The Tudors have always fascinated me. I’ve read everything I could about them, fiction and nonfiction, since I was little. Surprisingly, Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Katherine (Or Kateryn) Parr, is not often the subject of these works. I’ve always thought this was unfortunate, as I really admire Kateryn. Her court was a center of learning, she brought Henry’s family together, she served as Regent while Henry was away (Katherine of Aragon was the only other one of Henry’s wives to rule England in his absence), she was the first English queen to publish under her own name, and she managed to avoid being taken to the Tower, despite the fact that Henry had already signed the arrest warrant.
Philippa Gregory’s new book, The Taming of the Queen, is the story of Kateryn’s time as Queen. It’s told in first person, from Henry’s proposal to his death almost four years later.
Kateryn must have been terrified, to be the sixth wife of a man who beheaded those who displeased him. And, being the sixth wife, there wasn’t much that queens before her hadn’t already done.
‘Is there anything new?’ I ask irritably. ‘Is there anything that I do that one of them hasn’t already done?’
Catherine looks embarrassed.
‘Your clocks,’ Nan says with a small smile at me. ‘You’re the first queen to love clocks.’
Even Kateryn’s gifts from the king weren’t new.
“Nan opens another chest that has been carefully packed with rolls of the softest leather. Out come rings heavy with precious stones, and single stones on long chains. Without comment, she lays before me Katherine of Aragon’s famous necklace of plaited gold. Another purse is undone and there are Anne Boleyn’s rubies. The royal jewels of Spain come from one great box, the dowry of Anne of Cleves is spread on the floor at my feet. The treasure that the king showered on Katherine Howard comes in a chest all to itself, untouched since she was stripped of everything and went out to take the axe on her bare neck.”
In my opinion, Philippa Gregory did a wonderful job of capturing the emotions that Kateryn Parr must’ve been feeling throughout her marriage, not just in relation to the five women who’d occupied her role in the past, but also regarding her complicated feelings for Henry, her very real fear for her life and the lives of those around her, and her feelings for Thomas Seymour (Gregory makes the assumption that Kateryn Parr and Thomas Seymour began to have feelings for each other before Kateryn’s marriage to Henry VIII, because they were married within months of Henry’s death).
I especially enjoyed Kateryn’s exchanges with Will Somers, Henry’s Fool.
“’It is easier to stand on your head than to keep the king to one mind,’ Will observes, straight as a yeoman, but upside down. ‘If I were you, Majesty, I would stand on your head beside me.’”
I thought the writing was excellent, and Gregory did a wonderful job of bringing Kateryn’s voice to life.
If you liked The Other Boleyn Girl, you’ll love The Taming of the Queen.
I did receive a free copy of this book from the San Francisco Book Review in exchange for an honest review.