judicious blend of compassion and dispassion. She has the grace to feel sympathy for her protagonists’ predicament. In The Lights that Failed, she presented a notably sympathetic account of the principals. In The Triumph of the Dark, she is at pains to understand (but not excuse) the appeasers, Chamberlain and Halifax; and as for the hapless ambassador to Berlin, Neville Henderson, she remarks characteristically, ‘one cannot help but have some sympathy for this terminally ill, deeply fatigued, and much-tried man, who could hardly believe that he was being treated by Hitler and the despised Ribbentrop in such a brutal manner’. The sympathy does not preclude an uncompromising assessment of his failings as ambassador.
Even after seventy years, one cannot be sure how Hitler (or Mussolini) would have reacted if Britain and France had stood together earlier, if Britain had raised a continental army before 1939 (Dunkirk was an Allied failure), or if they had paid Stalin’s high price for an alliance. Given Hitler’s unpreparedness for a European war, the British underused their power. Even given what was known, Chamberlain could have taken a stronger line. If war had come in 1938, it is highly doubtful whether Germany would have achieved the kind of victories won in 1940. There are no short cuts in Zara Steiner’s argumentation. ‘Hitler was a gambler,’ she concludes pithily, ‘Chamberlain was not.’ It was Hitler’s war – ‘war by premeditation and not by accident’ (in another restatement, ‘war by calculation and not by miscalculation’). On this she is clear: ‘In the end, the one leader who had actually wanted war was the one that got his wish, though it was not the war he wanted nor the one for which Germany was prepared’ – echoing Donald Cameron Watt’s conclusion. Steeped in the sources, following the mad designs of Adolf Hitler, and driven remorselessly towards the denouement, Steiner may have found it harder to chart her own course in the dark of the 1930s than in the light of the less familiar 1920s. The shade of A J P Taylor is everywhere. ‘The invasions were only the beginning of the Polish agony,’ observes Steiner: ‘Poland was to pay heavily and long for its resistance to Hitler, far more than the Czechs who had surrendered without fighting.’ Which was better, asked Taylor impishly – to be a betrayed Czech or a saved Pole? ‘Hitler was an opportunist who knew where he was going,’ offers Steiner, in a Taylorian paradox. ‘It is the underlying thesis of this book that Hitler’s ultimate purposes had a concrete meaning,’ she writes in her own voice, ‘and that they found their fruition in an unimaginable war and the destruction of European Jewry.’ She is equally clear that ‘Hitler’s Jew-hatred and quest for racial purity was at the heart of his imperial ambitions’. In this sense, it was a race war from the beginning.
Along with the historical sympathy goes a certain histor ical modesty. ‘No histor ian yet has adequately explained why Hitler triumphed so easily and so completely in this well-educated, culturally advanced, and highly industrialized society’; ‘Whether the AngloFrench actions [of 1938–39] came too late, and whether more could have been done to prevent this “unnecessary war” (Churchill’s famous description), is still the subject of active debate.’ Steiner’s own argument is carefully developed and crisply recapitulated:
For both the British and the French, it would have taken an enormous psychological leap to have moved earlier from peace to war. Without a clear and immediate danger to their existence, both governments looked for – and found – reasons for alternative courses of action. Chamberlain, in particular, felt that if war could be postponed, it might be avoided. Yet only a serious threat of war would have deterred Hitler in the Rhineland, from Anschluss, or in the Sudetenland. The Godesberg and Prague crises may have been the necessary precursors for the stand over Poland. It was only by this late date that both countries had become convinced that Hitler was determined on European domination. For the British, and consequently the French, the engagement with Eastern Europe that followed from the repudiation of the Munich agreement by Hitler was the shift that produced war in September 1939. Even in the final crisis, however, it may well be that the British public was more resolute and the French more resigned to war than their leaders. As one reviews the many arguments for British appeasement, and the debate has lost none of its potency, it is hard to excuse the blindness of British policymakers towards France and their long-term indifference towards Eastern Europe.
The Triumph of the Dark is in the first instance a gigantic work of synthesis. Given its purview, this is already a stagger-
MA in biography Consistently rated ‘excellent’ by external examiners and inspectors The course is taught by Jane Ridley and will be based in London from
October 2010. Available full-time (12 months) or part-time,
by research or as a taught MA. Start October or January. For more information visit our site www.buckingham.ac.uk/london/biography or email firstname.lastname@example.org ing achievement. If there are occasional signs of war weariness, a measure of Steinerian sympathy seems appropriate. In the final analysis, however, the two volumes together insist on an originality of their own. In Steiner’s words, ‘Hitler neither came to power in 1933 nor did he wage war in 1939 because of the peace of 1919.’ There were many connections but no straight road between the two world wars. ❑
LITERARY REVIEW November 2010
LEANDA DE LISLE
CATHERINE OF ARAGON: HENRY’S SPANISH QUEEN
By Giles Tremlett (Faber & Faber 458pp £20)
A ROYAL PASSION: THE TURBULENT MARRIAGE
OF CHARLES I AND HENRIETTA MARIA
By Katie Whitaker (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 363pp £20)
HENRY VIII BOASTED to ambassadors of his vivacious eighteen-month-old daughter Mary, ‘this child never cries’. The affectionate father was at the same time also a loving husband to Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon. When that changed so did the child, and there were tears aplenty, as well as a legacy of blood and fire.
son was all about his codpiece, and what lay behind it, rather than the Tudor succession and national stability. A male heir from his own loins was a symbol of his manhood, and when Catherine passed childbearing age without giving him one, he was determined to have their marriage annulled. He insisted that he had broken a biblical injunction in marrying his brother’s wife, and that the papal dispensation was invalid. Henry did not approve of divorce and would never do so.
Tremlett’s account of the subsequent battle of wills between the spouses is gripping. Catherine emerges as an extraordinary character, well deserving of a fulllength biography. There is something fascinating and chilling in the detail that even as Henry humiliated Catherine and moved to have their daughter made a bastard, she was always seen smiling and was exquisitely polite to Henry. They would dine together, and at times he even visited her private rooms. With formidable discipline she continued to show him the comfortable familiarity of the affectionate partnership they had once enjoyed, while absolutely refusing to give him the annulment he wanted. In this she had public support.
Henry’s mistress Anne Boleyn was the Camilla Parker
Giles Tremlett’s book is the first full-length biography of Catherine in forty years. Tremlett lives in Spain, where he works as a journalist for The Guardian, and had immediate access to Spanish sources. He paints an engaging portrait of Catherine’s early life in Granada before she was packed off to England to marry Arthur Tudor. Named after a cuckold, Arthur proved a rather unsatisfactory husband. He died, possibly of TB, after only a few weeks of marriage. According to Catherine, they had slept in the same bed no more than seven times, and never had sexual intercourse. Few Englishmen, however, were inclined to see their prince cast in so feeble a light. It was thought that women were by nature more highly sexed than men, and they preferred to believe Arthur had died after having exhausted himself trying to satisfy Catherine’s insatiable lust. When a papal dispensation was sought for the widowed Catherine to marry Arthur’s younger brother, Henry, it was thought sensible in the Vatican to appease both the Spanish and the English. It was granted on the stated assumption that the first marriage ‘may’ have been consummated. Many years of happy marriage to Henry followed, more than he would enjoy with any of his subsequent wives. But Catherine failed to give Henry the healthy son he wanted. Contrary to myth, the king had male heirs (his nephews). As Anne Boleyn’s biographer Eric Ives once observed to me, with Henry the desire for a
Bowles to Catherine’s People’s Princess. Women in particular were vociferous in their hatred of ‘that goggle eyed whore’. Catherine claimed that Henry knew full well she had been a virgin when she married him, and whatever the talk of the king’s party at court, with their reminiscences of Arthur the groom and his ‘erect and inflamed member’, the English people continued to regard Catherine as their rightful queen. For six years Anne Boleyn was forced to remain always the betrothed, and never the bride. But the farce, and the spats, descended eventually into tragedy.
Possible portrait of Catherine of Aragon, c 1496
Tremlett movingly describes how, as Henry seized absolute power over Church and State, those who opposed him were murdered and martyred. Today, the walls of the Charterhouse in Granada are lined with full-length portraits of the Carthusian monks executed by the king.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, recently observed that without the prayers these men had offered the king, Henry VIII would surely be in hell. Catherine blamed herself for such deaths. But she died less distressed about the creation of martyrs than fearful that she had driven her husband and his subjects into what she regarded as heresy.
A century later the line of Henry VIII was extinct and the wife of Charles I, the French princess Henrietta Maria, was not enjoying a jot of Catherine’s popularity. As Katie Whitaker’s A Royal Passion describes, the fact
LITERARY REVIEW November 2010