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If, like me, most historical narratives are a bit hard going (all those dates and wars!) then this is a perfect antidote: Fraser focuses on the personal lives of Henry and his wives, relegating the politics to the background.

She manages to keep all the wives distinct and give them their own persoanlity which is excellent, as well as charting Henry's development from 'angelic' young king, to bloated monster (her words, not mine).

My only slight quibble was the pacing, since we lost some sense of time between Catherine of Aragorn's long marriage and the shorter interludes that followed, but that really was minor. The end after the death of Henry felt unnecessary too, but that's personal taste.

Where Fraser really excels is in taking the sterotypes and school-kid images of the wives and revealing the 'truth' (or one truth) behind them. She keeps a balance too, never siding with one wife over another.

Altogether an excellent read with a fine sense of period.
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on 8 July 2002
What a breath of fresh air to read such a well-written and thoroughly documented account of the women of this important period in English and European history. I let this book collect dust for three years before picking it up, but couldn't put it down once I started reading. I supposed I waited so long for fear of suffering through a long rendition of Henry's known cruelty towards women (and men), but Fraser leads us to understand Henry's sometimes courageous and powerful, but always immensely interesting wives. This book is about coming to grips with the rampant hypocrisy and tyranny of the time: a book rich in lessons for today! Fraser offers us real insight into the everyday lives of these six powerful women and, thus, into the lives of English and European nobility. A pleasure to read, The Six Wives of Henry VIII fills a void in our understanding of history and the women who contributed so much to it.
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HALL OF FAMEon 1 July 2005
Antonia Fraser's 'The Wives of Henry VIII' is a wonderful account of the lives of the six women who married the controversial Tudor king. Fraser has written extensively on many subjects, but is particularly interested in British royal history. Her writing is clear and accessible, and almost invariably interesting.
Fraser says 'the six women have become defined in a popular sense not so much by their lives as by the way these lives ended.' Largely, they became identified (as most historical figures do) as stereotypes. Fraser's stated intent in the book is to examine the real women behind the stereotypes, to find the human strengths and frailties behind the historic labels.
Divorced, beheaded, died...divorced, beheaded, survived
-Catherine of Aragon-
Divorced
Stereotype: Betrayed Wife, bigoted Catholic
Reality: a learned woman, politically astute, perhaps not entirely blameless in the break-up (but then, what can one expect? Divorce was presumably out of the question given religious and political considerations, so might she have felt safe to be more forward than anyone should be with the formidible Henry?)
-Anne Boleyn-
Beheaded
Stereotype: Temptress, Protestant activist
Reality: she was more Protestant because the Catholic church wouldn't recognise or grant the divorce. She played a demur and devout character in court, but then, could she have publicly appeared as anything else, given the unprecedented events going on about her and because of her? She didn't have a chance to build up a power base, and suffered greatly for it. Indignatio principis mors est. Little known fact: Anne was actually divorced from Henry on the eve of her execution.
-Jane Seymour-
Died
Stereotype: the Good Woman, Protestant yet Catholic
Reality: 'Jane Seymour was exactly the kind of female praised by the contemporary handbooks to correct conduct; just as Anne Boleyn had been the sort they warned against. There was certainly no threatening sexuality about her.' Henry would look back on Jane as the wife with whom he had been uniquely happy. She died as a result of the stress of childbirth (a not uncommon fate of women of any class), Henry's only legitimate male heir.
-Anna of Cleves-
Divorced
Stereotype: Ugly Sister, Lutheran and Catholic
Reality: an interesting and difficult marriage to put together. 'Paradoxically, the King in his last forties, gross, no likely object of desire, was far more difficult to please than that handsome boy of 1509, ready to fall in love where policy directed him, whom any girl might easily love in return.' By this time, of course, Henry had a reputation of being at the least an unlucky husband. Solemn, looking older than her age, Anna was almost instantly disliked. Perhaps this saved her from a worse fate, if Henry had come to know her and then fall out of love with her.
-Katherine Howard-
Beheaded
Stereotype: the Bad Girl
Reality: Katherine was expected to produce the 'spare' to the heir produced by Jane. 'Katherine was, on her own admission, one who knew how to "meddle with a man" without conceiving a child.' Her affair with Culpeper not discreet enough, Katherine suffered the fury of Henry, who blamed his Council for forcing on him 'a succession of such ill-conditioned wives.'
-Catherine Parr-
Survived
Stereotype: the Mother Figure
Reality: not well educated but not unintelligent, a caring but politically astute person. 'As for the King himself, it was remarked that as Bishop Gardiner pronounced the now familiar words of the marriage service, an expression of real happiness crossed that bloated face.' She had taken as her motto 'To be useful in all I do.'
Fraser goes into detail about the lives, and the aftermath, what became of these women, even to the extent of recounting the period neglect and restorations of their graves. Speaking of Catherine of Aragon, she writes: 'It is rare to find the Queen's grave without fresh flowers placed upon it. Nothing is known about those who over the years have performed this touching act of respect. One can however safely assume that, whatever their own religious view, they agree with this estimate of the character of Catherine of Aragon: loyal, pious, courageous and compassionate.'
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on 1 January 2008
Antonia Frazer makes history alive and completely interesting. This book separates fact from fiction regarding the Wives of King Henry VIII. There are many pieces of information regarding Henry and his wives that historians disagree upon. Frazer discusses WHY she came to the conclusions she did and discusses the alternative viewpoints of other historians. This detail in particular really impressed me. (Of course, it was a little disappointing, however, to discover that Katherine Howard didn't actually cry out her love for Thomas Culpepper from the scaffold, though!)

This book provides more than a brief overview to all six of these fascinating women. It really discusses their lives--as related to Henry and to the times-- in much detail, covering many important points while clarifying misconceptions and legend from fact.
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on 26 June 2001
This book is a refreshing addition to what is a well-covered period of history. The book focuses on Henry's relationship with each of his wives and how the wives coped with both Henry and each other. Fortunately the book manages to avoid a tabloid approach and does give a valuable historical insight into the workings of the Royal Court under each of the King's consorts.
Ms. Fraser addresses most of the arguments and debates that have surrounded each woman. She also evaluates their lives before they met the King and considers how their individual upbringings affected their lives with Henry.
The only slight I would have with this book is that it is not as detailed on Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour as other books have been. The book however is very detailed and informative on the other four wives.
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on 7 August 2006
Antonia Fraser writes a very sympathetic account of the 6 wives of Henry VIII. She lets none of these wives to stand in Henry's shadow - instead, each one has certain characteristics of her own, whether uncommon intelligence, courage, unwavering influence, beauty, or skill of manipulation. Luckily for us, Ms Fraser abandons the view of Henry as despicable tyrant in favour of an intelligent ruler who often consulted his wives on political matters, discussed various aspects of the arts with them, and so often proved to be a much more gentle Henry than history tends to show. This is a lovely, well-researched narrative that includes excerpts from letters and diaries; each section is divided into 3-5 chapters that focus on an individual wife and her relationship with the king.
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There are dozens of books on the bookshop shelves about Henry and his willing and not so willing wives. So why pick this one up and buy it. Two simple words, the authoress. Antonia Fraser has written many excellent historical works, most of which have become best sellers. Why? Because she is the best there is at it.

Her eye for detail brings all of her books to life and takes the reader into a magical world. This is not one of those boring historical tomes that sit on the shelf gathering dust from one year to the next.

This book takes the viewpoint of the women in the life of the then monarch of England, Henry VIII, not a very nice man, one would think from the information most of us have about him. But did the women in his life think of him in the same way. Was he funny? Did he make them laugh. Anne Boleyn, I am sure did not find him very funny when she was on the scaffold, but something must have attracted her to him. Was he charming? To have wooed so many women I am sure he was.

Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry and bearing in mind what happened to her, the four wives who followed her must have been either very brave, or very foolish. Although in those days I know that women of rank did much as they were told, either by their parents or by there advisers. I use the term lightly.

This book gives you the answer to many questions you may have wondered about and much more besides. It is more than a work of historical fact. it is an excellent and interesting read.
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There are dozens of books on the bookshop shelves about Henry and his willing and not so willing wives. So why pick this one up and buy it. Two simple words, the authoress. Antonia Fraser has written many excellent historical works, most of which have become best sellers. Why? Because she is the best there is at it.

Her eye for detail brings all of her books to life and takes the reader into a magical world. This is not one of those boring historical tomes that sit on the shelf gathering dust from one year to the next.

This book takes the viewpoint of the women in the life of the then monarch of England, Henry VIII, not a very nice man, one would think from the information most of us have about him. But did the women in his life think of him in the same way. Was he funny? Did he make them laugh. Anne Boleyn, I am sure did not find him very funny when she was on the scaffold, but something must have attracted her to him. Was he charming? To have wooed so many women I am sure he was.

Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry and bearing in mind what happened to her, the four wives who followed her must have been either very brave, or very foolish. Although in those days I know that women of rank did much as they were told, either by their parents or by there advisers. I use the term lightly.

This book gives you the answer to many questions you may have wondered about and much more besides. It is more than a work of historical fact. it is an excellent and interesting read.
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on 2 January 2012
Like David Starkey's Queens of Henry VIII, Antonia Fraser's earlier account of Henry's six wives is a largely sympathetic yet also impartial account of the six wives.
Although Fraser delves into the political circumstances of each of the six marriages, her work largely concentrates on the intimate lives of each of the six women and also illuminates on their highly personal relationships and standing with their king and husband, Henry. In doing so, she highlights their particular vulnerability owing to the volatility of Henry and the ever-changing circumstances of Tudor politics, the reformation and the European landscape due to the constant political manoeuvring of Charles and Francis.

Indeed, the talent which Fraser displays throughout this text has the effect of demonstrating the sheer vulnerability of the Queens, tacitly depicting each, not merely as political beings or pawns of their families and of the court and king, but as women in their own right and explores their talents and contributions to the politics of the era, such as Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr's enthusiasm for evangelicalism and learning.

Throughout this book, Fraser brings to life the court politics of the sixteenth century in her analysis and scrutiny of the wives and the key events which helped shape their destinies. Whilst the book is not overtly scholarly, it is comprehensive nonetheless and supremely readable and engaging.
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on 4 November 2010
This book gives a good picture of Henry VIII's wives. A good and detailed view is given of each wife's background, the way she came to court, how her marriage with Henry begun, what is was like and how it all came to an end. A relatively big part of the book is handling about Catherine of Aragon, she was of course the woman who was married to the King for the longest period. The book not only gives a good picture of the lives of the six women, but also a good picture of what live was like in those days and all political, religious and international items that played a role. Good writing style. In other words a good book.
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