Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived CATHERINE OF ARAGON: the pious Spanish Catholic who suffered years of miscarriages and failed to produce a male heir...ANNE BOLEYN: the pretty, clever, French-educated Protestant whose marriage to Henry changed England forever...JANE SEYMOUR: the demure and submissive contrast to Anne Boleyn's radical and vampish style...ANNE OF CLEVES: 'the mare of Flanders' whose short marriage to the overweight Henry followed a farcical 'beauty contest'...CATHERINE HOWARD: the flirtatious teenager whose adulteries made a fool of the ageing king...CATHERINE PARR: the shrewd, religiously radical bluestocking who outlived him...In this dazzling study, David Starkey gives us a richly textured picture of daily life at the Tudor Court from the woman's point of view. Above all, he establishes the interaction of the private and the public, and demonstrates how the Queens of Henry VIII were central in determining political policy.
David Starkey's massive Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII follows on the huge commercial success of Elizabeth. Like its predecessor, Starkey's latest book mixes its author's scholarly erudition with a mischievous eye for a contemporary comparison or salacious soundbite. Starkey's topic is, as he admits from the outset, "one of the world's great stories"--the lives, and deaths, of the six wives of King Henry VIII. The story has been told before, but as Starkey points out, it has been wrapped in the romantic myth of 19th-century historiography.
Starkey's virtue lies in his return to the archives to unearth new evidence for his story of Henry's wives. The result is a weighty blockbuster that will annoy the purists but delight the popular reader. Henry is portrayed as a fairytale prince gradually transformed into a "prematurely aged and bloated monster". Starkey concludes that "like us, he expected marriage to make him happy", but this simple desire had increasingly disastrous consequences.
Henry worked his way through a series of wives from Catherine of Aragon to Catherine Parr who, according to Starkey, encompass "the full range of female stereotypes: the Saint, the Schemer, the Doormat, the Dim Fat Girl, the Sexy Teenager, and the Bluestocking". While this tends to flatten out the complexity of many of Henry's wives, there is plenty on the cataclysmic impact of the Reformation, new evidence on Henry's first wife's marriage to his brother, and a reconsideration of Henry's final wife, Catherine Parr, as "the first Queen of the Age of Print", to keep even the most sceptical reader happy. --Jerry Brotton
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