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.

NB: I also posted this review at my Book Addiction blog.


Matterhorn said...

Thank you for this review, Viola. I have not read the book, so cannot comment on it, but I find it hard to believe Catherine would have lied. Surely if she had, she would have been tormented by guilt, being so religious? Yet in her last letter and elsewhere she seems to have an inner serenity that strikes me as coming from a clear conscience.

Viola said...

Thank you very much for your comment, Matterhorn. I am also reading Henry: Virtuous Prince by Starkey and he seems convinced that Catherine and Arthur consummated the marriage. It's Starkey's opinion, not mine.

I am keeping an open mind. There is plenty of evidence on Catherine's side as well. Arthur was only 15 and probably quite innocent. Also, his famous remark about Spain could have just been the bragging of a teenage boy.

As you say, Catherine did have every indication of having a clear conscience.

Sometimes Starkey takes the easy way out, I think. He was easily convinced of Richard III's guilt, I thought.

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