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The Wives of Henry VIII

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  13,660 Ratings  ·  335 Reviews
In a sweeping narrative, Fraser traces the cultural, familial and political roots of each of Henry's queens, pushes aside the stereotypes that have long defined them, and illuminates the complex character of each. The result is a superb work of history through which these six women become as memorable for their own achievements--and mistakes--as they have always been for t ...more
Hardcover, 479 pages
Published October 27th 1992 by Knopf Publishing Group (first published 1992)
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While this would be a quality history by any standard, I've decided to judge it by exactly the standard that Antonia Fraser sets for herself right at the beginning of the book. She says that her mission is to rescue the six wives of Henry VIII from the sterotypes that have plagued them for centuries (not to mention the horrid singsong of "divorced, beheaded died..." etc). The stereotypes in question are, in order: "The Betrayed Wife, The Temptress, The Good Woman, the Ugly Sister, The Bad Girl, ...more
B the BookAddict
Jun 20, 2014 B the BookAddict rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: history buffs
Recommended to B the BookAddict by: All About Books group read

I read this non-fiction account of the six wives of Henry VIII because my interest was piqued by the television series The Tudors and the historical fiction novels Tudor Court by Philippa Gregory. Prior to these two sources, I had no real knowledge of the women Henry married; of course, I knew their fates were “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded and survived” as that little ditty goes although I had not heard that particular ditty. So where better to go to now than a non-fiction accoun
Jul 05, 2014 Dem rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read a book called the last queen The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner which details the life of queen Juana of Castile, the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit her country's throne, her sister Catherine of Argon was the first wife go King Henry VIII. I came across The Six Wives Of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser when it was reviewed by a Goodreads member I decided to give it a try as Tudor history has not been high my radar and I wanted to learn more about Catherine's time in England.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book as it is well written and well researched
"I have...attempted to deal with each woman in turn with the sympathy I feel they all deserve for having had the unenviable fate (to my way of thinking) of being married to Henry VIII. At the same time I have tried to practise the detachment which recognizes that this is an eminently modern judgement; not one of the King's six wives married him against her will. I have also hoped to practise that detachment towards the King himself: the gigantic Maypole at the centre of of all round which these ...more
Alice Poon
Jun 18, 2014 Alice Poon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is a work of elaborate research into and objective recount of the lives and fates of the six queens of Henry VIII. Although I had to struggle with the innumerable and often confusing names and titles of the gargantuan cast in the presentation, this didn't thwart my desire to get to the end.

The stories of the women themselves are poignant, if not upsetting (upsetting because they are not fictitious but real people). Their fates are a direct result of the times they lived in, which was probab
Aug 08, 2010 Robin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some may think that having already read "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" by Alison Weir, that reading "The Wives of Henry VIII" would be Tudor over-kill and nothing more than repetition. However, Antonia Fraser manages to put her own spin on these famous wives and brings out details and facets of each woman that I hadn't previously contemplated. I am not sure I could choose a favorite between Weir and Fraser. If I remember correctly, Weir seemed to put a bit more focus on Anne Boleyn while Fraser l ...more
Sep 15, 2012 Megan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to get a better overview of the whole series of wives of Henry VIII from the vantage of actual history, rather than historical fiction. I also wanted to get a better picture of what happened after Anne Boleyn. I enjoyed this book a great deal. Fraser creates a compelling narrative while retaining good scholarship. She does a good job of going over what information is hard fact, what is conjecture, what is rumor, what is likely or unlikely - she's honest about the reliability of the vari ...more
Apr 13, 2008 Jenny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really, this book serves to illustrate that coitus interruptus can work out to be a reliable method of birth control, as it probably did for Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn while they were waiting six long years for the king's divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to be married. Which means whatever blushing nun taught me "sexual education" at my all girls' Catholic high school was lying to me. Immaculate Heart of Mary, my ass. Of course, when I pointed out that maybe this could be the story behi ...more
Terri Jacobson
May 30, 2014 Terri Jacobson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book takes a comprehensive look at the 6 wives of Henry VIII. The narrative is lively and interesting, with many period details. I'm always fascinated by historical accounts of how women were treated during various eras, and the power and condescension of men over women during this time was quite striking. All of the women Henry married were strong females in some sense, and this theme unites the book. The historical characters really came alive for me, and I very much enjoyed reading this ...more
Morgan Plant
I have been watching the Show Time series the Tudors. After reading Wolf Hall I needed to find something else to give me more history and this was the perfect book. I found that actually the film series is in many ways quite historically accurate and some of the remarks are almost verbatim, i.e. Anne Boylen's remarks before her beheading.
Oct 02, 2012 Melinda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies
This was a hearty read - chock full of fascinating insights and information regarding all of Henry's wives. Even though I have already read several books about the Tudor dynasty, Fraser's research and use of primary sources provided facts and accounts of which I had never beforehand heard. Her analysis and descriptions of Catherine of Aragon, in particular, was highly enlightening. I had not previously realized that she had endured the loss of other babies, one of whom was a son, before the birt ...more
Antonia Fraser is one of the most well-known historical biographers out there, and this is another of her thoroughly researched books. Each wife is given attention, but especially Catherine of Aragon, who was married to Henry for 24 years before he tossed her aside for Anne Boleyn. Fraser goes into each of the women's rise and fall from affection of Henry VIII, and how the women related to one another. Catherine of Aragon is portrayed as the most sympathetic of the wives, a woman who was devoted ...more
Ben Bachelor
Unbearably dry. The author also assumed I had some knowledge of the events that were to come, especially when initially talking about any wife, so she would focus on some seemingly odd details and jump around in the timeline in an odd and slightly confusing manner. This would probably have been acceptable if I was reading this book rather than listening to it while half occupied with something else (namely driving).

This is a long and mostly boring story which, regardless of the author's claims,
Jun 07, 2008 Katherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was written about 10 years before Starkey's book and doesn't have the very latest research- (mostly documents which have recently come to light regarding Catherine of Aragon and her supposed virginity at the time of her marriage to Henry)- but otherwise all the relevant history is here as in the former. Fraser has a bit of a different tone in that we get a more initimate sense of the personalities and even more so of daily life at court. One such favorite bit of info: learning about th ...more
Mar 05, 2011 Megan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Catherine, Anne, Jane, Ann, Katherine and Katherine. This book takes each queen and gives a full picture of who they were. It was incredibly detailed and well written. A bit of a gateway book really to the world of the Tudors.
Jan 05, 2009 Carroll marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I hated "The Other Boleyn Girl." But I'd love to revisit the era, and this would be a good place to start!
Jen Miller
Oct 06, 2014 Jen Miller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I liked this better than Alison Weir's. I think it's more thorough.
May 17, 2015 Roberta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Nonostante tutto il suo giovanile vigore, tuttavia, il re aveva ben poco in comune ormai con il giovane principe vissuto all'ombra del padre che si era innamorato di Caterina d'Aragona. Quell'Enrico era scomparso da tempo, salvo forse che dala tenera memoria della regina. Al suo posto c'era un sovrano risoluto e a volte spietato, che reputava suo naturale diritto decidere in ogni cosa secondo la propria volontà, che non amava incontrare ostacoli di sorta sul suo cammino ed era incline a trattar ...more
Jul 14, 2010 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As Fraser points out at the start of her novel detailing the lives of Henry's six wives, most people onl know them by either the rhyme "divorced, beheaded, died... divorced, beheaded, survived" or by the female stereotypes attributed to them: "the Betrayed Wife, the Temptress, the Good Woman, the Ugly Sister, the Bad Girl and the Mother Figure." Fraser sets out to debunk myths and present an unbiased view of the six women who came to share Henry's life. Unlike other books of this nature, Henry i ...more
Jul 21, 2015 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We all know the ditty: "Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived." What's wrong with only seeing these 6 women in terms of what Henry VIII decided to do with them once they displeased him negates the simple truth that these women were complex, intelligent, and passionate people who were caught up in the ruthlessness of Tudor court life and the machinations of the male leadership of Europe (read the world) at the time. Antonia Fraser presents these 6 women as unique individuals abou ...more
May 18, 2009 Leslie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
King Henry the Eighth liked to have sex. Let’s just get that out of the way.


He thought himself the cat’s meow, a stud muffin, God’s gift to women even after his weight increased dramatically and a sore on his swollen leg reeked of disease. After all, he was King of England. But unlike other monarchs at the time whose spouses were selected from political standpoints and strategic alliances, King Henry in all cases but Anna of Cleves and even then he liked her picture, picked his own wife
Jan 10, 2016 Kikyosan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Di Enrico VIII, Caterina d'Aragona, lo scisma della Chiesa Anglicana, Maria la Sanguinaria si studia qualcosina a scuola. E poi sceneggiatori anglosassoni decidono di farne una serie TV e rimescolare la Storia.

Ho visto 2 stagioni della serie tv e ho ritenuto necessario approfondire l'argomento per distinguere le invenzioni cinematografiche dalla realtà e riappropriarmi di una veritiera versione delle vicissitudini e dei personaggi che popolarono quel periodo storico. Dovrebbero farlo tutti.
E cos
Jan 26, 2013 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Though Fraser’s book is expository from beginning to end, she writes beautifully and displays a keen wit when she weighs in on the character traits of her subjects. Her detailed and nuanced descriptions of the wives of Henry VIII, the king himself, and other people in their world made me forget all about the TV depictions of the Tudor court.

In the book, we meet short, plump Catherine of Aragon, the sophisticated Iberian royal who was married to Henry VIII for twenty-four years. We meet auburn-h
Giorgia Penzo
Jul 16, 2013 Giorgia Penzo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Antonia Fraser non sbaglia mai un colpo, è una scrittrice nata per appassionare il lettore con il suo stile romanzato e scorrevole.
Personalmente trovo che questa sia la sua biografia più avvincente, dopo quella di Maria Antonietta.
Quella che racconta è la storia di sei donne (una sola regina per diritto di nascita, le altre elevate al rango più ambito solo grazie al proprio carattere, la propria avvenenza o alla propria sventura) e un uomo accecato dal bisogno a tutti i costi di un figlio masch
It looks like the review I added earlier did not save. Here goes (again). I'll keep it brief.

I enjoy reading Fraser's historical books because they at least provide me the impression that they are extremely well-researched. I especially enjoy the psychological viewpoints into the characters based on the supporting evidence. You feel like you come to know them.

That said, her books tend to be extremely dense and are not at all quick reads.

I was interested to discover that "The Tudors" television
Biographies of this demeanor is why I would want to read more history and with enthusiasm! I started this book with a sense of caution because as I do love history I don't care for the endless details. Antonia Fraser has a knack for bringing history and people in her book to life and in the same token you learn history. I think she was brilliant in sticking to the basic thrust of the book, the wives of King Henry VIII. There was oodles of concepts, church history and the history of England that ...more
Jun 07, 2012 Charity rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love reading books on the Tudor period. This is my favorite, even over Starkey, because Antonia Fraser gives Katharine of Aragon the benefit of the doubt; more than that, she spells her name how Katharine spelled it, not how modern historians usually spell it (with a C).

Her style can be a bit scattered; if doing research, it is a bit difficult to work out an official timeline for any of the wives, because she tends to jump around a bit and expound on external matters within the court, but she
Jun 01, 2012 Julia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Jacob and I started reading this book out loud on a road trip to CA last summer...and just finished it on a road trip to CA this summer. What can I say? Who reads out loud, anyway? What I can say is that I unreservedly think Antonia Fraser is a treasure. Which is not the typical reaction I have to someone who uses at least one word per page that I don't know. She is delightfully British, delightfully clever, and sneakily snarky in a way I absolutely adore. Plus, this is one. juicy. story. Even i ...more
Shelli McDowell
Dec 28, 2012 Shelli McDowell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent book for anyone interested in learning more about King Henry VIII and why he had so many wives (six to be precise). As someone who grew up with prolific references to this fascinating saga, I found this book to be both intriguing and informative. It was hard to put down, but more because I did not want to forget all of the characters and keeping all of my Mary's, Catherine's, Henry's, and Edward's clear in my head was a challenge. Having said that, Fraser was able to clearly ...more
I am definitely a fan of Tudor History. As of this review, I've read about 20 books, fiction and non-ficiton, about the era. So needless to say, I can sometimes be hard to please when I pick up a Tudor book -- the book has to be coherent and fall along what I snobbily consider to be accepted historical lines, and yet it has to be innovative enough that I'm not bored.

Fraser's book does a GREAT job of this. Her research is impeccable, and I've read many of the stories recounted in this book before
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2017 Reading Chal...: The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser 1 18 Feb 01, 2015 10:33AM  
  • Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII
  • Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr
  • Elizabeth I
  • The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
  • Catherine of Aragon
  • Henry VIII: The King and His Court
  • Catherine of Aragon: The Spanish Queen of Henry VIII
  • Elizabeth & Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics
  • Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII
  • The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII
  • Mary Tudor: The Spanish Tudor
  • Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Discarded Bride
  • Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth, 1527-1608
  • Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England's Tragic Queen
  • The Tudor Chronicles: 1485-1603
  • The Sisters of Henry VIII: The Tumultuous Lives of Margaret of Scotland and Mary of France
  • The Mistresses of Henry VIII
  • Elizabeth's Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen
Antonia Fraser is the author of many widely acclaimed historical works, including the biographies Mary, Queen of Scots (a 40th anniversary edition was published in May 2009), Cromwell: Our Chief of Men, King Charles II and The Gunpowder Plot (CWA Non-Fiction Gold Dagger; St Louis Literary Award). She has written five highly praised books which focus on women in history, The Weaker Vessel: Women's ...more
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“[In 16th century European society] Marriage was the triumphal arch through which women, almost without exception, had to pass in order to reach the public eye. And after marriage followed, in theory, the total self-abnegation of the woman.” 17 likes
“She might be furious at such things, jealous too on a purely human level; but she would never consider that the position of mistress could or would be converted into that of wife. That to Isabella – or her daughter – was quite unthinkable.” 1 likes
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