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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Six Wives by David Starkey

This is a clearly written and interesting book in which Starkey attempts to get rid of many misconceptions about Henry VIII's wives. These misconceptions have existed for centuries. Catherine of Aragon has always been regarded as saintly, for example. Although Starkey agrees that she was very religious, he does think that she probably lied about her first marriage. She did spend a long time with Henry's brother, Arthur, who was quite healthy. It is unlikely that the marriage wasn't consummated.

He also writes sympathetically about Katherine Howard. She is usually regarded as a rather stupid tecenager, but Starkey's book shows that she really wasn't stupid. She also had a mind of her own and spoke up for some people whose lives were in danger.

I did think that Starkey got carried away by speculation at times. He writes that Anne Boleyn, for example, had her bed hung with richly embroidered crimson velvet of the 'Bed of Alancon'. He thinks that Anne may have wanted this because she got the Duke of Alancon mixed up with the French duke, Longueville, captured by the English during Henry's war with the French. Catherine had written that she would exchange the coat of the dead King of Scots, killed in the great battle of Flodden, for the Duke. Starkey thinks that Anne may have regarded the relic as a symbol of Catherine's finest hour, and appropriated it for herself. This seemed to me to be rather a stretch. Perhaps Anne just liked the beautiful fabric?

One reviewer wrote that Anne was Starkey's favourite, but I didn't think so. He annoyed me by attributing ulterior motives to her at almost every turn. The passage about the bed was just one example.

He also appeared to dislike Jane Seymour, who didn't seem to have too many qualms about Anne's death. His view of her was more understandable, I thought.

This was not a riveting book. The beginning was a bit dull but Starkey got into his stride when he started writing about Anne Boleyn and the book became more interesting. Most people who like to read about Henry's fascinating wives will enjoy it.

2 comments:

Daphne said...

I have this one but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. It doesn't sound like I'm missing anything too riveting!

Viola said...

Thank you for commenting, Daphne. I am reading another book by Starkey, but I'm just not especially keen on his style of writing. I certainly like his subjects, though!