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The Six Wives of Henry VIII Paperback – January 10, 1991

4.6 out of 5 stars 530 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

YA-- A wonderfully detailed, extensively researched collective biography. Although the book is undoubtedly the work of a Tudor scholar, with sources ranging from previous biographies of these women to private papers, letters, diaries, and diplomatic sources, it is also the work of a competent fiction writer. The narrative is free flowing, humorous, informative, and readable. Weir's research abilities and deductive reasoning have shed a whole new light on the political maneuverings of the era and thus on the myriad forces that drove Henry VIII, his wives, and his children. Personal and obscure facts about the women, Henry's relationship with his nobles, and quirks of the times enliven the text. Genealogical tables for all the families involved are included. This book can be used for research, as it contains a wealth of information. However, students who don't read the whole book (even though its size may intimidate them) are missing a once in a lifetime opportunity to have the Tudor era laid open for them.
- Debbie Hyman, R. E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Weir (the genealogical Britain's Royal Family--not reviewed) here uses the many public records and personal letters of the early 1500's to offer a comprehensive, factual version of the tempestuous private and public lives of Henry VIII and his six wives. The story is dominated by Henry and the devolution of his character from an ``affable,'' ``gentle,'' and gifted (he wrote poetry) lover, soldier, and ruler into a porcine, paranoid, impotent old man who was exploited and manipulated by courtiers and women, some of whom he imprisoned, beheaded, or hanged. Henry's brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon, six years the king's senior, became at 24 his first wife. Thirty years later, she was set aside for the ambitious ``virago'' Anne Boleyn, who was in turn beheaded to make room for the gentle Jane Seymour, who died in childbirth and was replaced by the repugnant and scholarly Anne of Cleves. Soon, Anne was retired for Catherine Howard, a 15-year-old ``empty- headed wanton'' who, despite Henry's passion for her, was executed- -along with three alleged but innocent lovers--and replaced by the king's most ``agreeable wife,'' Catherine Parr, who narrowly escaped execution herself for religious quarreling. Vowing in marriage to be ``bonair and buxom/amiable/in bed and at board'' and to produce heirs, Henry's wives illustrate to Weir, through their pregnancies, miscarriages, and infants' deaths, both the profligacy of nature and the dependence of political power on sexual prowess. Yet Weir offers this sensational chapter in history in the cautious tone of a college term paper, doggedly and unimaginatively piling up facts and occasionally lapsing into naivet‚, as when Mary (whose mother, Catherine of Aragon, had been banished to die alone) and Elizabeth (still too young to understand that Henry had beheaded her mother, Anne Boleyn, in order to marry Jane) are invited to court: ``At last the King,'' Weir writes, ``was settling down to something resembling family life.'' (Sixteen pages of b&w illustrations; 74 pages of responsible bibliographical essays.) (Book-of-the-Month Dual Selection for May) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1st Grove Press Paperback edition (January 10, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802136834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802136831
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (530 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I have always had a soft spot for King Henry VIII's wives and enjoyed reading about them, but never have I come across such a detailed, colorful, and engaging biography of them as this. Alison Weir has done a phenomenal amount of research in compiling this book. She provides us with countless details of the lives of these women, including excerpts from letters written by, addressed to, or about them. She also dispells many of the myths that have grown up around the six Queens. For instance, Anne Boleyn was not the promiscuous wanton she has often been described as, and Jane Seymour may not have been quite as sweet and innocent in nature as most people believed her to be. Coupled with her easy, fluid writing style, this factual detail brings each of the women to life. We get to know them intimately as Weir unlocks their widely varied personalities.
Katherine of Aragon (mother of Queen 'Bloody' Mary) was a loving and devoted wife to Henry for 24 years. When he ultimately cast her aside in hopes of finding a more fruitful wife (one who would provide him with a male heir, which Katherine had failed to do), she firmly maintained that she was the King's true wife, the Queen, and always would be. For the rest of her life, she never permitted anyone to call her anything but 'Queen', even though she lived out her last miserable years in a dank, unhealthy estate, with insufficient resources.
Anne Boleyn (mother of Queen Elizabeth I) was an outspoken and ambitious young woman, originally one of Katherine's waiting women. She caught the King's attention and Henry developed an overwhelming passion for her. His desire to rid himself of Katherine and marry Anne ultimately led the King to break with the Roman Catholic Church, something scandalous and unthinkable to most of his contemporaries.
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Format: Paperback
I love English history, especially the period from King Edward IV's reign through the Tudor's. Henry VIII was one of the most powerful monarchs in British history, who ruled England in unprecedented splendor. He has long been one of my favorite historical characters, as have three of his six wives, Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr. For better and for worse, he was certainly a larger than life figure. (quite literally so - at his death, he was obese). I know of very few fictional personages who are as complex and fascinating as this man, (and the women who attracted him). Born to Elizabeth of York and King Henry VII on June 28, 1491 in Greenwich Palace. Henry was a second son and not expected to rule. But rule he did. He became heir to the throne on the death of his elder brother, Prince Arthur, in 1502, and succeeded in 1509. Sir Thomas More once said of him, "If a lion knew his strength, it were hard for any man to hold him."

Henry was highly intelligent, and, as a youth, quite athletic. Described by a contemporary: "He speaks good French, Latin and Spanish; is very religious; heard three masses daily when he hunted ... He is extremely fond of hunting, and never takes that diversion without tiring eight or ten horses ... He is also fond of tennis." He wrote books and composed music, and was a lavish patron of the arts. As the author of a best-selling book, which went through 20 editions in England and Europe, attacking Martin Luther and supporting the Roman Catholic Church, Henry was given the title "Defender of the Faith" in 1521 by the Pope.
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Format: Paperback
The story of Henry VIII's rule can only truly be told once a reader understands the vital importance attached to begetting an heir to the kingdom. Alison Weir, as usual, offers this thoroughly-detailed, sometimes amusing, sometimes heartbreaking portrait of a man who, thwarted at nearly every turn from getting a queen who could produce strapping male heirs to the Throne of England, descended from a jolly, back-slapping prince to a fat, cruel and nearly despotic king, whose final wish to be buried alongside Jane Seymour must have cut his final surviving wife, Katherine Parr, to the quick.
But, as the title suggests, the primary thrust of this book is not so much Henry VIII as each of his unfortunate wives. One learns a great deal more about them than the usual lines given by armchair historians. For example, "saintly" Jane Seymour, usually depicted as a meek and mild young thing, was just as much a deliberate factor in the downfall of Anne Boleyn as her royal husband-to-be. And as one reads about Anne Boleyn's temper, one teeters between sympathy for her and ... a vague feeling that perhaps Henry beheaded her not so much for failing to produce an heir as to get her to shut up and cease her constant nagging and ill-tempered outbursts. (Of course, then you swing back into Anne's camp, figuring anyone living with someone like Henry would be ill-tempered ... or perhaps worse!)
And so it goes ...
Fascinating, chock full of details of court life and rife with facts from many primary sources, Alison Weir's account of Henry VIII and his wives remains a standard of its genre.
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