5 August 2019

Book Launch: Thorns in a Realm of Roses: The Henry Queens, by Thomas Crockett



England, 1541. King Henry receives an anonymous letter suggesting that his fifth wife, the young Katherine Howard, whom he had called a rose without a thorn, may have led an unchaste life before they married. In the rose gardens of Hampton Court Palace, Henry feels the illusion of youth and virility slip away; he faces an uncertain future. Must he dispatch yet another wife?

I taught English literature for nearly thirty years and during that time immersed myself in its history as much as its fiction. Among the rich tapestry of Great Britain’s historical events none caught my fancy as much as the first half of the sixteenth century, known famously as the reign of King Henry VIII. Here was a king who married six times; a king who beheaded two wives and exiled two others; a king who executed close advisors, monks, theologians and scholars; a king who, for the sake of procuring a desperate divorce, broke ties with Rome, naming himself the supreme head of the Church of England; a king who dissolved monasteries and abbeys, pillaging their art and gold; a king who waged fickle wars, one day against France, the next against Spain, changing his alliances with regularity, sure as the rise and set of the sun.

Could there be a more intriguing story, replete with complex, moral issues, concerning love and hate, life and death, beauty and destruction? Several years ago, I wrote a comedic, full-length play, A Tyrant for All Seasons, attempting to capture through wit and absurdity the many facets of Tudor mayhem. Though I have written other books, on other subjects, since then, that project did not quell my interest for early sixteenth century England and the men and women who struggled to survive its political and religious turmoil.

I continued to read, research and travel, taking notes, knowing I would return, as if to an old friend, to a familiar subject, one that has always piqued my curiosity. After much study and application, I completed this book, Thorns in a Realm of Roses. I wanted to surpass what I wrote in my play. That work had been based mostly on myth and caricature, passed down through the ages in films, books and souvenir shops: Henry, the overweight, tyrannical monster, the demi-god, the devourer of men and women, justifying his acts and behavior through a special clearance from God. Not to say that’s not true.

It is, in large measure. Still, in this Thorns in a Realm of Roses book, I wanted to move beyond myth. I wanted to write about a man, one with deep insecure and vulnerable feelings, and I wanted to write from many points of view, including those of his wives, in particular his last two, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr, getting under their skins, probing their complex psychological and emotional states. I wanted also to tell the story from the perspectives of Thomas Cranmer, the lead investigator in the case against Katherine Howard, and Henry’s daughter, Mary, whose misery cannot help but elicit much compassion.

I was aware in writing this book that this story has been told repeatedly in seemingly hundreds, if not thousands, of books and films, and in magazines, in children’s pop-up books and by Beefeaters at the Tower in London and historians on PBS and the BBC. Yes, it’s been told many times. Is that not a testament to its appeal and inexhaustible power to engage? It can’t just be the fascination of the abomination—the cruelty, the beheadings, the destruction of the monasteries—that whets readers’ and viewers’ appetites and makes them seek more and more of the same.

It’s the inherent humanity in the lives of the people who lived and suffered that makes this story so compelling and why its canvas is large and able to accommodate all types of artistic strokes and re-imaginings.

Thomas Crocket

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About the Author

Born and raised in New York, Thomas Crockett spent thirty years as a theater director and writing teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. On retirement Thomas turned his attention to his writing. He is an avid traveler, and enjoys a love of reading and researching Italian and English history, about which much of his writing is focused. He lives in San Mateo, CA, USA.

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