Last night, like I stated in my previous post regarding Subway vs. Panera, we went to Borders. I had a $15.00 coupon to use, so earlier in the day I looked around online. In their “Summer Reading” section I noticed this book titled “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” by Alison Weir. For the past couple of years, Chris and I have been watching the amazing Showtime show, The Tudors. If you haven’t seen it, or know nothing about it, I encourage you to find a way to watch the first season. It’s incredible. It is about the famous English King, Henry VIII. Because of that show, I’ve become highly interested in learning more, so I purchased the book about his wives.
For those of you who might not know, Henry VIII (obviously) went through six wives. Two were divorced (which was rare in those days), one died due to complications after giving birth to a child, two were beheaded because of adultery, and the last one outlived him. Lucky for her, eh? Sadly, if you were chosen to be a wife for the King, you couldn’t say no. It wasn’t up to you. As a child, your parents had all rights over you, and once you were married, the authority shifted over to your husband. Women back then were taught to obey, submit, and serve. What a shitty deal!
So far I’ve gotten through the introduction and am into the initial bits regarding the life of Katherine of Aragon, daughter of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain (you know, the ones who sent over Christopher Columbus). It’s so fascinating how, by the age of 3, Katherine was already betrothed to Henry VII’s brother, Arthur. Could you imagine not even being old enough for preschool, but already having your future husband picked out for you? Marriages back then weren’t about love. They were about politics. It was common to have your son or daughter marry to another from a different country all for alliances. Since both Spain and England weren’t too keen on the French, it only made sense that the two of them solidify their “friendship” by having their children arranged in marriage.
What I’ve read so far is incredible. Katherine was the last of 10 children, although not all of them lived due to conditions back then, but Katherine was probably the most well known. I’m at the part where Katherine has just reached England and is about to meet Arthur for the very first time. A majority of the time, you didn’t see the person you were going to marry until the day of the wedding. You had to rely on others, and even paintings, to get an accurate description of your future significant other. Also, since you were having to leave your native country to be with your husband or wife, odds were that you’d never see your family again.
Marriages typically took place when the children were between the ages of 14-15, the age where it was deemed appropriate to consummate their union and start having babies. This was mainly due to the fact that, on average, women didn’t live too long into their 30’s, so they really had to get on it. Giving birth to children, one after the other, was considered normal as well. You can almost compare it to playing the odds. If you have more, more might survive, and having a son, a rightful heir to the throne, was imperative. To not give birth to a son back then was basically just as bad as not being able to conceive. Between Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife and the first to lose her head, and Katherine of Aragon, they had 10 children but only two survived – Mary and Elizabeth. Definitely not good odds if you ask me.
The Six Wives of Henry VIII is a massive read. The content itself tops off at 571 pages, and there are several pages with illustrations, paintings, letters between the wives and Henry, and at the end there is a massive bibliography along with family trees. I’ve only put a small dent into the book, but I am really looking forward to what is ahead of me. As I make it through, I will be posting updates to keep you all in the loop. If you are interested in reading the book yourself, then look in the Non-Fiction/History section at your local Borders bookstore. If you don’t have a Borders, then have whatever store you have search to see if they carry copies of this book, or you can simply order from Borders online (or Amazon). So far, I recommend it. It’s fascinating history, and to learn something new is always a gift in itself.