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Sometimes You Need a Rant

Posted in Book Blogger, and Personal

I’ve said before that I tend to read “easy reads” that I can get lost in, specifically books without much conflict or angst. However, I also read non-fiction occasionally, usually history based.

I especially enjoy books that examine historical expectations, lifestyles, and often-overlooked details like Unmentionable and Corsets & Codpieces. They can really help understand the nuances of historical literature and provide supplementary information to better understand documentaries. When done well, historical non-fiction can be interesting and a fun way to learn more. But, they can also go horribly wrong

I don’t meant that they can be boring, which, of course, is a distinct possibility, but not horrible. I mean when authors haven’t kept up with new knowledge or understanding about history. Or when they clearly haven’t done their research, evidenced in incorrect or missing information.

I recently refused to finish reading a book that suffered from most of these issues, including one I’ve never come across before.

I’m going to refrain from mentioning the author or title because I don’t want to bash them, but I felt a desire to have a bit of a rant, and I feel it’s better for me to do so here rather than in a review. If you don’t want to read more, I’ll “see” you next time. If you decide to keep reading, you’ve been warned.

Some Background

I have to share some information about the book in order to explain my issues with it. The topic is various unsavory aspects of Tudor history. I know that doesn’t exactly narrow things down much if you’re trying to play detective, but it’s what you’re going to get.

I will 100% admit that I’m not a Tudor history guru, but the Tudor era is one of my favorites, and I know quite a bit about the reigns of Henry VIII, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. So, I know enough to say that the author provided a bare minimum of information about events, and sometimes provided information without context. I’m assuming this was done, in many cases, to increase the drama and emphasize the sordid information.

Fictional Non-Fiction?

I suppose I can’t truly fault the author for focusing on the sordid. It’s what many know the Tudors for, and it’s likely what sells. But, on top of that, the author chose an odd way to connect with their readers.

For some reason, in a supposedly non-fiction book, the author repeatedly references The Tudors and Reign. Two shows that are notorious for their inaccuracies! And they aren’t referenced as an example of how loose TV shows can be with history. Characters are referred to as ways for people to connect names with faces.

Consider that. A non-fiction book is pointed readers to inaccurate, salacious shows primarily written for entertainment, not accuracy. If someone has seen those shows, but is fairly new to Tudor history, they’re likely to conflate the fiction of the shows with the reality of history.

OK, I’m starting to beat a dead horse, so let’s move on.

More Than a Poor Choice of Words

Naturally, when writing about the Tudors, you’re going to devote some time to the six wives. This author was no different. I can forgive some of their choices of content, like pointing out that we can’t be 100% certain that Anne Boleyn didn’t sleep with her brother. I suppose, technically, that is true. However, I can’t forgive their treatment of Catherine Howard.

A Very Brief History

Catherine Howard’s date of birth is unknown, but thought to be in the vicinity of 1523, give or take a couple of years. She was sent to step-grandmother’s household in 1531, when she would have been around 8. While there doesn’t seem to be an exact date for when she joined the royal court, she was a lady-in-waiting to Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, who married the king in January 1540 — the marriage was annulled in July of the same year — so let’s go with that. This puts Catherine joining court at around 17. She also married Henry VIII in 1540, less than a month after his annulment, when he was 49. She was accused of treason and beheaded in February of 1542, at around 19. While this set of ages is generally accepted, the lack of certainty about her birth year puts her between 17 and 21 at death. Regardless of her precise age, she was still ridiculously young.

Catherine Howard is said to have had sexual relations with two men during her time at her step-grandmother’s household — her music master and her step-grandmother’s secretary — and with an additional man — the King’s favorite male courtier — during her time as queen.

Back to My Book Concern

Now that you have the pertinent information, history has long portrayed Catherine Howard as the “promiscuous” queen, the one who actually slept around — as opposed to Anne Boleyn whose story was revised quicker in history. However, in recent years, with better knowledge of her age — she was between 8 and 17 during her time with her step-grandmother — historians have modified their view of her, labeling Catherine Howard a groomed and abused child. Some historians have even suggested that her childhood abuse was used as blackmail to force her into her adulterous relationship.

This book does, of course, dedicate some pages to Catherine Howard. However, the early historical view — that Catherine Howard was promiscuous — isn’t labeled as victim blaming or even just an example of how unfair society was to women — or how horrible Henry VIII was to his wives. The author chose to call it “slut shaming,” labeling an abused child a “slut” in the process. This book is from 2022! How did that get past an editor?

Is it any wonder I only made it 50% through the book? To be honest, I should have stopped a quarter of the way through.

Wrap It Up

OK, rant over. I feel better for getting that out. It’s such a shame that authors don’t all hold themselves to high standards.

What are some of your pet peeves when it comes to books? Or what things really piss you off? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading to the end, I hope you enjoyed my post. Make sure to subscribe to my blog or follow me on Instagram so you don’t miss any posts. I generally post at least once a week.

One Comment

  1. Derek

    It’s hard to know for sure without knowing what book you’re referring to, but “slut shaming” does seem like an appropriate term when referring to the early historical view to me. It’s a clearly defined practice that explicitly includes victim-blaming. The term is also used to reclaim the word slut and empower victims (not a fan of that practice myself, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a common and widely accepted approach), so the intention is clearly not to label an abused child a slut.
    Childhood is also a difficult concept when discussing roles and expectations in the 16th century.

    March 28, 2024

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