Sitwell's Fanfare for Elizabeth is a striking account of love, betrayal, and religion as it unfolds in the court of King Henry VIII. Sitwell navigates elegantly through the capricious nature both of Henry's court, and his love life. The youthful hardships of little Elizabeth are played out against the backdrop of the great drama of Henry's struggles with the Pope, and his six wives. Charming in style, Fanfare for Elizabeth ends on a vignette of Elizabeth in her early teens, still oblivious to the grandeur she will ...
Sitwell's Fanfare for Elizabeth is a striking account of love, betrayal, and religion as it unfolds in the court of King Henry VIII. Sitwell navigates elegantly through the capricious nature both of Henry's court, and his love life. The youthful hardships of little Elizabeth are played out against the backdrop of the great drama of Henry's struggles with the Pope, and his six wives. Charming in style, Fanfare for Elizabeth ends on a vignette of Elizabeth in her early teens, still oblivious to the grandeur she will ultimately inherit.
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?Fanfare for Elizabeth? is proof that lightweight, semi-dodgy popular history is no modern phenomenon. The author has an annoying habit of using judgmental ways of describing historical figures, e.g. ?Next came the shy, modest figure of Lady Mary Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, bearing the chrism. This terrible creature, with the peacefully smiling lips, the head bent through modesty, was to help bring about the death by beheading of her own brother, the young Earl of Surrey, the poet.? Yes, Surrey had ranted, in one his ill-judged ravings, that his sister should try to become Henry VIII?s mistress and ?rule him? as Francis I?s mistress supposedly did ? but did she really deliberately try to bring about his destruction? Nothing else I?ve read has suggested she did, and it was Surrey?s own pride and arrogance (and his suggestions that he and his father should control Edward VI?s regency council) that led Henry VIII to have him beheaded less than a fortnight before his death. What choice did he have, if he didn?t want a hot-head to try to overthrow his son?s government?
Then she writes of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, ?On this old woman darkness was to fall through her part in marrying the guilty Katherine Howard to the King.? Yes, Katherine Howard probably was guilty of adultery (or something close to it), but it?s a silly-sounding thing to write.
Sitwell also has a way of presenting some of the more slanderous claims about Anne Boleyn (eg that she had a sixth finger, moles, etc) in a way that makes it impossible to tell whether she actually believed all the slanderous tales put about by Anne?s enemies (usually long after her death). Eg, ?A young woman was walking downstairs. Slowly she came from the highest storey, turning her head, in her descent, as if some voice behind her were urging her on. This was her habit, that from time to time she would look behind her. Sometimes, as she passed a high window, the accusing light fell for a moment on her oval face, with its rather sallow skin, her high broad forehead, her great slanting black eyes, her black hair, and her long throat on which was a mole resembling a strawberry. This was kept hidden by a collar of big pearls, but from time to time she would pull aside the pearls with her left hand, on which was a rudimentary sixth finger. This was a sure sign of a witch, and at the sight of it, whispers arose. It was said that not Lord Wiltshire, but the Prince of the Powers of the Air, was the father of the new Queen.?
Said by whom? She doesn?t tell us. Most chapters do have end notes at the end, but this sort of writing will give you a good idea of how uncritical, romantic and almost scurrilous this book is. It?s more like a bad historical novel that uncritically presents romantic and even slanderous legend as fact. ?Accusing light?, ?guilty Katherine Howard?, ?this terrible creature? ? these expressions really grated on me. A serious, scholarly historian would have used them very sparingly ? or not at all.
She also does her utmost to subtly (or not-so-subtly) try to convince the reader that Catherine of Aragon was poisoned, and that the King?s councillors ?knew a Bill of Attainder against the Queen and Princess would be followed instantly by an uprising backed by the power of the Emperor. Not only would the King be in danger; but also the properties and lives of those who were his Ministers. The King?s threat was uttered in November ? and was listened to in silence by the Council. Four weeks later the illness of the Queen began.?
She relates the rumours that Catherine was poisoned, and implies that Cromwell?s order that she be embalmed on the night of the day she died was proof of this: ?Why would the work not tarry, on this cold day of January? The silent creature to whom that note was written may have known of a reason. It is not only the heat of the sun that brings corruption.?
She would also like us to believe that Wolsey may have killed himself: ?Wolsey died in his disgrace?not by the axe, or directly from the pox, but from some sudden and mysterious illness that may have been due to poison, administered by his own hand.? No mention of a source for this outrageous claim!
Altogether it?s a silly book, which will likely be highly irritating to people who are into more serious and professional history.
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