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The Wives of Henry VIII

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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 their fateful link to Henry VIII. Illustrations.

482 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1992

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About the author

Antonia Fraser

163 books1,318 followers
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 Lot in Seventeenth Century Britain (Wolfson Award for History, 1984), The Warrior Queens: Boadecia's Chariot, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Marie Antoinette: The Journey (Franco-British Literary Prize 2001), which was made into a film by Sofia Coppola in 2006 and most recently Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King. She was awarded the Norton Medlicott Medal by the Historical Association in 2000. Antonia Fraser was made DBE in 2011 for her services to literature. Her most recent book is Must You Go?, celebrating her life with Harold Pinter, who died on Christmas Eve 2008. She lives in London.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 475 reviews
Profile Image for Kelly.
878 reviews4,024 followers
March 9, 2009
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, and The Mother Figure." I should note that she does admit that of course there is an element of truth to the stereotypes, but it isn't all as presented. So, does she accomplish this task?

The answer to that is a (mostly) unqualified yes. This is my first Antonia Fraser history, and I am so delighted that this is the one I chose. I highly respect her methods, her voice, and her manner of presentation. If I can become half the historian that she is I will consider myself quite accomplished. She's utterly meticulous, and obeys the rule of "cite cite cite," several times a page, using as many primary documents as possible, and notifying the reader when an account of a story comes from someone who was not present, or who hadn't been born yet, or who had a reason to write with some kind of bias. She goes out of her way to note even the slightest possibility of error, giving us footnotes even on the origin of various paintings, or the craftsmanship attribution of the Queen's badges. Things that might not even seem important- she makes it a point that every fact is important, and the historian doesn't get to decide which ones to give and which ones to withhold. It is for the reader to decide that. While one historian might simply state an event, Antonia Fraser goes through several different versions of an event, drawn from different eyewitness accounts, analyzing the likelihood of one story or another being true. She makes it a point to address our most prominent myths about the Queens, and tell us either why they're untrue, or leave the question open. I really liked that- it shows a respect for the reader's intelligence that was very appealing. All of this gave her writing a very reassuringly evenhanded, fair, measured tone that would hardly ever lapse. I think there were only a few occasions when the author allowed her opinions to be known- usually through a snide comment, but she was always careful to make sure that she wasn't presenting it as fact, just a possibility. Honestly, it didn't bother me because most of such opinions were after chapters of dealing with the same nonsense from a particular character until I wanted to scream at them- and Antonia Fraser just allowed herself a Jane Austen, ladylike sarcastic sideswipe. I liked that too- showed there was a bit of a person behind there, no matter how hard she tried to keep up the facade.

Okay, right, onto the actual queens themselves and the stereotypes:

-Catherine of Aragon, "The Betrayed Wife"- Honestly, I think that it is this stereotype that is the most true. It is sort of hard to deny after reading all of the crap that Henry put the poor woman through. But she does rescue her from being "merely" a wife very handily- Catherine is seen to have some power, her own opinions, a fantastic sense of drama when necessary. Not to mention we see just how happy their marriage was for a time. Also, the first section contains a lengthy description of the diplomatic conditions of the time period, sets up the rivalry of the Three Kings, and explains just why it was such a coup for Henry VII to get Catherine in the first place and how her status changed. It was a fascinating lesson in the diplomatic ways and means of the period, and just how unstable this Europe was in many ways, even before Luther and his door nailing party.

-Anne Boleyn, "The Temptress,"- I acquit her of this one, mostly. After all, she did wait seven years for the guy to marry her, and didn't sleep with him until well into the sixth year. Also, Henry seems to have been rather singleminded about his loves, so. Antonia Fraser did a good job of pointing out the situation she was in and how limited her options were once she attracted the attention of the king. Also, interesting discourse on her Lutheran tendancies- it appears she was a geniune reformer. Had intellectual interests other than catching men. However, I don't acquit her of being an utter bitch at times, especially to Mary. Though I do now have more understanding of her insecurity and why that may have happened.

-Jane Seymour, "The Good Woman"- The poor girl didn't live long enough to judge. Turns out she may have been kind of a prude, and definitely was interested in protecting her position as Queen- some jealousy towards the pretty girls around her. She was also probably not particularly Protestant, which was interesting.

-Anna of Cleves, "The Ugly Sister"- This was, oddly, probably the most interesting bit of the book. Her story is a fascinating stumble of mistakes and miscues, rash decisions followed by waiting periods. Girl got totally screwed over by her relatives and Henry, though he did pay for her upkeep after the "divorce." She seems to have been well meaning at first, and probably wasn't ugly at all. Tried really hard to become English. The interesting part is that she succeeded, stayed on at the court, etc. Seems she felt more rejected when Henry didn't remarry her after the death of Katherine Howard- and she had the capability to be just as much of a bitch as Anne Boleyn. Also, she survived the longest of the wives. Interesting personality. I'd like to read a novel of her life- someone should write that.

-Katherine Howard- "The Bad Girl"- Nope, not particularly evil. Just dumb and shallow- your basic girl from a small town goes to the big city for college and loses her head a little bit. Flighty, kind of dumb.

-Catherine Parr- "The Mother Figure"- Not really. Yes, she was a pretty good nurse. She was chosen for her maturity. But I don't think it was to "mother" him necessarily. Henry just always needed a woman next to him- to oppress them, sometimes. Also to take care of him and adore him. He likes dominating women and loving them about equally for most of his life, the balance tips to selfish domination and getting his own way towards the end. She had interesting religious opinions, and definitely a mind of her own. Probably the most Protestant Queen, next to Anne Boleyn. I loved the portrait of her after Henry died, how she sort of overflowed with the repressed life that she'd had to hide as Queen. Some bad things went on then, but it was heartbreakingly understandable. I think I liked her best of all the Queens, except when Anne Boleyn was at her earthiest and most honest.

Overall lesson? As Fraser tells us herself, women were truly helpless to the whims of their male relatives, strong personalities or not, and doubly so if this person was the king. It sucked to be a woman ... and yet women were fighting back against it in small ways all the time. In small ways. In the ways open to them. Some of them were wise enough not to try, tried to work within the system. Some of them said "fuck that"- Anne Boleyn being among those.

Also, as many others have said about this book- these women were women, not symbols. Henry VIII was a man, not a monster. Granted, he did terrible things, but Antonia Fraser is able to break those down, tell us why they may not have seemed like terrible things at the time. She's able to try to give us some psychological insight as to why he might have felt himself justified, or why he became the person that he did. It doesn't give you sympathy with him, per se, but it did succeed in lessening the vitrolic disgust a bit. Context always helps with that, of course.

Anyway to wrap up this loooong review (oops), I will say that I recommend this to those interested in the Tudor era, women's studies, Tudor foreign affairs, or anyone willing to sit through a bit of history for some good psychological profiles.
Profile Image for Mª Carmen.
584 reviews
July 23, 2022
Uno de los mejores ensayos sobre las seis esposas de Enrique VIII que he leído.

Lo primero, indicar que si bien está escrito con fines divulgativos hacia el gran público en general, esto no le resta rigurosidad ni a los personajes ni a la época. Ameno, ágil y se lee bien.

Está dividida en un prólogo y 20 capítulos. Desde el primer momento, Fraser intenta desmitificar ese estereotipo en el que se ha encasillado a cada una de las seis esposas, "la traicionada", "la tentadora", "la buena mujer", "la hermana fea", "la muchacha mala" y "la figura materna". Interesante la reflexión que hace acerca de sus retratos y de como el público los confunde, consecuencia de dicho estereotipo.

Los diez primeros capítulos se corresponden a las dos primeras esposas, Catalina de Aragón y Ana Bolena. En ellos, junto con la historia de cada una, vamos a conocer la época, los miedos del soberano, todo el proceso de separación religiosa de Roma y el de construcción de una nueva iglesia. Los diez capítulos restantes los dedica a los reinados de las otras cuatro esposas.

El fresco de la época está muy bien retratado. Al principio del libro encontramos dos árboles genealógicos. Uno, el del propio Enrique y sus esposas, el otro el de los antepasados Plantagenet desde Eduardo I. Es muy de agradecer el tener a mano esa genealogía. El miedo cerval que le tenía Enrique VIII a cualquier descendiente de Eduardo III por muy colateral que fuera, le llevó a acabar con todos ellos. Por otro lado, todas sus esposas estaban de una u otra manera (muy intrincada a veces), emparentadas con la realeza. Ambos árboles ayudan al lector a situarse en estos terrenos.

Fraser nos expone igualmente como el rey supeditó todas sus políticas a la consecución de un heredero varón. Ferviente católico, se construyó una iglesia a medida únicamente para poder divorciarse de Catalina. Las similitudes del dogma entre las iglesias católica y anglicana no son mera casualidad. El monarca ya se encargó de que así fuera. Eso conllevó ejecuciones tanto de católicos, que se oponían a la ruptura, como de protestantes que veían en la separación de Roma la oportunidad de establecer sus tesis reformistas afines a Lutero.
Igualmente nos relata las penurias para el pueblo y la crisis económica que conllevó la disolución de los monasterios y conventos.

Y por supuesto, vamos a conocer con bastante detalle la vida de sus seis esposas, de personajes relevantes de la época, así como la infancia y juventud de la princesa María.

En conclusión. Un ensayo ameno y riguroso sobre las esposas y reinado de Enrique VIII. Se lee bien, informa y no cansa. Recomendable.
Profile Image for Melindam.
633 reviews275 followers
July 14, 2022
After recently finishing the Thomas Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel and loving it to bits, I had serious trouble saying goodbye to this intriguing anti-hero and the Tudor world.

And then I went promptly to my bookshelf and grabbed this book, which had been standing there, untouched (unless you count the occasional dusting) for at least 10 years. What a shame! :(

But it finally got its deserved days of glory and appreciation. While it is of course not about Cromwell per se, but all his political movements got a mention as I traced the course of history through the lives of Henry VIII's queens.

Praise for Antonia Fraser. This biography of the 6 queens is informative, unbiased and very interesting, giving the political and historical background without making you feel overburdened with dry details.

Recommended for those who loved the Thomas Cromwell trilogy as well as to those who didn't, and to those who are simply interested in the Tudor era.
Profile Image for B the BookAddict.
300 reviews654 followers
March 18, 2016

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 account by prominent historical biographer, Antonia Fraser. One must bear in mind that this book is Non Fiction as opposed to Historical Fiction; there is a big difference in the two genres.

As Fraser says: “It is seductive to regard the six wives of Henry VIII as a series of feminine stereotypes... [but] Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr possessed real intellectual ability, ...[ ] during those fraught months of 1536, Jane Seymour's comportment was a model of discreet wisdom, ...[ ] Anna of Cleves behaviour during her bewildering short marriage ... displayed a touching dignity” and poor Katherine Howard “...a charming amoral butterfly.” But there is more depth to the women who featured in Henry's marriages as he was driven to provide an heir for the English throne.

Fraser provides you with so much interesting information; she sources documents, written accounts, letters, bills of fare and much more. She quotes ambassadors at the court, in particular ( and my favourite ) Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish Ambassador who provided a link to home for Katherine of Aragon, later a link to Katherine for Mary.

I particularly liked how Fraser gave you a history of the women, their family connections and how they, somewhat unfortunately I think, came into Henry's radar. It was refreshing, for me, that she did not impose emotions on the wives, rather she says “would/might have felt”, “could have imagined” when relating the women's perspective. I have not read any other Historical Biographer's work of this topic so I cannot make any comparisons. I will say I tremendously enjoyed this comprehensive account of six women who are distinguished in history by their fate. 5★
Profile Image for Dem.
1,186 reviews1,098 followers
July 17, 2014
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 and Antonia Fraser gives an insight into the women and the marriages of King Henry VIII without too much of the politics of the time. As I say I am not a fan of Tudor History but this managed to keep me interested and I learned a little something along the way. The author included family trees, photos, and notes throughout the book which I really feel added so much to the book.

I think this has satisfied my curiosity on the Tudors as the book was very informative.
Profile Image for *TUDOR^QUEEN* .
436 reviews444 followers
August 26, 2017
I read this book back in 1998. It was large, heavy and had a cover that looked and felt like an ancient parchment. If you are a fan of Tudor history, this is the book that will enchant and prime you for a trip to England. It has photos of many of the important sites like exactly where royalty are buried. This was important information for me, as I was fascinated in particular with the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn. Of course, it showed the picture of where she was executed and the chapel right behind where she is buried under the side of the altar. So, when I made my trip to England the following year and visited the Tower of London, I was all the more amazed when I found myself sitting in a pew in that chapel just steps away from her final resting place. I also learned from this book where King Henry VIII was buried (in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, under the floor near the choir) and it supplied the photo. In fact, when I returned home from my trip I delved back into the book and looked at all the photos again, marvelling at the fact that I had actually seen all these things in person. Out of all the books I have read on the Tudors, I would definitely call this a mainstay book to own.
Profile Image for Maja  - BibliophiliaDK ✨.
1,078 reviews636 followers
October 31, 2021
When reading this book it was very clear to me, that Fraser's purpose in writing this book was not to challenge any of the usual conceptions of the six wives of Henry VIII. She has next to no primary sources, and those she does has she doesn't explore or challenge in any way. So this is not a work of historical curiosity. It is a book made to enlighten and entertain without losing the wider audience. I don't particularly mind that kind of writing, it's nice to read from time to time, but with a book about the wives of Henry VIII it is a little un-needed, seeing as how there are a thousand other books out there that states the exactly same thing. And with Fraser snatching ideas and theories from other historians... well, let's just say I'd rather have read those works than this.
Profile Image for Madeline.
775 reviews47k followers
October 30, 2010
"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 women had to dance. But of course this is not his story. It is theirs."

I'll open by stating the good aspects of this book: first, it's obviously very well-researched and Fraser does her best to stay neutral and not call Henry a stupid fat bastard with the emotional maturity of a toddler. (you know it's true) It's all very in-depth and informative, and I would have no reservations about recommending it to someone who wanted to learn more about Henry VIII's wives beyond the old "divorced beheaded died, divorced beheaded survived" thing. It's not bad, is what I'm saying.

But I only gave it two stars - why? Simply because, in my mind, Antonia Fraser failed to deliver what she promised in the beginning of the book. She says that her goal is to show us these women beyond their respective stereotypes: the Betrayed Wife, the Temptress, the Good Woman, the Ugly Sister, the Bad Girl, and the Mother Figure. Fraser says she's going to make us see that these women were more than their stereotypes make them seem, and that we shouldn't think of them in these terms.

But you know what, Fraser? The stereotypes are true. Katherine of Aragon was Henry's loyal wife for over twenty years and he betrayed her. Anne Boleyn seduced Henry and kept him interested for seven years until he married her. Jane Seymour was a good woman by Tudor standards because she gave Henry a son and didn't cheat on him (possibly because she just didn't have enough time). Anne of Cleves was not attractive, and after Henry divorced her she was treated as his sister. Katherine Howard cheated on Henry, which is both bad and stupid. Catherine Parr was a good wife and a good mother to her three stepchildren and needy immature husband. The stereotypes exist because they're based on truth, and any extra information Fraser shares with us about these women's educations or whatever doesn't do much to convince me otherwise.

And maybe I've just read too many books about the Tudors, but I didn't feel like I really learned anything from this. There was new information about the wives, sure, but none of it really shocked me or made me see them in a different light.

The ideal reader for this book is someone who's recently become obsessed with that HBO show The Tudors, and is curious to see how accurate the show really is. If I knew someone like that, I'd recommend Fraser's book without hesitation. It's a good introduction to the real story of Henry VIII's famous wives, but since I already knew the story, the book didn't have much to offer me.

Profile Image for Alice Poon.
Author 5 books270 followers
May 23, 2016
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 probably one of the bloodiest reigns in English history, not to mention their ill luck of being tied in marital bond with, to say the least, a volatile and self-indulgent monarch who was obsessed with the issue of a male heir.

The author did a good job in explaining in detail the intricacies of European politics in that era: the unending strife between the Catholic and Protestant factions, the in-court rivalry between the consort-related nobility and the use of royal marriages for political ends. Highlighting such labyrinthine political background are the calculating and often deadly machinations by stakeholders behind a masquerade of civility and honor.

One gruesome detail of the narrative is the description of those monstrous capital punishments and tortures permitted under sixteenth century English law, which rival in cruelty with China's penal system in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties.

Overall, the moral lesson that can be drawn from this historical account is perhaps that a ruler or political leader (man or woman) can never be trusted with having absolute, unchecked power over others.

Profile Image for K.M. Weiland.
Author 32 books2,296 followers
November 16, 2021
Excellent, in-depth, entertaining exploration of a perennial topic that is all too often skimmed. Weir puts the focus not on Henry but on the women who made him (in)famous.
Profile Image for Megan.
2,132 reviews11 followers
September 15, 2012
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 various pieces information available and analyzes what does & doesn't make sense. In particular, I appreciated reading the context of Henry VIII's reign and relationships in terms of what was happening on the continent. Because the story of the English reformation and Henry VIII is presented both in basic American history textbooks and in popular culture in isolation, there were some lines that I never drew between events until reading this book. For instance, we never say much about the Puritans until they're already on the boat and headed our way - but in fact, they were on the rise in the early reign of Henry VIII, catching the interest of not only Anne Boleyn but Jane Seymour and other members of court and the aristocracy. The humanist writings of Erasmus and the reforming tracts of Martin Luther were also getting a lot of attention by this time. It was very helpful to consider how this would have contributed to the choices made at court. Beyond that, the Hapsburg Empire in continental Europe and the kings of France and Spain also had a big influence on Henry VIII's selections for himself and his children. One somewhat throw-away line about Suleiman the Magnificent fighting the Hapsburgs was almost embarrassingly revelatory. Duh - all these things were happening at the SAME TIME! Why have I never thought of how they would have had at least a tangential relationship with each other? Why is the history of so many interacting players always presented in little pieces, as though they are separate tents instead of rooms in the same house? I also never got a thorough appreciation for Henry's obsession with having a son. Americans come away from World History class with the impression that Henry VIII was just following his pecker around. We're never given a clear impression of the awful civil wars that occurred in England whenever the succession was not clear. And yet of course, he was king - if all he wanted was to get laid, who would stop him? But the idea of having a stable of illegitimate children to challenge for the throne would have been a bad one. The idea of leaving an inadequate number of sons, in a sexist world of high child and infant mortality, was also a bad one. In fact, Henry VIII seems to have taken the lessons of English history and his own responsibilities in providing a clear succession rather seriously, and genuinely found his lack of sons as a possible judgement from God on the validity of his marriages to both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Fraser does a good job of presenting this concept to readers who are not steeped in early English history the way a native might be.
9 reviews
September 10, 2010
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 leaned a bit more towards Catherine of Aragon. It took me awhile to read this book (through not fault of the author or the book itself), but I was able to pick up where I left off each time I read and I finally made it through.

Some people are uncomfortable leisure reading "history" books because of the "boredom factor". Frasier has an easy narrative way of writing that keeps you interested in the story of this king and his ill-fated wives. I would highly recommend this to established Tudor afficionados as well as fans of The Tudors series on Showtime who may want to learn a bit more about this storied royal family.
Profile Image for Lilirose.
490 reviews57 followers
May 31, 2019
La storia di Enrico VIII e delle sue sei mogli sembra fatta apposta per affascinare il pubblico: divorzi, tradimenti, esecuzioni, è quasi una soap opera ante-litteram. Il rischio per il biografo però è che romanzi troppo per il gusto del raccontare, o al contrario che in nome del rigore storico privi le vicende del mordente e del fascino che indubbiamente rivestono. La Fraser non cade in nessuna delle due trappole e ci offre un saggio curato nei dettagli senza rinunciare alla piacevolezza dell'esposizione. Il suo intento è donare spessore e profondità a queste donne intrappolate nel mito, immergendole in un contesto realistico e storicamente molto accurato; la forza del libro sta proprio nel non dimenticare mai che ci stiamo occupando di persone vere, con le loro ambizioni e i loro drammi privati aldilà dell'importanza storica che rivestono per i posteri.
Lo stile poi è brillante, a volte sembra quasi di leggere un romanzo vista la vivacità con cui è narrato e l'abbondanza di aneddoti e piccole scene quotidiane che snelliscono la prosa.
Penso sia un libro ideale per chi è appassionato di storia, ma allo stesso tempo è in cerca di un libro scorrevole che sia da leggere e non da "studiare".
Profile Image for Nancy Oakes.
1,923 reviews731 followers
June 12, 2009
this is really a 3.5 but since we don't have that option, I'll round it up.

The Wives of Henry VIII is well written, very well researched and offers more information than you can possibly hope for about each of Henry's wives. More than half of the book covers Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, with the rest dedicated to the other four. But wait ...there's more...it's also a good examination of historical events, European court intrigue, the religious situation not only in England but elsewhere in Europe, and other people connected with the British court and beyond. Furthermore, Fraser ties it all up very neatly by examining in brief the lives of the queens that survived the death of Henry VIII, and poses the question at the end that gives the reader some food for thought: if Katherine of Aragon had delivered a healthy son, would there have been the same type of religious change in England?

I liked this book, but to be really frank, if I had written something like this as a grad student, my advisors would have told me to cut it back and organize it better. She is a bit overly wordy, and there are a lot of things that fit better under different sections other than where she placed them. Also, I have to wonder when historians purport to know the mind of their subjects, and there are several places where the author makes judgments based on what she things Henry VIII would have thought. This was a bit off-putting. Also, in some cases where she makes a statement that somebody said something or something was thought, there were no footnotes that I could reference. However, overall, there is a wealth of information here, and the woman has definitely done her homework. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has a serious interest in the topic and wants a good reference work. Hang in there...it's long, but it's worth it in the end.
8 reviews
June 5, 2009
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, and with the exception of Katherine of Aragon, really doesn't discuss the women outside the context of their time with Henry VIII.

There were a few interesting details hidden here and there that enabled me to give this one 2.5 stars.
Profile Image for Lilybet Perry.
26 reviews2 followers
August 19, 2022
just know i’m counting my coursework reading because this book is phat
Profile Image for Emma.
217 reviews3 followers
April 28, 2021
This was excellent. I was particularly interested in her exploration of how each of the six women were victims of their “biological destiny”. Patriarchy and the gender binary were alive and well in Tudor England, lemme tell ya.

I’m looking forward to reading the author’s book on Marie Antoinette next.
Profile Image for Alyson Stone.
Author 4 books60 followers
December 18, 2017
Book: The Wives of Henry the VIII
Author: Antonia Fraser
Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars

Okay, so the library messed up on the book I wanted. I actually wanted to read Alison Weir’s book, but it’s okay. I was actually very surprised about how much I liked this one. I have tried to read Antonia’s books before, but never really got into them. This one was very different.

I enjoyed the detailed accounts of each of the wives. I really didn’t know anything about Anne of Cleves and found this to be very eye opening. I felt like not only Anne of Cleves, but the other wives just seemed to come off the page. I was drawn to the easy writing and how nothing seemed to be left out. I enjoyed seeing how these women rose to power and in how many cases fell from grace. We didn’t only get to read about the queens, but them as a person.

I thought the book itself was really researched and really put together. It really is hard to talk about the eight wives in a single book. I really thought that Antonia did a wonderful job of making sure that each queen was equally covered. Now, I did think that Catherine of Aragon had a bigger section, but she was married to Henry for twenty years!

Catherine of Aragon’s part was probably my favourite. I do view her as the queen who got shoved against. I really do admire her character and wit. She really did show Henry just what women were capable of doing. She lead a victory against Scotland, gave Henry a living daughter, and stood by his side for twenty years. Often times, I think she is the queen who is overlooked. Her accomplishments are tossed aside because she was divorced. We often times forget about all of the remarkable things that this woman did. Let’s not forget that she was kept in poverty for a long time and that Henry VII kept her alone in England without her family after Arthur’s death. To me, this is a pretty remarkable life. Just imagine what she went through. After all, she was the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand.

The other parts of the book were well written too. Anne Boleyn is probably the most famous wife, so I did like how her part stood out, but wasn’t the main focus of the book. I also enjoyed Jane’s part. She did give Henry a son, but died right after. I think that hers and Anne of Cleves story is saddest. Okay, they say that Katherine Parr was the survivor, but I actually think it was Anne of Cleves. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t she actually outlive all of Henry’s wives? To me that is a survivor.
Once again, I was actually surprised at how much I did enjoy this book. Again, I have tried to read Antonia’s work before, but was just unable to get into it. Now, maybe I will have to give it another try.

Profile Image for Elena.
1,024 reviews78 followers
June 23, 2017
The Wives of Henry VIII was the first non fiction book I read about the Tudors. I picked it up after reading a couple of Philippa Gregory’s novels, wanting to know more about these fascinating women. From that moment the six wives of Henry VIII have become some of my favourite historical figures, and I’ve read tons of books, both fiction and non, about them. Still, I was excited to return to this book and see if I still enjoyed it.

As I was hoping, it was as delightful as I remembered. I need to try other works by Antonia Fraser, because it is clear she is a great historian. Her research is vast and precise, but her style is quite accessible. She is also very objective in her exposition, even if sometimes it shows that she is more interested in some wives than in others. Compared to Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, the parts about the remaining four wives are brief; this is a little frustrating, but it is also true there is not as much material about them, mostly because they were queens for short periods of time.

In the preface Fraser says she wants to present the wives in an objective view, disproving the common stereotypes associated with them. I think she is successful. She points out how the stereotypes are sometimes quite wrong, and sometimes they are closer to the truth, but they are only a small part of who these women were. For example, Catherine Parr was indeed a dutiful and obedient wife, but she also had an impulsive and passionate nature which emerged in some occasions.

I also appreciated how Fraser stressed out that the bad reputations surrounding some of the wives are not necessarily deserved. It was easier to blame the women (especially Anne Boleyn) for the awful things Henry VIII did. She also points out that, no matter how independent the wives might be, they were completely subjected to the king's will and power, and this needs to be taken into consideration.

Still one of the best non fictions about these enigmatic women.
Profile Image for Morgan Plant.
40 reviews2 followers
July 12, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Drake30.
29 reviews3 followers
July 4, 2020
Muy documentada radiografía del reinado de Enrique VIII, que a través de la relación con sus esposas muestra una época en el que las relaciones de poder lo eran todo; también ofrece el panorama de los hechos que condujeron al cisma con la iglesia católica. Bien narrado y traducido.
Profile Image for beesp.
374 reviews42 followers
May 12, 2019
Antonia Fraser scrive le storie affascinanti delle donne di Enrico VIII. Oltre i ruoli stereotipati che la storia ha loro attribuito, queste dame più o meno prudenti, più o meno coraggiose, sfortunate o felici, danno il meglio di sé sulla pagina, alle spalle gli intrighi dei cortigiani che promuovevano il loro prestigio o la loro caduta. Sebbene di queste sei donne si conservi molto meno materiale di quanto possa essere stato documentato a proposito del sovrano che le legò a sé, Antonia Fraser cerca comunque di darne un’immagine quanto più veritiera e completa possibile, sulla base delle fonti a nostra disposizione. Non si ferma ai ritratti di superfici, necessari a una storia delle donne che delle donne conosceva solo l’immagine che trovava rispecchiata nell’autore, e arriva con le supposizioni (probabili e ben documentate) laddove solo l’immaginazione ci permette di ricostruire. Conoscere la storia di queste donne, forse, può non sembrare fondamentale a chi necessiti di studiare la storia di quest’epoca, ma forse aiuta molto a comprenderla; e mi spingo persino a dire che capire le condizioni delle donne, studiarle e rimirare donne che non fossero solo oggetto di idealizzazione e lodi (Ché queste non ci permettono affatto di sondare le loro personalità), potrebbero essere fruttuoso proprio per la nostra contemporaneità.
995 reviews
May 18, 2022
Listened via audible.

Read about this author in the Wall Street Journal and decided to read one of her books because they do not typically read like a boring non-fiction book. I totally agree. PLUS, I would love to see the Broadway "Six" one day and now feel sufficiently educated enough to know what is going on (although by the time I see it I will have probably forgotten!!)

Henry VIII is not well remembered by the little history we Americans learn about him (having 6 wives and killing 2 of them) but I think that is unfair. The king may have made final decisions but he was surrounded by A LOT of people who had their own agenda and really could taint the waters and change the tide when it came to their "advice." That sounds like nothing has changed no matter who is in charge.

Anyway, I am so glad I listened to this and gained perspective.
Profile Image for Caroline.
1,236 reviews72 followers
March 12, 2022
4.5 stars! I liked this better than Alison Weir's book. I felt this was easier to read, but it's still a little heavy.
It's split into five parts: about 100 pages each on Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, 60 pages on Jane Seymour, 70 on Anna of Cleves and Katherine Howard, and 60 pages on Catherine Parr. Of course they overlap with each other, but each part tends to focus on each wife and the people around them. There is also a glossy color photo insert for each wife, which I thought was nice.
Overall a very well written book, I definitely recommend it (over The Six Wives of Henry VIII)!
Profile Image for zita.
188 reviews1 follower
July 29, 2021

started this in 2020 ( January 15) and I did not have the time nor energy to read this non-fiction biography but we got through it and learned a lot about the wives of henry viii! I always loved jane seymour and felt strongly for Catherine of aragon but this book made me understand anne boleyn more and learn more about anna of cleaves! yuh
Profile Image for Pam Baddeley.
Author 2 books45 followers
October 3, 2018
Read this massive tome some years ago and unfortunately recall very little about it though I know it would have been a well researched book.
Profile Image for Giorgia Penzo.
Author 12 books251 followers
July 10, 2014
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 maschio legittimo, un re assoluto che per trovare giustificazione ai suoi bisogni - diciamocelo - "se la raccontava".
A un passo da diventare lo zimbello delle teste coronate d'Europa (si dice che la giovane duchessa Cristina di Milano, saputo che Sua Maestà era alla ricerca della quarta moglie, disse che se avesse avuto due teste volentieri una l'avrebbe regalata al re) Enrico VIII è ricordato comunque come un grande sovrano.
Non importa che abbia ripudiato o fatto giustiziare quattro mogli su sei e che uno dei più grandi monarchi che la storia inglese abbia mai avuto sia stata la figlia secondogenita, in barba alle sue speranze di un erede maschio.
In questo libro si parla anche di lui, ma le vere protagoniste sono le donne che hanno contribuito a renderlo una leggenda.
Antonia Fraser ne analizza una alla volta, minuziosamente, intrecciando le loro vite. Per sfortuna, destino o volere di Dio la (loro) storia si è compiuta: non possiamo cambiarla ma solo onorarci di conoscerla, lasciandoci ogni pregiudizio alle spalle.
E, come recitava il motto di Anna Bolena, "Ainsi sera, groigne qui groigne". Così sarà, mormori chi vuole.
Profile Image for Melinda.
1,231 reviews
October 24, 2012
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 birth of Mary.
I felt that Fraser was strictly unbiased in her dissection of each of the wives - instead of hovering under the umbrella of rumors and gossip of the time, she remains disciplined in adhering to what first-hand accounts dictate. In the case of both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, I found that Fraser's interpretations were more empathetic of these misunderstood women, supplementing and explaining the pejorative rumors of the period with plausible reasons for each woman's errors and reactions.
Although not the least surprising, Fraser equally elaborates how difficult a husband Henry VIII was, with his ample insecurities, quick temper and later in life, poor health. Modern chauvinism aside, Henry's austere authority and harsh disposition compelled each of his wives to often fear and worry about her current status as his wife and queen. The overwhelming pressure to bear a male heir cannot be overstated. My overall understanding is much more sound after this illuminating read.
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