Alison Weir’s eminently readable history covers one of the most tumultuous periods when dynastic and political machinations crushed the lives of many individuals, families, and rocked the people of England. For me, this is one of the most interesting eras since the time is so removed from our own, but yet is on the cusp of the modern. There are so many interesting and compelling personalities at this time, who are all drawn up into this story even tangentially: Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, Sir Thomas More, Martin Luther, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, Francois I of France, Emperor Charles V, and of course Henry VIII, his six wives, and three living children.
I’ve read this particular history several times as well as numerous others, and find this work to be very accessible and enoyable. Although Weir does describe the politics surrounding each of the marriages and the vying for power that took place among the many noble families and for/against the reformed religion, her goal appears to make these incredible women real and sympathetic. It’s more about the personalities and the world in which they lived.
Weir uses her sources to glean many details which provide color to Henry’s court, worked within Weir’s distinctive narrative style: descriptions of specific pieces of clothing and residences, quotes from letters and diplomatic dispatches, etc.
Divorced, beheaded, died; Divorced beheaded survived
- Katherine of Aragon’s life is extremely sympathetic and the sections of the book which describe the deprivations she was forced to are very compelling.
- Anne Boleyn is neither the paragon of virtue nor the devil’s spawn that comes out of contemporary and even modern popular sources. Striving to improve her family’s lot, to be sure, and probably unsuitable personality-wise to be queen in that era, but hardly evil.
- Jane Seymour is perhaps the queen that disappears the most, since she largely kept herself subservient to her husband and was queen so briefly.
- I think Anne of Cleves is one of the most fascinating characters; tragic, true, since she was abandoned by the king so rudely, but who was likely the wife who had the best outcome.
- Katherine Howard is described as somewhat young and foolish rather than maliciously immoral.
- Katherine Parr, a widow, attempted to give the king’s children a more normal family life and provided for them intellectually
5 out of 5 stars (finished February 6, 2011)
Currently reading: Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom & Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris
Reading C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake mysteries (Dissolution and now Dark Fire) has led me to rewatch the miniseries The Tudors on Netflix streaming, which in turn has caused me to reread one of my favorite Tudor histories by Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. It has become a little confusing since I’m at a slightly different date for each work and thus a different wife. Couple that with a very liberal dose of fiction on the part of The Tudors (altered timelines, fictionalized deaths for some characters who actually lived much longer, dramatic license on motives, characters who actually represent multiple real persons)….
One interesting fact I wanted to research more:
Anne [Boleyn]’s origins were uninspiring, although, like all Henry VIII’s wives, she could trace her descent from Edward I. (p. 145)
In retrospect, however, maybe this really isn’t that amazing, since Edward I lived roughly 200 years earlier. Probably a majority of English nobility and the royal and noble houses of Europe were in some way descended from him.
A quick internet search uncovered this genealogy chart which shows how Henry (from both his mother’s and father’s side) and all six wives were related through Edward I. Pretty cool.