Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII

By Karen Lindsey | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

I became interested in the women of Tudor England at around the same time I began my activism in, and writing for, the women's movement-- in the early 1970s, when the BBC did its magnificent series The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth R, about Henry's daughter, the splendid monarch who dubbed herself a "prince." Seeing these shows precipitated a rush to the library, where I started reading everything I could find-- fiction and nonfiction, scholarly tomes and popular history--about the women and their times. In those early, heady days of feminism, when we were beginning to see ourselves not as natural helpmates to men but as a colonized people, it was easy to fall in love with some set of foremothers, and the discovery of these particular foremothers started a passion that ran a parallel course with my work in the movement itself, both nourishing it and providing an escape from its more grueling and depressing aspects. I wrote about Tudor women in poetry; I read about them in novels.

In the early 1980s, working for a master's degree in women's studies and writing, I wrote my thesis on one of them, the Protestant martyr Anne Askew, whose life was so interwoven with that of Henry's last wife, Katherine Parr. This was a challenging transition. It's one thing to watch television and read historical novels, even to write poetry, which in this context is another form of fiction. It was now necessary to move into the world of serious scholarship.

There was at the time little on which to model the kind of work I wanted to do. Feminist historians tended to write about later women, those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the women's studies works in my area that were to become classics, such as Joan Kelly-Gadol "Did Women Have a Renaissance?" came a few years later. Working with Clarissa Atkinson, a historian of religion at the Harvard Divinity School, I was able to use the traditional sources to shape my own theories about Anne Askew.

This work convinced me that I wanted to write more about these women, to see them both in the context of their own times and with the

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