The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story from Inside the Vatican
(UK Title: Our Man in Rome)
by Catherine Fletcher
With so many books out on Tudor history it is always nice to see someone fill in a gap that has been neglected. Such is the case in Catherine Fletcher’s debut work The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story form Inside the Vatican. Fletcher’s book focuses on Gregorio Casali, Henry VIII’s ambassador to Rome, and rescues him from being consigned to the footnotes of other works on The Divorce and fleshes him out. In the process we get a view that had been too long overlooked.
The story of the divorce is one that is well-covered in general works on Tudor history, specific books on the English Reformation, and biographies of Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn (and often at least in summary in books on Mary I and Elizabeth I). Anyone who has devled into the subject is familar with the happenings in England – Henry VIII’s desire for a male heir, Catherine’s resistance to the annulment and Anne Boleyn’s long wait to become Henry’s queen. When the events on the Continent are covered, it is usually in passing discussion of the Sack of Rome in 1527 by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V – nephew of Catherine of Aragon – and how that complicated matters. But what of the actual men who worked on Henry’s behalf in Italy? That’s where Gregorio Casali and his family come in.
By following Gregorio’s career, Fletcher brings us an insight in to the complicated world of a Renaissance ambassador. Besides having to communicate back to and receive funds from a king over a thousand miles away in a day before telephones or the internet, he had to keep up appearances and dress and live in a certain style. There was also the matter of money for well-placed and well-timed bribes, a staple of the trade. Casali solved the problem in part by marrying an heiress, although there were legal issues that prevented her (and by extension her husband) from receiving the full amount of money she was due. And in addition to troubles negotiating with the Papacy, Casali sometimes faced difficulty with his own English delegation and unofficial agents.
I wouldn’t suggest this book as an introduction to the Divorce (and I don’t think it is meant to be one) and having a familiarity with the issues, the important players, and the legal and ecclesiastical arguments is helpful before reading this work. But for those seeking a fresh and different perspective on Henry VIII’s “Great Matter” I highly recommend The Divorce of Henry VIII.