Philippa Gregory concludes her Tudor court series with this one featuring the story of Henry VIII’s last queen, Katherine Parr. Immediately after her second husband’s death, King Henry brings Katherine to court and proposes marriage – a proposal she desperately wants but cannot afford to refuse. Katherine, twice widowed, has fallen for the dashing Thomas Seymour, brother to the late Queen Jane and uncle to her motherless son Edward. She knows that marrying the king means that she cannot ever hope to have any relationship with Thomas whatsoever. The fate of the king’s previous wives is well known, but Katherine has no choice but to accept Henry’s offer. Once the queen, Katherine walks a tightrope between her family and friends, who urge her to promote theological reforms at court, and her mercurial husband who is fat, old, lazy, frequently ill, mercurial, tyrannical, and has already demonstrated his blood lust by executing not only previous wives but also close family members.
Katherine is a scholar – curious, witty, eager to learn and more eager to write and share all that she’s learned so that her subjects may come to the word of God on their own terms. But Bishop Gardiner and other courtiers do everything they can to push the king back towards the Church of Rome. Henry plays them all like a puppet master – he refers to them as nothing but dogs scrapping in a yard – and by keeping them at each other’s throats and always off balance, he keeps himself in control. A master manipulator of the highest order, but one who, like all manipulators, leaves havoc in his wake. After the infamous Anne Askew preaches in the queen’s rooms and Katherine dares to voice her opinions too loudly, her enemies converge and Henry uses this as an opportunity to bring her to heel. History tells us that Katherine survives by using her wits and submitting to her megalomaniac of a husband, who must subjugate women and others to make himself feel powerful. But Gregory takes us through it scene by scene, and the result is a pleasant retelling of a familiar tale.
Although I have not always been a fan of Gregory’s work (see my review of The White Princess here), I thought this a solid book. This tale still has some of Gregory’s trademark repetition (see my review of The King’s Curse here for more examples), which gets old, and this book is even more steamy and graphic than usual (it opens like a true bodice ripper), and yet Katherine and several other characters do shine. I especially enjoyed the fool, Will Somers, who was anything but foolish and came to be a close if quiet ally of Katherine’s. Gregory focuses a bit more on the precise theological matters that were in dispute than most, which only emphasizes the ridiculousness of the king’s games as he changes his mind on a whim. The end is overly drawn out and Henry as the villain who explains his evil ways over and over gets tiresome while we wait for Kat to have her chance of a happy ending. Overall, though, an enjoyable retelling of the Katherine Parr story.
Amazon link is here.