MEMSFest 2021

Last week was the 7th annual MEMSFest (Medieval and Early Modern Studies Festival) conference, which I was proud to be part of, both in organising and chairing, as well as presenting a paper. As part of my PhD at the University of Kent, I presented a paper on a manuscript at the archives at Canterbury Cathedral. With their kind permission, as well as that of Alba Jato, who filmed it, I have been able to upload it for those who missed it. I would also like to thank St Stephen’s Church for their help and for supplying the images of the interior of the church for my talk.

It is my first time filming and so a little nervous (as well as being during our heatwave), but hope you enjoy it!

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Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King exhibition at Hampton Court Palace

Last week (10th June) I visited the new exhibition Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King exhibition at Hampton Court Palace. Sorry for the delay in this review, I had meant to post this sooner but I have been busy with PhD work and helping out with the University of Kent’s MEMSFest conference! Anyway, this exhibition may be one of my favourites (out of the ones I have been to) so far, there was so much there and it was so well thought out.

Originally planned to mark the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold in 2020, it was, like many things, delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It was worth the wait though, as it includes a variety of artwork, documents and even items of clothing that the public don’t often get to see.

The exhibition space itself felt well controlled, with signs up indicating the number of people allowed in each room, as well as staff around to make sure that it is enforced. With the booking system for the palace itself and the fact I went during the middle of the week, I had most of it to myself anyway.

Some of my favourite things there were the books on display. One thing in particular that stood out to me was Wolsey’s book of hours, still so bright and vibrant, despite being at least 100 years old when it came into his possession. It was given to him by Cardinal Campeggio in 1518, when he visited England as part of peace negotiations on behalf of Pope Leo X.

Another object of note is the Treaty of Universal Peace, which is signed and dated 2 October 1518.

This copy of the treaty includes signatures of the four leading French diplomats, as well as their seals.

One of the rooms includes an interesting, albeit strange to modern eyes (I heard one visitor describe them as ‘looking like carpets’), display of clothing from Henry VII’s time. Below are the vestments of Henry VII, lent to Cardinal Wolsey by Westminster Abbey for him and the bishops to wear when they said Mass during one of the last days of the Field of Cloth of Gold.

Near the end of the exhibition is the famous painting of the event itself. It is just spectacular and much larger than I expected it to be.

As the painting was eye-level you could really see all the little details, like the men drunk at the wine fountain and Henry VIII in the crowd of riders.

It is worth visiting just for the exhibition, but it is included in the entrance price to the palace, so it is a great value. It is temporary and only on for a short time, so I would highly recommend you go if you have the chance! If you want to see more pictures, there is an album on my author Facebook page (Charlie Fenton).

The exhibition opened on 20 May 2021 and closes on 5 September 2021.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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‘Jane Parker: The Downfall of Two Tudor Queens?’ Cover Reveal

I am sorry that I haven’t been on here as much recently, as I have been busy with university work. However, I will try to be on more, especially as I can now reveal the cover of my book on Jane Parker, which will be released on 30th April 2021! Here is what Adrienne Dillard, author of The Raven’s Widow, has to say about it:

‘Fenton’s meticulous research and careful analysis upends the myths and distortions that have dogged one of history’s biggest scapegoats. Her engaging and lively prose brings to life the true Lady Rochford and seeks to demolish all the lies we’ve been told about her over the last five centuries. A must-read: Jane Boleyn has found another champion.’

I will post the links to the Amazon preorder pages when they are up, as well as some more information about events and competitions nearer the time.

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Royal History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley – Episode 1: The Reformation Review

Lucy Worsley appears often on our TV screens nowadays and is always a delight to watch, with her two previous Fibs series (British History’s Biggest Fibs and American History’s Biggest Fibs) being very popular. Her latest addition to this aired on Tuesday 18th February on BBC Four and looked at the biggest fibs surrounding the royals, starting with the Reformation.

Worsley starts by suggesting that the Reformation has been seen in recent years as a sideshow to Henry VIII’s love life, which is probably true, at least in regards to the way the public view it. She quickly looks at Martin Luther and his theses, before moving on to what the audience is perhaps most interested in, that being Henry VIII himself.

Henry was not a Protestant, Worsley wants to stress, but was a Catholic until he died. I personally beg to differ, he may not have been a full Protestant but, as one of my tutors once drilled into my class, you cannot be a Catholic without the Pope.

As with most of these documentaries, a variety of other historians make an appearance throughout this episode. The most recognisable is Suzannah Lipscomb, who suggests that Henry’s ideas about the Pope and him not having authority in England probably wouldn’t have come about without Anne presenting these new ideas to him.

 

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Suzannah Lipscomb discussing Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

 

We also see Diarmaid MacCulloch, who has fairly recently released a biography on Thomas Cromwell and admits to admiring him. He explains that this is due to how he was able to do what the King wanted and yet take it a step further and further his own ideas at the same time.

 

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Diarmaid MacCulloch discussing Thomas Cromwell

 

Jessie Childs is another historian who makes an appearance, mostly known for her excellent book God’s Traitors. She talks about religion in Elizabeth I’s reign and how she was forced to act against the Catholics in her country.

 

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Jessie Childs discussing Elizabeth I and religion

 

She talks about the idea of kings being emperors and England being an empire, with Thomas Cromwell using The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth as his inspiration for this. There is quite an in-depth discussion about this, as well as the Act in Restraint of Appeals, the Act of Supremacy and Act of the Six Articles. Due to this, I am not sure who this documentary is really aimed at, as it seems more intellectual than some of Worsley’s other shows, but still interesting none the less.

Of course, Worsley cannot resist dressing up, first dressing as Martin Luther and later as Nicholas Sander’s version of Anne Boleyn (six fingers and all). Thankfully, she does inform us that this is unlikely to be true, especially as he was writing years after her death and was a firm Catholic.

 

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Worsley as Nicholas Sander’s version of Anne Boleyn

 

One part that particularly interested me, partly perhaps because I am going to see it next month, was when Worsley went to see Six the Musical and talked about its influence and how it may be making history more accessible to the general public. Unsurprisingly, Anne Boleyn has been found to be the most popular wife there.

 

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Six the Musical

 

I wish there had been less on Brexit, as it seems to be everywhere right now. Worsley cannot help but mention Brexit in connection with Henry also being isolated in Europe and pointing out the similarities between the two situations.

All in all, it was an interesting episode and I will be watching the next one on the Spanish Armada, however, it seems a little confused in its audience. At first glance, it seems to be geared towards the general public and those new to history, yet some of the terms and religious concepts used beg to differ. As usual, Lucy Worsley was engaging and did her best, even with a cold and losing her voice (as it sounded in one of the segments), but this topic was perhaps better suited to someone else.

Rating: 3/5 stars

(All pictures taken from BBC iPlayer)

 

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Anne Boleyn Historical Fiction Books

This gallery contains 8 photos.

Books I own:  

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Anne Boleyn Non-Fiction Books

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Books I own:

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Announcement – New Book Coming Soon!

As someone who lives near Hastings and the battlefield, I am proud to say that my latest book 1066 & The Battle of Hastings in a Nutshell will be released on 12th May! You can preorder it in either paperback or kindle from Amazon here.

Blurb: MadeGlobal’s History in a Nutshell Series aims to give readers a good grounding in a historical topic in a concise, easily digestible and easily accessible way.

In 1066 & The Battle of Hastings in a Nutshell, Charlie Fenton discusses one of the most important events in English history.

Many recall the story of William the Conqueror sailing over from Normandy, going to battle with King Harold and the latter supposedly dying of an arrow to the eye. However, few know the details of why the battle happened and how Harold really lost his life, and even fewer know what happened afterwards, during the early reign of William the Conqueror.

Charlie Fenton, a specialist in Medieval and Early Modern History, uncovers the truth…

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Six Wives with Lucy Worsley – Episode 3 Review

Lucy Worsley’s Six Wives series has finished as quickly as it started, confusing quite a few who have asked me on social media “how is it the last episode if there are six wives?”. Due to the lack of information we have on these wives and how brief their times as queen were, this episode somehow seems less rushed than the one before it (Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour), despite the fact she now has to cover three wives.

Worsley starts with Henry’s surprise visit to Anne of Cleves in Rochester before going back to explain how the decision to marry her came about. The scene contrasts well with the first scene in episode one, in which a young Henry VIII surprises Katherine of Aragon by dressing up as Robin Hood. However, Henry has become very old and overweight by this time, which is shown by how he struggles to get up the stairs to meet her, and Anne does not know this English game of courtly love, so it very quickly heads for disaster.


The fact that she didn’t recognise him and act accordingly, as well as her rejection of him, immediately puts Henry off his new bride and, as Lucy explains, is the reason why he does not want to marry her, not because of how she looked. Most historians believe that that is the reason why now and that Henry only said she was ugly because his pride was wounded. He would have said anything to soothe his embarrassed male ego. It was only Henry who said she was ugly, which is more evidence for this theory.

After an awkward bed scene with many courtiers watching, Worsley quickly moves on to show Anne watching Henry VIII with his new love, the fifteen year old Katherine Howard. She is prepared to let her marriage go, much to the ambassador’s dismay, but will get what she is owed from it. I have never seen this depiction of Anne before and I am not sure as to how true it was, from what I read she did put up a bit of a fight (at least more than what is shown in this series), but settled with what Henry offered eventually. She knew from the experiences of the previous wives that Henry would get his own way.

Henry is soon married to Katherine Howard, a 15 year old in this series, although Worsley does say we do not know for certain how old she was, just that she was the youngest of his wives and a teenager (not that they thought of them as teenagers back then, they were adults). Worsley does seem to contradict herself with Katherine, stating that she believes she was a victim of child abuse, which I personally am inclined to believe with Mannox and Dereham but not with Culpepper. Katherine’s guardian, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, should have protected her from her music teacher and then the likes of Dereham. Worsley states how Katherine could just be telling Culpepper what he wanted to hear in her letter to him, yet the scene with Katherine and Culpepper clearly show that Katherine was in love with him. She backs this up by saying that Culpepper raped a farmer’s wife and only got let off because he was one of Henry’s favourites, which is true, but this very easily could have been more like a crush on Katherine’s part, even perhaps starting before her marriage to the king. What Worsleg says and what the drama shows doesn’t quite add up.

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Katherine Howard and Thomas Culpepper

Katherine’s past relationships with Dereham and Mannox are soon found out and she is interrogated by Thomas Cranmer (in yet another of his very brief appearances). She is visibly distraught, but complies, and the actress does a great job of portraying Katherine’s fear and borderline hysteria at what could happen to her, especially as Anne Boleyn was her cousin. After a few words from Worsley about how her affair with Culpepper was soon found out too, we are cut to the scene of her practicing on the block. I am disappointed that Jane Boleyn, who was also beheaded with Katherine, didn’t make an appearance in this, however she is often portrayed particularly badly in anything she appears in, so maybe that is a good thing. We also don’t see Katherine’s execution, which I found a little strange as it is often shown, but again I put this down to time constraints.

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Katherine Howard practicing with the block

Katherine Parr’s time then comes, with Worsley focusing on her relationship with Elizabeth and her religious views, although unfortunately there is a brief hint at her being a nurse to Henry, which is a bad stereotype, as well as no mention of her being regent during his time in France. There is a touching Christmas scene at first, in which Elizabeth presents Henry a book of translations she did of Katherine’s own work. This sends Henry into a rage at the heretical nature of this work, breaking the atmosphere, but he is quick to reassure Elizabeth that he does not blame her, making it clear that it is Katherine he blames.

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Henry VIII, Katherine Parr and Elizabeth

Katherine Parr’s enemies then swarm and convince Henry to arrest her for heresy. Before the arrest is carried out, Katherine gets word of this and, in a stroke of genius, manages to convince Henry that she is not going against him and that she only engages in debate so that she can learn from him, not because she believes in these heretical views. Just as she manages to convince Henry, the guards with the warrant for arrest arrive and the king quickly (and angrily) dismisses them.

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The warrant for Katherine’s arrest arrives

Not long after, Henry VIII dies, yet Worsley’s story does not end with him, it ends with Katherine. She describes how Katherine finally married the man she loved, Thomas Seymour, and was allowed to look after Elizabeth (cleverly omitting her involvement in Seymour’s harassment of the Princess) and fell pregnant. Sadly, like many Tudor women, she died in childbirth.

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Worsley talking about Katherine’s death

This episode was better than the last, mainly because Anne Boleyn’s story had so much more to tell in the last, however it was still odd Worsley explaining events such as Anne of Cleves’ marriage without the likes of Cromwell. As I have said in each review, I would have preferred four episodes, as then it would have been perfect and closer to five stars. Saying that, the actors and of course Lucy Worsley herself still did an excellent job with what they had to work with. The first episode is still the best one as it only really focuses on one wife, which allowed the actress time to shine as Katherine of Aragon and Worsley to really explain things.

Rating: 3.5/5


(All pictures taken from BBC iPlayer)

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Six Wives with Lucy Worsley – Episode 2 Review

After last week’s Katherine of Aragon centred episode of Lucy Worsley’s new Six Wives series, I was both excited and nervous about watching the second episode. As I mentioned in the first review, my concerns were for how Lucy would be able to go through the remaining five wives in just two episodes and, unfortunately, these problems came through in this episode.

This episode starts with Anne Boleyn moving in to the royal palace at Greenwich, so now Katherine and Anne are essentially living together. Worsley does not dwell on this for long and once again she goes travelling with Katherine’s portrait (which doesn’t get any less weird no matter how many times I see it), giving us a quick run down of events in the early 1530s. She skips a lot of the information due to time problems, yet still manages to cover the personal events, such as Katherine and Mary being separated and unable to see each other.

After Henry and Anne’s wedding, we see their first argument onscreen. Worsley picks a notorious one, which was documented by the likes of Chapuys, in which Anne is not happy with Henry having mistresses. He then tells her to “shut your eyes and endure, as more worthy persons have done” as he could “lower her as much as he had raised her” or, as it is shortened in this series, to “look away”.

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Anne Boleyn arguing with Henry over his mistresses.

The Princess Elizabeth is born not long after and Worsley makes a point of saying how besotted Anne is with her, despite her not being the son Henry wished for and Anne needed. Time passes very quickly in this series as, despite it in reality being two years later, we fast forward to Katherine of Aragon on her deathbed. It is a very moving scene in which Maria de Salinas (one of Katherine’s original Spanish ladies) writes Katherine’s letter to Henry for her, despite her objections to her giving the king her forgiveness. I am glad to see Maria mentioned, as most just mention Katherine’s main supporter being Eustace Chapuys and ignore the fact that Maria went against Henry’s wishes to visit her in 1536.

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Katherine on her deathbed with Maria de Salinas

Jane Seymour comes onto the scene soon after and for once in a documentary she is acknowledged as being Katherine of Aragon’s lady in waiting as well as Anne Boleyn’s. We are shown Henry flirting with Jane with her on his lap and Anne seeing them two together, as shown in several shows, and have Worsley tell us about Anne’s second miscarriage (not mentioning the first). She puts it down to Anne’s heart breaking after seeing Jane and Henry together, which some sources do state, yet does not mention the other possible reason, the 1536 jousting accident. Several sources and historians state that this was the actual reason, the news given by the Duke of Norfolk having shocked her. Either way, Worsley does not give the alternative explanation.

The infamous ‘dead men’s shoes’ scene is shown next, with Worsley spying on Henry Norris and Anne Boleyn during a pageant and explaining the implications of her words. She had imagined the king’s death, which was treason, yet was just trying to play the game of courtly love and, perhaps in her distress over recent events with her miscarriage and the rise of the Seymours, took it a step too far.

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Anne Boleyn and Henry Norris talking about why he has not married her cousin yet

She is shown trying to explain away these words and begging the king to understand that she did not mean it, yet the damage is done. Henry no longer trusts her and her fall is swift and brutal.

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Anne Boleyn’s last confession in the Tower of London

Jane Seymour’s time as queen in this series is very short, perhaps only a maximum of 15 minutes in total. Worsley does briefly mention her relationship with Princess/Lady Mary and how she tried to persuade Henry to have mercy on those involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace, resulting in a harsh warning from the king to “remember what happened to my last wife and queen”.

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Jane then gives birth to Prince Edward and, after a brief visit to the Chapel Royal in Hampton Court Palace, we learn that she is dying. There is a scene in which Henry is tending to Jane and showing them their newborn son, it is one of the few affectionate scenes shown of the couple, with the king lamenting what he did to deserve this.

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There are two main problems with this episode, although one is more down to the structure of the series overall. The problems are lack of time to cover the queens properly and the fact that Worsley focuses on the personal side of the six wives, cutting out as much of the political side as possible, which ultimately makes the story feel rushed and disjointed. The first episode had the perfect balance as it included events such as the Battle of Flodden and Katherine’s reaction, yet this one cuts out major figures such as Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. Cranmer does have a brief mention as he is Anne Boleyn’s confessor in the Tower, but that is his only appearance so far. This means that Worsley struggles when she explains the Pilgrimage of Grace and its importance to Jane Seymour, she talks about the Dissolution of the Monasteries but with no mention of Cromwell.

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Lucy Worsley exploring ruins as she talks about the Dissolution of the Monasteries

Overall I did enjoy the episode, yet the amount of details that had to be left out entirely due to the timing issue distracted away from the engaging narrative of Lucy Worsley and the brilliant acting throughout. Worsley seems to have had to pick just the famous events to show and the ones that are absolutely vital to the story, such as the ‘dead men’s shoes’ incident and Henry warning Jane about what happened to Anne Boleyn. Due to the fact that it did feel rushed, I do have to knock a star off of what was a solid four stars last week. If this was a four episode series, I am certain Worsley would have been able to go at a comfortable pace and include the likes of Thomas Wolsey, Cromwell etc.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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My edit of the six wives of Henry VIII as portrayed in this series.

(All pictures taken from BBC iPlayer)

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Six Wives with Lucy Worsley – Episode 1 Review

The story of the six wives of Henry VIII has been told many times now, some argue too many times, yet somehow we still crave more. Lucy Worsley begins her new series by promising a new take on this familiar story, not an easy promise to make, but does seem to fulfil this in just the first episode.

Worsley does not just wander around palaces telling the story of the six wives, instead she inserts herself into their world, blending both documentary and drama into one. Throughout the episode, we see her appear lighting the fires, watching the scenes unfold and it is a novel, if unusual, new way of telling what otherwise is an old story.

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Lucy Worsley as a lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon

She starts at the beginning of Katherine of Aragon and Henry’s marriage, showing them as a happy and loving couple, unlike some documentaries that are all too eager to focus on the end of their relationship and the emergence of Anne Boleyn. She leaves little clues as to Henry’s character and what influences his later relationships, such as Henry’s love of disguises and courtly love, which will heavily influence his relationship with Anne of Cleves later on.

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The loving couple after Henry surprises Katherine of Aragon.

The costumes in this series are beautiful and surprisingly accurate, although there have been reports that they used the same costumes from Wolf Hall, which would explain this. Most documentaries use cheap costumes and actors that look embarrassed to be playing their parts, but the BBC have gone a step further with this in providing a good looking and non-cringeworthy series for once. The actress who plays Katherine of Aragon played her particularly well as she showed her as both a loving wife and mother and a formidable warrior queen (like her mother) too.

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Katherine disappointed that she was only given the King of Scots’ coat, not his head after the Battle of Flodden

 

Some scenes in the episode, however, are more than a little confusing and do not seem to serve much purpose. When Worsley is talking about Henry’s relationship with Mary Boleyn, she also mentions the Chateau Vert pageant, yet somehow this is a cue for a scene of Princess Mary and Katherine watching Henry and Mary Boleyn. This seems a little odd and, although she is pressed for time, I think Worsley could have shown them some other way, without Princess Mary and Katherine.

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Princess Mary watching Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn before Katherine takes her away.

Another mistake I and several others spotted is Worsley mentioning that Anne Boleyn was engaged to Henry Percy. We are not sure exactly the full extent of their relationship, however it is unlikely that they were engaged and Anne was contracted to marry James Butler. I am still glad that Henry Percy was mentioned, he is often left out of documentaries and dramas, yet I think she could have made the doubts about their relationship clearer.

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Lucy Worsley talking about Anne Boleyn and Henry Percy.

One thing that I personally was excited to see was the primary sources of both Henry’s jousting tournament in celebration of the birth of Prince Henry:

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Henry jousting in celebration of the birth of his son by Katherine of Aragon

and Henry’s love letters to Anne Boleyn, in which Worsley is the first person who has been given permission to film them. Both sources are amazing to look at and this redeems this episode somewhat, taking it back along the documentary route instead of just a pure drama series.

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The letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn

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The famous AB in a heart 

Some may now be bored of the story of Henry VIII and his six wives and wonder why there is another series on it, however some people (like me) can never get bored of this story. We are fascinated by tales of romance, violence and tragedy, which I think is why the public are always so drawn to this period of history. As always Lucy Worsley is an engaging and entertaining presenter and her innovative way of telling the story is one in which may draw in even those who claim to be sick of the tale. I am eager to watch the next episode, but I am curious as to how the remaining five wives (we only had a glimpse of Anne Boleyn) will fit into the two remaining episodes. Most series on the topic tend to have four episodes minimum, not three, with Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn having their own episodes and the remaining four sharing two episodes. This format has worked well for the likes of David Starkey’s Six Wives series and the more recent series by Suzannah Lipscomb and Dan Jones, but I will try to remain optimistic as I await the next episode.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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My edit of the six wives of Henry VIII as portrayed in this series.

(All pictures taken from BBC iPlayer)

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