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The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir - PDF EPUB Download Link

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir: A Book Review


Henry VIII is one of the most famous and controversial kings in English history. He ruled from 1509 to 1547, during a period of religious, political, and social upheaval. He is best known for his six marriages, which were motivated by his desire for a male heir, his personal passions, and his political ambitions. His wives were Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr.

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Alison Weir is a British writer of history books and historical fiction. She has written extensively about the Tudor dynasty, which includes Henry VIII and his children. She published her first historical work, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, in 1991. It is an account of Henry's marriages based on early biographies, letters, memoirs, account books, and diplomatic reports. She aims to bring these women to life and to show how they influenced Henry and his reign.

The main argument of the book is that Henry's wives were not passive victims or pawns in his schemes, but active agents who had their own personalities, motives, and agendas. They were extraordinary women who faced extraordinary challenges and made extraordinary choices. The book is divided into three sections: "Catherine of Aragon", "The Great Matter", and "How Many Wives Will He Have?" Each section covers two or three wives and their relationship with Henry.

Summary and analysis of each section

Catherine of Aragon: The True Queen

Her early life and marriage to Arthur

Catherine of Aragon was born in 1485 in Spain. She was the daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, who united Spain under their rule. She was a devout Catholic and a well-educated princess. She was betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales, when she was three years old. They married in 1501 when she was 15 and he was 14. They lived in Ludlow Castle in Wales for a few months until Arthur died of a mysterious illness in 1502.

Her widowhood and marriage to Henry

Catherine claimed that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated, which meant that she could marry his younger brother Henry without breaking the church law that forbade marrying a brother's widow. However, this required a papal dispensation, which was granted by Pope Julius II in 1503. Catherine waited for seven years until Henry became king in 1509 and married her shortly after his coronation. She was 23 and he was 18. They were initially happy and in love, and Catherine proved to be a loyal, supportive, and influential queen.

Her struggle to bear a son and her divorce

Catherine's main duty as queen was to produce a male heir for Henry. However, this proved to be difficult and tragic. She had six pregnancies, but only one child survived: a daughter named Mary, born in 1516. Henry became increasingly frustrated and desperate for a son, and he blamed Catherine for their failure. He also became infatuated with Anne Boleyn, one of Catherine's ladies-in-waiting, who refused to become his mistress and demanded marriage. Henry decided to divorce Catherine on the grounds that their marriage was invalid because of her previous marriage to Arthur. He asked Pope Clement VII to annul their marriage, but the pope refused, partly because he was under the influence of Catherine's nephew, Emperor Charles V of Spain. Henry then broke with Rome and declared himself the supreme head of the Church of England. He married Anne Boleyn in 1533 and had Catherine banished from court. She spent the last years of her life in isolation and poverty, refusing to accept the annulment and maintaining that she was Henry's true wife and queen. She died in 1536 at the age of 50.

The Great Matter: The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn

Her background and courtship with Henry

Anne Boleyn was born around 1501 in England. She was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, a diplomat and courtier, and Elizabeth Howard, a noblewoman. She spent part of her childhood in France, where she learned French culture and fashion. She returned to England in 1522 and became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine. She caught the eye of Henry VIII, who was attracted by her wit, charm, intelligence, and beauty. He began to pursue her in 1526, but she resisted his advances and insisted on marriage. She hoped to become queen and to reform the church along Protestant lines.

Her role in the Reformation and the break with Rome

Anne Boleyn played a key role in the English Reformation, which was the process by which England separated from the Catholic Church and established its own national church. She encouraged Henry to read books by Martin Luther and other reformers, who challenged the authority and doctrines of the pope. She also supported Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell, who were Henry's chief ministers and architects of the break with Rome. She influenced Henry to appoint Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury, who granted him the annulment from Catherine in 1533. She also influenced Henry to pass the Act of Supremacy in 1534, which declared him the supreme head of the Church of England.

Her downfall and execution

Anne Boleyn failed to fulfill Henry's expectations of giving him a son. She had one daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1533, but she suffered two miscarriages afterwards. Henry became disillusioned with her and began to look for a way to get rid of her. He also faced opposition from those who supported Catherine and Mary, and those who opposed the religious changes he had made. Anne made enemies at court by her arrogance, ambition, and interference in political affairs. In 1536, she was accused of adultery, incest, witchcraft, and treason by a faction led by Cromwell, who wanted to replace her with Jane Seymour, another lady-in-waiting who had caught Henry's eye. Anne was arrested and tried by a kangaroo court that included her own uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. She was found guilty and sentenced to death. She was beheaded on Tower Green on May 19, 1536. She was 35 years old.

How Many Wives Will He Have? The Rest of Henry's Marriages

Jane Seymour: The Perfect Wife

and he was 45. She was the only wife of Henry who was never crowned, because she was pregnant at the time of their marriage.

Jane fulfilled Henry's wish of giving him a son, Edward, who was born on October 12, 1537. She was also a peacemaker at court and in the kingdom. She reconciled Henry with his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and persuaded him to restore them to the line of succession. She also tried to ease the religious tensions caused by the Reformation and to protect the interests of the poor and needy. She was widely respected and loved by the people, who called her "the gentle Lady Jane".

Jane died on October 24, 1537, twelve days after giving birth to Edward. She suffered from puerperal fever, a bacterial infection that was common and often fatal in the 16th century. She was 29 years old. Henry was devastated by her death and wore black for three months. He called her "his true and loving wife" and "the very perfect woman". He buried her in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, and ordered that he would be buried next to her when he died.

Anne of Cleves: The Flanders Mare

Anne of Cleves was born in 1515 in Germany. She was the daughter of John III, Duke of Cleves, and Maria of Jülich-Berg. She was a German princess and a Lutheran. She received a basic education and learned domestic skills, but she did not speak English or French. She was betrothed to Francis I, Duke of Lorraine, but the marriage was cancelled in 1535.

Anne became Henry's fourth wife as a result of a political alliance between England and the Protestant states of Germany. Henry needed a new wife after Jane's death and a new ally after his break with Rome. He agreed to marry Anne based on a flattering portrait painted by Hans Holbein the Younger and the recommendation of his chief minister Thomas Cromwell. However, when he met her in person in January 1540, he was disappointed by her appearance and manners. He famously called her "the Flanders Mare" and tried to get out of the marriage. He could not do so without risking a war with Germany, so he married her on January 6, 1540. He did not consummate the marriage and sought an annulment as soon as possible.

Anne cooperated with Henry's request for an annulment, which was granted on July 9, 1540 on the grounds of non-consummation and her previous betrothal to Francis of Lorraine. She accepted the title of "the King's sister" and received a generous settlement that included Richmond Palace and Hever Castle. She remained in England for the rest of her life and became friends with Henry and his children. She outlived Henry and all his other wives. She died in 1557 at the age of 41.

Catherine Howard: The Rose Without a Thorn

Catherine Howard was born around 1523 in England. She was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper. She was also the first cousin of Anne Boleyn and the niece of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. She was a member of one of the most powerful families in England, but she grew up in poverty and neglect. She received little education and no moral guidance. She lived with her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, who ran a large and disorderly household.

Catherine became a lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves in 1539. She caught Henry's attention with her youth, beauty, vivacity, and charm. He fell in love with her and called her "his rose without a thorn". He married her on July 28, 1540, the same day he divorced Anne of Cleves. He was 49 and she was about 17. She was crowned queen on February 8, 1541.

Catherine enjoyed being queen and having Henry's affection, but she also had a secret past that soon caught up with her. Before she married Henry, she had affairs with two men: Henry Manox, her music teacher, and Francis Dereham, her grandmother's secretary. She also had an affair with Thomas Culpeper, a courtier and Henry's favorite, after she married Henry. These affairs were discovered by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who informed Henry in November 1541. Henry was shocked and heartbroken by the news and ordered an investigation. Catherine was arrested and confined in Syon Abbey. She was stripped of her title and accused of adultery, treason, and incest (because Dereham had called her his wife). She was executed on Tower Green on February 13, 1542. She was about 19 years old.

Catherine Parr: The Survivor

Catherine Parr was born in 1512 in England. She was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr and Maud Green. She was a well-educated and cultured lady, who knew Latin, French, and Italian. She was also a devout and reformist Christian, who had a keen interest in theology and religious books. She was married four times: to Edward Borough (died 1529), to John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer (died 1543), to Henry VIII (1543-1547), and to Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley (1547-1548).

Catherine became Henry's sixth and last wife on July 12, 1543. She was 31 and he was 52. She had been widowed twice and had no children. She married Henry out of duty rather than love, as she had been in love with Thomas Seymour, the brother of Jane Seymour. She was the first English queen to have been married more than once before marrying the king. She was also the most married English queen, with four husbands in total.

Catherine was a good stepmother to Henry's three children: Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward. She helped them to reconcile with their father and to secure their place in the line of succession. She also acted as regent in 1544 when Henry was away on a military campaign in France. She was an influential patron of the arts, education, and religion. She published two books: Prayers or Meditations (1545) and The Lamentation of a Sinner (1547). She supported the Protestant Reformation and the English Bible, but she also tried to moderate the religious extremes and persecutions that occurred under Henry's rule.

Catherine's religious views almost cost her her life in 1546, when a conservative faction led by Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and Thomas Wriothesley, Lord Chancellor, tried to arrest her for heresy. They hoped to use her as a way to attack Henry's religious policies and his chief minister Thomas Cranmer. However, Henry found out about their plot and protected Catherine from harm. He called her "a woman of great wit and learning" and "very well able to answer such obstinate papists". He also said that he loved her best of all his wives.

Catherine survived Henry, who died on January 28, 1547. She was the only one of his wives to be widowed rather than divorced or executed. She received a generous dowry from Henry's will and kept the title of queen dowager. She married Thomas Seymour in secret shortly after Henry's death, but their marriage was unhappy and marred by Seymour's ambition and infidelity. She became pregnant for the first time at age 35, but she died shortly after giving birth to a daughter, Mary Seymour, on September 5, 1548. She was 36 years old.


What are the main strengths and weaknesses of the book?

The main strength of the book is that it provides a detailed and balanced account of Henry VIII's six wives, based on primary sources and historical research. It shows their personalities, backgrounds, motivations, actions, and impacts on Henry and his reign. It also gives a vivid picture of the Tudor court and society, with its intrigues, scandals, dramas, reforms, wars, and executions.

The main weakness of the book is that it sometimes relies too much on speculation and interpretation rather than facts and evidence. It also tends to be biased in favor of some wives over others, especially Jane Seymour over Anne Boleyn. It also does not explore enough the wider context and consequences of Henry's marriages for England and Europe.

What are the main contributions and implications of the book?

England and the rest of the world.

The main implication of the book is that it shows how Henry VIII's six wives were not only his personal partners, but also his political actors and religious agents. They were involved in some of the most important events and changes in English history, such as the break with Rome, the Reformation, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the succession crisis, and the establishment of the Tudor dynasty. They also influenced the lives and fates of many other people, such as their families, friends, enemies, rivals, and subjects.

What are some alternative or complementary sources on the topic?

Some alternative or complementary sources on the topic are:

  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser (1992), which focuses more on the social and cultural aspects of Henry's marriages and less on the political and religious ones.

  • The Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey (2003), which offers a more critical and revisionist view of Henry's wives and challenges some of Weir's interpretations.

  • Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Loades (2007), which provides a concise and accessible introduction to Henry's wives and their roles in history.

  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir (2007), which is a TV series based on Weir's book that dramatizes the lives and deaths of Henry's wives.


  • Why did Henry VIII have six wives?

Henry VIII had six wives because he wanted a male heir to secure his dynasty, he was driven by his personal passions and preferences, and he was influenced by his political and religious ambitions.

  • Who was Henry VIII's favorite wife?

Henry VIII's favorite wife was Jane Seymour, who gave him his only son Edward VI. He called her "his true and loving wife" and "the very perfect woman". He also chose to be buried next to her when he died.

  • Who was Henry VIII's least favorite wife?

Henry VIII's least favorite wife was Anne of Cleves, whom he married for political reasons but found unattractive and incompatible. He called her "the Flanders Mare" and divorced her after six months.

  • Who was Henry VIII's longest-lasting wife?

Henry VIII's longest-lasting wife was Catherine of Aragon, whom he married for 24 years from 1509 to 1533. She was also his first wife and his brother's widow.

  • Who was Henry VIII's shortest-lasting wife?

Henry VIII's shortest-lasting wife was Catherine Howard, whom he married for 19 months from 1540 to 1542. She was also his fifth wife and his cousin's granddaughter.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article on Alison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII. If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know. Thank you for your attention. 71b2f0854b


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