Tag Archives: Candace Fleming

Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All

Fatal ThroneSurely, we’ve heard everything there is to say about the Tudors, right? We’re Tudored out! Well… tell me everything you know about Anne of Cleves. Yeah, me too.

The fact is that most of us know a good bit about Catherine of Aragon and far more than we should about Anne Boleyn, and that’s it. Maybe a smattering of Jane Seymour. From an academic viewpoint, the separation of England from the church of Rome happened during the divorce of Catherine and the marriage of Anne, and Anne Boleyn was the first reigning queen to be executed in England, all of which makes for a lot of dramatic material. From a more prurient, Hollywood standpoint, a young and handsome king committing adultery on his religious wife with a beautiful, coquettish daughter of the nobility will bring in the dollars. Shows about sickly, old boors who are still trying for more heirs won’t pop anybody’s popcorn.

In this brand-new collaboration, celebrated female authors each take one of the six wives and tell her story, interspersed with the perspective of Henry, written by National Book Award-winning author M.T. Anderson. These are big names in young adult literature: Candace Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Lisa Ann Sandell, Jennifer Donnelly, Linda Sue Park, and Deborah Hopkinson. They reveal girls who grew up quickly, traveling across the sea or thrust from their fathers’ and brothers’ bargaining tables, setting aside their own dreams to become childbearers in a huge political game, changing the course of history while embroidering a royal layette. Anne Boleyn was not concerned with the fate of Christendom, but her name is permanently entwined in the story. Anne of Cleves was not interested in marriage at all, while Catherine Parr was an excellent theologian, and almost lost her head by revealing the depth of her knowledge. Anderson’s interludes are infuriating to read– hence brilliantly effective– as Henry never doubts that he is justified in all of his actions, since he is both a man and the king.

I have always felt a great sympathy for Catherine of Aragon, who expected to lead a noble and dignified life and certainly lived up to her part of the bargain, although she produced a terrifying daughter. Even Mary’s story and that of the other Tudor children are woven into the background of the tale. By the time Henry’s life was over, his wives and his daughters were getting close to the same age. This is probably the first time since the 1970s BBC production that I’ve gotten to know the later wives so well—the good, the bad, and the fascinating.

This story is written for adults and young adults who are old enough to understand the sexual details of producing heirs and how that process might get complicated with an older man with health issues. I admit to being surprised at the candor of some of the bedroom scenes, which are far from romantic. A bracing antidote to any steamy television shows concerning Henry.

No teen could ever consider history boring again after this happy combination of talents brings the ultimate dysfunctional family to life. Highly recommended for adults and mature teens.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Family Romanov, by Candace Fleming

Family Romanov 2While Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra were entering the royal palace wearing jewel-encrusted robes, peasant mothers were adding dirt and sawdust to their bread in order to stretch their meager food supplies. The peasants made up 84% of Russia’s population, but they never blamed the tsar for their tribulations. They were sure that it was the small number of land-owning nobles who were to blame, because they believed—as did Nicholas and all of his forebears– that he was their Beloved Father. If he knew of their troubles, surely he would help them.

It is true that the tsar was ignorant of the grinding poverty of his subjects. Russia is a huge country, with vast tracts of remote, icy tundra. Nicholas and his family rarely left the western cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow, traveling from palace to palace surrounded by advisors and courtiers. They only heard what the nobles wanted them to hear and believed that God had ordained them to rule the people absolutely. So when the first peasants banded together to petition the tsar for redress of grievances, he thought they were just a small band of troublemakers and had his soldiers mow them down. The people were shocked and enraged. Opportunists like Vladimir Lenin took advantage of this unrest to provoke the nation to rebellion, and so began the movement that changed Russia into the Soviet Union and continues to influence Russian life even today.

It seems amazing in this day of internet news, cell phones, and texting, but Nicholas honestly did not understand the magnitude of his subjects’ anger. For years, he continued to think that they loved him and that only a few people were being unruly. Although he used increasing force against them, Nicholas never questioned his perfect right to do so. There was a White Russian movement, which was on the side of the tsar, but they were too small and weak to reach him in time. Even on the day of their assassinations, the royal family believed that they were being moved to safety.

Candace Fleming used primary sources and riveting storytelling in this new account of an important chapter in recent history. Russia has always seemed to be living in a past era to me. Catherine the Great seems practically medieval, but she reigned when George Washington was president. Incredibly, Nicholas II was tsar of Russia only a hundred years ago. Fleming presents both sides of the story, including letters from soldiers to their parents during World War I and the abundant photographs taken by Nicholas’ children, who were passionate about photography and carried their cameras with them everywhere.

This beautiful volume garnered six stars from professional review journals, an almost impossible feat. Fleming’s greatest triumph, in my mind, is in demonstrating that history is not necessarily a story of the good guys versus the bad guys. Sometimes it’s difficult to tease out the truth about right and wrong, and in this case, the reader’s sympathies can change from one page to the next. If this is so, how can we judge the motivations of those around us today? How will history portray our age? Perhaps both sides are right in some respects. On the other hand, perhaps no one is right. A very thought-provoking read, sure to spark discussion.

Highly recommend for teens and adults, and I hope to see some awards decorating the cover in January.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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