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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 August 2016
As David Starkey comments in the introduction to his weighty account of Henry VIII's wives: "The Six Wives of Henry VIII is one of the world's great stories: indeed, it contains a whole world of literature within itself. It is more far-fetched than any soap opera; as sexy and violent as any tabloid; and darker and more disturbing than the legend of Bluebeard. It is both a great love story and a supreme political thriller." This is, indeed, an attention-grabbing paragraph with which to introduce the reader to his six protagonists - about whose fates many people will be aware, possibly with the use of the aide-memoire: 'divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived'; however, Mr Starkey takes this a step further, and refers to his six characters as: 'The Saint, the Schemer, the Doormat, the Dim Fat Girl, the Sexy Teenager and the Bluestocking'; and these descriptions (and many others) demonstrate how the author takes a more contemporary approach in his telling of the story of Henry VIII and his wives. So, although this is clearly a well-researched account and one where David Starkey has unearthed some new evidence and, in some places, reinterpreted what is already known, I do have to mention that it was a little surprising to read, for example, one character (Lady Margaret Beaufort) being described as: "the mother-in-law from hell"; another character as: "playing the Diana card" and someone else described as:"a bit of a goer". I haven't read any of David Starkey's books, other than this one, but I understand that Mr Starkey has a distinctive way of presenting his historical knowledge, and one which has been referred to as 'punchy' 'peppery' 'mischievous' and even 'salacious' in some of the critical reviews I have read. That said, Mr Starkey's technique draws the reader into his account of Henry's six wives and his sparky, well-paced narrative kept me interested throughout the book's 800 plus pages.

4 Stars.
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on 9 October 2017
Sent for this after attending a lecture by David Starkey - this book is really great - he writes just as he talks. I have only just started it but am thoroughly enjoying. I thought I had read and seen enough of the Tudours but Starkey looks at the wives and their background and motivations - fascinating. Intend to read his other books after this. Highly recommend
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on 4 November 2017
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on 8 May 2004
There is a certain fascination with the larger than life (and towards the end of his life, grotesque) figure of Henry VIII. Of all of the Kings of England/Britain he is almost certainly the most recognisable. And the Tudor era certainly seems to be one which fascinates on television lately. This book, however, was supposed to be about, not King Henry, but his wives. Although they are all here, along with their life stories (to a greater or lesser extent - for some their lives before becoming Queen seem to be shrouded in mystery) the figure of Henry dominates the book, very much as he must have dominated these women in life.
The most interesting stories are that of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Here the stories are most dramatic, and therefore most gripping. In audiocassette form, the first 2 (of 4) tapes are taken up with these two - more Katherine than Anne admittedly, though of course, their stories overlap by about 7 years. The final four wives make do with approximately a side of a tape apiece.
Although well written the final four wives seem almost two-dimensional characters in comparison with Henry and his first two wives, and it is easy to see why there are biographies of Anne Boleyn by the score, but very few of say Jane Seymour - you simply couldn't find enough to write a full-length book it seems.
As I have read a couple of David Starkey's books before and found them to have depth, as well as being amongst the most fast paced and readable of histories, I do wonder how much personal detail about the women, which would turn this from a history text into a collection of biographies, was cut in the abridgement. I suppose I shall just have to read the book to find out.
All in all this is well worth buying for a long journey to pass the time, but I did expect to enjoy it more - it dragged a little towards the end, but only a very little. I must say though that the narration is excellent.
The thing that perhaps proves most strongly that this book is about Henry rather than his wives is that Katherine Parr's story ends with the death of the King and not her own. I found this especially irritating, as, although I know a little about what happened to her after the death of the King, I would have liked to have had the chance to see her story through to its real completion.
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VINE VOICEon 12 October 2011
This is a very readable book, by that I mean the language is easy to understand, it is not boring, in fact it is very hard to put down. True the main part of the book is about Catherine of Aragon and "The Kings Great Matter" ie. Ann Boleyn, which I consider are more important than the other of his wives, in that they changed this country of ours for ever.
I find that Richard Starky is about the best of all the historical authors as his writing is always for want of any other word, easy ie. designed for the layman. In plain English he is readable and not boring !
If you are interested in the great Henry and his marriages, then I highly recommend this book.
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on 14 May 2012
Before I bought the book I read quite a few of the existing reviews and decided I might discover some new nugget or gem of information or at least a new interpretation of the received wisdom. I didn't mind that it was 'compartmentalised' - which it wasn't completely, but I was shocked at the lack of analysis by such a famous popular historian. As others have said, most of the book is about Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, but I don't mind that as there is far more known (or at least written) about them than the other wives (except perhaps Catherine Parr).

But Prof Starkey seems merely to regurgitate the usual stuff with little new analysis as to how it came about,why, etc. Again, undue reliance is placed on the writings of Eustache Chapuys, which are trotted out as if gospel (Chapuys said) , apart from the odd reminder that Chapuys is for Catherine of Aragon and against Anne Boleyn. Surely it is much more than this? Chapuys was writing for the Emperor's consumption, nothing else, (and certainly not for English posterity), and would write what his Emperor would like to hear, rather than the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. For example, according to Chapuys, all the bad things that were done to Catherine were done by Anne, not by Henry. But how could that be? Henry was King and didn't do anything he didn't want to. Contrast with the French Ambassador who said that Anne did nothing that wasn't agreed by the King. 'All that the Lady does is by the king's order.'

In my opinion Chapuys was fooling both himself and his Emperor, and was possibly even misled by other English courtiers feeding him stuff he wanted to hear. I do not understand why Prof Starkey did not question more of Chapuys' output - perhaps because if he ignored it there would be so little material?

I did find it easy enough to read (apart from the sheer size/weight of it), although there was a wealth of detail (mainly from Chapuys) that I had read several times before. So why did I read it?- Because I had heard so much about Prof Starkey's new interpretation of history that I sincerely believed that this was worth a try. After reading it, perhaps a better question would be 'why did Prof Starkey write it? I didn't find anything new here,so I think that, in the end, this is just an average '6 Wives'. So 3 stars.
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on 1 August 2017
Firstly can I just comment on those who have scored a History Book 1 or 2 stars because of the condition of the book. One person scored the Hardback 1 star because the book was in disgusting condition. The Hardback is no longer available which means you must of brought it second hand so it could be in ANY condition. I loved the book ( paperback) so much I wanted the Hardback too. I got myself some really disgusting pieces of rubbish, but if you want it bad enough your persistence will pay off. Without rubbing it in I have to say the Hardback is truly beautiful.
David Starkeys Six Wives is ( as it was ment to be ) a true masterpiece. I found it a more informative than Alison Weir's book although Mr. Starkeys is considerably more heavy. Having said that anyone who is interested in Tudor history must have a copy.
This is David Starkey at his very best. A book to be proud of which just wanted me to read even more Tudor history. A true masterpiece.
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on 10 August 2017
Really pleased with the book doesn't seem to put it down when reading
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on 31 July 2015
The spine was broken and pages falling out. Very disappointing.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 February 2012
This is a magnificent book which draws the reader into the Tudor world. So well described are the scenes and characters that you can almost see and feel the times as if you were there. For me to have enjoyed this book so much it had to overcome two obstacles - the dreadfully boring teaching of the Tudor period at school, which i thought had put me off the period for life, and a rather negative impression of David Starkey, from television. The rudest man in Britain and all that...

Far from now seeing Tudor history as boring this book has so engaged me that i want to learn more and more of the period. And my preferred guide in further reading - David Starkey. This is a great book indeed, which although quite long at around 800 pages, is compulsively readable.

Starkey writes with flair and wit, and offers fascinating analyses of the motivations of the characters who made the history described in these pages. He draws heavily on contemporary accounts, and personal letters and testimony of the participants, some of which we are told are being considered here for the first time by any historian, and paints a very human picture of the key players.

Starkey provides a biographical section about each of Henry's Queens in chronological order, explaining something of their lives before meeting the King, and what propelled them to take the actions and roles they did as Queen. Ann Boleyn, and the events of her life, is given the greatest share of the book. Catherine of Aragon, who was forced to make way for Anne Boleyn, is also featured strongly, but all the Queens, and their children, are covered fairly and extensively. The times and lives of the participants are so brilliantly described here that I found myself seeing each of the characters as real people, rather than just historical figures - and sympathising with each of the them for the human dramas they lived through, and often created. How must it have been for the children...

This is magnificent - and I have already ordered two more of David Starkeys's books.

Highly recommended. 5 stars
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