Rome. In it the cardinal claims I was not a virgin when I married Henry. That I made love with his brother, Prince Arthur, when he was my husband, and that I lied about it. That I am lying about it still. That because of my treachery, my marriage to Henry is not a true union.

The cardinal is appealing to the Pope to declare Henry’s and my eighteen years together illegal. He is entreating the Pope to grant the King permission to marry again.

Maud pauses before telling me the rest.

Perhaps, she wonders, the cardinal felt he needed to make a stronger case against me, because in the same letter he accuses me of being a sex-crazed woman who lured Henry into a forbidden marriage to satisfy my carnal pleasures.


And then--¡por Dios!--the cardinal tells His Holiness that my husband finds me too repulsive to sleep with because my sex organs are diseased. He says Henry has vowed never to use my body again; that it is too dangerous to his royal person; that lying with me will make the King sick.

I push the shirt’s long sleeves up my arms and rub my face against its fine linen. Cardinal Wolsey is the King’s closest advisor. He cannot have written such lies without my husband’s consent.

How can Henry hate me so?

I remember our wedding night, the feel of his hands on my trembling skin; the hot, stinging pain of our first loving; the blissful relief of lying in his strong, steady arms, a true wife at last.

I pull my hands free of the shirt and lay it across my lap. I know Henry better than anyone else, certainly better than Anne Boleyn, for I have known him as a boy and a man; as a brother and a husband. Our destinies have been entwined almost since birth.

“I was betrothed in marriage to the Prince of Wales when I was but a child of three,” I say.

“Indeed?” replies Maud.

I nod. “As Princess of Spain, I was a flesh-and-blood treaty, a breathing alliance between our two countries. And when I was fifteen I sailed to England to become his wife, and the future Queen.”

Maud gets up and pours us both a small cup of wine. “I would have liked to have known you then, Your Grace.”

“Oh, I was so young, and so sorry to leave my mother and my home. But it was God’s will that I go. I had unshakable confidence in Him--that He had favoured me and destined me for the greatest of things. I had no doubt that I would carry out my sacred obligation to fill the royal nursery with babies, most especially boys--heirs for the Tudor line.” I pause. “It was la voluntad de Dios, the will of God, you see.”

Maud nods with sympathy.

“But now the King has decided to rid himself of me. What can I do to stop him? Henry always gets what he wants. He takes it as his divine right.”

I cover my eyes with my hand. “Oh, Maud, after all these years of marriage, is it truly God’s will that it now be over?”

It is a question without answer.

In silence we drink our wine as the sun creeps slowly in through the windows, and my life unwinds before me like a spool of embroidery thread.

About the Authors:
M. T. Anderson is the author of Feed, winner of the LA Times Book Prize, and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, winner of the National Book Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and a Printz Honor. Residence: Cambridge, MA

Jennifer Donnelly is the author of These Shallow Graves, Revolution, and A Northern Light, winner of the Carnegie Medal, the LA Times Book Prize, and a Printz Honor. Residence: Hudson Valley, NY

Candace Fleming is the author of The Family Romanov, winner of the LA Times Book Prize and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award; Amelia Lost; and The Lincolns. Residence: Oak Park, IL

Stephanie Hemphill is the author of Your Own, Sylvia, a Printz Honor winner, and Wicked Girls, an LA Times Book Prize Finalist. Residence: Naperville, IL

Deborah Hopkinson is the author of Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book and an ALA-YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award Finalist. Residence: Portland, OR

Linda Sue Park is the author of A Single Shard, winner of the Newbery Medal, and the bestselling A Long Walk to Water. Residence: Western NY

Lisa Ann Sandell is the author of A Map of the Known World, Song of the Sparrow, and The Weight of the Sky. Residence: New York, NY

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