Cover image for Six wives : the queens of Henry VIII
Six wives : the queens of Henry VIII
Starkey, David.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : HarperCollins Publishers, [2003]

Physical Description:
xxvii, 852 pages : color illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DA333.A2 S73 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
DA333.A2 S73 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
DA333.A2 S73 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
DA333.A2 S73 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
DA333.A2 S73 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
DA333.A2 S73 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
DA333.A2 S73 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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No one in history had a more eventful career in matrimony than Henry VIII. His marriages were daring and tumultuous, and made instant legends of six very different women. What could make him marry six times? In this remarkable new study, David Starkey argues that the king was not a depraved philanderer, but someone seeking happiness -- and a son. Knowingly or not, he empowered a group of women to extraordinary heights and changed the way a nation was governed.

Henry took his first bride, Catherine of Aragon, when he was seventeen. They lasted twenty-four years together, but Catherine suffered through many miscarriages and failed to produce a male heir. Henry then fell in love with Anne Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth I. Their relationship transformed England forever, but Henry had Anne beheaded and married his next wife, Jane Seymour, on the very day of Anne's execution. At last, Seymour gave birth to Henry's longed-for son, Edward VI. What followed was a farcical beauty contest which ended in the King's brief marriage to the "mare of Flanders," Anne of Cleves. Finally, there were the two Catherines: Catherine Howard, the flirtatious teenager whose adulteries made a fool of the aging king and who was the second bride to lose her head; and Catherine Parr, the shrewd, religiously radical bluestocking who outlived him.

Six Wives is a masterful work of history that intimately examines the rituals of diplomacy, marriage, pregnancy and religion that were part of daily life for women at the Tudor Court. Weaving new facts and fresh interpretations into a spellbinding account of the emotional drama surrounding Henry's six marriages, David Starkey reveals the central role that the queens played in determining policy. With an equally keen eye for romantic and political intrigue, he brilliantly recaptures the story of Henry's wives and the England they ruled.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived: these are the fates of the six wives of England's king Henry VIII, as taught to British schoolchildren in the form of a rhyme. It is a perennially popular story for history buffs: how the great Tudor king sought a male heir and went to such extremes as establishing his own state religion to ensure the success of his marital plans. But Starkey's account is no rehash; his take on Henry's reign, most specifically Great Harry's sequence of consorts--a turning point in English history second only to the Norman conquest --is based on heretofore un- or at least under-investigated documentary evidence. He has new things to say about Henry's queens, especially the first and longest in tenure, Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Spain's king Ferdinand and queen Isabella (their divorce began the whole Church of England business), and the last, Catherine Parr, a noblewoman usually relegated to the status of the least politically important of the half-dozen spouses but here elevated to one of the most substantial. Detail is profuse but luscious; truly, this is history made as fluent and compelling as excellent fiction. --Brad Hooper Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

The author of Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne turns his attention to the matrimonial saga of Henry VIII. Antonia Fraser and Alison Weir covered much the same ground in the early 1990s. While they expressed particular interest in 16th-century women and marriage, Starkey dwells at greater length on political and religious subtleties, and develops an imposing cast of supporting characters. The bulk of the book inevitably deals with Henry's first two wives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Accounts of the remaining queens are fleshed out nicely to suggest their personalities, their place in the family networks and religious currents at court and the overall patterns of the king's infatuations and disillusionments. Mildly railing at historians who have not reached the same conclusions as he, Starkey claims to counter old stereotypes about his main characters, but cheerfully repeats those of other figures and nations, including Catherine of Aragon's "machiavellian" father and "the Spanish talent for turning sadism into spectacle." His tendency to modernize personalities gives Anne Boleyn more autonomy than seems plausible, making her the major formulator of policy in Henry's first divorce. Our understanding of Henry's rejection of Anne of Cleves, however, benefits from modern willingness to examine whether the king's inability to consummate the marriage led to the break. Caught between scholarly work and storytelling, the book gives us high drama at a languid pace, with overwhelming detail often slowing the narrative. For readers who are not put off, this is a strong, entertaining and occasionally audacious interpretation. An associated PBS series in July may make this book a popular buy. 16 pages of color photos not seen by PW. (July 10) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In 16th-century Europe, monarchies primarily viewed marriages as political alliances. According to Starkey (Bye Fellow, Fitzwilliam Coll., Cambridge; Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne), Henry VIII's views could only be seen then as "curiously modern," as marriage was simply for his own pleasure. Much has already been written about that king's prodigious appetites; however, Starkey focuses more closely on each of Henry's wives, ably interpreting these six different women and their suffering. The majority of the book covers Henry's first two wives, Catharine of Aragon (his longest relationship by far) and Anne Boleyn, while Starkey constantly challenges long-held assumptions about his wives throughout. He contends, for example, that far from being saintly, Catharine of Aragon was actively involved in the brief war against France, and that demure Jane Seymour (No. 3) may have been much more worldly and wise than previously thought. Despite Henry's fickleness in love, showering Catharine Howard (No. 5) with jewels one day and then executing her shortly after, his roving eye would have profound consequences for the political and religious future of England. The rituals and ceremony of marriage and the legal wrangling during Henry's first divorce are also covered. Solidly researched and delightfully told, this is highly recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/02; Starkey narrated the PBS documentary of the same name in July.-Ed.]-Isabel Coates, CCRA-Toronto West Tax Office, Mississauga, Ont. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Six Wives The Queens of Henry VIII Chapter One Parents: a power couple Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, was born on 16 December 1485. Her mother, the warrior-queen Isabella of Castile, had spent most of her pregnancy on campaign against the Moors (as the still-independent Islamic inhabitants of the southern part of Spain were known), rather than in ladylike retirement. Only after her capture of Ronda did she withdraw from the front, first to Cordoba and then to Alacala de Henares to the northeast of Madrid, where the child was born. The baby was named after Catherine, her mother's English grandmother, who was the daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. She took after the English royal house as well, with reddish golden hair, a fair skin and bright blue eyes. The Englishness of her name and appearance proved prophetic. After a happy, secure childhood, Catherine's life was to become a series of struggles: to get married, to have a child and, above all, to protect her marriage and her child against her husband's determination to annul the one and bastardise the other. And the scene of these struggles was England. Catherine's parents, Ferdinand and Isabella, were the most remarkable royal couple of the age. They were both sovereigns in their own right: Isabella of Castile, Ferdinand of Aragon. Castile formed the larger, western part of what we now call Spain, stretching from the Bay of Biscay in the north to the marches of the Islamic kingdom of Granada to the south. It was a country of torrid, sunburned mountains and castles and high plains roamed by vast flocks of sheep. The territories of Aragon lay to the east. They were smaller, but richer and greener, encompassing the foothills of the Pyrenees, the fertile valleys of the Mediterranean coast and the great trading city of Barcelona. The traditions of the two kingdoms were as distinct as their landscapes. Castile was insular, aristocratic and obsessed with the crusade against the Moors in which lay its origin and continuing raison d'être. Aragon, in contrast, was an open, mercantile society: it looked north, across the Pyrenees towards France, and east, across the Mediterranean towards Italy. To a striking extent, the two sovereigns embodied the different characteristics of their realms. Isabella was intense, single-minded and ardently Catholic, while Ferdinand was a devious and subtle schemer. But he was much more: a fine soldier, who won more battles, both in person and by his generals, than any other contemporary ruler; a strategist, with a vision that was European in scale and grandeur; and a realist, who had the wit not to let his numerous successes go to his head. Understandably, Machiavelli worshipped him as the most successful contemporary practitioner of the sort of power politics he himself recommended: 'From being a weak king he has become the most famous and glorious king in Christendom. And if his achievements are examined, they will all be found to be very remarkable, and some of them quite extraordinary.' Catherine manifestly took after her mother. But, I shall also argue, there was more in her of her father's qualities, both for good and bad, than has been commonly realized. Neither Castile nor Aragon had belonged to the front rank of medieval powers. And their standing was diminished further by a particularly bad case of the disputed successions and civil wars which afflicted most European monarchies in the fifteenth century. In both countries, under-mighty kings had bred overmighty subjects and the two royal houses had fissured into a tragi-comedy of divisions: brother was pitted against brother and father against son. Only the royal women seemed strong, leading armies and dominating their feeble husbands. It was a Darwinian world, and none but the fittest, like Ferdinand and Isabella, survived. They married in 1469, he aged seventeen, she a year or so older. Immediately Isabella was disinherited by her brother, Henry IV of Castile, in favour of his doubtfully legitimate daughter, Joanna. After the death of Henry IV in 1474, a civil war broke out between niece and aunt. This resulted in Isabella's victory and proclamation as Queen of Castile, and Joanna's retreat into a nunnery. Five years later, Ferdinand succeeded his father in Aragon. Ferdinand was the son of John II by his second marriage, and only after two deaths, both rumoured to be by poison, was he delivered the throne. Having fought everybody else to a standstill, Ferdinand and Isabella then threatened to come to blows themselves. He was determined to be King indeed in Castile; she was equally resolute to preserve her rights as Queen Regnant. Finally their quarrel was submitted to formal arbitration. This established the principle of co-sovereignty between the two. Justice was executed jointly when they were together and independently if they were apart. Both their heads appeared on the coinage and both their signatures on royal charters, while the seals included the arms of both Castile and Aragon. And these were quartered, as a gesture of equality, rather than Ferdinand's arms of Aragon 'impaling' Isabella's arms of Castile, as was usual between husband and wife. Such power-couple equality was unusual enough in a medieval royal marriage. But, in fact, Isabella was the first among equals since, with the exception of the agreed areas of joint sovereignty, the administration of Castile was reserved to her in her own right. Not surprisingly, Ferdinand jibbed. But he soon submitted and, united, the pair carried all before them. For, despite Ferdinand's four bastards by as many different mothers, he and his wife were genuinely, even passionately, in love. But even in this there was rivalry. 'My Lady,' one of Ferdinand's letters to the Queen begins, 'now it is clear which of us two loves best.' But they were in love with their growing power even more than with each other. Granada, the last stronghold of the Moors in Spain, surrendered in 1492 ... Six Wives The Queens of Henry VIII . Copyright © by David Starkey. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Family Treesp. xii
Introductionp. xv
Henry's Weddingsp. 1
Part 1 Queen Catherine of Aragon
1. Parents: a power couplep. 11
2. Education for powerp. 15
3. Power weddingsp. 18
4. Englandp. 21
5. Negotiationsp. 24
6. Arthurp. 26
7. Preparationsp. 28
8. Delaysp. 31
9. Dogmap. 33
10. The journeyp. 38
11. Arrivalp. 40
12. Meetingp. 44
13. Hubrisp. 48
14. Londonp. 52
15. Wedding and beddingp. 58
16. The morning afterp. 62
17. Nemesisp. 73
18. A new marriage?p. 79
19. Hard timesp. 87
20. Harder timesp. 93
21. Hope and despairp. 99
22. Queenp. 106
23. Honeymoonp. 114
24. A sonp. 120
25. Warp. 123
26. Regentp. 135
27. The breach with Spainp. 149
28. The quest for an heirp. 155
29. On the shelfp. 160
30. Maryp. 164
31. Marrying Maryp. 179
Part 2 Rival Queens
Divorcing Catherine
32. The preliminariesp. 197
33. Trial in secretp. 205
34. Between trialsp. 212
35. The legatep. 221
36. The Briefp. 225
37. Trial in open courtp. 232
38. The aftermathp. 248
Anne Boleyn
39. Beginningsp. 257
40. Debutp. 264
41. Henry in lovep. 278
42. Sole mistressp. 284
43. Henry and Anne: 'Our Matter'p. 285
44. Mistress and Ministerp. 294
45. Anne's envoyp. 304
46. Wolsey reascendantp. 313
47. Co-operation?p. 317
48. Wolsey's triumphp. 325
49. The sweatp. 330
50. Turning pointp. 335
51. Disillusionmentp. 339
52. Wolsey's fallp. 355
53. Injurious remediesp. 367
54. Cranmerp. 384
55. The Royal Supremacyp. 408
56. Wolsey's endp. 421
57. Attacking Catherinep. 433
58. Preliminaries to marriagep. 445
59. Anne's marriagep. 462
60. Archbishopp. 467
61. Divorce Absolutep. 477
62. Coronationp. 489
63. Christeningp. 503
64. Resistancep. 510
65. Hearts and mindsp. 524
66. The death of Catherine of Aragonp. 541
67. Reactionp. 549
68. Fallp. 554
69. The Towerp. 569
Jane Seymour
70. She stoops to conquer?p. 584
Part 3 The Later Queens
71. A Conversationp. 611
Anne of Cleves
72. From Queen to sisterp. 617
Catherine Howard
73. 'Virtuous and good behaviour'?p. 644
74. Interludep. 685
Catherine Parr
75. A courtier's daughterp. 690
76. Queen Catherinep. 711
77. Queen Regentp. 731
78. The testp. 752
Notesp. 766
Indexp. 819