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The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Alison Weir

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Genre: History / Author: Alison Weir / Paperback / 656 Pages / Book is published 2007-11-22 by Vintage

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    5 Reviews
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      15.09.2012 15:18
      Very helpful



      Brilliant book which I would read again.

      This review is also on my goodreads page under the name Alexander Catt and on my Amazon account under the name of Alexcatt97 and on my ciao account under the username alexcatt97

      I was really excited to read this book to find out more about all of the wives because there were a lot of blanks in my knowledge but this book definitely filled those gaps plus confirmed things I was unsure about and dismissed some off the stereotypes there were about the wives which I was happy with.
      Firstly the book talks about Catherine Of Aragon and I was happy that it didnt start with her as queen of England because her story before becoming queen is a very interesting and gripping one and I was keen to find out more about it because my only knowledge about that part of her life was from "The Constant Princess" by Phillipa Gregory which turned out to be quite accurate but still I was still able to be very interested in it and learned many new things about her upbringing and her marriage to Prince Arthur and learned more about the extremes of the suffering she was subjected to in England before being betrothed to the Prince Harry and becoming queen of England. I already had a lot of knowledge about her reign as queen but again I was able to learn many more things about her and the King Henry during the period which was good. I thought that the description of Catherine's life after the annulment of her marriage was excellent and it was very gripping learning about the cruelty that she was subjected too by the King and his new mistress Anne Boleyn.

      Anne Boleyn's section was again very gripping as she played a big part in history and it followed excellently from Catherine's section as her cruelty was obviously on going until her death. I loved how the contrast of the opinion of the public between the two queens was shown and it was shocking how the public opinion changed so quickly from love of Catherine to hate for Anne and this was portrayed very well by Weir throughout Anne's section. I had little knowledge of how Anne Boleyn contributed to history and again her story was told with excellent clarity and it was even more gripping learning about how this queen acted around the king and how daring she was. I was very interested by how Weir portrayed her downfall and the many reasons behind it which had inspired me to read her book dedicated to those four months named "The lady in the tower, the fall of Anne Boleyn". Weir also exceptionally explained many of the stereotypes linked with Anne and was shocked to find out how inaccurate they were such as the rumor that she has six fingers when in fact she only has a very small deformity where she had a double nail on one of her fingers. During Anne's story, the next queen - Jane Seymour was introduced serving Anne Boleyn and her household and later to becoming Henry's mistress and it was extremely interesting to learn that there were similarities between Anne and Jane when I thought they would be very opposite in personalities. The only small thing that I was hoping there would be more of, is more information about the accusations made by Lady Rochford again Anne.
      Jane Seymour's upbringing was obviously not as interesting as the past two wives because Catherine's parents were the rulers in Spain and Anne came from the influential Howard family, but her upbringing was till good to find out about. Obviously as Jane reign as queen was only around one and a half years, her contribution to history wasn't as big as the two previous consorts except she was the only one to give birth to a male heir that lived past infancy who went on to become King Edward VI of England. It was fascinating to find out how much this boy meant to him and how he was deeply effected by the death of Jane to the point that she was the only wife to be buried beside him despite the many years of love from wives before her (even thought their marriages were made invalid, he loved those wives for a significant amount of time). Also the portrayal of the public opinion of Jane which was very positive again showed excellently how much Anne Boleyn was disliked by the public and in fact a lot of the aristocracy. Jane's relationship's with the kings then illegitimate female children and wish to have them returned to favor and Henry's opposition to this idea was very well portrayed by Weir and gave an even deeper incite to his desperation for a boy and therefore heir.

      Anne Of Cleves's section in the book was in my opinion brilliant and extremely interesting as I was able to learn a lot more about her childhood and upbringing. The section also dismissed the stereotype that she was a "Dim fat girl" which I admit is not said in Weir's book but by David Starkey in his versions but in Weir book it is said that many thought the opposite except obviously the king. Weir goes into more detail about the reign of Anne of Cleves than many authors do which I was very happy about because she is on of my personal favourites from the Tudor period but more importantly because she is usually overlooked quite a lot, despite a very interesting even though her reign was only for 6 months. This section also gave me a larger incite into Anne of Cleves's opinion of the marriage as she was obviously very quick to accept the divorce and be rid of the marriage to the king. From this she then became the kings "sister" and was granted amount of money per year and many households, one of them being the original Boleyn household Hever Castle which still stands today. From this we can also see a way that the Henry's first queen Catherine of Aragon could have easily avoided the cruelty that she and her daughter Mary (the then future queen) were subjected too by the King and his second wife Anne Boleyn. This is one of the only books which goes into greater detail about her life after the divorce during the reign of former lady in waiting Katherine Howard. Again I enjoyed the detail that Weir provided about the relationship between Anne and her step children which was a very good one continuing even after the divorce especially in the case of Mary.

      I thoroughly enjoyed the part about Katherine Howard especially learning about her upbringing in the dowager duchess of Norfolk's household as it went into good detail throughout the section and this pleased me especially because I have only ever read one novel (so therefore probably not too accurate) about Katherine's upbringing. Even though her reign was short, it was definitely as interesting one and Weir managed to portray that well. Again like in Anne Boleyn's section I enjoyed reading about her downfall and was very much gripped by it and also shocked about how it came about and the people involved. The only things I would say about this section as an improvement would be that again I would have liked to of had more information about Lady Rochford who was obviously a key person in her downfall as she was executed and imprisoned with her. Also I would have liked to have more information on the public opinion of Katherine Howard although I did get to learn what her stepchildren thought of her which was good.

      The final wife Katherine Parr, I previously had barely had any knowledge on and have barely read anything about her previously but Weir's book managed to change that and I was very impressed with Weir's description of her reign and life, relationship with her stepchildren and was therefore very shocked when she nearly faced a quick downfall for Heresy when the king seemed so fond of her and Weir portrayed this very well which helped me to understand that obviously his opinions can change very quickly on the matter of his wives when they do something that he doesn't approve off. Weir then goes into good detail about her life after the death of the king, her fourth marriage and her death which proved a definitely interesting story.
      After that Weir the expanded on Anne of Cleves's story after the death of Henry, as she was the last of the six wives to die, the only one witnessing the coronation of Mary I and nearly outliving her. That extra detail about her life was very welcome and proved very interesting especially as many biographies like this one stop at the her death of Henry VIII.

      Overall I was very happy with this book and learned a lot of things about each wife and happy for the extra detail about the last three which is sometimes missed out on other biographies. I also say that it is very gripping throughout this review because it is told as a story and doesn't seem like a biography when it is and therefore makes the book very enjoyable so I would definitely recommend this book if you want to find out more about the wives or even if you already have a lot of that knowledge because it still proves very interesting.


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      20.08.2012 01:26
      Not Helpful



      well worth purchasing

      Being a history book snob, I usually turn my nose up at what is considered to be 'popular' history. On balance, I don't know why that is, considering that I tend to derive more enjoyment from popular historians than I ever do from well-respected studies/leaders in their field. The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir is one such example.

      Henry VIII has to have one of the most notorious love lives in history and Weir manages to deftly balance an examination of the queens his six wives became, and the women and human beings they were. Most especially she does an admirable job of dispelling - at least to some extent - the notoriety surrounding Anne Boleyn both as an historical figure reviled for the charges against her and as a queen, never beloved by her people.

      It is impressive, too, that she manages to give a fairly equal coverage to all the wives, resulting in my now knowing a great deal more about some of the less infamous women e.g. Anne of Cleves and Katherine Parr.

      As an historian, Weir is clearly well read, astute and she writes with a fluidity that makes this relatively hefty book a pleasure to read. I raced through it in a few days, finding myself gripped by Weir's combination of factual evidence entwined with a probing and reflective prose.


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      22.08.2009 18:54
      Very helpful



      A very interesting read

      I've recently been reading the Shardlake novels by C.J. Sansom, set in Henry VIII's England. I've thoroughly enjoyed them, and found myself wanting to know more about this famous monarch and all his wives. You may be surprised when I say I knew nothing about him until I started reading those novels - except I could recognise his portrait and I knew he had six wives. At a push I might have managed to say that one was Anne Boleyn, but that was it. Henry VIII is English history, not British, and certainly by the time I was studying history at school, we learnt Scottish and British history - not English pre-union (although it was different when my mum was at school, as she seems to know everything about Scottish and English monarchy).

      I apologise for the lengthy and waffley introduction, but I wanted to make it clear that I really did approach The Six Wives of Henry VIII with no prior knowledge. I chose this book over the many that are available on this subject thanks to positive reviews, and previous experience of the author, Alison Weir (her book, Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy, is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the history of the monarchy).

      The life of Henry VIII and that of his predecessors was full of danger, intrigue and plots. He was a very complex man, and throughout his time on the throne he became increasingly like a tyrant, ruling with an iron fist. In the midst of all this were his six wives, who were all dispatched as it suited him when he wanted to move on, with the exception of Jane Seymour, who died in childbirth and with whom Henry is buried. The book focuses on these six women, their lives before and with Henry, and of course their relationships with him. Politics and the role of the monarchy do of course come into it, it would be impossible for them not to, but this is not a biography of Henry VIII or of the Tudor period, so the focus is on the wives.

      The first section of the book is a Chronology, starting with Henry VII usurping the throne in 1485 and leading to the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558. These four pages are absolutely invaluable. With such a complex story and with all the people involved, I found myself regularly flicking back to check on a date or an event.

      This is followed by an introduction, which for me provided a lot of important background information. My previous reading about monarchy has been mainly limited to nineteenth and twentieth century, with the exception of Mary Queen of Scots, and so I had absolutely no knowledge about Tudor England. The introduction told me how women lived and were expected to behave, and of course what was expected of a Tudor Queen. It also covered information on clothing, hobbies and activities, religion and medicine, all of which was very useful when reading the main text.

      The main body of the book is split into three sections: Katherine of Aragon, The 'Great Matter', and How Many Wives Will He Have?. As Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragon was his longest by many years, this does require a long section to cover their story. This section ends in 1527, which was when Henry began to seek an annulment in order to marry Anne Boleyn. I really enjoyed reading about Henry and Katherine's marriage. He was still pleasant then, and they made a good team for many years.

      The second section, The 'Great Matter', covers Henry's relationships with and marriages to Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. I know there are a lot of strong opinions about whether Anne Boleyn was evil or not, but I haven't really formed my own. From what I read in this book I am inclined to think that she was a manipulative woman, and that she is to blame for what Henry VIII became, but then conversely it doesn't appear that she deserved her fate in the slightest. Weir is good at causing these mixed feelings, certainly for someone like me who came to the book with opinion formed of Anne Boleyn except a vague notion that she may have been scheming. I left the book uncertain what to think of her - at first she is portrayed as clever but manipulative, thinking of her own gains. Yet I felt sympathetic and sad at her fate, which appears was unjustified - after all her carefully laid plans, she surely would not have been so stupid as to commit adultery.

      The impression I took from the book about Jane Seymour was that she was the wife who Henry VIII continued to love, as she died in childbirth and he never tired of her. There is also the fact that he left instructions that he was to be buried alongside her, and following her death, even when he had another wife, he commissioned a family portrait in which she appeared posthumously. However Jane was also scheming like Anne Boleyn, and she knew what she wanted. But she was better at it - she was able to be a good obedient wife, unlike Anne. I did feel genuine sadness when I read about Jane's death, as she had seemed like a good wife for this now rather scary and tyrannical king.

      The final section, How Many Wives Will He Have?, covers the remaining three marriages, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr. I must admit I found the story of Anne of Cleves both funny and satisfying. Henry VIII was unable to consummate the marriage as he found her both unattractive and smelly, but she was so naïve that she had no idea there was anything missing! When he ended the marriage, she was very well provided for and proceeded to live a life of leisure, which really was a happy ending, certainly the happiest any of the wives had. Katherine Howard, on the other hand, seems to have been a very silly little girl. Evidence suggests she was merely 15 when she married Henry, and he was completely besotted with this beautiful and lively young girl. However it soon came to light that she had had lovers and a betrothal prior to marriage, and likely committed adultery after marrying Henry. She met the same fate as Anne Boleyn. Henry's final marriage, to Katherine Parr, was a last ditch attempt to have another son, a second heir to the throne. This did not happen, and he died four years later.

      Alison Weir's style was straightforward and authoritative. I had no problem believing the facts she presented me with, particularly as she often outlined her reasons for stating something. One example is that it seems the year of Anne Boleyn's birth is not known for certain, and there have been a few possibilities discussed over the years. Weir discusses this, and her reasoning for the conclusion she reaches (1500/1501). This made me trust Weir as a writer and researcher. Her writing is accessible, and everything is clearly phrased and explained, and importantly for me, prior knowledge of the subject is not pre-supposed.

      I found The Six Wives of Henry VIII to be a fascinating and enjoyable read. I really liked learning about these women and their influence on this all-powerful monarch. I now feel like I know all about them, and intend to read further on the subject. I am also intending to visit the National Portrait Gallery, as the book mentioned that the best known portrait of Anne Boleyn hangs there (and of course there are plenty more to see!). I would certainly recommend this to those interested in reading more about Henry VIII and his wives. It is an excellent book for those new to the subject, and I imagine it would be an enjoyable read for those who already know about it and would perhaps provide them with further insight to these fascinating lives.


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        11.07.2009 18:20
        Very helpful



        Really good collection of information on the lives of Henry VIII's wives.

        I hated history in school. There's nothing exciting about memorising names and dates of the world wars and the jacobites. What every school child really wants are the gruesome details of birth, life and death, kings, queens and paupers, the affairs, the murders, the plotting and treason. It really is a shame that history texts aren't written by Alison Weir, I'm certain if they were them more pupils would be interested in history and they'd get brilliant grades.

        I won't write a long re-count of the history of Henry VIII and his six wives, that's what you should read the book for. I'll simply write an analysis of the book itself.

        The book is an account of the lives of the wives of Henry based on historical data. Henry VIII's reign was turbulent enough that it took public interest and so there is much more documented evidence preserved than any monarch before him, not only the dates and names but private letters, the intimate details of each marriage and the thoughts and feelings of the women themselves.

        The book contains the conclusions of the author based on the documentation available, and it reads like a novel. This is not a new approach to fact writing, but so often fails because it contains speculation amongst the fact. Not so with this, there quoted descriptions from letters and minutes, nothing is claimed without evidence. And the conclusions are not skewed to any one side, the women are not portrayed in a black and while light, all opinions are taken into account, all views are justified or rejected based on fact and not opinion.

        The book is split into three parts. Part 1 has 6 chapters describing the life of Catherine of Aragon, and also something of Henry's childhood: appropriate because Katheryn was present for a lot of it. Part two is mostly Anne Boleyn with a chapter dedicated to Jane Seymour. Part three covers the remaining three wives, Anne of Cleves, Kathryn Howard and Kathrine Parr.

        You might be inclined to think that the book is skewed in favour of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Not so, there is simply more documented information on the private lives of these two women. Also it is important to remember that Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon for 18 years, far longer than any of his other wives, and that his relationship with Anne Boleyn rocked the foundations of the monarchy and the country's religious and political hearts.

        The women are described with intimate care, they almost come alive on the pages. This book makes history more real than any regular textbook. It is obvious that all possible documents were read and experts questioned in the making of this book. Overall an easy but detailed read.

        © L Wade 2009 - submitted only on dooyoo.


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          04.02.2009 16:17
          Very helpful



          Excellent, thoroughly recommended.

          I think it's fair to say, and it has been said, that I have a bit of an obssession with Henry VIII. He was one of the most interesting monarchs ever and his six wives make him stand out from the crowd. I recently read "The Other Boleyn Girl" which is more of a fiction novel and couldn't put it down so in my ever present fixation on Henry VIII I started looking for more to read about him. I came across this on Amazon.

          I had never read a book by Alison Weir and expected this to be a similar affair to The Other Boleyn Girl but as soon as I started reading I realised this was actually a factual account as we know it from diaries, documents and letters that survived after the Tudor period. At first I was slightly disappointed but soon realised this was even better than a fictional work.

          The book doesn't tell me much about the author except some other books she's written and where she lives so I'm no more enlightened but intend to read more of her work! I bought my copy for £6.99 new from Amazon which worked out cheaper than Amazon Marketplace because of the free delivery. The book is quite a thick one with over 600 pages.

          Before we get onto the wives we have a list of events and the dates they happened to refer to.

          Onto wife number one. Katherine of Aragon from Spain was of course Henry's first wife. She had been married briefly to Henry's older brother Arthur and when he died she was left a widow with no future husband in sight. I didn't realise she had been left without a husband for so long and denied cash and respect by Henry VII (Henry VIII's father). She malingered at court for 7 years believing herself betrothed to Henry who had secretly cancelled the betrothal. Finally however they were married.

          The section on Katherine of Aragon is lengthy due to the fact he was married to her for so long, 24 years in total. Another aspect I did not know is Henry was considering divorcing her years before Anne Boleyn came along, he had decided she could not give him a male heir and pondered this by letter a few years before there was any serious contenders for her crown but did nothing for the sake of relations with Spain.

          Katherine was known to be past the age of child bearing in 1924 and the marriage just fell apart from that point on. Henry did not start courting Anne until 1526 according to documents. Katherine was a serene Queen, obedient and demure and deeply religious. She of course was Mary's mother.

          Katherine features heavily in the early parts of the section about Anne Boleyn because Henry secretly married Anne a few months before his first marriage was annulled. Katherine was banished from court and sent to the coldest, emptiest houses Henry owned with less and less staff and money because she refused to agree to the annullment and Henry thought this might force her hand. It didn't and even on her death bed she still wouldn't agree she was no longer Queen.

          There are rumours that Anne Boleyn had Katherine poisoned and for this reason she was given an autopsy after her death, they didn't know what it was at the time but from the report modern medicine have declared it a tumour of the heart that killed her.

          Then it was Anne's turn. She had witheld having sex with Henry in order to rise to the status of Queen and not just be a temporary mistress. She is believed to be the first woman to ever deny him. Anne was very intelligent but bad tempered with a sharp tongue. This appealed to Henry at first but once they were married she was expected to toe the line and well, she didn't! She gave birth to Elizabeth the same year they were married and had 2 more stillborn babies, one of which was a boy. Again modern medicine have had their say and they assume she was rhesus negative and would never have had another live child. Henry had other ideas though and thought this was punishment from God and that Anne was an adultress and witch.

          By the time Anne, and the men accused of having relations with her including her brother George, were executed Henry had already decided to make Jane Seymour wife number 3. Anne was done away with to make way for Jane, she didn't think he would execute her though and presumed she would end up in a nunnery but Henry of course had his own ideas!

          Interestingly in The Other Boleyn Girl Anne is portrayed as the elder sister out of her and Mary and there is evidence she was in fact the younger sister. She seemed to have a prominent thyroid and was slim for the time so probably hyperthyroid and had an extra fingernail, not finger, on each hand. She was also the more discreet sister and there were never rumours of her being promiscuous even when she served at the French court which was rife with it. She basically died because she spoke her mind, didn't have a boy and Henry had moved onto his next victim, I mean wife!

          Wife number 3 was Jane Seymour. Henry and Jane were officially betrothed a day after Anne Boleyn's execution and married 10 days later. Jane had a very short reign due to dying after the birth of Edward, Henry's only male heir to survive beyond infanthood. There were apparently signs she was very devious though and copied Anne Boleyn by witholding sex to become Queen in the first place and also tried to interfere with Henry's handling of some rebels. This almost ruined her position and she toed the line afterwards for fear of what might happen to her.

          For a few years Henry was alone. Not out of respect for Jane but because women willing to marry him were few and far between. Who would want to marry a King who had beheaded one of his wives and divorced (technically annulled) another? Then Anne Of Cleves was suggested.

          We all know Anne of Cleves didn't work out as Henry found her repulsive. Apparently she had very bad body odour and he couldn't bring himself to consummate the marriage so another annullment was arranged. Anne had the sense to agree and came out of it wealthy in her own right.

          Wife number 5 was the ill fated Katherine Howard. Aout 30 years Henry's junior and a flirtatious, empty headed girl she fell foul of the infamous Tudor temper when it became apparent she was having an affair with at least one man at court. She too was executed along with the accused.

          Finally Katherine Parr. Katherine Parr is always portrayed as safe in her position as Queen and more a companion to the now hugely obese and ill tempered King but there was in fact a plot against her that nearly saw her go the same way as wives number 2 and 5. Highly intelligent she managed to avoid this and outlived Henry.

          Apologies if this seems like a history lesson, I'm trying convey the level of detail in this book. We actually finish where Elizabeth becomes Queen and not immediately after Henry's death. There are no plot spoilers here really as we all know what happens but this book is so fascinating in detail. Even with my level of interest in the subject there are plenty of bits I didn't know, and many I have not included in this review.

          Many rumours are disputed and proven to be absolute nonsense in this book becase it is based on evidence from the time. Henry and his charming but tyrannical personality really comes to life in this book and his wives are described in so much detail we even get to hear what they were wearing for certain events.

          I can't stress how compelling this book is, anyone with an interest in the Tudor period and in particular Henry and his wives will love this. Because it is factual it makes it even more fascinating to read about torture methods, illnesses of the time, the different personalities of each Queen and how Henry went from being a strong, handsome (for the time!) young man to a huge, ailing, foul tempered and suspicious lump of a man. The religious problems he faced are all in here as well as his position in relation to the rest of Europe at various times.

          There are several family trees at the back of the book for anyone interested in those too.

          I really recommend this for a truly interesting read. I couldn't put it down and read it within a few days. Alison Weir writes in a simple fashion that makes the book easy to follow and the sections on each wife keep a complicated story from getting over complicated! I intend to read more of Alison Weir's work in the future.

          Sorry for the length of this review! I got a bit carried away!


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        • Product Details

          One of the most powerful monarchs in British history, Henry VIII ruled England in unprecedented splendour. In this remarkable composite biography, Alison Weir brings Henry's six wives vividly to life, revealing each as a distinct and compelling personality in her own right. Drawing upon the rich fund of documentary material from the Tudor period, The Six Wives of Henry VIII shows us a court where personal needs frequently influenced public events and where a life of gorgeously ritualised pleasure was shot through with ambition, treason and violence.

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