My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Throughout history Katherine Parr has been largely painted as the boring, safe wife that saw King Henry VIII through his final days. Compared to the scandalous rumours that emanated from court surrounding the behaviour of some of his other wives (Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, anyone?), it is hardly surprising that Katherine’s story is the least infamous of the Tudor wives.
However, as Elizabeth Fremantle demonstrates in this novel, Katherine Parr was far from a boring, matronly final wife for Henry and was much more to him than a silent nursemaid and mother figure for his children.
The Queen’s Gambit begins as Katherine is widowed for the second time. Aged only 31 she is soon called back from her deceased husband’s estate and reluctantly plunged back into the heart of court life. Here, she meets the handsome, arrogant-but-irresistible Thomas Seymour (Uncle of the young Prince Edward) with whom she begins a madly passionate secret love affair with.
Katherine’s strong personality, intelligence, warm heart and kindness make her a popular woman at court and before long she has caught the attention of the King. Captivated, he makes it known to her that she will be his new wife. With her lover swiftly shipped off to the continent out of the way by Henry, Katherine must settle down to the dangerous task of keeping the ailing, cantankerous King happy.
I’m often wary about historical novels- if the authors don’t get the balance right between historical evidence and artistic license to embellish facts the story can either be too dry, or completely removed from the history. Elizabeth Fremantle artfully handles this challenge and remains faithful to the main events and timeline from this period despite adding lots of embellishment to further her plot. The characterisation of Katherine is wholly believable from the popular conjecture and accounts which have survived to this day and I really enjoyed reading a story which finally portrays her as the intelligent, strong, charming, wry woman she almost certainly was.
Another highlight of this book for me was Dot Fownton’s narrative. Much historical fiction focuses on the Royal families and the wealthy, so it was fascinating to read about court life from the point of view of a young girl who had been born into poverty and had only found herself working as a maid for a higher born lady by luck. Dot’s awe at the madness of court life was endearing, as was her blossoming romance and fierce dedication and loyalty to her mistress throughout the book. I would have happily read this book even if it had focused only on Dot!
I highly recommend this book to anybody with a penchant for historical fiction.
This review first appeared on Nudge-books.com and Goodreads on 8th April 2013.