The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence

Sep 4, 2023

I thoroughly enjoyed Amy Licence’s books on Eizabeth of York and Cecily Neville, so I was interested in reading her take on Henry VIII, his wives and mistresses.

Although the title suggests that it focuses on the women’s stories and tells things from their point of view, I didn’t find it a ‘feminized’ account of Henry’s love life at all. It is an examination of Henry and the women he was linked to, and rather than simply looking at his relationships with them Licence also tells the women’s stories, their background and what happened to them after Henry had finished with them.

The book is set out chronologically, from the birth of Catherine of Aragon in December 1485 to 1547, Henry VIII’s death and the lives of those women who survived him. Licence dedicates a section of the book, with multiple chapters, to each wife and also to Henry VIII’s known and acknowledged mistresses, Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn. She also examines the evidence for Henry having relationships with women like Anne Hastings, Etiennette de la Baume, Jane Popincourt, Elizabeth Carew, the mystery Imperial lady, the Shelton sisters, Mary Berkeley, Joanna Dingley and others, and also evidence for children rumoured to be fathered by the King. As Licence points out, we may only have hard evidence for Henry’s affairs with Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn, but the fact that we only know about those relationships because Henry acknowledged Bessie’s son as his own and was forced to admit to sleeping with Mary when he needed to apply for a dispensation to marry Anne Boleyn, shows that Henry was a very private and discreet man. Just because we don’t have firm evidence for the other women Henry was rumoured to be involved with, it does not mean that Henry was a “prude” or that he did not have numerous affairs. Each alleged affair is examined by Licence and conclusions drawn.

The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII is an enlightening read and I enjoyed Amy Licence’s style of writing. Licence successfully combines good history with a readable style, making history accessible and interesting to a wide range of readers. She does not assume that her readers have a background in Tudor history but she also does not bog readers down with detail. Even those who have read all of the six wives books already out there will enjoy a new examination of these women and their relationships with Henry VIII.

There were, at times, things I didn’t agree with but then we all have our own opinions on Tudor events and the lives of these people. So much is open to interpretation and history would not be the interesting subject it is without different theories and the debate we all enjoy. It is always interesting to read others’ perspectives.

If you’re looking for a last minute present for that Tudor history lover or an interesting read to turn to when you need to have some “down time” this festive season, then do consider this book.

 

Blurb:

For a king renowned for his love life, Henry VIII has traditionally been depicted as something of a prude, but the story may have been different for the women who shared his bed. How did they take the leap from courtier to lover, to wife? What was Henry really like as a lover?

Henry’s women were uniquely placed to experience the tension between his chivalric ideals and the lusts of the handsome, tall, athletic king; his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, was, on one level, a fairy-tale romance but his affairs with Anne Stafford, Elizabeth Carew and Jane Popincourt undermined it early on. Later, his more established mistresses, Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn, risked their good names by bearing him illegitimate children. Typical of his time, Henry did not feel that casual liaisons could threaten his marriage, until he met the one woman who held him at arm’s length. The arrival of Anne Boleyn changed everything. Her seductive eyes helped rewrite history. After their passionate marriage turned sour, the king rapidly remarried to Jane Seymour. Her death in childbirth left him alone, without wife or lover, for the first time in decades. In the quest for a new queen, he scoured the courts of Europe, obsessed with the beautiful Christina of Milan, whose rejection of him spurred him into the arms of Anne of Cleves and soon after the lively teenager Catherine Howard. Henry’s final years were spent with the elegant and accomplished widow Catherine Parr, who sacrificed personal pleasure for duty by marrying him while her heart was bestowed elsewhere.

What was it like for these women to share Henry’s bed, bear his children or sit on the English throne? He was a man of great appetites, ready to move heaven and earth for a woman he desired; their experiences need to be readdressed in a frank, modern take on the affairs of his heart. What was it really like to be Mrs Henry VIII?

Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Amberley (October 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445633671
ISBN-13: 978-1445633671
ASIN US: B00OBPA5UU (This is my affiliate link for Amazon.com and I may receive a small payment if you buy the book through this link).

Available as a Kindle and Hardback from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and the other Amazon stores, and as a hardcover from your usual bookstore.

Originally posted on December 22, 2014.

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One thought on “The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence”
  1. I do like Amy License, I have her book on Anne Boleyn and Cecily Neville the latter I havnt got round to reading yet, I believe in the case of his first queen, it was more like a young man’s crush for an older more sophisticated woman, Katherine after was Spanish and her continental air must have given her added allure, she was his first love, he had not known many women before and thus he found her exciting and decided to marry her, but as he grew older his eye wandered like so many men and variety is the spice of life, but Henry V111 always respected his queen and did not wish to hurt her, so his affairs were always a closely guarded secret, i to have often wondered what this king was like as a lover, and what his mistresses thought, his mistresses were chosen as have been throughout history, they are the ones their royal lovers are attracted to, unlike wives who are married purely for dynastic and political reasons, but in the case of Henry V111 he broke the mould, he was attracted to his wives and particularly his second, whom he loved to distraction, he broke with convention and married her, causing political and religious uproar, his fourth he rejected risking the wrath of a much needed ally to marry her nubile young lady in waiting, Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount is the most famous of his lovers and their relationship endured for three years coming to a close when she became pregnant, her son the king showered with honours and I do believe he thought at one time of making him his legitimate heir, I am intrigued about his early loves as not much is known about them there are no portraits either, they are not known to have had any children by him either, Blount has been described as blonde and beautiful a good dancer and she held the kings interest for three years so she must have been quite special, what was he like as a husband to? His later pictures always make him look rather terrifying but looks are deceiving, in the iconic portrait of him by Holbein his countenance is genial and he was known to be cheerful affable generous of spirit in his youth, his first two queens knew him thus, but his last years must have been dreadful for he suffered ill health, outbursts of temper irritability caused by his migraines and infected legs, his last queen knew him as an ogre and he treated Anne of Cleves dreadfully, Jane Seymour is often called the fortunate one as she died before she could weary him, but I don’t believe he would have wearied of her, she was calm and meek, he had a shrinking violet there, how can you tire of the small sweet violet? He would have enjoyed watching his son grow in the nursery with Jane and when he wanted, would have taken his pleasure elsewhere she would never have reprimanded him, she was the perfect queen, just like his first, when he married the flighty Catherine Howard we can assume he was quite repugnant to her as a lover, but he was happy so she obviously possessed the skill not to show her distaste, Henry V111 had the reputation of being prudish, he despaired of coarse phrases rude jokes and this may be in part because he was a poet, gifted and cultured he saw the world as a thing of beauty and the women as ideal beings to be worshipped, his mother he had loved and idolised for she was beautiful calm and serene, her death affected him deeply and later he was heard to remark it was the worst day of his life when his she died, he possibly was always searching for his mother in the wives he married and his lovers, and found her wanting, this sounds a fascinating book and one I shall definitely put on my Xmas gift list.

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