Philippa Gregory once again brings Tudor history to life in her latest novel The Taming of the Queen, which focuses on Henry VIII’s last wife Katherine Parr, who managed to outlive her royal husband.
What makes this book particularly interesting before even reading a page of it is how little is known about the king’s last wife and what her life was like during her marriage to one of the most dangerous kings in British history.
Gregory’s impressions of Kateryn Parr (as her name was spelt during the Tudor period) is that she was an intelligent and well brought up lady who had the exact qualities that Henry perhaps needed from his queen all the time. She comes across as intelligent, thoughtful, loyal and obedient – but constantly aware of Henry’s changeable mind and temper that nearly saw her arrested.
As for Henry himself? Well it is clear that although he was a dangerous and temperamental man to cross at many points during his life, his last few years seem to have been dangerous for everyone both at court and ordinary people with his changing opinions with regards to religion.
It is a slow burner of book, that slowly draws you into the life of Kateryn Parr, whose love for Thomas Seymour (although I’m not sure whether she would have had the kind of intimacies described in the book – it just doesn’t seem to fit with the other elements of her character) she was willing and forced to put aside her own feelings showing a strength of character that sometimes lacks in other personalities in Gregory’s novels.
The book provides the perfect argument that Kateryn Parr deserves to be better understood as in many ways she was ahead of her time in intelligence and the type of education that she had. Of course that puts her close to danger and at the mercy of Henry VIII at times but she is calm enough to deal with any situation that she is placed in.
Of course, the book is filled with plenty of detail and written in a way that really draws the reader in and makes them care and understand the character perfectly. But some of that detail can be lacking in the description of certain events such as the sinking of the Mary Rose or Henry’s last battle in France.
The Taming of the Queen stands out from Gregory’s other novels looking at the Tudor court because Kateryn Parr is the Queen who doesn’t stand out as much as others because she is overshadowed by the previous wives (as evidenced by Henry’s constant references to Jane Seymour prove) and brings to life a part of Henry’s reign that readers aren’t so familiar with.
A fascinating story about a very ‘modern’ queen for her time, The Taming of the Queen just lacks a little bit in the strength of the plot which feels a bit vague at times. But Philippa Gregory fans should still enjoy it for the strength of the characters and the level of research that they have come to expect from a novel such as this.