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Book Review - The Wives of Henry VIII as told by Antonia Fraser (1992)

By Edited Dec 5, 2014 0 0


King Henry VIII

                                                                        King Henry VIII

Henry VIII's was married to Catherine of Aragon for 24 years. He married Catherine for love but became disenchanted when Catherine was unable to produce a male heir to the throne of England to insure the continued reign of the Tudor dynasty. Catherine did have one child, a girl named Mary, but the prize of a male heir seemed out of reach. The King appeared to be tiring of Catherine who was six years older than he.

 The couple initially had to get a dispensation from the Catholic Church in order to marry since Catherine had been married previously to the groom's brother. This took some time, but was eventually accomplished. Henry sought the aid of his counsel Cardinal Wolsey who was unaware at the time that his King had become smitten by the beauty of Anne Boleyn who was young and in good health and could most likely produce the heir that he hoped for. However, Anne Boleyn also gave birth to a female heir, Elizabeth, who became Queen Elizabeth I. The  illicit marriage to Anne Boleyn was the beginning of the separation of England from the Roman Catholic Church that would not recognize a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Henry VIII pronounced himself the head of the Anglican Church which still flourishes in England today.


Logo of Church of England

 The monarch learned that his wife Anne Boleyn was carrying on secret affairs, which gave him a reason to get rid of her also. She had several miscarriages and never produced a male heir. Her husband had her beheaded for her wrongdoing.

Jane Seymour had been a lady-in-waiting for both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, and thus had the run of the palace freely. The King married for a third time and became the father of his only legitimate male heir, who would be crowned King Edward VI. Before the monarch  had married Catherine of Aragon, he had produced an illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, who of course could not ascend the throne of England. Unfortunately, Jane Seymour contracted childbed fever and died twelve days following the birth of her son.

The advisors felt that the ruler needed a wife to aid him in his duties as King, and suggested that he should court Anna of Cleves. The prospective bridegroom was not attracted to her since she was not a great beauty. He agreed to the marriage which lasted for six months, but was probably not consummated. Anna received an annulment as well as a huge settlement. She and her ex-husband remained friends for their entire life.

When Anna was the Queen, she had a beautiful lady-in-waiting, Katherine Howard, who was a first cousin of Anne Boleyn. Henry sought her out and presented her with many gifts, and convinced her to marry him. By this time, he had become extremely obese and had a cruel temperament. It was often said that he loved Katherine Howard more than any of his other wives. Regrettably, Queen Katherine too was unfaithful to her elderly husband, and eventually met the same fate as her cousin Anne Boleyn. Katherine was beheaded for treason.                       


Anne Boleyn

                                                                              Anne Boleyn

The last of King Henry VIII’s wives was Catherine Parr. Once again, the advisors were quick to insist on a favorable public picture of the monarch, and persuaded him that Catherine would make an excellent wife. She was a widow and was undoubtedly the most learned and educated of his wives. She had no children of her own, and was the only wife of the King to outlive him. After his death, Catherine married an old friend, Thomas Seymour, who was the brother of Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour.

Antonia Fraser produced as fascinating picture of English court life in the sixteenth century. Her work possibly would appeal more to those who love to hear the “backstairs” stories of the rich and famous. Serious researchers might seek secondary sources for the facts that the author presents in a sometimes titillating manner. I, for one, enjoyed the story immensely.

The Wives of Henry VIII
Amazon Price: $17.05 Buy Now
(price as of Dec 5, 2014)
Intriguing tale of England's most well-known male monarch.


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