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Book Review: The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Book Review: The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Today, I will write a book review on one of my favorite biographies, "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" by Alison Weir. I have always been fascinated by English history, especially their royal families and the splendid, and bloody reign of Henry VIII was probably the most fascinating aspect of English history other than Shakespeare for me. I remember being so excited about The Tudors airing that I actually binge-watched all the seasons on Netflix. Although the show did an excellent job portraying the life and challenges of being Henry VIII, I didn’t learn much about the respective wives’ perspectives. So I decided to do a little research and came upon this book. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Read on to the full review.

Amazon reviews the book so well in a nutshell. They say “In this accessible work of scholarship, Alison Weir draws on early biographies, letters, memoirs, account books, and diplomatic reports to bring these women to life. Catherine of Aragon emerged 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.” If this description doesn’t want you to learn more about these magnificent women, then I don’t know what will.

The book is wonderfully detailed and by no means a drag on any page. It’s a detailed, extensively researched biography that shows Henry VIII’s wives as intelligent, yet gullible, but strong women. As a reader, you can really differentiate each wife based on their confidence from having been educated and/or good looking. Weir's research abilities and deductive reasoning have shed a whole new light on the political workings of the Tudor era and thus on the myriad forces (both public and personal) that drove Henry VIII, his wives, and his children. There are personal and obscure facts about the women, Henry's relationship with his nobles, and quirky traditions of the time. Also a fascinating addition is the genealogical tables for all the families involved.

I was never attracted to a kind of man Henry VIII was, however, at that time Henry VIII was perceived having mercurial, manly, and passionate qualities that drove all the women to him. However, if you read the book, you will learn that while he was a lover, he was extremely paranoid and at a later age an impotent old man.  His wish to sire a son was so extreme that he allowed himself be exploited and manipulated by courtiers and women, some of whom he imprisoned, beheaded, or hanged. Vowing to produce heirs, Henry and his wives go on a journey through pregnancies, miscarriages, and infants’ deaths along with the emotional roller coaster ride these occurrences brought on.

What I remember was feeling extremely sorry for these women. They were queens but had no power at all. They were just pawns used by their families, the court and Henry to get what they wanted. I can’t imagine being in that kind of pressure of court life. Imagine being married to an unfaithful and paranoid man, being never alone, and a constant subject of jealousy and gossip. Added to that lifestyle, you are married to man who expects an heir. It was a difficult read as a woman.

It’s a fun, free-flowing read however, because of the length of the book it may not be for some. Six hundred and fifty six pages long, it is filled with events and facts with inferences of a Tudor scholar.  If you are curious about the wives of Henry VII, then look no further than this masterpiece. Happy Reading!

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