Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

'The Autobiography Of Henry VIII': Which Ill-Fated Wife Would You Be?

Shiver of happiness. Oh, Awl-My-Children, of all the trashy books we've enjoyed so far, Margaret George's The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes By His Fool, Will Somers is the one I have read most often. That's just sad, I know, but my favorite kind of trash is thinly sourced historical fiction. Extremely long and convoluted, thinly sourced historical fiction. How many of us arrived in college, planning to formally study our preferred era, only to discover that Gone With the Wind is an Un-Book and that no reputable university will allow you to write a dissertation on which of Henry VIII's wives is your imaginary bestie and why? Philippa Gregory is not an acceptable source, trust.

Just me. Okay. How embarrassing!

Now, back in the day, we had fewer options and mediums in which to be obsessive about the many ill-fated loves of Henry VIII. There was this book, which is incredible; there were actual works of history; and there were, like, documentaries on A&E narrated by Steve Buscemi. It was a dark time to be morbid. Now, of course, we have "The Tudors," which was… awful. Oh, I bought it. I watched it. I loved it. It was terrible. Oh, sure, Joss Stone, you're plausible as "the plain one." Right, right, let's give Jonathan Rhys Meyers and his eight-pack abs a light dappling of salt-and-pepper hair as he purportedly ages four decades. Sure, I would love to see the historically inaccurate waxed vulvas of a bevy of damsels! Did Anne Boleyn have a navel piercing? Why not. (I made that one up.) Okay, okay, we're here to talk about The Autobiography. Not so much about the notes by his fool, Will Somers, as those are pretty dull. I'm also totally over the whole "oh, let's write something set in a time in which people had fools, and then make the fool this Wise and All-Seeing Figure for artistic purposes." It's done! Move on, writers of the world. You want to be original? Make your fool the historical predecessor of Curly, Larry or Moe.

Now, the one thing this book lacks, as far as I'm concerned, apart from NEVER ENDING, is that it's nice to Thomas More. Books are always fellating Thomas More, and he was The Worst. Seriously! I mean, I loved that Robert Bolt play, too, but the man was a ghoul. First, he was an idiot, because he should have just sucked it up and done whatever Henry wanted. Okay, I get that there are people with religious convictions, and everything, but let's not leave our children fatherless over a Big Maybe, k? Second, he was a dick. He burned heretics, for heaven's sake. We're supposed to get all weepy because he had his head cleanly removed from his body and then had a bunch of Catholic secondary schools named after him? He burned people alive for selling banned books. Whatever, Thomas More. It's nice you educated your daughters, but you are no friend of Classic Trash.


So, you've got your first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She has the coolest name, but, like Thomas More, she was an idiot. Sign the stupid papers, girl! Why die slowly in a drafty castle, separated from your daughter, for no reason? Come on. Then, we have Anne Boleyn. You know she was a freak in the bedroom. She wasn't much of an idiot, just kind of unlucky. Hey, she can't sit around making Y chromosomes out of nothing, Henry. That's actually your problem, not hers. Well, I guess it was her problem, because she wound up dead. Queuing up our third wife, Jane Seymour. Jane was super great and perfect, but then she died because people were rooting around in her vagina with their filthy, diseased hands. She died, and we honor her memory by conning our doctors out of antibiotics every time our sinuses get clogged. Oh, and with all those lugubrious folk songs about how bent out of shape Henry was by her death. That's sweet, Henry. I'm sure it made you a better husband for Anne of Cleves.

PSYCH, no. Now, Anne, she wasn't an idiot. She was actually quite bright, as inbred, undereducated minor royals go. You know why? She smiled, signed the papers, and kept her mouth shut. Outlived the man by ten years! Okay, she was still only 41, but we can't always get what we want, can we? Anyway, Anne freed him up gladly so he could marry Catherine Howard, the slutty one. I mean that in a positive, empowering way. But it did get her killed. Another example of someone who should have just said, "oh, sorry, I was precontracted! Please set me aside instead of killing me for committing treason." You know what most of these unfortunate queens have in common, that's popped up in our previous discussions? Independent counsel. Seriously. I could have gotten her life in a nunnery like that (snaps fingers). And now she's dead.

The last one, of course, is super boring (sorry, Third Catherine). But that's okay, because most authors, including Margaret George, are happy to instead dwell on how huge and pus-filled Henry had become by this point in time, and how poetically dejected he was by the sad mess of his life. But enough about Henry's suppurating leg ulcers. I'm sure you want to talk more about his merrie wives.


• Have you written an extremely long and convoluted work of thinly sourced historical fiction? Would you like me to read it?

• Okay, help me out. Should I next cover Wideacre or Gone With the Wind? SPEAKING OF EXTREMELY LONG AND CONVOLUTED THINLY SOURCED HISTORICAL FICTION.

• Which ill-fated wife would have been your bestie? Which one would you want to be? NOTE: you are not allowed to say "Jane Seymour, but I would have told the fucking ob-gyn to wash his goddamn hands, and I would have lived, and Henry would have bought me all sorts of gorgeous stuff and we would have ridden horses at Richmond 4-eva." That's my answer.

• Who would you cast as each wife in a major motion picture? I want Sean Bean as Henry, obviously. Obviously.

• What's your favorite Philippa Gregory novel?

• You do know about Wideacre, right?

• Is there a trashy historical period you prefer to the reign of Henry VIII? Explain.

• So, I finally started using sriracha after, like, 29 years of reading food bloggers that claim to bathe in the stuff. What was I thinking before now? You can put that shit on ANYTHING.

Previously: The Secret History

Nicole Cliffe is the proprietress of Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews.

76 Comments / Post A Comment

I never understood the point of Sriracha. It has no flavor and seems to just serve the purpose of "making it hot". While this is infinitely important in music (shouts to Puff), it makes no sense in food. The point of added hotness is that it's combined with added flavor.

Although, I've often been accused of underdeveloped taste buds, so what do I know?

Wideacre? Oh, I know about Wideacre. I saw Philippa Gregory speak and I couldn't believe she had written that series. My friend and I kept exchanging shifty eyes through the whole event in disbelief. Gregory was so charming!

Decca (#22,846)

Ugh, The Tudors is the WORST although I am probably bitter cause I once tried to sneak onto set (parts of it were filmed in the castle up the road from me) and was ceremoniously turfed out.

AitchBee (#228,856)

I'm pretty sure that this book is the reason I always side with literary losers: Team Jacob! Team Gale! Team German Barbarians at the Start of "Gladiator"! Team Princess Mary, because Young Elizabeth is obviously a bitch (I mean, Team Dame Helen Mirren as aging Elizabeth, obviously. I'm not a monster)! So Margaret George is responsible for a lot of personal unhappiness.

Obviously you want to be Book Anne of Cleves, because then you get to invent proto-Risk (LITERATURE!).

Annie K. (#3,563)

For thinly sourced historical fiction, you can hardly do better than the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser, though they may be a little thickly sourced which nevertheless does not impede knavery and frequent sex.

lovelettersinhell (#13,711)

I'm currently a big fan of YA fantasy regency era novels. I have no clue how there is enough interest for it to be an actual sub-genre, but it is.

scully (#10,214)

@lovelettersinhell Please supply titles for works in this genre. A friend wants to know…

bocadelperro (#9,676)

@scully Please. I'd like to know for…research purposes…

VDRE (#231,776)

The reign of Henry VIII is by far my favorite trashy historical period, I've loved it ever since I read Mary, Bloody Mary by Carolyn Meyer. No other historical period comes close.

LivFrz (#231,805)

@VDRE Mary, Bloody Mary was my first Tudor Novel too! My 7th grade Language Arts teacher had it in the classroom for free period, and I loved it so much, she let me have it. Been obsessed ever since.

JennFizz (#172,488)

AHAAAA Read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. It is so fucking good! Well- researched and beautifully written from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell (she totally mocks Thomas More!). You will love it. I, too, am a devotee of historical fiction. Diana Gabaldon all the time. Seriously, all the time. I've read each of those 6oo page novels 10 or 12 times.

jolie (#16)

@JennFizz Ugh Mantel's shoddy precedent work was so maddening I finally threw the book across the room and sought solace in an Allison Weir novel.

lobsterhug (#66,323)

@JennFizz Gabaldon for life! Those are my desert island books because I could read them forever.

missvancity (#231,288)

@jolie Allison Weird is my personal hero, and if I ever met her I would probably stutter incoherently for a few minutes and then burst into tears. PRINCES IN THE TOWER 4 EVA!

missvancity (#231,288)

@missvancity NOOOO, ALLISON WEIR, I suck.

Nomie @twitter (#226,424)

@JennFizz I am slogging through Wolf Hall right now! It is approximately a millenium and a half out of my time period so I have a hard time keeping track of stuff, but I am enjoying it hugely.

damgerine (#231,831)

@JennFizz I met her! She was ok to me, but super flirty with my boyfriend. Granted, he was the only young man there, but still!

JennFizz (#172,488)

@jolie Mantel is such a beautifully complex writer though. There is seriously nothing else of that quality in the genre.

JennFizz (#172,488)

Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen. 18th century England AND France. Orgies and broken promises. So much fun.

ejcsanfran (#489)

You have read "The Sunne in Splendour," right? Revisionist Richard III – no hump and strongly suggests he didn't kill those two brats.

And I cannot get enough of Elizabeth I era thinly-sourced fiction. I DON'T KNOW WHY! It always turns out the same and I get so angry that she didn't execute that annoying Mary, Queen of Scots 20 years sooner…

Also, best thing about Anne of Cleves? Her nickname "The Flanders Mare."

AwlMonkey (#231,804)

@ejcsanfran AAAHHH THE SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR goddamn I love that book. It makes me go on a revisionist Richard III rampage whenever anybody mentions him. Which is….not that often? But they never see it coming and then BAM I bring it.

Bittersweet (#765)

@ejcsanfran: But apparently Richard III didn't have a hump and probably didn't kill the two brats and was awesome and enlightened and kind. This is according to my unimpeachable historical source, The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. History as detective novel!

Phillipa Gregory has a whole bunch of fun novels about the Wars of the Roses, but I can't read the one about the Beauforts because Josephine has made me so rabidly anti-Tudor, those bloodthirsty bastards.

missvancity (#231,288)

@Bittersweet Pro tip: the Richard III museum in York is NOT WORTH IT. I was so disappointed :(

JanieS (#228,605)

@Bittersweet Rabidly anti-Tudor, and sort of mad at Shakespeare for his propagandistic hatchet-job on Rich III. (WAS ROYAL PATRONAGE REALLY THAT IMPORTANT, WILL? OH IT WAS? I'll shut up then. /fake conversations with dead playwrights)

opanova (#231,811)

@ejcsanfran I am so excited for The Sunne in Splendor! But I am going to vote for the 12th-13th century Angevin/Plantagenet era, because I just finished Here Be Dragons and Falls the Shadow, and I might need to go hom sick so I can start The Reckoning RIGHTNOW!

jolie (#16)

@Bittersweet OMG READ THEM. You can skip The Red Queen (the Margaret Beaufort one) which was a touch on the dull side (shhhh no one heard me say that) but absolutely under no circumstances should you miss The White Queen and The Lady of The Rivers which was alkshflkhgdlkhfglkhf SO GOOD. I mean, like, if I had to choose between rescuing The Lady of The Rivers or Wideacre from a burning building I'd have to spend some serious time considering my final answer.

SuperMargie (#1,263)

I LOVED this book, but not enough to read it more than once. I recommend, nay, command, that you read "Katherine" by Anya Seton, which is just as convoluted and historical. Plague, murder, sexytimes, more plague. I make a point of reading this book during every Winter Olympics (cannot explain why, maybe becasue it forces me towait at least four years between readings?).

jolie (#16)

Should I next cover Wideacre or Gone With the Wind?


I'm gonna go with Wideacre. Then maybe GWTW after? Fun fact: I wrote my college essay on Scarlett O'Hara. I think I can still quote the entire first page of that LIFE CHANGING book. "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charms as the Tarleton twins were."

Susannaf (#231,800)

Not thinly sourced but laid on thick and beautifully – The Aubrey Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian. Jane Austen with sex and violence. Very funny. Immaculate writing. Lashings of history. Plots and characters that roll on for twenty books…
And his women! My God, they are fantastic. I love them dearly. Oh, and I know bugger all about sailing, but I still love these books.

rararuby (#231,806)

I registered over here just to say 'The Devils of Loudun' by Aldous Huxley. Maybe a little too well researched, but it's saucy and fascinating and excellent!

LivFrz (#231,805)

The Other Boleyn girl was one of my favorite Philippa Gregory novels, however I'm crazy over any thinly sourced historical fiction in regards to the Tudors. I'm reading Jean Plaidy's "The Lady in the Tower" (1986) for the fifth time. Can't get enough of Anne Boleyn. Plaidy is a genius, by the way, and covers all of my favorite trashy historical periods: Tudors, Georgians, Queen Victoria, Medici, Borgia, French Revolution, etc. etc.

Also, Anne Boleyn would be my bestie. Jane Seymour, Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves sound like prudes, Catherine Howard was a dumb slut, and Catherine Parr who? Boring.

I would also have been Anne Boleyn despite losing my head. At least she didn't get a dull axe, but a fancy French sword to take it off.

Clare (#516)

Aw, I thought we were going to do The Crimson Petal and the White next?

Bittersweet (#765)

@Clare: Yes, please! Michel Faber is the awesomest. Everybody must go read all his books and novellas right now.

Equestrienne (#201,975)

This is a movie, not a novel, so I'm not sure if I should go here…but Glorious 39! Who would have thought that pre-WWII appeasement could be so, so trashy. Please tell me some of you have seen this so we can discuss that fabulous nightgown at the end of the movie. Thank you.

Squidman (#1,188)

@Equestrienne I saw it, but didn't like it, Eddie Redmayne notwithstanding.

lobsterhug (#66,323)

I think I read Margaret George's Memoirs of Cleopatra? You'd think I'd remember but it was in high school and it might have been a different Cleopatra book. I tried to read her book on Mary Queen of Scots, but couldn't get into it. I ended up just scanning for the sex parts.

My middle school self was obsessed with Civil War young adult fiction and really anything having to do with the 19th century/American West. Thanks, Laura Ingalls Wilder.

drufus (#24,190)

@lobsterhug there was indeed a lot of sex in the Mary Queen of Scots book. Filthy, filthy, delightful. You know it's classic trash when there's a sex scene involving John Knox.

David (#192)

I am just glad that Barbara W. Tuchman (1912–1989) was not one of the wives of King Henry VIII because otherwise, we wouldn't understand a thing about WWI or English aristocracy.

Otterman Empire (#224,124)


sara@twitter (#14,000)

My favorite extremely long and convoluted work of thinly sourced historical fiction is James Clavell's Shogun, which we were assigned to read in ninth grade and which I read twice in a month and have gone back to every couple of years. I even watched the TERRIBLE miniseries with Richard Chamberlain and John Rhys-Davies. It's just so epic and insane, I love it.

RickVigorous (#214)

Reading 'The Queen's Confession' by Victoria Holt in high school made the French Revolution much more interesting…and trashy.

venuspie (#12,714)

Kent Family Chronicles:

Trashy American Revolution. I remember sneaking the books off my Grandma's bookshelf, you know, for the history.

kittenwithawhip (#231,808)

I prefer the pre-revolutionary French historical dramas, but I have read the Mary Queen of Scots, Ann Boleyn and Catherine Howard biographies. As I list on my FB page under prefered books, "Any historical biography that ends in a beheading"
Not thinly sourcrs but delicious to read, Nancy Mitford's biography of Madame de Pompadour! I also found a trashy out of print book about Queen Victoria's eldest daughter Vicky, it was a fascinating read. I am queueing up the book with a too long title: An Uncommon Woman – The Empress Frederick: Daughter of Queen Victoria, Wife of the Crown Prince of Prussia, Mother of Kaiser Wilhelm. Doubt there will be beheadings tho.

Bittersweet (#765)

Last year I read an amazing trashy historical novel about an English noblewoman who comes back from France with the court of Charles II after the English civil war. It had everything: intrigue, disease, love affairs among ladies in waiting, transgendered pub owners, homosexual assassins, the French mistress of the king, someone celebrating Black Mass, the main character scheming to marry an 80-year-old duke, the works.

However, I can't for the life of me remember the title or author. Does this ring a bell with anyone? Anyone?

AwlMonkey (#231,804)

@Bittersweet Somebody needs to tell you the name of this TOUT DE SUITE so I can read it.

Bittersweet (#765)

@AwlMonkey: Found it. Dark Angels by Karleen Koen, who also wrote Through a Glass Darkly a while back. Thanks, Google and Amazon.

AwlMonkey (#231,804)

@Bittersweet AWESOME. Thank you. Kindling now.

JennFizz (#172,488)

@Bittersweet Through a glass darkly is one of my all time favorites. Have you read To Dance with Kings by Rosiland Laker?

areaderwrites (#592)

Hey, I am working (not particularly hard) on a moderately-sourced and convoluted work of trashy historical fiction, if you want to be my reader…

missvancity (#231,288)

For straight up trashy historicals, I've really enjoyed Loretta Chase's Duchess series. They're set in the 18th century and there is SO much talk of hairstyles! <3

kerrypolka (#231,809)

I am all about the Wars of the Roses for my trashy historical fiction! Basically I have drawn hearts all around Queen Margaret of Anjou in my head and the rest of the court politics and Lancaster vs York scrimmages are really great fun. Sadly there isn't as much as there is about the Tudors, although I did read a brilliant(ly awful) romance novel about famed mortal enemies Margaret of Anjou and Richard of York.

JanieS (#228,605)

Favorite trashy historical period: the French Revolution, because THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, PEOPLE.

Squidman (#1,188)

@JanieS Sink Me!

Be But Little (#228,384)

Oh, man. I love the Julio-Claudians. They put the Tudors to SHAME. Suetonius is the master of "thinly sourced historical fiction." I mean, Augustus banished his daughter Julia for having an orgy in the forum. IN THE FORUM. And Nero FIDDLED while Rome burned. (Well, no, but that's for another day.)

Nomie @twitter (#226,424)

@Be But Little Oh, Suetonius, you gossipy old biddy. So fantastic. Although really there are so many Romans you can talk about – I mean. ELAGABALUS.

Bittersweet (#765)

@Be But Little: For some classic non-fiction trash a few centuries, read The Secret History by Procopius, about Emperor Justinian and his wife, Theodora. Hundreds of pages of juicy character assassination.

Be But Little (#228,384)

@Nomie @twitter Elagabalus! How could I forget about you, Elagabalus? Boy king extraordinaire. Thought he was the sun god and all that. You can't make stuff like this up. The Roman Empire was the best.

Susannaf (#231,800)

Oh! What was that super trashy American civil war bonk-buster? Not GWTW. It was far ruder than that. Written by a man.

Squidman (#1,188)

@Susannaf North & South, by John Jakes I think? Patrick Swaze was in the mini-series.

Susannaf (#231,800)

@Squidman That's the one!

lobsterhug (#66,323)

@Squidman I watched that in my 8th grade social studies class. All the girls were in love with soliders, except the creepy psychic one.

susan@twitter (#231,815)

WIDEACRE. I really want to see how you … handle things in that book.

ru_ri (#222,491)

We're supposed to get all weepy because he had his head cleanly removed from his body and then had a bunch of Catholic secondary schools named after him? He burned people alive for selling banned books. Whatever, Thomas More. It's nice you educated your daughters, but you are no friend of Classic Trash.
This made me want to stand up and cheer. FINALLY someone says what I have been thinking about Thomas More!
I would love to read thinly sourced historical fiction about the Roman Empire or feudal-era Japan. Recommendations?

Nomie @twitter (#226,424)

@ru_ri Pompeii by Robert Harris is a great book and decently sourced. Guess what it is about.

OBVIOUSLY you want to be Anne of Cleves, because then you get the hell out of Cleves (which is a nice-enough part of the world now, but seemed to suck then), you get a castle and an entourage and precedent over all the ladies except the King's current wife and whichever kid is legitimate this week, and you can basically dick around and play cards all day. Anne of Cleves had it made.

damgerine (#231,831)

My favorite trashy historical series is on Josephine Bonaparte. The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland to be precise. Soooo good and such a strange time to write trashy historical fiction about.

I read Margaret George's book on Mary, Queen of Scots. It was great, but lord I hated that woman by the end. She wasn't going to ever use her head, so it was no great tragedy to me when she lost it.

And Anne of Cleves for the win, smelly as she may have been.

badrockandroll (#231,836)

New poster, and a dissenter all at once. Catherine Parr may have had a boring life until Henry died (he was her second sick old man husband), but did she score with her third husband: Jane Seymour's brother, who I think was one of those dashing cads. Life should have been grand for the stepmother of the king who married the uncle of the king, but alas, she died in childbirth I think, and ole Ned backed the wrong horse (9 day jane, also a niece, they kept it in the family back then), and lost his head. Love the Tudors!
I somehow persuaded my grade five teacher that I didn't need to go to her class because I was an Author, and I wrote quite the torrid life and times of all of them. And I got out of grade 5. I also got out of grade 8, and did independent studies instead: did a book review of GWTW, so guess what my vote is? And lastly, does anyone know if Jean Plaidy and Victoria holt are the same person?

Chrestomanci (#231,920)

New poster here too. I created an account just to say – Yes! Jean Plaidy and Victoria Holt are the same person. They are also Phillippa Carr, who wrote the book that turned me on at the age of 10 to the Tudors and thinly sourced historical fiction in general, The Miracle at St Brunos.

The reign of Henry VIII is definitley the best trashy historical period, but Charles II (of England! Not Spain. Ew.) and all his mistresses is a close second for me.

annabarenina (#232,041)

@Chrestomanci eeeeeeee I love Chrestomanci! I just created an account to squeal at you about that!

Also Wideacre! I have never before been on the cheering squad for someone as incredibly evil as Beatrice, I love her!

Chrestomanci (#231,920)

@annabarenina So much better than that Harry Potter guy, right?

trisomy001 (#231,846)

this was really awesome!

stud1pills (#231,859)

@trisomy001 absolutely!

creaves@twitter (#231,970)

Oh oh oh, please do Wideacre! It's absolutely my favorite trash historical fiction. I'm giddy just thinking about it. Beatrice is just so balls to the wall insane, bless her. <3

caketime (#232,076)

Haven't read Wideacre, but is sounds delicious. Have you read Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant??? Best opening scenario ever.

jennysaisquoi (#11,497)

How about When Christ and his Saints Slept? Eleanore of Aquitaine. The original cougar dumped her husband the French king to marry the much younger son of Queen Maud and bring an end to civil war in England. I also love Kathryn and The Sunne in Splendour.

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