The Six Wives of Henry VIII Review

  • Author: Alison Weir
  • Series: Standalone
  • Genre: Non-Fiction
  • No. of pages: 656
  • Dates read: 10.09.21 – 19.09.21
  • Star Rating: 4 stars

Plot: One of the most powerful monarchs in British history, Henry VIII ruled England in unprecedented splendour. In this remarkable composite biography, Alison Weir brings Henry’s six wives vividly to life, revealing each as a distinct and compelling personality in her own right. Drawing upon the rich fund of documentary material from the Tudor period, The Six Wives of Henry VIII shows us a court where personal needs frequently influenced public events and where a life of gorgeously ritualised pleasure was shot through with ambition, treason and violence.

I’m not an avid non-fiction reader. I have always wanted to delve more into non-fiction but it just never happened. I finally managed to read my one NF book of the year (yes I only read about one a year :/) and I picked this up as I was always interested in this part of UK history. Growing up I learnt a lot about the Tudors from Henry VII to Elizabeth I and I wanted to increase my knowledge specifically on the other wives in Henry VIII’s life as I knew a lot about the first three but not the last.

Going into this book I had no specific intentions other than learning a lot and that I did.

Starting off with Weir’s writing. I do know she writes more fiction based books about the lives of the Tudor Court also books written also from the points of view of Henry’s wives but I was aware this was her more factual book. And factual it was. Weir did a great job of making the novel interesting and engaging amongst all the facts and quotations. Sometimes I find heavily documented books like this one to be slow-paced, boring and dull. While this book was slow-paced it was not dull. Half of it was down to the content of the book itself, the lives of these individuals were incredibly interesting but also down to Weir herself. Weir did an amazing job of injecting her personality into the writing while maintaining a relatively unbiased account of the facts.

The content itself was super informative and incredibly interesting. There were so many things I learnt about the women in Henry’s life and also the people of his court. I learnt that Henry and Catherine of Aragon (his first wife) were together for 20 years or so before their divorce. I didn’t realise they were together for that long! Or, that Katherine Howard (his fifth wife) was a teenager when she was beheaded in the Tower of London! I also enjoyed learning about the shift in religion within England and Henry’s relationship to his fellow rulers e.g. France and Spain. The writing itself, as I mentioned, was slow-paced but the content was so exhilarating and juicy that it didn’t matter how slow the pacing was.

In terms of the women themselves I was fascinated to learn more about them. I love learning how Jane Seymour was just as ambitious as Anne Boleyn (his third and second wife respectively) but gets viewed as the more demure and submissive type compared to her, I loved learning about how Anne of Cleves (his fourth wife) and Henry had a pretty good relationship despite being divorced and also how incredibly intelligent Katherine Parr (his sixth and final wife) was as well as how well she got on with his children. Learning about these individual women, who they are, what drove them and how they ended whether that was old age, in labour or on the chopping block, was incredibly interesting and I loved how varied the women were and how they all had one thing in common which was none of them werereally prepared for what it took to be the Henry VIII’s wife.

The focus on what it was like being a woman in the 16th century was fascinating to me. That balance of being demure and gentle but also trying to make your way in the world. How the life of a woman can change on a dime thanks to the words or actions of men, sometimes with life-threatening consequences. I know that still be the case today but it was too the extreme back in those days. It was scary at times to think that some of my ancestors would be living rigid and restricting lives dedicated to having loads of children and obeying their husbands but that was the product of the time. It was crazy to view all that but also within the context of the Royal Family and how those themes tied to the Queen’s livelihoods and trajectories. The focus on obeying Henry’s every whim, the focus on delivering a male heir and the focus on not acting like you’re better than your male counterpart. All incredibly fascinating but sad at the same time.

Overall, this was a super informative book and I really want to branch out and read more of her stuff.

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