I love Philippa Gregory for immersing me in the Tudor period yet again with this tale of Henry VIII’s sixth and final queen. Not much is known about Kateryn Parr (Gregory’s spelling) so to see her come to life in this book as a real passionate woman was interesting.
Now for the bad bit… The first half of the book had a slightly repetitive feel to it. Every conversation that went on between Henry and Kateryn seemed to be the same, which may have been to reinforce the effect of his power but became a bit monotonous in my opinion.
The second half of the book was much better as the plot appeared to progress and the real sense of danger that Kateryn was in was conveyed effectively. There was an emphasis on the politics of the era which some readers less inclined to history may find a little dull but I enjoyed as I have studied them several times. This playing of factions by the monarch was a ploy much loved by Elizabeth I to maintain power over her factions and even other nations.
I loved the way the book sets up many of the features of the reigns of the subsequent monarchs, especially the Protestantism of Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth. Lessons that Henry learnt through the burning of Anne Askew were not understood by his daughter Mary I who clings to her Catholic faith in this book as she did in real life.
There was one scene which was deeply unpleasant and has no basis in historical fact: when Henry beats and abuses Kateryn. Gregory notes at the end that she added this scene to show how men dominated women in all aspects of their lives even if the woman was a queen. Kateryn is usually portrayed as Henry’s nurse but this book makes much of her as a queen and sexual object. I am not sure that I believed in the sexual relationship that Kateryn enjoyed with Thomas Seymour prior to her marriage as I don’t think either of them would have risked it due to their prominent positions.
Overall, the writing of this story was good for bringing this often ignored woman to life but there were points where the reader needs to suspend their disbelief.