Posted By Claire on October 26, 2009
This new book on Henry VIII and his six wives was published by Amberley Publishing to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s accesion to the throne and tells the story of Henry VIII from 1504, when he was a Renaissance Prince and second in line to the throne, right through to his death on 28th January 1547.
It is incredible how much Henry VIII packed into his 55 and a half years – 6 wives, numerous mistresses, 3 surviving legitimate children, at least one illegitimate child and many babies who were miscarried, stillborn or who died in infancy, not to mention all of his achievements as King! He had quite a life and David Loades’ book examines the very different relationships Henry had with his six wives and what these women were really like.
I was really looking forward to reading this book because I had enjoyed reading Loades’ book “King Henry VIII: King and Court” and Loades is known as a respected authority on Tudor history. Simon Heffer of “Literary Review” said of this book: “Neither Starkey nor Weir has the assurance and command of Loades” and I think he might just be right! “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” was a joy to read because it was high on content and detail and low on supposition, sweeping statements and judgements. David Loades knowledge of the subject shone through and I would happily recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about the King’s marital relationships and the six women who each made an impact on the King and the country.
So, what does the book cover? Here are the chapter headings with a brief synopsis to give you an idea of what this book covers:-
- Introduction: Dynastic Politics During the Renaissance – A discussion on how royal marriages were political and diplomatic, and how a country’s fortune depended on the fertility of the monarch. This gives you an understanding of why Henry was so obsessed with producing a male heir and how he was so different to other monarch by marrying for love.
- The Renaissance Prince: Henry and Catherine 1504-25 – This chapter follows Henry from second son, through Prince Arthur’s death, his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Arthur’s widow, his accession to the throne, his relationship with Catherine, the couple’s struggles to have children and the birth of Princess Mary, to Henry’s realisation that Catherine could no longer provide him with his longed-for son.
- The King’s “Great Matter”: Catherine and Anne, 1525-33 – An excellent chapter on Henry’s deteriorating relationship with Catherine, his growing love for Anne, his struggles for an annulment from Catherine and his final marriage to Anne Boleyn. I was sceptical that Loades could fit this into one chapter but amazingly he did, and without missing out any key points.
- The Brief Reign of Queen Anne, 1533-6 – This was the chapter that I was really interested in reading because I was desperate to know Loades’ interpretation of Anne Boleyn’s fall. Loades makes the great point that Anne knew how to be a mistress, but not a wife:
“she had won the King by her charm and sexual panache…she only knew one way to hold the King’s attention. It had worked through five hard and frustrating years of courtship, but it was the way of a mistress rather than a wife…Henry was in many respects a very conventional man, and in making his own transition from lover to husband he had failed to appreciate her difficulty.”
This is a great point and explains how things could have soured in Anne and Henry’s relationship. In explaining Anne’s fall, Loades writes: “It was because of the delicacy of the diplomatic situation, and the volatile nature of Henry’s relationship with Anne, that her enemies struck in the way that they did. The King had to be temporarily convinced that she had been guilty of a monstrous and unforgivable betrayal. The very passion which had made their union so politically potent could then be used to destroy it.” This is a great point because in just one sentence it describes how and why Anne’s fall happened. This chapter is fantastic and I have marked passages all over the place and written notes in the margin – always a good sign!
- The Heir provided: Jane Seymour, 1536-7 – Loades examines Henry’s relationship with Jane, the woman herself and why Henry called her his “true wife and chose to be buried alongside her. How could such a “plain and dumpy” woman replace the feisty and sexy Anne? Loades wonders if Jane was “the balm” Henry needed after Anne and whether Henry was attracted to her because she was the opposite of Anne. This chapter also looks at events during the marriage and Jane’s pregnancy, the birth of Edward and Jane’s death.
- Trial and Error: Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard, 1540-1 – 1540, what a year! In this same year, Henry married Anne of Cleves, annulled his marriage to her and then went on to marry the teenage Catherine Howard. Both of these marriages were doomed from the start and Loades manages to explain the significance of these marriages, the events surrounding them, why and how they failed and the impact on the King in just one chapter.
- The Final Haven: Catherine Parr, 1543-7 – I’m so glad that historians are moving away from the old nurse-maid image of Catherine Parr, she was so much more than that and had a major impact on the King and his three children. I loved this chapter because Catherine Parr is often glossed over and it was wonderful to have so much information on her, her background, her relationships with Mary, Elizabeth and Edward and her amazing escape from arrest and probable execution as a heretic. The only issue I had with this chapter was that Loades said “Catherine was not a great scholar”, yet wasn’t Catherine a published author and lover of learning?
This chapter does not end with Henry’s death, it goes on to describe Catherine’s life after Henry up until her own death just a year later.
- Epilogue: The Much-Married King – A great chapter giving Loades concluding thoughts on this “larger than life” King and his six wives. Each marriage had its significance and impact, and Loades gives his theories here. A wonderful conclusion to a great book.
- Notes – A detailed bibliography of sources used by Loades.
- Illustrations – 60 illustrations including portraits, places, letters and stained glass windows.
The Publisher’s Blurb
“The story of Henry VIII and his six wives has passed from history into legend – taught in the cradle as a cautionary tale and remembered in adulthood as an object lesson in the dangers of marrying into royalty. The true story behind the legend, howeverm remains obscure to most people, whose knowledge of the affair begins and ends with the aide memoire “Divorced, executed, died, divorced, executed, survived”.
David Loades’ masterly book recounts the whole sorry tale in detail from Henry’s first marriage to his brother’s widow, to more or less contented old age in the care of the motherly Catherine Parr.”
“The Six Wives of Henry VIII” was published in paperback by Amberley Publishing in August 2009 and is available to buy now at Amazon UK – click here, Amazon US – click here, and other bookshops or online book retailers.