The Taming of the Queen is the latest in the Tudor series by Phillipa Gregory, whose historical novels are among the most popular today.
This time, we follow Kateryn Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife. The standard picture that history gives us of this Queen is that of a selfless, childless widow who was content to act as nurse in Henry’s last years. As usual, though, Gregory fleshes out a realistic and believable possible Kateryn; one who enters this loveless marriage knowing she has little choice in the matter and even though it means forsaking her lover, the flirtatious Thomas Seymour.
Reminding herself that she must watch her every step, Kateryn is at first humble and acquiescent, earning the King’s favour. She helps reconcile him with his children, creating the closest thing to a normal family life any of them had ever had — as much as Court life could be said to be normal.— and is instrumental in having Mary and Elizabeth recognised as legitimate. Kateryn is even appointed Regent while Henry was away at war with the French.
As Kateryn begins to believe that the King’s love and trust are constant, she begins to ignore her resolution to be careful. The political currents at Court forever ebb and flow, which Henry encourages by playing one side off against the other. Kateryn’s scholarly passions grow in dangerous directions and her need to make herself useful (her motto was “To Be Useful in All I Do”) is exploited by the more radical protestants who convince her to try her hand at influencing the King, more or less successfully, at least at first.
But what Kateryn has forgotten is that England’s Queens have further to fall; Henry has already discarded two wives and killed three. Can she keep her head (bad pun, mea culpa) when her own standing with the King is in jeopardy?
I’ve always loved the Tudor era, and Philippa Gregory does a great job in immersing the reader into a largely believable history. I did have some reservations, though: Henry’s character seemed inconsistent with some of her earlier books, and some of the scenes involving him were — to say the least — completely unbelievable. You’ll know the scenes I mean when you read them.
This is definitely an enjoyable read and certainly Gregory’s best novel since The Other Boelyn Girl. Enjoy!
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