The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story from Inside the Vatican


In 1533 the English monarch Henry VIII decided to divorce his wife of twenty years Catherine of Aragon in pursuit of a male heir to ensure the Tudor line. He was also head over heels in love with his wife’s lady in waiting Anne Boleyn, the future mother of Elizabeth I. But getting his freedom involved a terrific web of intrigue through the enshrined halls of the Vatican that resulted in a religious schism and the formation of the Church of England. Henry’s man in Rome was a wily Italian diplomat named Gregorio ...

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The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story from Inside the Vatican

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In 1533 the English monarch Henry VIII decided to divorce his wife of twenty years Catherine of Aragon in pursuit of a male heir to ensure the Tudor line. He was also head over heels in love with his wife’s lady in waiting Anne Boleyn, the future mother of Elizabeth I. But getting his freedom involved a terrific web of intrigue through the enshrined halls of the Vatican that resulted in a religious schism and the formation of the Church of England. Henry’s man in Rome was a wily Italian diplomat named Gregorio Casali who drew no limits on skullduggery including kidnapping, bribery and theft to make his king a free man. In this absorbing narrative, winner of the Rome Fellowship prize and University of Durham historian Catherine Fletcher draws on hundreds of previously-unknown Italian archive documents to tell the colorful tale from the inside story inside the Vatican.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Engagingly written…recommended.”—Choice

"An impressive, dogged study for armchair Tudor detectives.”—Kirkus Reviews

“An eye-opening book, an intricate and fascinating story of an elusive man with an impossible job. A brilliant and impressive feat of original research, and necessary reading for anyone fascinated by the story of Henry’s divorce... Catherine Fletcher has allowed the story to tell itself, except that she’s been so clever in the telling of it, cutting through to what matters without over-simplifying.” –Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall

“This book casts bright light on an extraordinary cast of characters at a dark moment in the affairs of Christendom. With considerable scholarship, borne lightly, Catherine Fletcher vividly evokes the worlds of Papal Rome and of Henry VIII's Court in England, and deciphers the diplomacy of nightmare.”—Susan Brigden, author of New Worlds, Lost Worlds: The Rule of the Tudors

“It is no small achievement to find previously unexplored documents and to offer a new take on one of the most famous divorces in history. Yet Fletcher does just that with great scholarly verve and literary aplomb. This is a compelling tale of high politics and dodgy dealings, renaissance diplomacy and family drama. This is the untold story of Gregorio ‘The Cavalier’ Casali Henry VIII’s man in Rome.”—Anna Whitelock, author of Mary Tudor

“Catherine Fletcher rescues from undeserved obscurity a key player in one of history’s great events. Gregorio Casali turns out to be a thoroughly intriguing character: a skilled diplomat, but also a controversial networker, bribester, and all-around fixer who went by the code name Bald Head. With impeccable scholarship and a zest for the delightful minutiae of history, Fletcher navigates the intricate byways of Renaissance diplomacy to bring this vital new figure into the story of Henry VIII’s ‘great matter.’”—Ross King, author of Brunelleschi’s Dome and The Judgment of Paris

"This entertaining and meticulously researched study casts new light on a famous episode in English history."—Linda Porter, author of Katherine the Queen 


“A marvel of close-up detective work, with the main players, in addition to those on the English side, being the Emperor Charles V (Catherine’s nephew), the King of France and Pope Clement VII. … And we are in the thick of it from the word go, with lots of nasty backbiting.”—Duncan Fallowell, Daily Express


“Catherine Fletcher is not afraid to dazzle the reader with her scholarly prowess and detail, with the result that she has managed here to reclaim a period of history all too often simplified… Fletcher simply tells a cracking story well  in plenty of detail with clarity and insight… Her protagonists are never anything but true to their selves and Fletcher richly deserves the title of historian.”—Sarah Vine, London Times


"The greatest joy of this splendid book is that it dwells on context. You'll learn a great deal about why the squabbles between Charles V and the king of France made Italian and papal politics such a muddle. You'll emerge with a keener sense of why the dynastic priorities of Henry VIII ("a mid-ranking northern monarch, a player on the European stage but far from the star of the show") managed to cause such a fuss. With any luck you'll switch off your TV and rely instead on the hard work of experts who can write very well."—Jonathan Wright, The Herald


"Fletcher’s glittering debut.... drawing on the unexplored riches of Italian Renaissance archives, enlarges the [well known story], and to magnificent effect."– Miranda Seymour, Sunday Times London

“Catherine Fletcher’s [The Divorce of Henry VIII] is beautifully written and offers a clear and accessible account of a neglected figure in Tudor and Papal politics. Her study of Gregorio Casali’s career reveals unexpected links between the worlds of the court, business and the law in London and Rome and offers a fascinating account of how patronage and diplomacy worked in sixteenth-century Europe. It is thoroughly researched and carefully nuanced, providing not merely a gripping tale of Henry VIII's campaign for an annulment of his first marriage, but scholarly insights into the nature of personal politics in the Renaissance. It will find its way into the collection not only of the enthusiast of the period, but the student and the professional historian alike.”—Glenn Richardson, Reader in Early-Modern History, Saint Mary’s University College London


Library Journal
Given the amount of material available on the Tudors, it's difficult to think that anyone even remotely interested in this era is unfamiliar with the particulars of Henry VIII's attempts to seek a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the resulting political and religious fallout. Fortunately, in her first book, Fletcher (history, Univ. of Durham, England) has found a new angle by focusing on a little-known figure: Gregorio Casali, England's Italian-born ambassador to Rome. As one of the diplomats charged with securing the Pope's approval for the divorce, Casali played a central role in the dealings at the papal court. Though some biographical gaps remain, the information Fletcher has uncovered about Casali's life—full of clashing politics, professional rivalries, and deep family loyalties—provides a fresh perspective on the proceedings of the divorce attempt as well as an in-depth look at the complex world of 16th-century diplomacy. VERDICT The level of scholarly detail may overwhelm some casual readers, but the combination of Fletcher's excellent detective work and a new viewpoint on this well-trod patch of history makes this a must-read for anyone with a serious interest in this popular subject.—Kathleen McCallister, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
Kirkus Reviews
Assiduously tracking Henry VIII's point man in Rome. Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon took six years to effect, involving numerous emissaries to the Vatican who may or may not have been on the up and up, and rupturing England's ties to the Catholic Church in the end. The process proves exacting, engrossing reading as English academic Fletcher (History/Durham Univ.) focuses on the toilsome job of "resident diplomat" in Rome Gregorio Casali, who tried desperately to placate all factions, including Pope Clement and King Henry. However, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, had besieged Rome for plunder and was not amused by Henry's attempt to divorce his lawful queen of nearly 20 years. While Catherine was effectively lobbying her Spanish relatives and the pope constantly for support, Henry was enlisting academics to substantiate his claim that marrying his brother's wife had amounted to a biblical hex. The campaign for public opinion wore on: Henry wanted an heir, plain and simple, and was willing to sever ties with the Roman Catholic Church to do it. Little by little, with his lover Anne Boleyn's help, he cut the Church's influence across England, putting the pressure on Clement, who delayed interminably. Fletcher goes step by step, a numbing-by-details process: Bribery, nepotism, murder, marriage (Casali's own) and Halley's Comet all pass through these pages before Henry finally got his way and married Anne in 1533. Yet with Wolsey's fall from favor and death, Casali returned to England to plead his case "that I and my kindred shall be an example to every man of the ingratitude of princes," then died soon after, abandoned by England. An impressive, dogged study for armchair Tudor detectives.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230341517
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/19/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 950,203
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Catherine Fletcher holds a PhD in history from the University of London. She is the recipient of many awards and fellowships at the British School at Rome and the European University Institute in Florence. She teaches history at the University of Durham. This is her first book.

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Table of Contents

Illustrations vi

Europe in 1527 vii

The Casali Family viii

Preface ix

1 The King in Love and the Pope Besieged 1

2 How to Bribe a Cardinal (Part One) 15

3 A Short Tale of Kidnapping 31

4 Cardinal Campeggio Has Gout 43

5 The Vicar of Hell in Rome 55

6 Neither Fair nor Foul Will Serve 67

7 Livia Pallavicino, Heiress 79

8 The Fall of Cardinal Wolsey 91

9 A Coronation and a Wedding 103

10 The Scholar Croke Cries Foul 117

11 The Daily Frauds of the Brothers Casali 129

12 The Custom of England 139

13 Murder in Naples 151

14 How to Bribe a Cardinal (Part Two) 163

15 The Break with Rome 175

16 The Ingratitude of Princes 187

17 A Mother's Tears 199

Epilogue 211

Acknowledgments 215

Notes 217

Bibliography 241

Index 254

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