The divorce of Henry VIII from Catherine of Aragon is one of the great events of English history. When I first began researching this topic – and in particular the diplomacy behind it – over a decade ago, The National Archives were an obvious place to start. I soon realised, however, that many details of how Henry’s ambassadors went about their work were not to be found in the UK, but in archives across Europe.
I was particularly interested in the role of the Italian diplomats employed by Henry on an apparently freelance basis during the six years of negotiations to end his marriage. One of them, Gregorio Casali, originally came from Bologna, and in the city’s State Archive I tracked down a series of legal documents describing his family’s property holdings. A letter in The National Archives suggested he had spent his own money to finance the cost of lawyers for the king.
The Bologna documents, however, did not back that up, and the State Archive in Parma, which has part of the family archive of Casali’s wife, didn’t prove helpful either.
On a trip to see the Casali family’s historic castle, however, I had a remarkable piece of luck. Getting to the castle on public transport involved an hour’s wait in Piacenza. The bus station was very near the State Archive, so I went in to ask if they had any records. They didn’t, they told me, but the Casali family still lived in the town and had a private archive. They would put me in touch. A few months later I was finally able to see the documents, which established that the story of Casali’s expenditure was true. Continue reading »