643 pages, Grove Press, ISBN-13: 978-0802114976
The Queen; The Lover; The Mother; The Outcast; The Victim; The Survivor: these are six wives of Henry VIII, and historian and Tudor expert Alison Weir brings to life these six remarkable women in her book titled The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Now, if you have read enough books and you’ve watched enough documentaries and seen enough titillating soap operas about the Tudors, you may think you know it all about this brood – but you would be wrong. Alison Weir’s genius is fully at work in this book as she brings to life these six women in a way we have never experienced them before. Rather than telling the stories we already know, she wants us to focus more on these women’s personalities, feelings and thoughts: the way they were brought up, how they lived their lives and how they died, their sufferings and accomplishments. She wants us to re-live all we know from these women’s point of view.
The book is divided into three main chapters. In the first, the reader is introduced to the “Princess from Spain”, Catherine of Aragon: her arrival to England, her marriage to Prince Arthur and his subsequent death, her betrothal to Arthur’s younger brother, Henry, and their marriage. The second chapter is dedicated to Anne Boleyn and The King’s ‘great matter‘, followed by her execution and Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour. The final chapter acquaints us with Catherine Howard, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Paar. This book contains many interesting stories; for example, we know that when Catherine of Aragon died she was buried with all the honors due to a Dowager Princess of Wales rather than to a Queen of England (and did you know that it was Queen Mary, consort to George V, who arranged for banners to be hung and the gold lettering ‘Katharine Queen of England’ above her grave?) Did you know that Catherine Paar had an ongoing conflict with The Duchess of Somerset over the Crown Jewels? Given the fact that Edward VI was a minor with no consort, Catherine Paar as Queen Dowager had the right to wear the jewels; yet, when she demanded that they be brought to her, The Duchess of Somerset refused to do so because she thought she had the right to wear them as the wife of the Lord Protector.
This book is well-researched and well-written, as is typical of Alison Weir. I can imagine that, as Tudor enthusiasts, we all have our favorite queen, yet when you read this book you cannot help but feel for each and every single one of them and you no longer wish to pick sides. I think this is what this brilliant author wanted to achieve by writing this book. Alison Weir doesn’t bore you, and she remains objective, as always, throughout the read.