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Durham University News



Durham historian uncovers archives about Henry VIII’s infamous divorce

(9 February 2012)

Dr Catherine Fletcher

Dr Catherine Fletcher

Hundreds of previously unknown archive documents, telling the inside story of Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, have been uncovered by a Durham University academic.

Dr Catherine Fletcher, a lecturer in History at Durham University, has published the first book-length account for over 40 years about Henry VIII's 'great matter' based on the discovered archives.

Henry VIII's protracted divorce negotiations contributed to England breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church.

The book, called 'Our Man in Rome: Henry VIII and his Italian Ambassador', tells the colourful tale of Henry's diplomats and their kidnapping, bribery and theft.  The book retells the divorce from the perspective of the only ambassador resident in Rome throughout the six years of the divorce negotiations, a figure so far virtually ignored by historians.

The ambassador, an Italian freelance diplomat called Gregorio Casali, charmed his way into the English service before he was twenty.  He was soon given the challenge of persuading Pope Clement VII of Henry VIII's divorce wishes.

Dr Catherine Fletcher, who has previously worked as a researcher in Rome and Florence, said: "In my quest to unravel this untold story of Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, I came across records which enabled me to reconstruct the tumultuous life of the great and powerful from that era. 

"What was most surprising was finding documents in the houses of living descendants of Henry VIII's ambassador which had simply been gathering dust on their book shelves without ever having been analysed."

The book boasts dramatic settings including the Vatican Palace and gardens, Constantinople, Renaissance Venice and the dangerous post road between England and Rome as well as locations in London.  It recreates in detail embassy menus, dinner party entertainment, diplomatic houses and ceremonial entries.

Dr Fletcher said: "Gregorio Casali lived by his wits.  He manoeuvres his brothers into lucrative diplomatic postings, plays off one master against another, dodges spies, bandits and noblemen alike but as time goes by, the records show that his loyalties are increasingly suspected.

"Casali pawns family silver to pay the bills, fights off greedy in-laws and defends himself in the face of Anne Boleyn's wrath.  Seeing the six years of divorce negotiations through the eyes of this young diplomat shows a real grubby underbelly of Tudor politics."

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