What makes a man marry six times? Was Henry VIII a voracious philanderer? On the contrary, says Dr David Starkey, the King was seeking happiness – as well as hoping for a son.
The first of his wives was Catherine of Aragon, the pious Catholic princess who suffered years of miscarriages and still births and yet failed to produce a male heir.
As Henry VIII's interest shifted from her powerful Hapsburg relations and drifted towards France, so began his obsession with the pretty Lutheran Anne Boleyn.
Jane Seymour's submissiveness was in contrast to Anne's vampish style – and Henry married her on the day of Anne's execution. Jane died soon after giving birth to the longed-for son.
There followed a farcical 'beauty contest' which ended in the short marriage of the now grossly overweight Henry to 'the mare of Flanders', Anne of Cleves.
The final part of Six Wives contrasts the two Catherines – Catherine Howard, the flirty child whose adulteries made a fool of the ageing King, and Catherine Parr, the shrewd, religiously radical bluestocking.
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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 BrottonReview:
Praise for Elizabeth
‘The best account in English of the early years of Elizabeth… must be one of the most zestful pieces of history written in the last few years… The result is a racy read and first rate history.’ Evening Standard
‘Both thrills and convinces… Indeed this is very much Elizabeth for our times’ Independent
‘Fresh and lively… vividly told… He sets before us not only the woman behind the throne but the girl behind the woman’ Sunday Times
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