Review: In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger

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By Andy Goss

Henry VIII must be England’s most examined monarch. But although his was a pivotal reign, his celebrity has little to do with the Dissolution of the Monasteries, or the break with Rome. No, what makes him compulsive reading are his six wives.

Even if you are not obsessed with Henry’s marriages, In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger will fascinate. Ostensibly a survey of places associated with the six wives, the book delivers a vivid and detailed picture of the world they lived in, the spirit of the times, and much of the complex political and social context in which their stories were played out.

We hear much about the lives of Henry’s wives, as his wives, but their previous lives are usually skimmed over or ignored. Through diligent and sometimes very recent research our authors have opened the historical gates on the worlds the wives grew up in. Spain, the Low Countries, France, the Rhine valley in Germany, England’s West Country and North, each colours in the picture of who these women were, how they thought, and what might have been their ambitions and expectations.

Stories of people, castles, manors, cathedrals, halls, cities and towns are brought  seamlessly together, allowing us to see Henry’s wives as their contemporaries would have. Extracts from diaries and letters remind us that these were real people, unaware that nearly five hundred years later we would be following their lives. And indeed their footsteps.

The first section of the book covers the Principal Royal Residences, including the two that everyone has heard of, Hampton Court and Windsor Castle, plus others that have not survived. While the buildings may have gone, contemporary accounts of them allow the authors to bring them back to life for us.

The second section follows each wife in turn, from birth to death, weaving history, anecdote, archaeology and architecture together to great effect. Each entry includes the historical background to the building and the events that took place within and around it.

Entries includes visitor information, plus detailed instructions for viewing the site, and for walks in the vicinity.

The book is well illustrated with photographs, paintings, and reconstructions. Often, even if the palace or castle is gone, there is still much to be seen with the aid of this book.

Each site is marked on a map, showing its relation to national and internal borders, and to major towns or cities.

Small enough to carry about, In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII would make a splendid companion for a tour of England and the Continent, as most of the places are worth visiting on their own account, and the information in the book will often be more comprehensive than in the standard brochures. Or just dip into it, the self contained entries make this an ideal book for browsing.

Published by Amberley on May 19th, 416 pages, for about $37, less for a Kindle version.

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