The Six Wives of Henry VIII

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII, Alison Weir recounts the lives of the six women who married Henry VIII. Weir’s absorbing account brings to life what it was like to be a married woman in sixteenth century England. Although the six women Weir examines gained authority through their marriage to Henry, each suffered from the gender disabilities imposed upon all women of that age regardless of social position.

Although she views each woman sympathetically, Weir is not reluctant to make firm judgments about Henry’s wives. Katherine of Aragon is portrayed as a “misguided woman of principle,” Anne Boleyn as an “ambitious adventuress,” Jane Seymour as a “strong-minded matriarch,” Anne of Cleves as eager for independence, Katherine Howard as an “empty-headed wanton,” and Katherine Parr as a “godly matron.” Each of the women had a difficult relationship with Henry; Weir skillfully reveals the ways in which each marriage became a power struggle in which Henry, as a male and as the king, invariably won.

Because these six women were queens, their stories were recorded in unusual detail, and Weir has made good use of the sources to present a detailed picture of their lives. Aimed at the general reader rather than the professional historian, THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII is a compelling narrative of an important aspect of British social history.