Sunday, July 31, 2011

July Book Report: The Wives of Henry VIII

On the (long ago) recommendation of my friend Summer, this month I read the The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser.  A biography of - you guessed it - the six wives of Henry VIII.  Before reading this, I didn't have more than a perfunctory familiarity with Henry VIII or the Tudor dynasty and Fraser's approach of focusing on the women of the court provides a perspective that speaks more to the everyday realities than the politics of the era.  For me, these personal stories are infinitely more interesting and certainly inform the politics in ways that are ignored by recounts of battles and decries.  One theme that struck me as unifying these women, and really all women of their era, is their helplessness in the face of staggeringly high infant and maternal rates.  As Fraser concludes, the desire for at least one male heir (and preferably a backup as well) influenced not only the marriages of Henry VIII, but religion, war, and diplomacy.  This book is exceptionally well researched and provides a level of nuance that is difficult to achieve in biographies of women from so long ago. The prose is dense but compelling and I really enjoyed this book.  

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