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The Wives of Henry VIII Paperback – November 30, 1993

73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

When we think of the wives of Henry VIII, we tend to think of women who literally lost their heads. But Antonia Fraser opens the door to the political and cultural demands that shaped the destinies of the king and his royal wives. Romance, unfortunately, rarely had anything to do with it. And if you think the modern American media is too tough on political leadership, you oughta READ about the royal court in King Henry's day! That's one family you'd never want to marry into.

From Publishers Weekly

Fraser's scrupulously researched recuperative study of Henry VIII's six queens makes a major contribution to feminist scholarship. Illustrations.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (November 30, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140132937
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679730019
  • ASIN: 067973001X
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #149,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

100 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Jana L. Perskie HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
I love English history, especially the period from King Edward IV's reign through the Tudors. I am also a big Antonia Fraser fan. So, before I picked up this history of King Henry's hapless wives, I knew I would enjoy it. And I am not disappointed at all.

Ms. Fraser writes with great elegance, and her usual wit, about the five women who married Henry VIII and how their lives impacted their times and history. She also describes each of these complex women, their unique characters as individuals, (not just as wives to a king), their motivations and ambitions. She outlines the ascent and decline of each of the women and how they related to one another, their peers and families...and to the King.

Much of the book is about Catherine of Aragon, but that is to be expected. She was married to Henry for 24 years, and prior to their marriage, she was wed to his older brother Arthur, a cause for future problems for the realm and much heartbreak for Catherine. Queen Catherine is portrayed most sympathetically, and that is my inclination also. She was a noble lady, raised to serve as Queen, who loved Henry, almost as much as she loved the Catholic Church, which he was to break away from and use against his wife and their daughter Mary. I have always wondered how Henry's character, his country and history would have changed if Catherine had born him a healthy son. Catherine was a strong woman of great faith, and nothing she ever did justified the treatment she received. One of the most poignant sentences in history, is one of Catherine's last. As she lay dying, she dictated a letter to the husband who had so ruthlessly abandoned her. She bid her scribe to write: "Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things. Farewell.
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78 of 86 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
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-
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-
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.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is certainly worth reading. Lady Fraser writes eloquently, incorporating historical facts with modern wit. The attention bestowed on the usually transparent Queens Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves is admirable, and the attention paid to the proud Queens Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn is deep and thorough. I would say that anyone interested in Henry's Queens would find this book more attractive than any other on the same subject, for Fraser's wit and thorough research make her book entertaining as well as informative.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Sissel M. Østdahl on September 14, 2007
Format: Paperback
Antonia Fraser's book focuses on the six queens as individuals, one chapter about each queen. They are very different personalities and no doubt there was quite a bit of jalousy between them. Anne Boleyn (2 - The Most Happy?) may seem the most colourful and famous of the six, but this book shows that both Catherine of Aragon (1, Arthur's Dearest Spouse), Jane Seymor (3 - Entirely Beloved), Anna of Cleves (4 - An Unendurable Bargain), Katherine Howard (5 - Old Man's Jewel) and Catherine Parr (6 - Obedient to Husbands) were all every bit as interesting.

I felt very symphatetic to these ladies. Maybe in particular Anna of Cleves, whose marriage to the King was never consummated and finally nullified. After 6 months as Queen, the docile lady Anna submit to the King's will and spent over 17 years as a "good Sister", never to return to her native Germany. Her burial place is, however, magnificent, her fine tomb to be found in Westminster Abbey.

The book also explains a lot about the King's relationship with his queens as a young man, when he was a strapping attractive youth, not only the old, sick and fat man who is usually pictured/painted in history books. It would not have been difficult for a young woman to fall in love with, as the book says, "this fine figure of a man, with his tall blond good looks".

The reason for the many marriages and their unfortunate/cruel outcome, was Henry VIII's desperate attempt to get at least one male heir to the throne. His marriages failed in ensuring this succession, and therein lay the unique fate of his six queens and the religious and political developments in England during Henry's reign.

There was, of course, Edward, Prince of Wales, his son by Jane Seymor. But Edward was not strong and died at an early age.
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