The idea for writing The Children of Henry VIII appealed to me mainly because I’d got fed up with people from tv companies or guides in stately homes trying to tell me that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn came to visit X or Y places as a family, with baby Elizabeth in one or other of their arms. In reality, Henry VIII always followed the protocol laid down in the Royal Book as this had been revised and updated by his grandmother Margaret Beaufort in 1493, which meant that all his four children were brought up in nurseries set apart from where their parents were living, often many miles apart.
The Children of Henry VIII, by John Guy
The family were together only on a handful of occasions in Henry’s entire reign, and none of his children spent much time alone with either him or their respective mothers. I wanted to include Henry Fitzroy, the king’s illegitimate son, who tends to be written out of history, since he was a crucial part of the story in the earlier years. But I particularly wanted to shed light on the difficult personal relationships between the squabbling siblings, who of course all had different mothers, since I thought this might improve our understanding of the period as a whole. Until I started to write this book, I hadn’t fully appreciated the degree of jealousy, mutual distrust and sibling rivalry between the children, or how far their childhood experiences shaped their characters and subsequent lives.
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I have just been to hear Anne Sebba talk about her book That Woman on the life of Wallis Simpson. This is one of a series of authors’ talks which we plan to make a more regular feature at The National Archives. Books should, and do, stand by themselves and sometimes seeing the author in the flesh can be a disappointment. Am I alone in thinking that Nigel Slater, possibly the greatest food writer today, worthy heir to Elizabeth David, should never, never be let near a television camera? However, this was a treat.
That Woman by Anne Sebba
Slightly spookily Anne’s dress almost exactly mirrored the one Wallis is wearing on the cover of the book but once over this I was captured by her words. Wallis Simpson’s story is extraordinary and Anne elaborated on her view of Wallis’ life: a tragic love story if not the one you’d expect. She read from letters Wallis wrote to her second husband Ernest at the time of the divorce which showed a woman trapped by her own schemes, horribly alone and in love with a man she can no longer have.
In putting the abdication crisis in its historical context Anne showed how horrified the royal family had been by Edward’s actions. The country had just come out of the First World War a time when the country had responded to a call to duty and paid with their lives, now ‘the family’ who have possibly the most engrained sense of duty ever, were looking to one of their own asking what they saw as a small thing and he wouldn’t do it. As you know there is nothing like the opprobrium heaped on someone by their own family if they think they are letting the side down. The mistresses, the weekend parties, the gin, the madness they could deal with all that –almost de rigeur for a king you might say- but one must step up to the plate and do your duty, not throw your toys out the pram if you can’t have ‘the woman you love’. In Anne’s final slide of Wallis’s coffin being carried out followed by members of the Royal Family, the look on the face of the Queen Mother said it all.
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