Newest Review: ... 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 ... more
Brilliant factual read
The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Alison Weir
Member Name: Tracy_1127
The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Alison Weir
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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!
Summary: Excellent, thoroughly recommended.
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