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Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII Hardcover – July 8, 2003

3.5 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The author of Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne turns his attention to the matrimonial saga of Henry VIII. Antonia Fraser and Alison Weir covered much the same ground in the early 1990s. While they expressed particular interest in 16th-century women and marriage, Starkey dwells at greater length on political and religious subtleties, and develops an imposing cast of supporting characters. The bulk of the book inevitably deals with Henry's first two wives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Accounts of the remaining queens are fleshed out nicely to suggest their personalities, their place in the family networks and religious currents at court and the overall patterns of the king's infatuations and disillusionments. Mildly railing at historians who have not reached the same conclusions as he, Starkey claims to counter old stereotypes about his main characters, but cheerfully repeats those of other figures and nations, including Catherine of Aragon's "machiavellian" father and "the Spanish talent for turning sadism into spectacle." His tendency to modernize personalities gives Anne Boleyn more autonomy than seems plausible, making her the major formulator of policy in Henry's first divorce. Our understanding of Henry's rejection of Anne of Cleves, however, benefits from modern willingness to examine whether the king's inability to consummate the marriage led to the break. Caught between scholarly work and storytelling, the book gives us high drama at a languid pace, with overwhelming detail often slowing the narrative. For readers who are not put off, this is a strong, entertaining and occasionally audacious interpretation. An associated PBS series in July may make this book popular. 16 pages of color photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

From a Cambridge historian.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 880 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (July 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069401043X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0694010431
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #783,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Or so David Starkey would have you believe. He sets the tone when, in the introduction to this book, he comes right out and says that previous books on Henry's six wives (by Alison Weir and Antonia Fraser) aren't nearly as good as his. The quote: "Inevitably, the 20th century versions of the Six Wives have stood in Strickland's [a 19th century biographer] shadow. Both...Weir and Fraser...have reverted to Strickland's tried-and-tested formula." Strickland caused scholars to "see things" and by balancing their books among the Six Wives (instead of doing as Starkey does, devoting the lion's share of his book to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn), the other authors are "distorting the record."

And that's just the beginning. Through out the book, Starkey will interrupt his own historical narrative with the "I" point of view, citing facts or anecdotes that *he* has found that other historians have "overlooked" or "ignored" or "misinterpreted." Examples: p. 447, "In fact, though much has been made of St. German by some modern historians, his ideas fell at the first fence." From p. 435, "Here it is important to be clear about Henry's developing strategy. From the moment of the failure of the Blackfriar's trial, it had been taken for granted that an English verdict on the Divorce would somehow have to be sanctioned by Parliament. There is no mystery about this, as some modern historians like to claim." These are only two of many, many instances where Starkey pats himself on the back about how brilliant he is, and how everyone else has gotten it so, so wrong. He claims to be the only one to have properly identified Catherine Howard's and one of Catherine Parr's portraits.
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Format: Paperback
To be succinct, which our Mr. Starkey indeed is not, this book was good bed-time reading if you suffer from insomnia. It was a ponderous, endless tome, replete with entirely too much detail. I am a student of the Tudor Dynasty, a fascinating, pivotal and dramatic period in English history - not so refected with its author...the ponderous minutia put me into a state of inertia e.g., the divorce proceedings from Catherine of Aragon droned on in what seemed to be real time with the disproportionate weight he gave wife #1.

What probably rankled above and beyond the boringness of the book and the time lost reading it - hoping in vain to find at least one chapter to spur me on enticingly to the next chapter - was Starkey's introduction. It seems he has not encountered the whole truth and nothing but the truth in previous research on the subject of Henry VIII's wives, and he made no bones about pooh-poohing (or is it poo-pooing) previous authors' research and, by God, giving us the Gospel on same. Left a really bad taste in my mouth. Smugness always does.

Mr. Starkey, please get over yourself, really.

Readers, you be the judges. Better yet, get a hot cup of milk, climb into bed with this book and start your engines....works better than Sominex.
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Format: Paperback
I bought this book on a whim, without benefit of these reviews. I should have done my homework. The other reviews on this website are excellent and I won't repeat them here except to underscore two points.

First, as an academic myself I was stunned by the extent to which Starkey's scholarship is biased, subjective and speculative. He blithely makes racist comments about other cultures (the Spanish are "instutionalized sadists," for example). Evidence that is accepted by other writers he dismisses out of hand, while other, more dubious sources that are not normally consulted he accepts without question. Ideas that start out as speculation are facts a few chapters later. Starkey may be a respected historian, but this is not a good piece of scholarship.

Most significantly, he seems unable to put these women into an historic context. He doesn't appear to appreciate what it was like to be a woman, without legal powers, who attracted the attention of a ruthless and brutal king. For instance, he characterizes Ann Boleyn as manipulative. Maybe she was intelligent enough to realize that if she refused the King, she and her family would suffer the loss of their wealth and possibly their lives. The best she could do was to hold out for marriage which at least gave her some legitimacy. Starkey's failure to appreciate the brutal reality of women's lives at this point in history is a huge handicap in writing their biographies.
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Format: Paperback
Now that David Starkey is famous, does this mean that neither he nor anyone else has to proof-read his work? All of the "history" in this book could easily be learned in a children's picture book on the subject, and the writing was just abominable. Mixed metaphors, poor grammar, wrong verb tenses, and not a complex sentence to be seen.

The research was poor and seems like it was done entierly by reading Antonia Frasier books (whose research he then disses in the first pages of the book... NOT cool, dude) and taking a class in pop psychology. He openly admits to making things up and is constantly putting words in his subjects' mouths: "That day in the spring of 1489 at Medina del Campo-- was it, perhaps, Catherine's earliest memory?" Who cares? Does it matter? Why completely invent an "earliest memory" for a historical figure that you are purporting to write a biography of?

I am shocked at the number of positive reviews that this book has recieved. Who is writing them, anyway? I know that ballot-stuffing is a problem on Amazon, but how can anyone get though an 800 page book that reads like a second grade primer? Every third sentence begins with "And," "But," or "Actually," he makes up or mis-uses words on every page, the punctuation is abysmal, and the number of three word sentences is truly apalling. This is an actual example of his writing, chosen from a page at random as I wrote this review:

"In the middle of the celebrations, howerver, came terrible news. The Infante Juan was seriously ill. Ferdinand rode furiously back to Valladolid. But Juan died."

If you are interested in this subject at all, go straight to the source and check out the Frasier book on the subject. For a slightly easier read, without dumbed-down content, try the Alison Weir. But do not, under any circumstances, buy this book for someone unless you want to purposely insult their intelligence. It is completely unreadable and offers EXTREMELY dubious history.
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