Rating: 2 Stars
Far too much speculation, not enough evidence to back up many of the claims. Hence why it is called speculation I suppose. I realize that a book like can only ever be filled in with speculation, as Henry did not keep a running list of all his mistresses and children - though that totally seems like something he would do. I myself run into that very problem in my writing about Eleanor of Aquitaine; sometimes we simply have to present what we know and what would have been expected at the time and leave it at that. It becomes complicated though when a book relies too much on that conjecture, which sometimes happened here.
The problem, as always, is that there is too little information about many of the women mentioned. We have no idea of the context that put some of them into Henry's orbit, so we can't say for sure why he possibly supported this family, or this child, or whatever. Without any substantial information on these women, it is hard to know if they truly were mistresses, so it is important to look at who the men in their lives were - fathers, brothers, husbands - to see if perhaps we can figure out the reason for Henry's support that way. Unfortunately, that did not always happen in this text and it is, in my opinion, the least problematic way to go about trying to determine which child was Henry's and which wasn't. I especially think it is always of interest to note that Henry did recognize one of his illegitimate children, Henry Fitzroy, his son by Bessie Blount. Whether or not the children of Mary Boleyn were actually Henry's is also a major issue, as it completely makes sense why he would never acknowledge them - it would have further wrenched his plan to marry Anne, with the whole 'knowing her sister' thing (in addition to all the other reasons he should not have shacked up with the Concubine. An Anne Boleyn supporter I am decidedly NOT.) With any of the potential others though, not acknowledging them doesn't make much sense. Henry knew the importance all too well of needing an heir and a spare, he himself had been the spare while his older brother Arthur still lived. Given the difficulties of producing any children period, not just males, it seems like Henry would have legitimized any son he had outside of his marriages (again, excepting those who he may have father with Mary).
Speaking of Mary, who is my fave Boleyn, I really appreciated the author's perspective in looking at whether or not she ever was a mistress to Francis I during her time at court in France. I feel like Mary really got the short end of the stick - I know it sounds strange to say, considering the fact that both of her siblings were beheaded, but even so, she was the black sheep of the family and I want so badly to know more about her, to see what truly made her act as she did in the choices she made.
By the end, the author comes out with a firm statement, which I think is bold even if I disagree with her conclusions:
"The three children of Henry VIII are, in fact, the eight children of Henry VIII. A man who longed for a son actually had five; a man who didn't want daughters had three. The tragedy was that so many of them were outside the lawful boundaries of marriage" (page 306).
Except, again, with Henry that was never a problem. We are talking about the guy who eventually declared himself head of the Church of England. He was willing to break with the pope over his marriage to Anne Boleyn, and he raised up one illegitimate son. There is simply no reason to think he would not have done the same with the others, had they been his.
I will say that one aspect of the book I did enjoy was seeing how Henry's legitimate children interacted with these potential half-siblings during their various times on the throne and before. Perhaps there are some clues in those interactions, but I again have a hard time believing that Henry would not raise up more sons to appropriate titles, regardless of their legitimacy. Henry knew he could pretty much do as he pleased, as he proved with Fitzroy. The evidence for the rest of these supposed sons is just not convincing enough for me.