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.