Book Review – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ by David Loades

'The Six Wives of Henry VIII' by David Loades (2010).
‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ by David Loades (2010).

David Loades, ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2010) Paperback, ISBN 978-1-4456-0049-9

Title: There seems to be quite a lot of books entitled The Six Wives of Henry VIII or something very similar, including works by David Starkey, Antonia Fraser and Alison Weir. It’s simple and straight to the point, making it clear what the book is about. What is lacking about this and similar titles is that it isn’t very imaginative and suggests that the author will simply be looking at the same things that have been covered before.

Preface: Loades’s introduction adds some contextual information of the world of sixteenth century politics in which these women were key players. What is interesting is his outline of other key political marriages from the fifteenth century, which set a pattern for the sixteenth. However, this section could have been shorter and more concise, allowing more space to look at the actual topic the book is written about.

Citations: I didn’t like how Loades wrote his citations as endnotes rather than footnotes. I would have preferred to have been able to immediately see which sources were linked to certain points rather than having to flick through the book to find the relevant section. However, his citations are generally clear and concise, especially pertaining to his secondary sources. At times the primary sources references are confused but you can tell he has thoroughly researched his topic.

Contents: Loades fails to delve into the intricacies of marriage to Henry VIII. Each wife only gets about twenty pages. Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard are dealt with together in twenty-two pages! He also fails to discuss important events in sufficient detail. For example, in his section on the Pilgrimage of Grace, Loades fails to fully explain what the reasons behind it were, and what actually happened to prompt the consequences of it. It is also difficult to look up, as ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ is not listed in the index, and several other events are also missing, as only people seem to be listed. This could be improved.

Genre/Audience: Loades is generally a ‘popular’ historian, as his books lack the detail that is required of scholarly texts. This book is a good example of that, dealing with the lives of all six of Henry VIII’s wives in just 150 pages, compared to Starkey’s tome of 765 pages. Although it is a history factual text, the audience would be people interested in Tudor history, but without much background on the period.

Concepts: Loades makes a good effort to look at a wide range of themes in relation to the wives of Henry VIII, but as he casts his net wider, he fails in his attempt to thoroughly analyse the instances he draws upon. He fails to draw proper comparisons of Henry VIII’s wives, and why his choices were so varied. He almost looks at the wives as completely separate people, although Henry’s choices were influenced by those who went before. The only comparison he draws is between Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, during his short section on the divorce.

Sources: Loades appears to have made excellent use of the Lisle Letters, State Papers and Domestic and Foreign Papers, but he could have done with more discussion of the source bases he used – sources are often unreliable and biased, and this wasn’t really covered, though it is important. He made use of all of the major historians (Retha Warnicke, Eric Ives, Antonia Fraser, and David Starkey) although he did neglect to reference what was probably Starkey’s best work on this subject – Six Wives: the Queens of Henry VIII, instead using lesser works. He also failed to look at the work of Alison Weir who, although she doesn’t reference well, does make some valid points.

Professor David Loades
Professor David Loades

Illustrations: Loades has several illustrations in his book (between pp. 96-7) and seems to have a distinct interest in architecture, looking at the palaces, statues, funeral effigies and stained glass windows interspersed with a couple of sketches and very few official portraits. These are unusual and scholarly historians like Starkey and Ives use the generally accepted portraits of people, rather than the debatable ones. He also fails to really mount any discussion of the images he includes, merely mentioning them, when a discussion would have added to the text.

Other works: Loades’s work pales in comparison to bulkier works on the same subject, notably Antonia Fraser’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII and David Starkey’s Six Wives: the Queens of Henry VIII. Loades often makes points but doesn’t expand on them, as Fraser and Starkey do. In this instance, Loades is of a similar calibre of Alison Weir, who fails to make clear her sources, and also leaves points hanging. What could have improved Loades’s book was more detail, to put it on a par with these other works. Loades’s other books, The Tudors and The Tudor Queens of England are similarly afflicted, although his works The Boleyns: the Rise and Fall of a Tudor Family and Henry VIII are much better in my opinion.

My Rating: 14 / 20

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