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Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII

Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII - David Starkey This book was really everything I look for in a non-fiction book about history. It was so engagingly written that it could have been non-fiction, but sources were all cited and deviations from accepted wisdom among Henry VIII scholars were mentioned. The story was presented chronologically, with a few, well integrated digressions to give us the history of each of Henry’s wives. Chapters were short and the introduction of new characters was kept to a minimum, creating a very lucid narrative. New characters were always given context, both in the writing and by some great family trees, and we were often reminded who recurring characters were. This made the massive amounts of information in this 880 page book fairly manageable.

Overall the book was very approachable, especially for something that clearly involves an awful lot of scholarly research. The straightforward writing style and family trees helped, as did the author’s lack of assumptions about the reader’s previous knowledge. It also helped, of course, that the book was just fun. The author is clearly enthusiastic about his subject and in addition to dates and events, there was speculation about people’s feelings and motivations, obviously separated from but based on historical records such as personal correspondences. Quotes from these sources were integrated into the story very nicely, adding to the narrative without disrupting it.

Finally, the story itself was full of enough drama for a TV show. And, in fact, it has been made into a show called Tudor, which I tried watching but couldn’t get into for lack of a sympathetic character in the first episode. The book, however, made if very easy to feel for each of Henry’s wives, even as they replaced each other. I think that’s what made the book so great – its stuck the perfect balance between historical accuracy and engaging personal stories.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.