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The Six Wives of Henry VIII Paperback – Bargain Price, January 10, 1991
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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.
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.
Top customer reviews
Why I don’t give this book 5 stars: because I don’t know how much of the information I can trust. Weir is a novelist who embellishes her narrative with colorful flourishes that make for excellent reading, but which may also distort the actual events and influence our perceptions. Saying that Henry stomped off in a huff is certainly more lively than saying he left the room, but unless his emotional state is corroborated by witnesses, Weir’s depiction is artistic license rather than documented fact. It’s also sometimes hard to tell when Weir is presenting her own conclusions and when she is relaying what she’s found in source material. When she writes that Henry wanted Elizabeth “kept out of his sight” after Anne Boleyn’s execution, is this her interpretation or what a contemporary actually observed? What also makes me question Weir’s interpretations is that I don’t always find her explanations convincing. For example, she postulates that Jane Seymour’s delay in conceiving was probably due to Henry and his “advancing infirmity,” as evidenced by the fact that his later wives bore no children. We can never really know why it took Jane several months to conceive. She could have had irregular menstrual cycles. Henry’s physical condition in 1536 was very different from his state in the 1540s, and any impotence there may have been during his later years would not necessarily have afflicted him earlier. The reasoning just seems flimsy to me. Lastly, some of Weir’s information is not corroborated by professional historians, making me question her analysis and assessment of sources.
Still, I can’t deny that I enjoyed reading this book, and found it accurate enough (that is, the information matched what I’ve found in other books) to recommend. For reading pleasure, I put it ahead of Antonia Fraser’s book of the same title, but Fraser’s is the one I believe. She seems less prone to presenting her opinions as facts and offers more plausible explanations for her views than Weir.
4 and 1 / 2 stars
Although this book became tedious in places, overall it was a very good read. I wanted an overview of Henry's wives and I believe this book fulfills that requirement.
The women's personalities were very different. But they seem to dovetail to Henry's needs as he aged and got more suspicious and pessimistic. He was one tormented man, I'll grant him that.
This is a very well written book and was well researched. I read Alison Weir's Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession first, and in it Ms. Weir tells Anne's story in much more detail. (Of course.)
I continue to look forward to reading more of Ms. Weir's books.
This is the British historian, not the American political writer.
Weir's research is extensively documented; there are no footnotes, thank goodness. In a review by The Guardian newspaper describing her research methods: "nearly every other sentence comes with its own endnote, embedding her narrative in a precise network of whiskery documents and court Latin."
I like an absorbing book that flows easily and contains tidbits of what life was like behind the scenes of historical events. Her description of the end of Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragon is moving without any need to resort to fiction.
The Guardian newspaper review of one of her books said of Weir's 'popular historian' label, "To describe her as a popular historian would be to state a literal truth - her chunky explorations of Britain's early modern past sell in the kind of multiples that others can only dream of. "