Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Six Wives of Henry VIII

The Six Wives of Henry VIII, by Alison Weir
$10.20 at Bn.com ISBN: 0802136834
Early in his reign, Henry was given awards by the pope as defender of the Catholic Church. By the end, he left the church fragmented forever. This fun book, however, barely concerns Henry at all. Instead it focuses on the women in his life, who married him often to their detriment. It offers a refreshing look at women in the high Middle Ages, so that it's not all international politics. Their personalities all come through loud and clear. My mom and I read this one together: she's into historical romance novels so this was a good choice for both of us, with lots to discuss.
Catherine of Aragon is the wife who started it all. After years of marriage she had not conceived a son, and Henry fell in love with the girl who would become his second wife, Anne Boelyn. Eager to divorce Catherine, Henry needed permission from the Pope. His holiness was somewhat reluctant, since Catherine's cousin was the emperor of Germany, so Henry tried to find another way, which he did by forming the Church of England. Catherine dedicates her life to restoring her throne and honor.
In later years, Henry becomes more ego maniacal. Two of his six wives are beheaded for alleged "infidelity and treason". One dies giving birth, one survives him and my favorite, Anne of Cleeves, willingly gives Henry the divorce he desires. She gets the medieval version of alimony, gets to keep her head and live in relative freedom and opulence in exchange for her cooperation. Who could blame her? In short, the book features the full range of female stereotypes, and the male lead who starts as Prince Charming and ends as a bloated monster.
As sexy and violent as any soap opera, the story of the Tudor family is now being made into a mini-series on HBO. Read about them now and impress your friends with your knowledge when the show comes out. Weir is a terrific story teller, and keeps the dry, scholarly element of history at bay to produce a work that reads like a novel.

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