img001So I had such great plans for reviewing this fascinating book. There are pencilled notes and pages turned down because of quotes or references that I didn’t want to have to go looking for later. And I’ve been pondering what I want to say since I finished the book at the end of last year.

And that’s turned out to be my problem – there is just so much that could be said about this book that I don’t actually know where to start.

Divorced, Beheaded, Survived is Karen Lindsey’s feminist reinterpretation of  Henry VIII’s wives, but it also takes into account the lives of his mother, sisters, daughters and some of the other significant women at court to paint a picture of what it was like to be a woman in the Tudor era.

And as you might expect it wasn’t easy, even for those in the privileged position that many of these women held.

In her introduction, Lindsey talks about what drew her to the subject, and the realisation that the modern topic of sexual harassment in the workplace could be relevant here. After all, if you consider being lady-in-waiting to the Queen as a job, then the unwelcome attentions of the King were very much in the harassment mould. And certainly over time the focus of largely male historians has been on poor old Henry having all these wanton young women thrust at him, and under those circumstances what’s a man to do?

 The fact that most of these women were positioned at court by their ambitious families hoping that their girl would catch Henry’s eye and attract a good marriage as a former mistress of the King has been, if not overlooked, then certainly not given the prominence by earlier historians that it perhaps should have. But one of the great benefits of women’s studies is that their voices are heard, however faintly.

Those of you who visit here regularly will know that the sixteenth century is the period of history that holds my attention the most, and that is largely because of the women who were prominent in the period – Mary, Queen of Scots, Catherine de Medici, Mary Tudor and my great heroine Elizabeth I. So I found this book totally captivating and thought-provoking. It has given me a new insight inot the life of Catherine of Aragon, and made me want to find out more about Anne of Cleves, who really was the survivor of the bunch.

And lord, if I didn’t know before what a monster Henry was, I certainly do now!

I can’t recommend this too highly if you are at all interested in this period, or court politics, or women’s lives in general. There is much to think about.

And this is my first read for the Women Unbound Challenge.

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