One of the pleasures of reading biographies is getting insights into characters so unlike myself. Or anyone I know, for that matter. Recently I’ve been reading Alison Weir’s biography of the six wives of Henry VIII and I feel as though I’ve hit the mother lode of characterization. Each woman is unique and complex. There’s so much to chew on here that I thought it would be fun to come up with a Wife of King Henry characterization sheet that we could use for our own writing.
So, forth with:
Katherine of Aragon had the virtues of being intelligent and brave, but she was also intransigent. Really, after a point she could have gone to a nunnery and everyone concerned would have been happier. Don’t you know people who are so sure they are right that they are willing to destroy all around them? Are they fueled by pride or virtue?
And then there’s Anne Boleyn, who was charming and seductive, but also seemed to have a bad temper and when she began to panic about her relationship with the King, she behaved so outrageously that she pushed him away. If she could have stopped yelling at Henry a bit, she might have lived longer. Don’t you know people who undercut their relationships with others because of something they do? How does fear change a person’s behavior?
Jane Seymour was docile and a devoted wife. But she was also lonely because she would only associate with people of her stature. Don’t you know people who seem to have it all, but are really lonely on the inside? How do you behave if you think you are better than everyone else?
Then there was poor Anne Cleves, whose misfortune it was to be plain. She suffered an unbelievable insult when Henry put her away (and is there a writer out there who has not known humiliation?) But somehow she wound up happiest of the wives. She found the secret to contentment. Had she lived today she could have written an Oprah book. How do your characters search for happiness?
Fifth, and most tragic, was Katherine Howard, whose biggest problem was that she was young and foolish. Devil Wears Prada except that Meryl Streep has the power to behead you, to mix my media. How often have you seen someone headed for disaster and you know there’s not a thing you can do? In a new novel that I’ve begun working on, I’ve got a young woman out of control and I have to confess I was the sort of young woman who sat in the library reading. So learning about Katherine Howard is helpful. What’s it like to be wild?
And finally Katherine Parr, who has the most modern feel to her because she knew what was going on and worked it. I like her the least because she seems so calculating, but I suppose if I were marrying a man who’d had two of his wives executed, I might be cold too. How far will your characters go to get what they want?
So how about you? Any of the wives remind you of your own characters?