The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Catherine of Aragon Anne Boleyn Jane Seymour Anne of Cleves Catherine Howard Catherine Parr
Meet the Wives Find a Wife Portrait of a King Tudor Times
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Interview with David Starkey

Dr. David Starkey

5. Which of the marriages do you think was the most successful, taking everything into account?

It has to be Jane Seymour, the third marriage. She did what Henry wanted. She gave him a son, and although she was very clever and pushed her own agenda, she observed the 16th-century "rules" about the subordination of women, although at the same time she used them to get what she wanted. But what I think was her shrewdest move was dying at the right moment! [Seymour died after childbirth.] She gave him a son, and at that point, she could do no wrong. She went to heaven and became the perfect wife.

6. What kind of ruler was Henry VIII? What non-marital accomplishments or failures marked his reign?

It was the most important reign in English history. It was a point at which the country broke with Rome, the point at which we ceased to be a Catholic country and became a Protestant one. It was the moment at which we invented the idea of "empire." It was the moment at which we shifted our relations with continental Europe. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it was the immediate background for the fact that Britain and America were together in the war with Iraq. Such a distance from the rest of Europe was unthinkable before the reign of Henry VIII. And what is really exciting is that these huge changes affected everybody. They transformed the landscape and the monasteries were demolished and country houses rose on their sites, and the patterns of everyday belief changed. And the only reason these changes happened is that Henry wanted to get rid of Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn! One man's lust for a woman transformed the life and history of an entire nation.

7. As a corollary, what kind of contributions did Henry VIII's wives make?

Catherine Parr, the last wife, was the first royal woman author in English. She was a best-seller in print -- a multi-edition best-seller. I think she shows, very interestingly, how religion plus education started to open a much wider field of action for women. [She sparked] the call for women to be spiritually active, and in a sense, to reform their husbands -- which you can see on the frontier, in the Pilgrims. Women have this huge, driving energy, and Catherine Parr is a brilliant example of that.

8. How do you think Henry VIII would feel about all this attention?

He would love it! Henry was one of the very rare kings who was genuinely concerned about his place in history. When he came to the throne, as a boy of 17, he said that he was interested in virtue, glory, immortality. He wanted fame. And of course, he got it.

9. What do you hope people take away from this program?

What I want people to do is to grasp the romance of history, the excitement of history, and to realize that although it seems fantasy and fairy tale, it is true, and that the consequences are still felt not simply in Britain, but in America.