Those of you in the UK know that a new tv series has started airing featuring Jodie Turner-Smith as Anne Boleyn and details her last months as Queen. Now I love history – I’m honestly a nerd in every sense of the word and I have no shame! So whilst watching this tv series (and I would highly recommend catching up on it) I was reminded I had a book on my TBR list that was about Henry VIII and a different queen, his last, Katherine Parr.
Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleeves, Katherine Howard, Katherine Parr. We know the rhyme – Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived. Because that is what we’re focusing on…survival and not just that but survival in a Tudor court, as Henry VIII’s wife.
“You have to live…Sometimes, at court, a woman has to do anything to survive. Anything. You have to survive.”
Twice a widow, Katherine Parr has been married before. But when an offer or rather a command comes from Henry VIII, the King of England, a man who has already buried 4 wives, she has no choice. Even though her affections lay elsewhere in the Tudor court.
“…five women have sat here, in this very seat before me, and not know if the king had turned against them and, if he had, what he was planning to do.”
Katherine is well aware of the danger she faces with a secret lover in tow. The previous queen lasted six months, the one before that barely six months – this is a nerve wracking time for anyone, but especially the Queen of England.
“Women’s lives do not matter to anyone at this court. Before every queen stands her pretty successor, behind her a ghost.”
But Katherine is determined to be his sixth and last queen, she wants to outlive him. Not only does she need to protect herself against the king, but also to the nobles and advisors who would love nothing more than to see her on the scaffold.
But Henry seemingly adores his new wife and soon she does what no other wife could do, she brings his family together – and with his children – Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, she becomes their stepmother and unites them all.
“But this year the king does not deserve the plague, does not fear the heat in the city. This year he fears that death is stalking him by another route, coming closer and closer like a constant companion.”
Katherine was a Protestant and against the changes Henry had made during his tenure. She soon creates a radical study circle in the heart of court and becomes the first woman to publish under her own name in English.
A passionate, powerful and independent woman, Katherine thinks she might be doing okay. Henry even commissions a portrait of his children and to include her. She’s flattered…until the painting is unveiled to the realm to reveal she has been replaced in this painting by Jane Seymour, his third wife. His dead wife. An insult but Katherine puts on a brave face and after all, it’s only the start…
“He is above mortals, a heavenly body just below angels; the King of England.”
For there are those that disagree with the independence this new queen is getting and soon she becomes an easy target for accusations of heresy (a belief or opinion contrary to orthodox – in this case Catholic religion). The punishment is to be burned at the stake. The King’s name is on the warrant.
“My own husband has ordered my arrest…my own husband has signed it.”
This is how they tame a queen….
“I am as inadequate to this task as I am to my marriage. I will fail at my death as I have failed as queen.”
As many of you that read my posts regularly know, I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to books being raved about and hyped up and then me reading them because I find sometimes they don’t live up to expectations. But this book absolutely does! I loved it and was gripped by every page. Although,I had literally no idea that this was book 12 in the series, so guess who’s going on a hunt for the rest of them? Yeah you guessed it…
After reading this book, I was intrigued to see how much of it was fact and how much of it was fiction. At school when learning about the tudor, we learned about the previous five but the only thing we learned about Katherine Parr was that she outlived the king and survived. Yet in the school play, we all wanted to be her. I was super surprised that 90% of the book was actually fact. She did actually write and publish her work and all three of her books have still survived to this day. She did have a secret lover (Thomas Seymour) who after Henry VIII had died, she went on to marry and have a child. She was accused of heresy and her arrest warrant signed by the king himself.
The more I read, the more excited I get. She was strong and independent, but most importantly she was smart. She knew when to plead and beg on her knees, she knew when to do as she was told without question but she also knew the way to the kings heart whilst also pursuing her own avenues.
I can’t wait to read more of Philippa Gregory’s work and more importantly to the start this series at the start and work my way through because I feel that this is a series that is going to keep my nerdy senses happy. I also really need to see the musical Six (which is about the six wives) and go to Hampton Court Palace and Hever Castle and the Tower of London! Road trip anyone?
You can find this wonderful book on Amazon
Until next time,