Many, many years ago I picked up some history books on various royalty including the Tudors written by Alison Weir, but I never got around to reading them. Recently I discovered that Weir also wrote historical novels about the wives of Henry VIII. Katharine Parr, The Sixth Wife, is the final volume in the series. It goes on sale to the general public May 11. I received an ARC from NetGalley and Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it took me quite a while to get into the book. I knew nothing of Katharine Parr beyond the fact that she was Henry VIII’s last wife, and that she outlived him. The book begins when Katharine is a child, and as she comes of age, her marriage to a man in his early 20’s. The marriage was short-lived because her husband died. Then, she was married to a man who had teenagers and two wives buried. Her early life and marriages make up the first 40% of the book, and while many of the events were historically accurate I came to find out while listening to The Six Wives of Henry VIII on audiobook, also by Weir, I was pretty bored. It wasn’t until Katharine went to court and met Henry that things picked up for me.
Katharine was really in love with Thomas Seymour, Jane Seymour’s older brother and uncle to Prince Edward, but once Henry sets his sights on her, she could not refuse him, choosing her sense of duty instead of love. And for the most part, Henry treated her well. Why he chose Katharine is a bit of a mystery, what with Henry obsessed with the line of succession and only having one son in a time when many children did not live to adulthood. And Katharine had no children in her previous two marriages, so the fact that she might not be able to have children must have crossed his mind. Yet Henry still chose her.
Katharine was a closet Protestant, and a faction in Henry’s court suspected her of as much and attempted to have her arrested for heresy. But she knew it was coming and disposed of all her “heretical” books and advised those close to her to do the same. She threw herself at Henry’s mercy and for once in his life, he backed off and tore up the arrest papers.
Henry trusted Katharine enough to declare her regent while he was off fighting the French, and relied upon her to be a good step-mother to his three children. Many historians believe that Katharine’s tutelage of young Elizabeth showed the princess how to behave when she became queen herself. Katharine proved to be a good step-mother to all three children, although Mary refused to speak to her after Henry died and Katharine married Thomas Seymour only four months later.
Finally, with her fourth husband, Katharine got pregnant and delivered a healthy baby girl. But as with many women during centuries past, childbirth could be dangerous for a woman, and Katharine developed an infection and died twelve days later.
While the first part of the book bored me, the second part was compelling. The fact that I was listening to the nonfiction book by Weir at the same time as reading this book helped me figure out which events were fabricated and which were historically accurate; surprisingly, most of the fictional story contains accurate information. I’ll have to pick up Weir’s other five books on Henry VIII’s queens at the library because overall, I did enjoy the book.
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