Matters of Importance | History Today

Clockwise from top: Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, Anne Boleyn, Catherine of Aragon, Kateryn Parr and Jane Seymour. Lithograph, c.1860. akg-images.
Clockwise from top rated: Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, Anne Boleyn, Catherine of Aragon, Kateryn Parr and Jane Seymour. Lithograph, c.1860. akg-photographs.

For a very long time – in the see of my publisher significantly too prolonged a time – I have been creating a new record of the females who had been married to Henry VIII. At to start with glance, this appears an avoidable endeavour: certainly – with apologies for the pun – they have been carried out to demise and there can be absolutely nothing new to say? But there are, in truth, a lot of new issues to say and, in the process of figuring out what they are, I’ve strike the apparent trouble at the coronary heart of a lot producing about early fashionable ladies: we see them mainly by the eyes of men. We have to scrape off the accrued misogyny of generations to see Henry VIII’s queens as they really had been.

Henry’s place of look at has, of training course, dominated. That Anne of Cleves is remembered as the ugly ‘Flanders Mare’ is a triumph of Henry’s PR (albeit not his phrase) and a measure of his energy more than the narrative, even generations afterwards. That Kateryn Parr retains a name as a dowdy aged widow whom Henry married as a nursemaid reveals small of who she basically was. We will need to go far over and above the king’s point of view – but other source content is also normally problematic.

Henry VIII’s queens lived in a really patriarchal period. Even those who are hailed as the most progressive of the time period in gender phrases had been relentlessly sexist: Thomas More is lauded for educating his daughters as really as if they ended up boys, but he made a issue of humiliating his wife, Alice, just before checking out attendees, by pointing out that he experienced not married her for her magnificence. He was a gentleman of his time. In the 16th century, females had been believed to be biologically, morally, emotionally and mentally weaker than adult men. These types of convictions had been upheld by equally modern medical belief and theological understandings, and we should envision that women of all ages, far too, internalised this. The end result is that many of the sources that exist about these royal women of all ages were being published by men and women – mainly men – who ended up predisposed to judge their steps in highly gendered phrases. A lot of of these damning indictments have then been repeated by successive generations of historians.

There is 1 remaining distorting layer to eliminate. Several historians who have penned about the queens have relied entirely on the Letters and Papers, Overseas and Domestic of the Reign of Henry VIII – the printed 19th-century calendars of the collated state papers, fondly regarded as L&P. The calendars are catalogues of Tudor letters, papers, stories, grants, commissions, ambassadorial correspondence and memoranda, assembled in chronological order and summarised, in a monumental do the job of scholarship by Victorian archivists. The L&P are the critical beginning issue for investigate into the period of time – but they must not be the close point. The extent of their précis differ and it is vital, anywhere probable, to return to the manuscripts, or even whole transcriptions: to examine letters not in the abridged, 3rd-particular person design of the calendars but in the refreshing and very important 1st-individual accounts of the first paperwork. 

This is even additional correct when crafting about gals. The calendars had been prepared to healthy a particular vision of what was assumed traditionally crucial: what fascinated Victorian adult males about 16th-century women’s lives is not all that passions us and our conclusions may possibly vary wildly. (The dreaded phrase ‘nothing of importance’ ought to provide as an alarm bell.) Victorian assumptions have unconsciously framed all subsequent analyses of the queens. With texts at first in languages other than English this is compounded: they are now just about universally quoted in their 19th-century translations – which have a distinctly Victorian flavour.

What does this indicate? Well, among other matters, as Nadine Akkerman, who used 15 yrs doing work on the correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia before crafting her biography, could attest, resurrecting early fashionable women of all ages takes time. But excellent issues come to all those who hold out.


Suzannah Lipscomb is author of The Voices of Nîmes: Women of all ages, Intercourse and Relationship in Early Contemporary Languedoc (Oxford University Push, 2019), host of the Not Just the Tudors podcast and Professor Emerita at the University of Roehampton. 

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