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Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  8,837 ratings  ·  305 reviews
No one in history had a more eventful career in matrimony than Henry VIII. His marriages were daring and tumultuous, and made instant legends of six very different women. In this remarkable study, David Starkey argues that the king was not a depraved philanderer but someone seeking happiness -- and a son. Knowingly or not, he elevated a group of women to extraordinary heig ...more
Paperback, 880 pages
Published May 4th 2004 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2003)
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4.14  · 
Rating details
 ·  8,837 ratings  ·  305 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Feb 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: british-history

A play in several indecent acts


Scene 1

The Year : 1500. Plymouth Docks

Catherine of Aragon (aged 16) : So this is England... (She is violently ill).

Scene 2

The Year : 1501. London

Chuck Berry : It was a teenage wedding and the old folks wished them well

You could see that Young Arthur did truly love the mademoiselle

Catherine : Like, what are you, 15?

Arthur: Well, yes… (begins crying).

Scene 3

The Year : 1502. Ludlow Castle, Wales

Arthur : I’m goin
Paul Bryant


(Having had some
crude knockabout fun with this book
I thought that it deserved a reasonably straight review too. )

As Shakespeare didn’t say, some are born weird, some achieve weirdness, and some have weirdness thrust upon them. This is English history as Mexican soap opera. It’s compelling stuff.


David Starkey is a loathesome right-wing creep who gets invited onto British political discussion programmes because producers know he’ll say something outrageous a
Marie desJardins
Jan 14, 2013 rated it did not like it
I find it hard to believe that none of the goodreads reviews that I read about this book mentioned his horribly sexist and patronizing attitude. It starts with his insulting characterization of a female historian as being able to get access to archived material because she's "pretty," and just gets worse from there. His constant editorializing about his personal views on marriage and society are also offensive and unprofessional for a writer of history. (Sample passage: "He expected marriage to ...more
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
I got off on the wrong foot with Mr. Starkey's work by page 3 of his introduction, in which he oh-so-faintly disses Antonia Fraser's and Alison Weir's books on Henry's 6 wives, both of which I greatly enjoy, refer to often and have proudly nestled in my bookshelves side by side.

After that, it was all downhill. IMO, his offering doesn't hold a candle to theirs in terms of scholarship or readability.

Needless to say, his book won't be nestled between Fraser's and Weir's on my Tudor shelf...😑
Jan 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nook
I'm finding it difficult to assess this book because I found the forward to be so incredibly off-putting. Starkey comes across as arrogant and contemptuous of all biographers who have come before him, and this impression is reinforced by occasional subsequent comments by him in the rest of the book. Starkey inserts himself at points to congratulate himself on new interpretations of primary sources, and he also lumps together and denigrates all the "others" who held a different view. While he may ...more
Oct 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I've read several books about King Henry VIII and some of his wives/mistresses (I.e. Catherine of Aragon, Anne and Mary Boleyn) but this is my first that covers all of the wives. I'm afraid it was pretty dull. I was put off immediately by the arrogant tone of the writing, David Starkey sounds like he things an awful lot of himself. The writing was peppered with little asides similar to 'all other historians think this, but they were wrong, here's what really happened'. As if Mr. Starkey was ther ...more
Fraser Smith
Reading other reviews on this book, I am struck how the reviewer focuses on the author rather than the work. I don't agree with the author policitically but found no evidence whatsoever in this work of any misogyny, as other reviewers have. At nearly a 1000 pages long, six wives:The queens of Henry VIII, is a rolling, tumbling, lop - sided book. The first two of Henry's queens, albeit probably the most famous, take up the vast majority of this book. Catherine of Aragon, is treated with kindness ...more
Krista Ashe
Apr 04, 2010 rated it liked it
I am a Tudor History Buff aka nerd. If it's about Henry VIII, his wives, Elizabeth I, etc, I will read it. On my bookshelf, I have Alison Weir's Six Wives of Henry VIII. I had seen David Starkey's PBS documentary before, and I was interested in reading the book. So I checked it out of the library....all 600 plus pages of it!

I felt he spend too much time on the lives of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. True, these are the most pivotal queens in Henry's life and English history, but Jane Seym
Michelle Liddy
Oct 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading this. I know a lot of people find Starkey off putting but I like to see a bit of personality in an information heavy read. The main complaint I've seen is that he blows his own trumpet a bit too much. Im not bothered by that. He's a well accepted authority on Tudor England and he's got other books to sell. A bit of in-book marketing is all I see. If information or an interpretation thereof is new then why not point it out. If you've nothing new to say then you're just relaying ...more
Jan 02, 2009 rated it it was ok
Well, I only got halfway through this complete snoozer. I guess I'll never know what happens to Anne Boleyn (hah!). I looked at other reviews of this book, and I wonder why I felt so differently. First off, there was way too much editorializing. I understand historians write to make a point, but the constant comparisons between Anne Boleyn and Princess Diana were aggravating. And the ego involved! Every single page the reader is treated to insights, facts and discoveries that only David Starkey ...more
Jul 03, 2008 rated it liked it
His writing style is not as easy to get through as Alison Weir. However, his take on events surrounding these women and the court of Henry the VIII offer more information from the political, less emotional side, thus making this book a good companion to the Alison Weir bios (which are the gold standard, to me, of english biographies)
M.M. Bennetts
Nov 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This review was originally published in The Christian Science Monitor.

Following his father’s passing in 1509, the 17-year old Henry Tudor, now King Henry VIII, married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon; she was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, sponsors of Christopher Columbus and more controversially of the Spanish Inquisition.

Then some 16 years later, one daughter and many miscarriages later, Henry laid eyes on Anne Boleyn–Anne, dazzling Anne, witty, beautiful, highly intelligent
Aug 12, 2007 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed the documentary TV series based on this book, which aired on PBS a few years ago, and did much reading on Wikipedia afterward, trying to fill in some of the gaps. So when I saw the book a few months later ON SALE (only $6.99 - hardcover!) in my local book store, I snapped it up. What an absorbing read. I m ashamed to say that I didn't care for the subject of History when in school, being more absorbed in Theater and the Sciences - so reading this book was part of my ongoing conv ...more
Helene Harrison
Review - I love David Starkey's writing. It's exciting and detailed, and Starkey offers new opinions on all of Henry VIII's wives. Obviously his chapters on Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn are the longest, as the most is known about them and most of the interpretation is based around them. However, the chapters on Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves in particular are barely worth having. The Katherine Howard chapter is also short. The chapter on Catherine Parr is a little longer, but I think Sta ...more
Sep 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Brianna by: Shelbina library
I shouldn't have read the Introduction to this book, because it made me too aware of the author. I mean, it's all well and good that he gave his reasons for the times he diverted from tradition (things like: Catherine was not raven-haired and dark-complected, but fair of skin and hair) but he came off a little too self-important.

But, the introduction aside, I really enjoyed this non-fiction. It was nice to take the focus off of Henry and put it onto the women (and not just Anne Boleyn, for once)
I found this incredibly fascinating, although I did come in without a great deal of factual historical background. It was interesting to me the way the book seemed to sort of follow the pace of Henry's life, whether or not that was intentional. The Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn sections were by far the most gripping and engaging, and of course, the longest. By the time Catherine Parr rolled around, the narrative - and, of course, Henry himself - really starts winding down. It does have it ...more
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It's a hell of a long read but David Starkey (despite his not so pleasant persona) s how to tell history extremely interestingly.

It can be read in handy six chunk size. One for each wife. Henry V111 goes from dashing, intelligent and charming to obese, ulcered bully and the wives are amongst the casualties as well as Catholicism in England.

Catherine of Aragon takes up the biggest chunk but that's fair enough as her marriage to Henry lasted longer than all the others put together. All the wives a
Aug 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very thorough and detailed. The author is clear about his own conclusions but discusses and evaluates other people's ideas carefully.
Sarah Bryson
Mar 11, 2017 rated it liked it
The moment I opened this book and stared reading I instantly began to feel distain for Starkey. Throughout his introduction he refers to references and sources of materials that he had drawn upon when writing this book, claming that no one in the past when writing about Henry VIII and his wives has ever drawn upon these sources. This I find extremely hard to believe.

He then moves onto Alison Weir’s book “The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ and insults her writing, relating it to a story of legend and
Rachael Gardner
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
David Starkey will always be the King of History to me. Absolutely gripping and informative.
Katie/Doing Dewey
Jul 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book was really everything I look for in a non-fiction book about history. It was so engagingly written that it could have been non-fiction, but sources were all cited and deviations from accepted wisdom among Henry VIII scholars were mentioned. The story was presented chronologically, with a few, well integrated digressions to give us the history of each of Henry’s wives. Chapters were short and the introduction of new characters was kept to a minimum, creating a very lucid narrative. New ...more
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Finished "Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII" by David Starkey. I started this one because of the Tudors series on Showtime, which I'm still in the middle of, and found the two overlap quite a bit. Taking the author at his word, it is amusing that the further away we get from events of King Henry VIII's reign, the more accurate the information about the event becomes. On the other hand, the author had an attitude of superiority over other historians with all the cattiness of a royal reporter. F ...more
Dec 29, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished
I had to make an 'unfinished' shelf just for this book. I stopped reading at the preface due to Starkey's derogatory comment about Agnes Strickland: 'She charmed (she was very pretty, especially for a scholar) her way into the national archives of both Britain and France.' pg xviii.
I felt it wasn't necessary to continue reading his work if he felt it necessary to make comments about another historian's appearance and how that influenced her work, as it is supremely irrelevant. His tone throughou
Jan 11, 2008 rated it liked it
This book really starts out with a bang, in that the majority of it is written about Queen Catherine, whom the author really seems to enjoy writing about. Over 1/2 of the book is dedicated to her (nearly 500 pages, I think!), with the next substantial portion addressing Anne Boleyn, and then the next 4 wives divide up the remainder of the work. I really enjoyed the section on Catherine, but I didn't enjoy the timeline in Boleyn's section. (You go through Catherine's history, then start over on A ...more
Mar 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: royal-challenge
The title of this book was misleading; I expected more information about the personal lives of Henry's queens instead of the politics involved in each marriage. I did learn a lot about the religious issues that became central to policy-making during Henry's reign. By which, I mean A LOT - too much for me; I found it difficult to keep track of what was happening and who was on what side. I did not care for Starkey's writing style; it was rather pedantic and he seemed very full of himself. He may ...more
I really enjoyed this, a very good and interesting read. I like that David Starkey has tried to portray the various Queens as human beings, not as either the saints or sinners that they have been painted as previously.
Parts of it do get repetitive as it deals with each wife in turn and of course certain events effected more than one wife. Starkey does try to present the overlapping events differently for each wife, as these events such as the divorce from Catherine of Aragon would have had a dif
Sep 25, 2009 rated it did not like it
I have read several books on the Tudor dynasty & the periods before and after, so I love the subject matter, but I do not care for the author's preening and his assertions that he had "definitively proven" so many things that cannot really be proved. Even worse, he enjoys taking potshots at Alison Weir--one of my favorite historic scholars--and Antonia Fraser. I expect books about history to be about facts, not the author's opinions and biases.

I only got through this book because it was an
Elizabeth Kennedy
Mar 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
While I enjoyed Starkey's history of the wives of Henry VIII, I would only recommend it to those who want to read a great amount of detail. He is very thorough, particularly when it comes to the lives of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn and the "great matter" (Henry's divorce from Katherine). I thought he kept a fairly good balance between academic-style writing and more popular forms of biographical history, but some may find it a bit dull or tedious in sections.
Daniel Kukwa
Sep 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Utterly exhausting...but also utterly & comprehensively exhaustive. David Starkey would be the first to scold me if I described this (in every sense of the word) mammoth text as the final word on the six wives of Henry VIII, as history & historical scholarship is constantly evolving. But I will say that, until something comes along to displace it, this is easily the "ultimate", biblical-length, go-to text on this subject. An epic journey on an epic subject.
Aug 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
I despise this man. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be in his court.
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David Robert Starkey, CBE, FSA is a British historian, a television and radio presenter, and a specialist in the Tudor period.
“he ended his short note with a riddle: v. n. A. 1. de A. o. na. v. e. r. Historians have found it hard enough to transcribe the letters accurately, let alone to understand them. And full interpretation remains elusive.” 0 likes
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