Monday, October 20, 2008
The Six Wives of Henry VIII
The tempestuous, bloody, and splendid reign of Henry VIII of England (1509-1547) is one of the most fascinating in all history, not least for his marriage to six extraordinary women. In this accessible work of brilliant scholarship, Alison Weir draws on early biographies, letters, memoirs, account books, and diplomatic reports to bring these women to life. Catherine of Aragon emerges as a staunch though misguided woman of principle; Anne Boleyn, an ambitious adventuress with a penchant for vengeance; Jane Seymour, a strong-minded matriarch in the making; Anne of Cleves, a good-natured and innocent woman naively unaware of the court intrigues that determined her fate; Catherine Howard, an empty-headed wanton; and Catherine Parr, a warm-blooded bluestocking who survived King Henry to marry a fourth time.
I did enjoy reading Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII, she has a simple style and it's really easy to read. It's not written as separate biographies, in fact we could almost say that the women were only important after their path crosses with the king and so their early life is just slightly mentioned. And it's as much about Henry as about his wives, if not more, because it reads like his story and his transition from wife to wife. I was left with the feeling that had he not died when he did and we might have had more Queens. It seems the more he got rid of them the easier it became.
The book is uneven in its treatment of the women; most of the book is devoted to Katharine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn (with Katharine getting the most pages) and then the other 4 queens being treated with less detail. That was unfortunate for me because I was more interested in the less known women than in the first two wives.
I had some problems right from the beginning though as in the introduction she immediately states her views of Henry's Queens. I was left with the feeling that what was to come was the confirmation of those particular views and not some neutral material that would allow me to make my own mind. In a way I felt that through the whole book. Like facts being related and in the middle of them a personal opinion here and there.
It seemed to me like a good beginning to approach the era and Henry's marital and succession problems but I was left with the feeling that maybe not all was as black and white as Weir paints it. I was left with an appetite for more.