Synopsis: In 1543 England, Kateryn Parr becomes Henry VIII’s sixth wife. This story chronicles their marriage and Kateryn’s fight for survival and for church reform.
Review: This book was absolutely fascinating. I am naturally drawn to anything involving Henry VIII, and I am totally fascinated with almost anything that has to do with English monarchy and its history. My favorite of Henry’s queens is actually Anne Boleyn. I find her rise and downfall mesmerizing and enjoy reading different takes on her story. Now, with my love of all things English, you’d think I would’ve read or heard or known something about Henry’s last wife! But nope – I’ve kind of mentally blocked out anything beyond Kitty Howard, so reading Kateryn’s story was truly enlightening.
The Taming of the Queen begins with Kateryn and Henry’s marriage, and chronicles their relationship. I quickly felt invested in Kateryn’s story, and wanted her to survive. Kateryn is in love with another man, Thomas Seymour, the brother of Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour. Kateryn and Thomas must separate for their safety. Unable to talk with or see the man she loves, while married to a man whose whims change quickly, Kateryn must navigate a treacherous path. Kateryn becomes involved in studying the Bible, and is interested in church reform. She becomes close to the king’s children, the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, and Prince Edward.
This book taught me many different things. There is a lot of attention on translating the Bible into English and the history of religion in England. I was completely fascinated by these sections of the book. I have never truly paid attention to this latter part of Henry’s reign, and I was surprised by his wavering between going back to the Catholic Church and reforming his own church. I was shocked by some of the statements that were made in regards to women, and the poor, and the uneducated and not wanting them to be able to read a Bible. That only the rich and the men could read it. It is truly amazing what people will do to hide the truth and stay in control. Another thing that was highlighted was the greed of the Catholic Church.
Kateryn actually was a great pioneer of her time in that she was reading and debating scripture with scholars (and also had her ladies and the princesses reading and debating as well), and she also wrote. I believe she was the first woman to publish under own name in England. The passages that discuss writing are so beautiful, and you can tell that the author (Philippa Gregory) really connected with this aspect of Kateryn’s story. During her writings and studies, Kateryn meets Anne Askew, and I hadn’t ever heard her story before, so that was really interesting.
Another focus in the book is Henry VIII’s whims and personality and struggle with pain. Reading about his leg, and how they treated his leg issues gave me a new appreciation for how much pain he was constantly in. I won’t go into the medical techniques they mention in this book, but they were fascinating/gruesome to read about. For him to be in constant pain, and to always have to show a brave face to the people gave me a new respect for Henry. This book also focuses on his dangerous side. Until I had read Philippa Gregory’s last book, The King’s Curse, I had truly never thought of Henry VIII as a serial killer before.
This book seemed to be more sexually explicit than previous Philippa Gregory books. There is one scene in particular at the end that is so shocking and graphic that it almost takes over the entire book. It is a very powerful scene, and feels believable to how the characters are portrayed in the book. Now whether this, or similar scenes truly happened, who knows.
This book made me angry, and certain scenes just were really difficult to read, with my mouth hanging open in shock. This may be because the majority of this book was new learning for me, but I felt that this book was written exceptionally well (with a few minor quibbles about repetitive phrasing). I think this may be one of Philippa Gregory’s best books, and I haven’t read everything she’s written, but I have read a lot of her books. I think the mark of a good author is to make the reader feel, and I felt angry, shocked, fascinated, entertained, and connected to this story. And I can’t wait to read anything else about Kateryn Parr. The way she is portrayed in this book is a woman of strength and character.
Bottom Line: Fascinating, well written tale of a remarkable queen. Good for anyone who loves historical fiction, strong women, English history, or even religious history.
Favorite Quotes (and many, many more that were too long to post here):
“He knows that you read and think? He allows it?” “Why not?” She asks the most challenging questions that a woman can ask. “Why should I not read? Why should I not think? Why should I not speak?”
“God is calling and we only have to listen. There are no clever tricks to forgiveness. There is only one way and there is only one Bible, and a woman can study it as well as a man.”
“I look around the court, at all the people serving themselves onto their heaped plates, snapping their fingers for the servers to bring them more and more wine, and I think: this court has become a monster that is devouring itself, a dragon that eats its own tail for greed.”
You might like to read:
- I love Philippa Gregory’s books, and will read anything she writes. My favorites are:
- The White Queen – the story of Elizabeth Woodville and her marriage to King Edward IV. Fascinating look at the War of the Roses.
- The Kingmaker’s Daughter – the story of Anne Neville, who marries Richard III. This book launched my fascination with Richard III.
- The Other Boleyn Girl – the book that started it all, this tells the story of Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s sister, who was mistress to Henry VIII prior to Anne. It details Mary and Henry’s relationship and also Anne and Henry’s relationship, and is a fascinating tale of courtly intrigue and a woman’s rise and fall.
- The Boleyn Inheritance – this one focuses on Anne of Cleves (Henry’s fourth wife), Kitty Howard (Henry’s fifth wife), and Jane Rochford (Anne Boleyn’s sister-in-law whose testimony helped send Anne Boleyn to her death).
- The Queen’s Fool – the story of Queen Mary’s fool, and her working relationship with both Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth. A fascinating look at “Bloody Mary’s” reign.
And added to my own to-read list:
- The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George – I’ve had this book on my shelf for awhile now, and it’s time I attempted this huge book!
- I went to the library and checked out some of Carolly Erickson’s books, The Spanish Queen, about Catherine of Aragon, and also The Favored Queen, which is about Jane Seymour, but I’m not sure I’ll get to them before they are due back. I’m always a bit too optimistic when I go to the library! And I’ve now also just realized that I’ve had Carolly Erickson’s book The Last Wife of Henry VIII on my shelf for years, so I’ll move that one to the top of the stack.
- I also checked to see if Jean Plaidy has a book about Kateryn Parr, and she does – it is called The Sixth Wife. There are so many books of hers that I haven’t read!
- Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII by Karen Lindsey – another one I’ve had on the shelf for a long time. I’m intrigued by this one, as I’ve always repeated the saying “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived” when remembering the fates of each wife.
Does anyone have any suggestions for further reading? – Anything about Henry VIII or Kateryn Parr or Tudor England. I’ve read some stuff, but I’m always on the hunt for more to read!