So the six wives of Henry VIII (Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, and Catherine Parr) have become defined in a popular sense - not so much by their lives as by the way their lives ended. In the same way, their characters are popularly portrayed as female stereotypes: the Betrayed Wife, the Temptress, the Good Woman, the Ugly Sister, the Bad Girl, and, finally, the Mother Figure. But, as Antonia Fraser brilliantly and conclusively proves, they were rich and feisty characters. They may have been victims of Henry's obsession with a male heir, but they were not willing victims. On the contrary, they exhibited remarkable degrees of spirit and defiance, of which women living now might still be proud. They displayed considerable strength and intelligence at a time when their sex supposedly possessed little of either.
Antonia Fraser deals with each woman in turn with sympathy, the sympathy they deserve for having had the unenviable fate of being Henry's wife. Inevitably, there was great rivalry between them - so high were the stakes in the great game of marrying the king of England. There was jealousy too: the desperate jealousy of queens who found themselves abandoned, but also the sexual jealousy of the king who discovered himself betrayed. The story Antonia Fraser tells is romantic and cruel, funny and sad, dramatic and enthralling. This is historical biography at its best.
©1992 Antonia Fraser; © and (P)2002 Orion Publishing Group Ltd.
"An intoxicating mixture of sex, sentiment, and court intrigue...Fraser has the knack...of making history not merely readable but irresistible." (Sunday Times)
This was a fascinating and well written book about King Henry VIII and his wives. It focuses very much on his marriage to Catharine of Aragon, which is natural since their marriage was the longest, and the author shows very obvious sympathy to this queen. It is a detailed account of the family, life, death and aftermath of all of the queens and Henry's heirs. This book is wonderfully paced and read. Highly recommended.
"History Comes Alive"
Well read by Isla Blair. The various personalities of the wives come over well. The political background could have been emphasised more.
This is a very well written and informative book which I would strongly recommend. The fate of many characters in this story is tragic and astonishing.
I also recommend Monarchy by David Starkey which covers the history from the reign of Henry VII to ER2.
"Six of one, and half a dozen of the other..."
A good listening to a familiar tale for those interested in English history. Isla Blair's reading comes across as earnest without being emotional. From a woman's point of view King Henry VIII's odd confusion of ruthlessness and naivety must have been puzzling to say the least. Antonia Fraser's book helps to put this extraordinary and frustrating saga of a great king's personal desire and the dire political necessity of producing a legitimate heir into perspective. Perhaps our most famous and notorious, if not our greatest monarch, would probably be appalled if he knew that history only remembers him and his reign for his six wives! Despite its seven hours of narrative I was sorry that it came to an end when it did. Thoroughly recommended.
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