Book Review – ‘The Taming of the Queen’ by Philippa Gregory


The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory

Also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com

Why would a woman marry a serial killer? Because she cannot refuse… Kateryn Parr, a thirty-year-old widow in a secret affair with a new lover, has no choice when a man old enough to be her father who has buried four wives – King Henry VIII – commands her to marry him. Kateryn has no doubt about the danger she faces: the previous queen lasted sixteen months, the one before barely half a year. But Henry adores his new bride and Kateryn’s trust in him grows as she unites the royal family, creates a radical study circle at the heart of the court, and rules the kingdom as Regent. But is this enough to keep her safe? A leader of religious reform and the first woman to publish in English, Kateryn stands out as an independent woman with a mind of her own. But she cannot save the Protestants, under threat for their faith, and Henry’s dangerous gaze turns on her. The traditional churchmen and rivals for power accuse her of heresy – the punishment is death by fire and the king’s name is on the warrant… [Description from Waterstones]

I was pleasantly surprised by this novel of Philippa Gregory’s, because I haven’t really liked many of her later novels; I much prefer her earlier ones. Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife, has always intrigued me – I think that, as Henry VIII’s only twice-widowed wife she has a lot of life to discover before she married Henry VIII, and it doesn’t seem to have been much written about. However, if you’re looking for a fictional account of Katherine Parr’s early years then this isn’t it. The story starts with the death of her second husband, Lord Latimer.

Parts of this book I did find quite disturbing (I’m sure you’ll be able to guess which bit in particular if you’ve read it), and although I’m not convinced that it happened as Gregory wrote it, it does definitely reflect what we know about Henry VIII’s controlling personality. There are quite a few places in this novel where it really makes you question what you know about Henry VIII, and wonder if perhaps he was affected by a fall from his horse, or any other number of theories which attempt to explain why his personality seems to have changed. Of course, one could suggest that power just went to his head, but I guess we’ll never know the whole truth.

Of the characters I particularly loved the view of Anne Askew, the Protestant martyr. I felt that she was portrayed as a real person and not just the religious martyr of John Foxe in his ‘Book of Martyrs’. Much of the literature on Anne Askew features her torture and execution heavily, so it was interesting to see her actually interacting with the court, and how she could have been involved with Katherine Parr. The dynamic with the Seymour brothers was also very interesting, as I know how the story ends, and so it was intriguing to think that they may have once been close and acting as a concerted unit, rather than against each other, as in their later lives.

I would recommend this book to others interested in Tudor history, as I think it is one of the more gripping novels I’ve read about Katherine Parr, better than the one written by Suzannah Dunn, though I can’t yet compare it to Jean Plaidy’s effort, which I haven’t read, but is on my list to read.

Author: Helene Harrison

I have an MA in History, with a thesis entitled 'The Many Faces of Anne Boleyn: Perceptions in History, Literature and Film'. I have an interest in the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses along with my love of reading and literature.

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