It is definitely not an overstatement, when I say that ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ by Alison Weir made a momentous impact upon my life. I know that this does sound a little soppy – cringeworthy in fact! – and appears incredibly dramatic… yet it’s 100% true I’m afraid! After years of reading and re-reading this book, I have developed an immense appreciation for both its author and its subject. I would even go so far as to class ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ by Alison Weir, as my all time favourite book!
(Ok, so I’m going way too far with the soppiness now I know. I’ll try to reign the soppiness in from now on, I promise)…
For those of you who have read my introductory article on The Past Presents, as well as my post on Showtime’s TV drama ‘The Tudors’, you may already be aware as to why I adore this book so much. To put it simply, ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ by Alison Weir not only cemented my obsession for the Tudor period; it also sealed once-and-for-all my fascination with history. It is because of this book that I began this blog. It is because of this book that I have made it my lifelong ambition to become a public historian. Now do you see why I crow on about this book so much?
Rewind back to my teenage years, to the time when I was absolutely transfixed with the series called ‘The Tudors’, and idolised the depictions of Henry VIII’s six wives. Everyone has heard of that infamous rhyme: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”, which never failed to intrigue me ever since my primary school days. Yet here was that rhyme being played out before my eyes, with all the romance, tragedy and gore sandwiched in-between. I was utterly hooked, so naturally I just had to discover more about the lives of these great women. Before I could even say ‘Tudor’, I found myself doing what everyone should do after watching a period drama, and I, – (drumroll please…) – picked up a history book! Yay!
Instantly I applauded Alison’s biography on Henry’s six queens, mainly because she ensured that Henry’s larger-than-life character NEVER dominated the story of the women. Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Kathryn Howard and Katherine Parr, all took centre stage at some point within the book, no matter how long they reigned for or how influential they became. Each queen is followed from the day of their births, right up to their deaths. This not only gives readers a full and vivid insight into these women’s lives. It is also an opportunity to grasp just how ambitious, romantic, tragic, headstrong, flawed, courageous and admirable each of Henry’s six wives were – (all for differing reasons of course)!
‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ reads just as beautifully and as easily as a novel. Alison’s obvious passion, sympathy and respect for these historical heroines leaps off every page. It is not difficult to believe that the original draft for this book exceeded 1000 pages! I struggle to see how Alison trimmed it down, considering that this biography is crowded with historical facts and small insightful details. There is no denying that the research which Alison undertook in order to create this book, is extensive, relevant and highly commendable. She manages to convey mountains of compelling information, without detracting from the entertaining aspect of her book Now that is a talent, which I’m sure every public historian aspires to achieve!
Readers of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ may quickly realise that some of Alison’s facts are outdated. Sure enough, some of her later works actually contradict some of the findings which she published within this book! It has to be given to Alison Weir that she does recognise this, and she has temped her readers for years with the promise that she will publish an updated version of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’. Sadly, we are still desperately waiting for the release of this longed-for book. Hopefully it will arrive on our bookshelves very soon, as I’m positive that it would be just as readable and just as informative as the last.
Don’t let this development put you off reading this book though! Ok so it is behind the times, but it is still an utterly compelling, informative, entertaining and moving read. I’m sure many Tudor-fans will agree with me, when I say that ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ largely contains historical accuracies throughout? It still provides its readers with many authentic, exact and riveting glimpses into the dazzling Tudor world.
If anything, this book and its author should be praised for highlighting just how much the tale of Henry VIII’s six wives has transformed over recent years. By reading it, you can see for yourselves how our perceptions and knowledge of the past are forever changing. It proves that we should never take for granted what we THINK we know about the past – even for a period as well known as the Tudors!
Therefore I can only encourage you all to read ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ by Alison Weir, even if you regard the Tudors as overrated or believe that non-fiction is not your cup of tea. Just give it a go! You never know, you may discover for yourselves why this book helped to spark my infatuation with the past? It is certainly a must-have-book for all Tudor-lovers, as well as an inspiration to all budding historians out there. Maybe this incredible book, which focuses on the lives of six inspirational women, will make a massive impact upon your lives too..?
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