on 25 January 2002
This book was absolutely fascinating from start to finish - a wonderful period of history, to which Alison Weir has done complete justice.
Each of the wives are written about in more-than-adequate detail - if this wasn't a non-fiction piece of literature, you could say that the characterisation was top notch.
When completing this book (which shouldn't take too long as it's hard to put down), get hold of "The Children of England - The Heirs of Henry VIII", which continues where this book left off, and examines Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey and Mary I. I have just read that and can't wait to move on to Weir's biography on "Elizabeth"!
on 18 September 2005
We need to rewrite the rhyme 'Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived'. In this excellent book, we learn that Henry VIII had three of his marriages annulled, he had arrest warrants drawn up for three of his wives for capital offences, he was survived by two wives and two of them died in childbirth.
Alison Weir begins with the story of the Spanish princess Katherine of Aragon. Brought to England at the age of 16 and married to Henry's brother, widowed before her 17th birthday, engaged to Henry the following year. We learn how her second marriage was put on hold for political reasons, but it was Henry's priority on becoming king. It seemed to be a love-match as much as a political one. We follow the marriage through the love, through the heart-break of losing their children and through Henry's betrayal of a loyal woman who even acted as regent during a Scottish invasion when he was at war in France.
The narrative progresses to Anne Boleyn, the ambitious woman who stirred up so much passion and was eventually cruelly convicted of crimes she probably didn't commit. But there's more to Anne than Henry's innocent victim and one of the major causes of the English Reformation. We also learn of her devious plots against her rivals. Her step-daughter Mary was particularly at risk.
Plain Jane Seymour became the third wife, Henry's favourite, but the marriage was short.
We learn about Anne of Cleves who, succeeding Jane, benefitted most from a brief marriage to Henry, transforming from impoverished German princess to Henry's wealthy 'sister'.
Then there was Katherine Howard, a silly teenager without the sense to take the opportunities thrown at her to save her own life.
And finally the intellectual Katherine Parr whose only purpose as a sixteenth century woman was to be given in marriage to increase her family's status. Widowed twice before, Katherine was now financially independent and looking to marry for love when she caught the king's eye. Inevitably, she had to settle for Henry. In doing so, however, we learn that she came to feature in the life of Henry's daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I, taking charge of her educaion and shaping one of England's greatest monarchs.
Like all of Alison Weir's books, this is both informative and accessible. The reader doesn't need any previous knowledge. Not a text book, but not a novel, this is just an entertaining book that happens to be true.
on 20 November 2002
Alison Weir has a great talent for weaving factual information into a good story. Packed with historical references and material, this masterful account of the six wives of Henry VIII is not only painstakingly researched, but is a really good yarn!
This book challenges the stereotypes of the six queens and brings each character to life with contemporary sources. Too often we see the wives portrayed as the Barren, the conniving Harlot, the saintly Mother, the Ugly, the Adulteress, and the sedate Widow. This book gives us insights into the characters and impact of the queens, and certainly opened my eyes.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Tudor history, womens' history or a good story. All the good tales are based in truth.
on 18 July 2000
This was the first book I read by Alison Weir - and I so liked it that, since then, I have read all others !
The author as a way of being entertaining while sticking strictly to historical sources that makes the read very enjoyable: there is no feeling (and no need, in her books) of a romanced approach - reality is far more exciting that fiction.
This book is, in fact, about Henry VIII and his evolution during his reign. The description of the different "compartments" of Henry VIII's matrimonial life are interesting in that they each correspond to a different era in his reign - and of Court life and customs. I hadn't realised before that his first marriage, with Catherine of Aragon, lasted as long as all others together.
A very good and easy read, which I strongly recommend.
on 7 October 2011
As much as I enjoyed reading this book, I think that Weir sometimes lacks the flair, written vivacity and the wit that other writers such as Starkey, Fraser and (dare I say it!) even Denny are able to postulate. I say this because I personally felt that it was difficult to concentrate and persevere at times due in part though I must acknowledge to the sheer volume of the book but also due to the lack of conviction and persuasiveness of the arguments conveyed which I have noted in other works.
Another major downfall for me (and I do consider this to be a downfall, especially in a work of someone who is reputed to be an accomplished historical writer), the almost complete reliance on secondary accounts, and the failure to challenge their authenticity and their motives.
A prime example of this is in relation to the reports of Eustace Chapuys and the author also appears to be very biased, not deploying an impartial attitude towards Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, or even at times, Catherine of Aragon.
I also have particular concerns with regard to highly circumspect accounts not verified by other sources which are conveyed more or less as fact in this book such as Henry seducing the fair fiancee of a passer-by (although Weir mentions not only this alleged incident and its source in her biography on Mary Boleyn, she does not in this book however, delve into a great deal of detail as to where she acquired this account from, with the reader then having to sift through the references), Anne seemingly compassing and "plotting" the deaths of Catherine and Mary (a claim which is highly unsubstantiated) and her account of Catherine Howard's execution which is in all probability incorrect.
Unfortunately, this means for me that while I thoroughly appreciate the breadth of research which undoubtedly went into this work, it is not however on parr with David Starkey and Antonia Fraser's account of the Six Wives.
on 12 January 2001
I am a true and avid fan of Alison Weir.I have read all her books and feel that history has come alive once again. I had that feeling as a chlid,she makes all her figures so real,the detail of their lives,the relationships,the passion and the tragedy.
The past becomes a place where one wants to visit and even stay a while,in order to get to know the characters. This is the stuff of good writing which makes for great reading. Buy and read anything by her,Children of England is especially good. But the 6 wives is one of the best I have read and re-read in a long time
Alison Weir has written many non fiction books on the British monarchy. Her research is always meticulous and her books are written in such a way that they can be read with enjoyment by anyone. By that I mean they are not written in the same way that historical text books were written when I attended school. They are written in a way that not only provides accurate information on the subject but also to give pleasure to the reader. I enjoyed the book enormously.
Henry VIII was one of the most intelligent and also most difficult of men. A fine athlete in his youth, a scholar and at times the most likeable of men. But as his life progressed he became more and more unpredictable and could turn on people at the drop of a hat, sometimes with fatal consequences.
For any woman to be married to such a complex character must have been a daunting experience. Probably tantamount to walking on egg shells. When the man they are married to is also the King of England there position would be virtually untenable and in a number of his marriages this proved to be the case. However the marriage started out, it soon became apparent that no woman could keep Henry happy for long.
on 11 June 2003
This is a throughly enjoyable read, which explores Henry VIII's wives in depth; but if you are unfamiliar with the era Alison Weir includes lots of background information so that by the end of the novel you have a quite comprehensive knowledge of Tudor England and European politics!!
The authors attention to detail such as the main characters appearance and wardrobe really sets the scene, so much so that I felt as though I was a part of the Tudor court.
This book had me hooked, it's really enjoyable but I actually learnt alot as well! What more could you ask of a history book??
on 17 February 2014
The rhyme that has stuck with me since school is divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Which of course refers to the final outcome of each of Henry VIII wives.
This is a well reasserted book, packed full of details and anecdotes about the martial affairs of Henry VIII. Weir has gone into great depth, especially on the first two wives, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Bolyen. The book goes into detail on the character of the six ladies, and all the court intrigue and political posturing that went on during his region.
Henry was infatuated with women, and as well as marrying these ladies, also conducted numerous affairs. There was no comeback on his behaviour, even though he has his penultimate wife executed for adultery and treason. Katherine of Aragon, Jane Seymor and Katherine Parr come across as being kind and well meaning, but Anne Bolyen is shown to be scheming and manipulative, and is linked to a suspected poisoning. Anne of Cleves was a political marriage, but Cromwell who arranged it suffered a political fall when Henry decided that Anne was not the beauty that he had been led to believe that she was.
I could not believe just how decadent the time was. Weir describes the amour of clothes, jewellery and gifts that he showered on those women that took his fancy. Especially when you consider that most of his subjects were in poverty and suffered horrendously from disease. He was a huge mane, greedy too as he reached a point where his suit of armour has a waist line of 54"! He spent the fortune that he inherited from his father very quickly, and was always looking for extra sources of income.
Weir has written a comprehensive account of one of the significant monarchs of our country, and the effect that his insistence on marrying who he wanted had on the religious, social, political infrastructure of our country. Well worth a read if you enjoy history, and want to discover more of this time.
on 19 June 2007
I have always been interested in history and the Tudor Period is one of my absolute favourite periods in English history. So this book really appealed to me. The reviews on the back cover claimed that the book was an entertaining account of the complicated domestic life of Henry VIII, full of interesting detail. It was the promise of interesting detail taken from reliable sources, which persuaded me to buy this book, and I must admit, that this book is among one of the best ressources you can possibly get, if you want to know something about the wives of Henry VIII and the world in which they lived.
Part 1 of the book is devoted to Katherine of Aragon. There is a wealth of excellent data about this queen and Alison Weir charts her life from her early childhood as the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabelle of Spain to the day of her death. The book gives a very good insight into how Katherine's character was shaped and she comes across as a pious woman with a warm heart. At the end of part one I had gained a real insight into Katherine's character and had to admire her for sticking to her guns and refusing to allow Henry to annul their marriage. Part 2 starts by looking at the dilemma facing Henry who was now hopelessly in love with Anne Boleyn. Anne is portrayed as an ambitious woman with a temper. She died on the block to make way for Henry's new love Jane Seymour. At the end of reading about Anne Boleyn I felt I would have liked her as a person and that she was a brave woman, much ahead of her time. Part 3 on Jane Seymour was the most enlightening for me. Jane Seymour is usually portrayed as an innocent young woman, with a sweet nature. Alison Weir disputes this by carefully looking at all the evidence available and the existing evidence about her background is colourfully explored in the book. Part 4 is about Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves. A purely arranged marriage to create an alliance between England and Germany. I enjoyed reading about her later life. Part 5 about Henry's fifth wife, Katherine Howard, was a fascinating read. Her early life is described in her grandmother's household where there was little supervision. At age 13 it appears Katherine had her first sexual encounter, followed by several others. There is overwhelming evidence to show that Katherine had at least one affair following her marriage to Henry. It is easy to feel sympathy for Katherine, a young girl married to a man old enough to be her grandfather, grossly overweight with a stinking ulcer on his leg, hardly a turn on! However she was found out and executed at the age at just 16. Part 6 is about Henry's last wife, the brilliant Katherine Parr. Again there is lots of detail about Katherine's early life and previous marriages. Katherine Parr was a highly intelligent woman who did much to further the education of women. Even though Henry had broken away from Rome England was still a catholic country and to say otherwise was heresy punishable by a horrible death. Katherine was sympathetic to lutherism but had to keep this secret. The book colourfully follows Katherines ability to stay one step ahead of her enemies. Following Henry's death Katherine was able to marry her true love Thomas Seymour. She died of an infection following the birth of their daughter, Mary.
Including family trees this book is a long one with 620 pages. I found it the most fascinating book I have read in a long time. I really enjoy Alison Weirs style and felt I was part of the court and knew each Queen personally. I loved all the interesting little facts. If you are at all interested in history I would really urge you to give this book a try, I'm sure you will love it!