THE QUEENS OF HENRY V111:Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived: CATHERINE OF ARAGON the Catholic Spanish Princess, who suffered years of miscarriages and still births and yet failed to produce a son...She was the mother of Mary Tudor; ANNE BOLEYN, the pretty, clever, French-educated Protestant with whom Henry Vlll was madly in love.-. for a brief period. She was the mother of Elizabeth I; JANE SEYMOUR the demure and submissive contrast to Anne Boleyn's vampish style. She died soon after giving birth to the longed-for son (Edward VI); ANNE OF CLEVES, 'the Flanders mare': He was horrified because she was so plain and she was appalled because he was so fat...; CATHERINE HOWARD, the flirtatious teenager whose adulteries made a fool of the ageing king; CATHERINE PARR, the shrewd Protestant bluestocking who outlived him.
Chatto & Windus
Publisher and industry reviews
UK Kirkus review
As Starkey points out in his introduction, the story of Henry VIII and his wives has everything: love, violence, death, treachery, betrayal and hunger for power, in quantities that would put a modern soap opera to shame. Although the events in question took place more than 400 years ago, their ramifications have echoed down subsequent centuries of British history, to the extent that there are few Britons alive who are ignorant of at least some of the facets of this extraordinary story. Although the author might come under fire from ardent feminists for his jokey classification - again in the introduction - of the wives into stereotypes such as 'Dim Fat Girl' and 'Sexy Teenager', Starkey does a remarkable job of bringing the women vividly to life while almost rendering Henry himself invisible. Here, the focus is on the wives themselves, their motivation, their social circles and their political and religious leanings. Instead of treating them as toys, to be picked up or discarded according to the King's whims, we gain a very powerful sense of them as people in their own right. As one might expect, the major part - nearly the first 600 pages - of this doorstep of a tome is devoted to the first two marriages: the 20 years Henry spent with Catherine of Aragon, whose saintly demeanour was tempered only by the warrior-like tendencies she had inherited from her parents, Ferdinand and Isabella; and his comparatively brief marriage, after a long courtship, to Anne Boleyn. The implications of the latter, naturally, sent seismic shockwaves throughout not just England, but the whole of Europe and shaped Britain as it is today. Hence it is right that Starkey spends much of his time describing the key players in the religious and political manoeuvrings that took place around this time. He clearly has some admiration for Anne Boleyn's keen intelligence, and his deft penstrokes render her, as in his descriptions of all the other wives, a living, breathing entity. Indeed, although this exhaustive historical work is crammed with reference and detail, Starkey's very readable popular touch makes it a real page-turner. He spends comparatively less time on each of the subsequent four wives, although he manages to imbue Catherine Howard, the penultimate, with a more sympathetically rounded personality than many other historians have achieved, citing her warm-hearted attempts to reconcile his rival daughters, the half-sisters and future Queens, Mary and Elizabeth. A thoroughly enjoyable read: if you buy one history book this year, make it this one! (Kirkus UK)
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