May 26, 2012

Henry's Man In Rome

One of the less known, and less understood, stories about Henry VIII's "great matter" is exactly how the king and his advisors pursued the issue of an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon before the authorities at the Vatican. Henry could certainly be a tenacious, single-minded, and supremely selfish man, and the way in which he held on, for years, to the idea that he could have both his annulment and continued (fairly) amicable relations with her nephew Charles V, demonstrates all these qualities. How, though, did the actual negotiations proceed? Who carried out the instructions to secure the termination of Henry's relationship to his first wife? Who was Henry's "man in Rome"?

In Henry's Man In Rome (Palgrave, 2012), Catherine Fletcher investigates the identity and the activities of Gregorio Casali,who gets only an occasional mention in the literature of the time. She also illuminates the reasons for the ultimate failure of his delicate mission, which is part of an event that set in motion the establishment of a new church and led to the birth of a great queen. She introduces us not only to the work of a forgotten Italian diplomat of the period, but to the very sensitive activities of an emissary entrusted with a delicate matter such as the disentangling of a royal marriage and a diplomatic alliance. She also depicts life in the Rome of the early to mid 1500s (sometimes none too glamorous or safe, even for the wealthy). Casali's brother, a man "young, virtuous, and lovable, and not little esteemed by His Holiness," according to a member of the Mantuan diplomatic corps, is murdered in 1533.

A meticulously written and exciting look behind the scenes of Henry VIII's attempt to obtain that dissolution of his fateful marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and a worthy addition to the shelf of Renaissance biography and history.

[Based on an advance review copy of Catherine Fletcher, Henry's Man in Rome, Palgrave, 2012. British title:  The Divorce of Henry VIII. Copy courtesy of the publisher].

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