The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

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The Six Wives of Henry VIII
by Alison Weir
The tempestuous, bloody, and splendid reign of Henry VIII of England (1509-1547) is one of the most fascinating in all history, not least for his marriage to six extraordinary women. In this accessible work of brilliant scholarship, Alison Weir draws on early biographies, letters, memoirs, account books, and diplomatic reports to bring these women to life. Catherine of Aragon emerges as a staunch though misguided woman of principle; Anne Boleyn, an ambitious adventuress with a penchant for vengeance; Jane Seymour, a strong-minded matriarch in the making; Anne of Cleves, a good-natured and innocent woman naively unaware of the court intrigues that determined her fate; Catherine Howard, an empty-headed wanton; and Catherine Parr, a warm-blooded bluestocking who survived King Henry to marry a fourth time.

“Katherine of Aragon was a staunch but misguided woman of principle; Anne Boleyn an ambitious adventuress with a penchant for vengeance; Jane Seymour a strong-minded matriarch in the making; Anne of Cleves a good-humoured woman who jumped at the chance of independence; Katherine Howard an empty-headed wanton; and Katherine Parr a godly matron who was nevertheless all too human when it came to a handsome rogue.”

“Since arriving in England, Katherine had come to know a freedom she had never dreamed of in Spain, where young women were kept in seclusion and forced to live almost like cloistered nuns. They wore clothes that camouflaged their bodies and veiled their faces in public. Etiquette at the Spanish court was rigid, and even smiling was frowned upon. But in England, unmarried women enjoyed much more freedom: their gowns were designed to attract, and when they were introduced to gentlemen they kissed them full upon the lips in greeting. They sang and danced when they pleased, went out in public as the fancy took them, and laughed when they felt merry.”



Extensively researched and fascinating - a must-read for anyone interested in the women behind Henry VIII, aka the patron saint of man-whores. (I just made that up on the spot, but it works so I'm keeping it)
Weir isn't completely unbiased in her description of Henry and his various women, but I can't blame her. With this family, it's hard not to take sides. This is especially clear when Weir describes the way Henry felt about Anne of Cleves, his wife for about ten minutes. Weir talks about how Henry whined that Anne was fat and ugly and then, no doubt with a wicked grin on her face, Weir goes on to describe how gross Henry had gotten by that point. You can just tell she's dying to call Henry a fat bastard, and I'm proud of her for resisting that urge.
Ah, I do enjoy an Alison Weir. I am not enough of a historian to have Opinions about history, so my comments are about the writing rather than historical merit, and the writing is good. Weir is always lively and entertaining, perfect for a recreational history reader like me, and I found myself zipping through this as if through a novel, even though I knew how each character's story ended!

It's strange, though, that my interest is always greatest up to the point where Anne Boleyn dies. I always think that the real Henry VIII story was that of the Henry-Catherine-Anne triangle, and the rest of the wives never seem to match up to the cut and thrust of the Great Matter. Once Henry won the point that he could marry and dispose of at will, the other wives' stories seem to be those of ambition overcoming common sense with the possible exception of Anne of Cleves, who really did quite well out of the deal (granted, it's a bit trickier, politically speaking, to behead a foreign princess so she had some guarantees going in).

Perhaps this is why I felt that the book started off as an account of the wives but ended up more as the standard Henry +6 story; Catherine and Anne dominate the first part of the book, and then the wives get less interesting. Still, if you're looking for a good recap or just a bit of Tudor entertainment with real-life characters, read this one. It also has a good chronology, very useful if you need to check dates.
A Kirkus review I read ages and ages ago, back in those days when their reviews were reliable, i.e. before it had been purchased by a publishing company whose aim is to sell books, said the book was meticulously researched but a bit dry. So unfortunately, I put it off until now. I did not find it in the least dry! The book's content is based on meticulous research, but in that Alison Weir, author and historian of British Royalty, is so very knowledgeable in her field, she has the ability to present information clearly and engagingly. 
It is this that is her great talent. A person who really knows what they are talking about can explain the complicated simply. Such a person also has the ability to throw in tidbits that engage and capture one’s interest. Lots of books have been written about Henry VIII, his six wives, the Tudors and Thomas Cromwell, but I recommend this because I have found it clear and captivating and not hard to follow even for those with little previous knowledge of Tudor history.

Weir knows how to explain. This isn’t always easy when so many are given the same name – Mary or Edward or Catherine or Elisabeth or Jane. Which Mary, Edward, Catherine, Elisabeth or Jane must be crystal clear. Nor is it easy when these very same individuals are also referred to as counts or admirals or duchesses of this or that place. I never got mixed up, and I am no expert, so I don’t think you will either.

There is that rhyme divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived to help you keep the six wives straight:
*Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) born in Alcalá de Henares, Spain
A staunch woman of principle.
*Anne Boleyn (c.1501 -1536) born in Blickling, England
Vivacious, ambitious, ruthless with a penchant for vengeance. Sex appeal.
*Jane Seymour (c.1508-1537) born in Wiltshire, England
Obedient, pious. Strong-minded matriarch in the making.
*Anne of Cleves (1515-1557) born in Dusseldorf, Germany
Level-headed, clear-thinking and valued independence.
*Catherine Howard (1523-1542) born in London
A licentious wanton.
*Catherine Parr (1512-1548) born in London
Erudite, intellectual and wise, but knew where her heart lay.

The rhyme tells only the end of their respective stories; there is so much more to who they were.

I have a good feeling now for Henry’s, his six wives’ and their children’s temperaments, backgrounds and religious leanings. I particularly appreciated that religious and political views are focused upon, showing how the Reformation and the shift from Catholicism to Protestant beliefs began in Britain. This is as much a central theme of the book as are the facts about the wives and children (Mary, Elizabeth, Edward and the acknowledged but illegitimate son Henry FitzRoy). Life of the royalty in the 1500s, for example customs, traditions, sports, childbirth and deaths, clothing, festivals, foods and illnesses are documented in vivid detail.

You know a book is a hit when the first thing you do is pick out more books to read by the author.

Books I have read by Alison Weir:

*The Six Wives of Henry VIII 4 stars
*The Life of Elizabeth I 4 star

I want to read:
*The Children of Henry VIII
*Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens
which is the beginning of a series. As well as
*Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England and
*Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life
because these two queens are not covered in Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens

Innocent Traitor I have also read, but only gave it 2 stars. It is fiction. I do not recommend the author’s fictional books. Her non-fiction is much better.

ETA: I should add this. I tried to read The Wars of the Roses and gave up. It read as a string of names; people who meant nothing to me.
This prodigiious work on the wives of King Henry the 8th of England is so well written. It reads like a novel of suspense, passion, treachery, European History, betrayal, obedience, faith, God and love. It did what I really enjoy in books--made me want to read more about other characters mention such as Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. Also to review maps and learn of the royalty of Spain, France, and Germany. Many words to be looked up to enhance your vocabulary as well. Learn about the first theatrical musicals and how the masked ball came to be. In the end, decide for yourself if Henry was evil, tyrannical or the greatest King of England.
Henry VIII, England's most famous and rougish king, takes somewhat of a back seat (though still figures prominently) while his six wives (their courtship, marriage, and their fate) are front and center by one of England's most preeminent storyteller of royal history. Intrigue, duplicity, executions, and, of course, Henry's marital infidelities that led to a major and cataclysmic reformation of religion in England, Weir weaves her spell that gives breath and personality to each of Henry's wives, and their feelings on the reasonings behind the kings dissolution of each of his marriages. An excellent read!
I am notoriously slow reading non-fiction (I still have not finished John Adams). So I gave this book 5 stars as I could not put it down. I read it in a week (and it is a substantial size book). It reads as nicely as any fiction (much like I thought seabiscuit was).

I learned so much about stories that I was a little familiar with already -- I just had no idea that they were in reality even crazier than I learned. Politics, deception, ambition, religion, and a tad bit of "crazy" make for some of the bizarrest scenarios in all history.

The idea that "sex" or in more euphemistic term "lines of succession" completely dominated all aspects of these peoples lives is really fascinating. I gave thanks a thousand times over that the quality of my life is not dependent on my ability to have a son especially in a time period where the very attempt to have a child would likely cause my own death.

That Henry VIII actually lived and that these stories are in fact true is a testament to the line "truth is stranger than fiction".

I think anyone would enjoy this book.
Excellent read. I have read several books that cover the lives of the Tudors and more specifically Elizabeth, Mary and Henry. However, none had done much with the wives of Henry VIII beyond Jane Seymour having been the mother of Edward VI. So I picked this one up and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Weir has written several first class histories on this period so there is much overlap. The first third of the book was not only familiar, but in some cases a direct re-tracing of steps. However, the details were oriented toward the lives of the wives, not the politics or religion. In the middle of the book the story provides detail on not only the lives of the wives, but of Henry as a husband and private person. Weir creates a portrait of a powerful leader struggling with ruling a nation while growing older, heavier and having massive issues with fatherhood and fathering.

As the book gets to Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr, Weir does not disappoint. In many respects this is the same story I've read from the point of view of the Children of Henry, the Life of Elizabeth and other histories, but from the point of view and experience of these three women. Weir creates portraits of real people which allow the reader a meaningful experience beyond a simple understanding of the facts.

All six of these women had fascinating stories. Having been married to Catherine of Aragon the longest, the largest single portion involves her life. Having been married to Catherine Howard for the shortest interval, the book tells the tale and moves on. I enjoyed Weir's following through with the stories of Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr who outlived Henry. Thus, this was truly the story of the wives from beginning to end.

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