The wives of Henry VIII
The wives of Henry VIII have come down to us through history narrowly defined by the roles they played in the larger story of the King's life, and most commonly remembered for the manner in which each did - or did not - survive marriage to him. Now, in this richly dramatic and singularly illuminating study, Antonia Fraser uncovers the complex and fascinating individuals whose true characters have been shrouded for centuries by stereotype and legend. In a sweeping narrative and with her own enthralling amalgam of meticulous scholarship and the lively play of ideas, Fraser makes clear the remarkably high level of strength and intelligence displayed by these six women at a time when their sex traditionally possessed little of either. She brings to light, for example: the tenacious self-possession displayed by Catherine of Aragon when, toward the end of her twenty-four-year marriage, she met the King's demands for a divorce with steadfast refusal . . . Anne Boleyn's 'curiously modern' independence of mind - initially dazzling to the King (and shocking to most everyone else), but ultimately the cause of her gruesome demise . . . the circumspect wisdom that allowed Jane Seymour to emerge as an object of universal welcome and lasting admiration in a year that saw two other queens as well ... the touching dignity of Anna of Cleves - dubbed 'The Flanders Mare' by an insensitive court - during her bewilderingly short and demeaning tenure as consort . . . the naivete of Katherine Howard - not yet twenty when the King turned his eye toward her - whose indiscretions were more nearly the result of innocence than deviousness . . . the surprisingly subversive side of the otherwise submissive CatherineParr, one of only eight women whose writings were published during the sixty years of the first two Tudor reigns. The author traces the ascent and decline of each woman - and the linkages between them - delineating the cultural, familial, and political roots of the behavior and incidents that marked each of their reigns. She makes clear the complex moral and cultural life of the court; the international jockeying and warring for power and empire and the web of aristocratic alliances and enmities that fueled its politics; the impact of the onset of the Protestant Reformation on the court in general and on its principal denizens in particular. We see the effect each queen had on the workings of the court and on the King at its center. And we see, finally, the extent to which the fate of each woman was decided by the King's volatile - often surprisingly romantic - nature, and by his absolute, unwavering preoccupation with a male heir. Written with all the intelligence, humor, and elan, as well as the exceptional powers of research and synthesis, that we have come to expect from Antonia Fraser, The Wives of Henry VIII is a superb work of history through which these six remarkable women become, at last, as memorable for their own achievements - and mistakes - as they have always been for their fateful link to Henry VIII.