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The Wives of Henry VIII

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  16,796 ratings  ·  404 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
Paperback, 482 pages
Published December 7th 1993 by Penguin Canada (first published 1992)
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Average rating 4.13  · 
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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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jul 05, 2014 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 rese
Oct 17, 2010 rated it it was ok
"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
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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 ...more
Alice Poon
Jun 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Loved everything about this. For me, Antonia Fraser can do no wrong - at least thus far. I even learned a few new things about the wives, which I didn't think was possible at this point. Highly recommended.
Sep 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Caidyn (he/him/his)
Not a bad one, but definitely for beginners. I felt like this covered all the information that I expected it to and I didn't feel like I learned new things about the women. Fraser sets out to disprove the common stereotypes of them. Catherine of Aragon is the loyal wife. Anne Boleyn was a temptress. Jane Seymour didn't have a chance to be anything but the good wife. Anne of Cleves, in Henry's eyes, was the ugly wife. Katherine Howard's choices made her a bad girl. Catherine Parr was Henry's moth ...more
Alyson Stone
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 o
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
Nancy Oakes
May 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
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's also a good examination of historical events, European court intrigue, the religious situation not only in England but elsewhere
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,
Morgan Plant
Jul 16, 2010 rated it liked it
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.
Pam Baddeley
Oct 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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.
Oct 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
May 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The wives of Henry VIII have come down to us through history narrowly defined by the roles they played in the larger story of the King's life, and most commonly remembered for the manner in which each did - or did not - survive marriage to him. Now, in this richly dramatic and singularly illuminating study, Antonia Fraser uncovers the complex and fascinating individuals whose true characters have been shrouded for centuries by stereotype and legend.
Mar 05, 2011 rated it liked it
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 marked it as to-read
I hated "The Other Boleyn Girl." But I'd love to revisit the era, and this would be a good place to start!
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I kindaaaa read this so I’m counting it
Emerald Dodge
Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
A thorough read, but dry in Antonia Fraser's own specific way. I'd recommend this book to any Tudor era newcomer who wants a non-gossipy introduction to Henry VIII's six wives.
Jul 14, 2010 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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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2017 Reading Chal...: The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser 1 19 Feb 01, 2015 10:33AM  

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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.” 20 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.” 3 likes
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