by Antonia Fraser
(Knopf Publishing Group 1993)
"There is no drama like the drama of history."
C. L. R. James (1901-1989)
One of my favorite quotes about history is the above aphorism because it is so true. C. L. R. James was a Trinidadian historian and political activist who was also a renowned scholar of the game of cricket. When he wrote the incisive observation quoted above, James was relating the story of Toussaint L'Ovuerture and the revolt of the slaves in Haiti, but his comment could just as easily apply to the Tudors and the Stuarts of Britain.
Henry VIII and his six wives are a perennial topic for biographies, films, and television series.
The epic struggle over Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his stormy marriage to second wife Anne Boleyn are particularly popular as the subject for films and novels. Unfortunately, films like The Other Boleyn Girl, which is based on a novel of the same name, and the Showtime television series The Tudors frequently get their facts wrong, and not necessarily for dramatic purposes — or for that matter, for any good purpose that I can see.
In contrast, Antonia Fraser's Wives of Henry VIII is based on impeccable research and sound interpretation. Her work proves C. L. R. James's contention that "there is no drama like the drama of history."
Now for an academic note to my students. On the day of the Six Wives quiz, you will be asked to write for thirty minutes on one essay. Please bring a bluebook for your essay. Buy a bluebook that is big enough to be used also for the quiz over The World Turned Upside Down. Here are some essay questions to guide your reading of the Wives of Henry VIII. When you study, please remember that you need to answer in detail and use specific facts and details from the book.
1. Antonia Fraser relates that each of Henry VIII's wives has a stereotyped image. What were these six stereotypes? In what ways were they valid and in what ways were they an inaccurate portrayal of the various women?
2. Each of Henry VIII's wives were unique individuals. Describe the family background of each of the king's wives, their education, and how they met the king?
3. Politics and marriage were inseparable for a sixteenth century king. In what ways did politics influence and even destroy the various marriages of Henry VIII?