I was inspired to read Weir's book after completing the Great Courses lecture series "The Age of Henry VIII," which whetted my appetite to better familiarize myself with this fascinating and not infrequently horrifying era in English history. Although I struggled with the slow pacing at times, I've come away feeling now quite knowledgeable about the time, events and people surrounding this 16th-century king.
Inspired at the reading of numerous works of historical fiction, in this case The Boleyn Inheritance by Philipa Gregory to learn more about this queen and, perhaps, to learn about the departures and liberties Gregory took in composing her fictional work a reading of a book such as this work by Alison Weir was in order.
A number of features about this book:
As might be expected of a book such as this, an extensive annotated bibliography is provided.
As well, this book also provides a number of diagrammatic Genealogical diagrams: very useful to determine who is related to whom, especially given the fact that as far as the royals were concerned, they often name their progeny after some illustrious forebear: the same names make frequent reappearances.
There is also a chronology of the time frame covered by this book that runs to four pages.
And as for the book itself. it is no slim pamphlet: it runs to well over 500 pages. After all, it is about Henry’s six wives, none of whom is given short shrift. But some are dealt with at greater length than others. The focus is on Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon. According to Weir she was a faithful wife of great forbearance. Had she only been able to provide Henry with a male heir, then the future well-being of the kingdom might have been assured and, perhaps, the other of Henry’s wives might never have been. But alas, it was not to be.
Instead, history has shown us that Henry became , with age, an unbridled tyrant who kept the executioners busy. Indeed, being Henry’s queen would prove to be a precarious position.
As for author Weir, she styles herself a historian. She has written numerous books of history, all of them focused on British history. She writes what she calls “popular” history --- of a sort that is easily read. But that doesn’t mean you won’t enlarge your collection of terminology. Farthingale, palfrey and uxoriousness were only three terms I’d not encountered before.
And yet, in spite of a few trips to the dictionary for enlightenment, the book flows and holds the reader’s interest --- a great credit to her craft, one she practices with elegance. Scholarly history frequently features a surfeit of obscure terms and presumes that the reader is already versed in the subject under discussion. This is not the case with “The Six Wives…”: it takes you gently by the hand and entertain you while it enlightens. It tells its story and it tells it well.
If you have any interest in British history or this particular time in British history or Henry VIII, or in any of his six wives this book is for you.
And for those daunted at the prospect of reading such a loooong book: by the time you get started and before you are finished you’ll wish it were twice its length. (It’s over 500 pages in the paperback version --- the hardback version, which presumably was of larger print, was over twice that length.
For interest’s sake, Alison Weir has a website at http://alisonweir.org.uk/
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