Book Corner: The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

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 see that casual liaisons might 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. Henry was a man of great appetites, ready to move heaven and earth for a woman he desired; Licence readdresses the experiences of his wives and mistresses in this frank, modern take on the affairs of his heart. What was it really like to be Mrs Henry VIII?

I love the writing style of Amy Licence, she makes history enjoyable and accessible; so much so that when The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII dropped on my doormat I put down what I was reading and jump straight in. And I was not disappointed. A thoroughly fun and entertaining read, this is a book that examines every aspect of Henry VIII’s love life, with particular focus on the women, rather than the king.

No stone remains unturned in Amy Licence’s hunt for the women in Henry’s life. Each rumour is examined in great detail, with comprehensive arguments for or against their actual relationship with Henry. As you would expect, Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon, and the other 4 wives, all find their place within the pages of this book. Bessie Blount and Mary  Boleyn are also discussed in detail. Amy Licence does not judge, she tells their stories, the highs and lows, with great sympathy and compassion. The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII also brings to the fore the less well-known women who have been linked to this most controversial of kings. Etiennette de la Baume, Jane Popincourt and several other, even more obscure, women have their relationships with Henry examined.

Investigations are also made into the claims of the illegitimate children, not only those of the children of Mary Boleyn, but also those less well-known, such as Thomas Stukley and John Perrot. Amy Licence expertly investigates their claims and convincingly argues the truth – or not – of their parentage.

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The watchwords for Mary’s relationship with the king were secrecy and discretion. Yet history has tarnished her with scandal and rumour, insults and aspersions, leaving her with a reputation worthiest of the greatest whore at Henry’s court. Just like so many of the facts of Mary’s life, her real personality and appearance elude us. Historians and novelists have deduced various things from the known dates of her service in France, particularly her comparative lack of education and the circumstances of her marriage, yet these have often raised more questions than they have answered. Mary is illuminated in history by the light that fell upon her sister and she has suffered from the comparison ever since. Sadly her light will always be dimmer, her biography more nebulous.

Amy Licence has a reputation as an excellent researcher and writer, she shines a light into the deepest, darkest corners of the Tudors and, indeed, history itself. In  The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII she brings women into the limelight whose fifteen minutes of fame have long since been extinguished. And that is what is truly amazing about this book, not only are the famous and infamous discussed, but the author also highlights those women who have become footnotes in Henry’s life. Every woman who has been linked to Henry, before and after his death, is examined, as is the veracity of their interractions with the king. She tells their stories, examines their relationship with Henry, the rumours and the truth to them.

Through looking into the women involved, Amy Licence also paints a picture of Henry that is rarely seen; Henry the man and lover, rather than Henry the king. Her diligent research and well-thought out arguments demonstrate Henry’s continual search, not only  for an heir, but for love itself. We discover a complex man, a king who can have whatever he wants in material possessions, but who is continually searching for the immaterial, a son and true love.

The text is supported by over 30 gorgeous, colourful images, photographs and reproductions of paintings which help give the reader an impression of the life and times in which Henry VIII, and the women associated with him, lived. Written in a relaxed narrative, the book is as easy to read as any novel, and as exciting as enjoyable as the best of them. Accessible, engaging and brimming with original research, it would be difficult for anyone to not learn something new when reading this wonderful book.

The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII is a wonderful, exquisitely written investigation into the lives of the women in Henry VIII’s life.

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Amy Licence has been a teacher for over a decade. She has an MA in Medieval and Tudor Studies and has published several scholarly articles on the Tudors. She is an author and historian of women’s lives in the medieval and Tudor period.

The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII is available on Amazon in the UK and in the US.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly