Television Series Review: “The Six Wives of King Henry VIII”

81uwnQbeXvL._SY445_Many actors and actresses have portrayed the lives of Henry VIII and his six wives in modern films and dramas. When asking Tudor nerds which Henry VIII stood out the most, the most popular response is Keith Michell in the 1970s BBC series, “The Six Wives of King Henry VIII.” I had not heard about this series until I started “Adventures of a Tudor Nerd.” Many people have wanted me to watch the series solely for the performance of Keith Michell, so when a coworker allowed me to borrow her DVD copy of the series, I finally decided it was time to tackle this legendary series.

For those unfamiliar with the older Tudor dramas like this series, it should be noted that the focus is not on sex or bloody battles but on the relationships between Henry and his six wives. Therefore, the costumes and the scenery take a step back in quality that one would expect when compared with modern dramas. I think the English brides’ outfits are well done, but the native gowns for Katherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves felt a bit off for me.

Keith Michell plays the titular king, but I will discuss his performance later. I want to look at the actresses who played Henry’s six wives. Each episode focuses on each wife’s story, how they became his wife, and how their story ended.

We begin with Katherine of Aragon, played by Annette Crosbie, who was the wife of Prince Arthur, but when he died, Katherine struggled to survive in a foreign land until it was decided that she would marry her former husband’s brother, Henry VIII. The couple seems to be in love until Katherine cannot deliver a son for the king, so he decides it’s time for a divorce, which we call The Great Matter. With Katherine out of royal favor, it is time for Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, played by Dorothy Tutin, to make her appearance. When it comes to Anne Boleyn’s performances, I don’t know if I like Tutin’s portrayal; it just rubbed me the wrong way.

My favorite episode of this series was Jane Seymour, played by Anne Stallybrass, who shows a more complex side to Jane’s story. We see her interacting with the Seymour family and her desire to reunite Henry VIII and his daughter Mary. The way the episode was structured with Jane on her death bed and witnessing flashbacks to her time with Henry VIII, the issue of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and the birth of her beloved son Edward. With Jane’s death, we see the more human side of Henry as he is in deep mourning for his beloved queen.

It would be several years until he married again to Anne of Cleves to secure a German Protestant alliance. Anne of Cleves, played by Elvi Hale, is a young woman of average looks and very little money who wants to learn everything she can about England. I like how we are introduced to Hans Holbein in this episode and to see how Anne felt about her marriage and ultimate divorce from Henry VIII.

With the divorce of Anne of Cleves settled, Henry VIII turned his gaze on the young Catherine Howard, played by Angela Pleasence. Catherine is young, naive, and only concerned about being queen and having men fawn over her. It was interesting to see Catherine Howard as a nursemaid to the King and how angry he was with her uncle after her execution. Finally, we are introduced to Henry’s final wife, the devout reformer Catherine Parr, played by Rosalie Crutchley. We witness the end of the King’s reign and the rise of the Seymour family to help the young king Edward VI.

Of course, these stories could not be told without side characters like Thomas Wolsey, Thomas, and Edward Seymour, King Henry VII, Eustace Chapuys, Jane Boleyn, and Will Somers. I was a little surprised that they included torture scenes for Anne Askew and Mark Smeaton, especially since they did not show the execution scenes for Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Several small Easter eggs for Tudor fans sprinkled in are quite delightful to discover.

Now, it’s time to discuss the big guy, King Henry VIII, played masterfully by Keith Michell. Before watching this drama, I was only familiar with Keith Michell from his performances in Murder She Wrote and the episodes I would watch with my mom. We begin with Henry as a young king enchanted with Katherine of Aragon. They are madly in love, and it is hard to believe they would ever separate, but they eventually do when Anne Boleyn catches his eye.

Throughout this entire series, we see Michell’s acting range through the rapid emotional change of the king. One minute he could be lovey-dovey, the next raging mad, and then bawling his eyes out. What impressed me the most about Michell’s performance was how we saw Henry VIII’s size and shape change in each episode. As Tudor fans, we have screamed at the TV when we see modern adaptations of Henry VIII that do not meet our standards for what older Henry should look like. Michell exceeds all expectations and gives his audience one of the most believable King Henry VIII performances in modern history.

Overall, I found this a decent show where the political and romantic drama of the reign of King Henry VIII shines through the screen. The queens and the counselors did take a back seat to the titular king, but I did not mind that. If you want to watch a legendary series about the reign of King Henry VIII that does not have the sex and scandals of a modern drama, I highly recommend you watch the BBC series, “The Six Wives of King Henry VIII,” starring Keith Michell.

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Book Review: “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr” by Elizabeth Fremantle

18950719To be married to a king may seem like a dream, but reality can be cruel. Take the wives of Henry VIII. After saying ” I do,” each wife had to deal with complex challenges after saying “I do.” We all know the poem; divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived, but does that define these queens? After the death of her second husband, Katherine Parr must choose between Henry VIII and Thomas Seymour, the man who has captured her heart. She must navigate love, court intrigues, and the treacherous religious landscape of England in the 1540s to survive. Katherine’s life as Queen of England and how close she came to a disastrous fall from grace are explored in Elizabeth Fremantle’s first novel, “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr.”

I have heard about this particular novel for years, and I have wanted to read it for a long time. Katherine Parr is my favorite wife of King Henry VIII, but sadly there are not many novels about her. When it was announced that this novel would be turned into a new movie called “Firebrand,” I knew now was the perfect time to read this book.

“Queen’s Gambit” begins with Katherine Parr at the deathbed of her second husband, Lord Latymer. Their relationship was full of love, but it was also stained with tragedy as Katherine was left alone to fend off the Pilgrimage of Grace, which scarred both Katherine and her stepdaughter Meg for years to come. With the death of Lord Latymer, Katherine returns to court with Meg and her beloved maid Dot, where she falls hard to the debonair Thomas Seymour. Their love can never be as another man has his eyes on the desirable widow, and no one ever disobeys King Henry VIII. Katherine Parr marries the king and becomes his sixth wife, a queen of England.

As queen, Katherine’s life might seem like a dream, but dealing with an ailing husband and trying to promote her religious views without losing her head is a balancing act. I thoroughly enjoyed how Fremantle portrayed Katherine and her time as queen and eventually the wife of Thomas Seymour. Her relationships with Henry VIII, Thomas Seymour, Anne Askew, Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward are complicated but well fleshed out. I also enjoyed the additional characters that Fremantle included in Katherine’s tale, especially the loyal to a fault Dot and Huicke, the king’s physician whose friendship would become invaluable to Katherine.

This was my first time reading a book by Elizabeth Fremantle, and I cannot wait to read another story. Fremantle does a superb job of telling Katherine’s story in an engaging and thoughtful manner. It was so interesting that I did not want this novel to end.

Katherine Parr was not just the final wife who survived King Henry VIII’s last years. She was a wife, a loving stepmother, a widow, a woman in love, a caring friend, a writer, and a reformer. Her life was full of risks, tragedies, and love. If you love Tudor historical fiction novels, you will adore “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr” by Elizabeth Fremantle.

Book Review: “Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife” by Alison Weir

34020934._SY475_A woman twice widowed with no children of her own has the opportunity to choose who she will marry next. Will she marry the man of her dreams or marry the man who has been married numerous times and has killed two of his wives already? It seems like a no-brainer who she should choose, but the man she married for her third marriage was the man who was married numerous times before simply because he is the notorious King Henry VIII and you do not disobey the king. However, his last wife, Katharine Parr, is willing to fight for the religious reforms and her stepchildren that she loves dearly. In the last book of the Six Tudor Queens series, “Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife”, Alison Weir takes her readers on an extraordinary journey to explore who this brave woman was and why she is the one who survived Henry’s last days.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House/ Ballantine Books for sending me a copy of this novel. I have enjoyed the Six Tudor Queens series so far and I was looking forward to reading the last book. Like many people, I know what happened with Katharine during her marriage to Henry VIII and her fourth marriage to Thomas Seymour, but I am not well informed when it comes to her first two marriages. Katharine Parr has been my favorite wife of King Henry VIII for a while now and I wanted to read a novel about her life, to see what Weir’s interpretation of her life story would be like.

Katharine Parr’s story begins with her childhood and her connection with her family. It was unique to see how her childhood helped shaped what type of queen she would become as her mother pushed hard for her daughters to be well educated. Katharine’s first husband, Sir Edward Burgh, was just a boy who followed whatever his father, Sir Thomas Burgh, asked him to do. I think Weir has a unique spin on Katharine’s life with Edward Burgh and their marriage, but it did not last long as Edward Burgh would die in 1533.

Katharine’s second husband, John Neville 3rd Baron Latimer, was her longest marriage. Although they had no children of their own, like Katharine’s marriage to Edward Burgh, it was a happy relationship. They may have differed when it came to their views on religion, but they did seem to love each other. Their happy household was thrown asunder when the Pilgrimage of Grace and Robert Aske knocked on their door and asked for help. There was a real sense of danger during this episode and the bravery that Katharine showed was nothing short of astounding.

When John died, Katharine was left with a choice of who her third husband would be; either the ailing Henry VIII or the suave and debonair Thomas Seymour who deeply loved Katharine. Katharine’s choice was Henry VIII who she hoped she could sway to accept the religious reforms that she believed in strongly. She developed a friendship with the king and his children, but she was still in love with Thomas Seymour. She wrote books during this time that gave her comfort during the difficult times when the court tried to attack her for what she believed and wanted to pit her against Henry. In the end, love triumphed over sorrow and Katharine survived to live with her beloved until the end of her days.

I found this book an absolute treat to read. As someone who loves Katharine Parr and her story, this novel just made me love her even more. The one problem that I had was actually with the spelling of her name as Weir spelled it a bit differently than what I am used to, but it was really a minor detail. I am a bit sad that this is the last book in this wonderful series, but this book was worth the wait.

This novel was a delight to read. It was full of action and intrigue, intense love, and immense sorrow. Katharine was one remarkable woman, just like every wife of Henry VIII Weir has written about in this marvelous series. “Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife” by Alison Weir is a masterpiece in historical fiction and the perfect conclusion to the Six Tudor Queens series that will leave readers satisfied.

Book Review: “Sovereign” by C.J. Sansom

27151979When one thinks about a royal Progress, we often think about the glitz and glam of the royal family traversing the entire country at a leisurely rate to inspire awe for their subjects. However, the Progress of 1541, when Henry VIII and his fifth wife Catherine Howard traveled to the hostile northern part of England, was anything but a casual visit. It was very political as Henry was trying to make the North submit to him after the Pilgrimage of Grace while at the same time he was waiting for a meeting with King James V of Scotland. It is the city of York and during this important Progress that C.J. Sansom shapes his latest adventure with his hunchback lawyer and part-time detective, Matthew Shardlake, in book three of the delightful Shardlake series, “Sovereign”.

We join Matthew Shardlake and his dedicated assistant Jack Barak on the road to York to join the Progress to take care of local petitions for the King. They have received another complicated mission from their new boss, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, to look after the wellbeing of a suspected conspirator in a plot to overthrow Henry VIII’s government, so that he can make it to London for further questioning. Things seem to run as smoothly as it could until a master glazer’s mysterious death reveals secrets that will send Shardlake and Barak into a deadly collision course with some of the most powerful men and women in England during this time.

Sansom has done it again. He has expanded Shardlake’s world outside of London to show that England was not all united for the Tudors. As someone who knows about the Wars of the Roses, to read Sansom’s description of the treacherous and rebellious city of York makes sense completely. It is dark and edgy while the glory of the court is on full display. To add more intrigue to this amazing novel, he adds the mystery of a certain member of the Yorkist family’s origins that could change England forever. I personally do not agree with this theory about this particular person’s origins, but it did not take away from my enjoyment of this book. It just added another layer to this enthralling tale.

Of course, since this novel touches on the relationship between Henry VIII and Catherine Howard, Sansom had to include a way for Shardlake to meet these two, as well as confront figures like Lady Rochford, Culpepper, Dereham, and of course Sir Richard Rich. The way he does this is ingenious. Sansom’s attention to details of the Progress is nothing short of extraordinary. Compared to the first two books, this one is much darker as you are unsure how Shardlake and Barak will ever get out of their dangerous situations, but that is what makes it so remarkable.

It is actually difficult for me to write this review without spoiling the ending so I will keep this short. I thought that “Dark Fire” was my favorite in the series, but now “Sovereign” reigns supreme. That might change as I read the rest of this absorbing series. I will say that if you enjoyed the first two books, you have to continue the journey with Matthew Shardlake and Jack Barak in “Sovereign” by C.J. Sansom.