The Sixth Wife

The Sixth Wife (Tudor Saga, #7)The Sixth Wife by Jean Plaidy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t think I have read Jean Plaidy for several decades. I devoured her books in my teens and had forgotten how good she is. Her historical research was top-notch, and she worked all those facts seamlessly into her narrative. While it may lack somewhat in psychological depth, for sheer emotional drama she conveys all the horror of being the wife of a psychopathic tyrant.

Book Description: Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, was both foolish and unfaithful, and she paid for it with her life. Henry vowed that his sixth wife would be different, and she was. Katherine Parr was twice widowed and thirty-one years old. A thoughtful, well-read lady, she was known at court for her unblemished reputation and her kind heart. She had hoped to marry for love and had set her heart on Thomas Seymour, the dashing brother of Henry’s third queen. But the aging king—more in need of a nurse than a wife—was drawn to her, and Katherine could not refuse his proposal of marriage.

Queen Katherine was able to soothe the King’s notorious temper, and his three children grew fond of her, the only mother they had ever really known. Trapped in a loveless marriage to a volatile tyrant, books were Katherine’s consolation. But among her intellectual pursuits was an interest in Lutheranism—a religion that the king saw as a threat to his supremacy as head of the new Church of England. Courtiers envious of the Queen’s influence over Henry sought to destroy her by linking her with the “radical” religious reformers. Henry raged that Katherine had betrayed him, and had a warrant drawn up for her arrest and imprisonment. At court it was whispered that the king would soon execute yet another wife. Henry’s sixth wife would have to rely on her wits to survive where two other women had perished. . . .

Queen’s Gambit

Queen's GambitQueen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Setting: England, London, Greenwich Palace, Whitehall Palace
Time: 1543-1549

Main characters: Henry VIII, Katherine Parr, Thomas Seymour, Dot Fownten (Dorothy Fountain)- chamberer to Katherine Parr.

First paragraph, Chapter I: “There has been a late snowfall and the covered turrets of Whitehall Palace disappear against a tapioca sky. The courtyard is ankle deep in slush and, in spite of the sawdust that has been strewn in a makeshift path across the cobbles, Katherine can feel the wet chill soaking through her shoes, and the damp edges of her skirts flick bitterly at her ankles. She shivers, hugging her thick cloak tightly about her as the groom helps Meg dismount.”

Favorite lines: “The laughter stops, leaving the room momentarily silent. There is an uncomfortable truth beneath the humor–even the innocent can fall. Meg sits still as a stone with a hand over her mouth. Sister Anne hides her face behind her fan, but her eyes betray her thoughts. If her sister falls, her family will tumble with her. Even Stanhope, who has whinnied laudest of them all, is shut up, though she loathes her brother-in-law and would gladly see him humiliated. Only Elizabeth laughs blithely. Is she too young to understand, or is she as callous as some say?” p. 181

“The women drop into deep curtsies, eyes glued to the floor. He heaves himself into the room and stands in his ermine and his armor of intricately embellished robes, the quilting and gilding and embroidery, and the embarrassingly large codpiece peeking out from the folds of his gown like some monstrous pet.” p. 275

I thought this was a very impressive debut novel. The author’s eye for detail, and her use of only the present tense throughout the book puts you right there in the room. I found it distracting at first, but as I got used to it I liked it. It’s almost like watching a play or reading a script. She deftly conveys the tension of living at court, husband to an unpredictable and dangerous man, the undercurrent of religious conflict and uncertainty, the intrigues of the Howard and Seymour families and the Privy Council, and the parallel story of Dot which gives something of an upstairs/downstairs look at the lives of the nobility and the servants. I read two-thirds of the book before discovering there was an audiobook version (performed by Georgina Sutton) which I have finished – nevertheless, I also plan to finish reading the book so I can continue to savor it!

Description: The court of Henry VIII is rife with intrigue, rivalries and romance – and none are better placed to understand this than the women at its heart. Katherine Parr, widowed for the second time aged thirty-one, is obliged to return to court but, suspicious of the aging king and those who surround him, she does so with reluctance. Nevertheless, when she finds herself caught up in a passionate affair with the dashing and seductive Thomas Seymour, she believes she might finally be able to marry for love. But her presence at court has attracted the attentions of another. Captivated by her honesty and intelligence, Henry Tudor has his own plans for Katherine and no one is in the position to refuse a proposal from the king. So with her charismatic lover dispatched to the continent, Katherine must accept the hand of the ailing egotistical monarch and become Henry’s sixth wife – and yet she has still not quite given up on love

About the author: Elizabeth Fremantle holds a first in English and an MA in creative Writing from Birkbeck. As a Fashion Editor she has contributed to various publications including Vogue, Elle, Vanity Fair and The Erotic Review and has had her fiction published in The Mechanic’s Institute Review. She presently works as a reader for Literary Scouts, Anne Louise Fisher Associates, whilst working on a series of novels based around the Tudor court, the first of which is QUEEN’S GAMBIT.