I have thoroughly enjoyed this whole series from Alison Weir and what a way to end! Although the previous two for me were the weakest (‘Anna of Kleve’ and ‘Katheryn Howard’). This one brought the series back up to the levels of the first three books in the series. Katherine Parr is often just remembered as the sixth wife and the one who survived, but this offers a new insight into her life and the people who she affected and who affected her most.
Katherine Parr has always fascinated me – she was the only one of Henry’s wives to have married twice before her marriage to the King (Katherine of Aragon was married once before) and then once after as well! She is a really intriguing woman who suffered so much through her life and died tragically as well, though at least it was a natural death rather than a beheading!
The book was full of detail and well-paced. I had thought that maybe Weir would rush through Katherine’s first two marriages, but she didn’t, and I think that was actually my favourite part of the book – the bit that I know least about, and certainly is least written about Katherine. The focus tends to be on her royal marriage and her fourth marriage to Thomas Seymour and the controversy with Elizabeth, but it was these early marriages which really shaped her, so it was super interesting to read about those in a fictionalised way.
The ideas of betrayal and religion run throughout as Katherine struggles not to betray her own religious beliefs, or her feelings about Thomas Seymour, to those around her. This was a tumultuous period in English history where religion was very much an open question and Weir handles it sensitively with the views of the time not marred too much by the sensibilities of the present.
This was an excellent book to finish the series off on and this is certainly a series I will come back to again and re-read.
This was a very interesting take on the life of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, particularly her early life. Alison Weir’s writing always engages me; more so when she writes novels than her non-fiction works actually. It was quite mesmerising to read and once I got engaged in it, I did find it very difficult to put down.
Katherine’s relationship with her sister, Lady Baynton, was especially poignant for me. It was amazing to see a different side to Katherine, even a fictional take, and there isn’t very much written about her relations with her family. It was lovely to see that possible family dynamic and imagine what her life might have been like in those early years as her life seemed to crumble around her. I think in many biographies of Katherine her family is kind of pushed to the side – focuses very much on the Duke of Norfolk and the dowager duchess.
The relationships Katherine had with Manox, Dereham and Culpeper were portrayed in very contrasting ways, so it was interesting to see how they were juxtaposed against each other. They all in a way seem to be portrayed almost as child abuse, particularly those with Manox and Dereham, as older men took advantage of a vulnerable child. Katherine was portrayed as being quite naïve in the way she thought about things, even while at court.
It is a fascinating and intriguing account, well-written with tiny details, great description, and one of the best fictional accounts of Katherine Howard’s life that I’ve read. The entire series is a great arc of the wives of Henry VIII throughout his life, and it’s interesting to see Henry through their eyes.
I would thoroughly recommend this series, because it’s very well-written and offers a slightly different perspective to other works, both fictional and non-fiction, particularly on the lesser-known queens I’ve found like Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.
As Alison Weir says in her author’s note, Jane Seymour remains an enigma. Yet writing a fictional account of her life, while based on deep research, allows a certain freedom as she chooses how to portray Jane’s choices and actions, and her interactions with other historical figures. Do you agree with the Jane Seymour that Alison has created, and did you find her different from the character shown in other fictional interpretations? Do you like her?
I quite like the Jane Seymour that Weir has created as it is a very different portrayal from the usually meek and mild Jane that we see in general.
I don’t think that Jane could have been as meek and mild as she is usually portrayed as it would have required some strength to marry a man who had his previous wife executed.
I do quite like Weir’s Jane – I generally find other fictional interpretations quite boring and bland, so this one was a pleasant change, and it seemed to work for me as well which I wasn’t expecting.
I thought Jane showed a strength of character, but was also the kind and gentle person that history accepts Jane was, without making her dull and boring, it’s very clever.
The Haunted Queen opens on a wedding celebration as two prosperous families unite. How is this need for advantageous alliance echoed throughout the novel? As a child, Jane feels safe and content with her loving family and apparently happily matched parents. Do you think this is what Jane strives to reproduce when encouraging Henry to reconcile with his elder daughter? How much do you think her father’s betrayal of the Seymour family affects her own choices?
In Tudor England marriages, especially within the nobility and royal families, were largely decided by how advantageous they were in terms of wealth, titles, and connections, so this wasn’t unusual. The Seymour family had connections with many of the great families of England through marriages.
I think that Jane coming from such a large family, and having had a seemingly happy childhood does play a role in her wanting Henry to reconnect with his eldest daughter. However, I think that Jane’s religious beliefs also play a part, as I think she sees Mary as the rightful heir over Elizabeth.
I think that Jane was completely shocked by her father’s actions, especially the fact that his betrayal was with his daughter-in-law. I think Jane and her siblings saw that their family wasn’t as perfect and happy as they had thought, and Jane wanted to recreate that happy feeling she used to have.
Jane’s desire to become a nun shows a calm determination from a young age. When she finds this is not the life she expected, she sets her heart on a place at court. She might seem a malleable character, yet tends nonetheless to achieve her ambitions. How much do you feel other people, including Jane’s own family, underestimate her quiet strength of character, and do you think it gives her satisfaction to surprise them?
Jane is willing to explore her options and test them out – she sets her heart on one thing, finds it isn’t for her and moves the goalposts, which is admirable. She can adapt when she realises something isn’t for her.
I think Jane’s parents in particular underestimate her because they are used to having no trouble from her, unlike her brothers and sisters, so they don’t understand her quiet strength.
I think it does give Jane satisfaction to surprise people because they expect her to be quiet and malleable but she is really a strong character and it gives people a shock when they realise it.
Jane is strong because she can accept that her ambition wasn’t really for her and adjust accordingly – it takes a strong person to admit they’ve made a mistake.
From the opening scene of A King’s Obsession, Anne Boleyn is impatient for change—-for something new and exciting to happen. She is a capricious child, highly aware of her mother’s ancestry on one hand and her father’s ambition on the other. How do you think her character is influenced by this family background? How does Thomas Boleyn’s tendency to value his children in terms of their use to the Boleyn name affect Anne’s actions throughout her life?
Anne is immensely influenced by her family – her father and mother have both drummed into her in their own ways that theirs is a great family and they need to act in the family interests.
We are all influenced by our family and our environment, and I think that Anne’s childhood experiences in foreign courts and her father’s international influence played heavily with Anne.
Anne is determined that her father will be proud of her – her mother plays less of a role than her father I believe – and I think she acts to ensure that she will be remembered and will outdo her parents and siblings.
There is a definite sense of sibling rivalry, especially between Anne and Mary, as Mary comes to prominence first as the supposed mistress of Francis I and Henry VIII, but Anne betters her and becomes queen.
By including Anne’s education in the courts of Margaret of Austria, Queen Claude and Marguerite of Valois, Alison Weir explores a fascinating world of high culture and intellect. What key lessons does Anne learn at each court, and how is her outlook changed by these three women? Does she manage to emulate them once she has the crown? Did anything Anne learned surprise you?
The main lesson that Anne learns is that women can wield power – she sees Margaret of Austria in particular wield power in her own right.
Anne also sees how dependent women are on their menfolk in this world – if they want to have power it has to be allowed by a king or emperor, and this is the mistake which Anne ultimately makes.
Her time at the courts of Margaret, Claude and Marguerite introduce Anne to the new religion as well, although it takes a few years to fully develop in her consciousness.
Anne does manage to wield her own brand of power, but it is dependent on Henry VIII’s love for her, and her power ceases to exist when Henry falls out of love with her.
George Boleyn is a complicated and interesting character. He has a similar craving for power as Anne but has to find different ways to gain it. How are he and Anne alike, and how do they differ? On the surface he has far greater freedom, but is he also trapped into achieving the Boleyn family’s ambitions as firmly as she is?
George and Anne are quite similar in their personalities and their ambitions, but with George being a man he seems to have more freedom to take what he wants, where Anne has to depend more on others, particularly the men around her, to get what she wants.
George is also trapped into achieving the family ambitions – the main example of this is his marriage to Jane Parker. It is well known that their marriage didn’t seem to be a happy one, and it is rumoured that Jane actually spoke against George at the trial which condemned him to death.
George and Anne are more alike than either of them is to Mary – perhaps Mary doesn’t feel the same ambition as her siblings so doesn’t feel like she needs to push to get the best she can, perhaps she is more easily satisfied. After all, siblings can be complete opposites!
A Spanish princess. Raised to be modest, obedient and devout. Destined to be an English Queen. Six weeks from home across treacherous seas, everything is different: the language, the food, the weather. And for her there is no comfort in any of it. At sixteen years-old, Catalina is alone among strangers. She misses her mother. She mourns her lost brother. She cannot trust even those assigned to her protection. KATHERINE OF ARAGON. The first of Henry’s Queens. Her story. History tells us how she died. This captivating novel shows us how she lived.[Description from Waterstones]
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I’ve read plenty of historical fiction, and books by Alison Weir, but I wasn’t expecting this to be as good as it was. I really loved the different depiction of Katherine of Aragon in this novel, but I also really loved the depiction of the young, athletic, and charismatic Henry VIII, so different to popular representations of him as an overweight and angry man. I think that both are so different to portrayals by the likes of Philippa Gregory, Suzannah Dunn and Jean Plaidy.
Throughout the book, Alison Weir shows how Katherine was raised to confirm to contemporary cultural and religious norms, and how this influenced her thinking and her actions. What impression did this make on you, and did it aid your understanding of her dilemmas and conflicts? Did this take on her story allow you to empathise more closely with Katherine’s choices?
I think that the standards and norms of 16th century England were very different to today. People believed very strongly in God and in the existence of heaven and hell and purgatory. They saw their lives on earth as a prelude to the afterlife. I think my background in history really helps me to understand the cultural and religious norms of the 16th century. I think that the understanding of the dilemmas and conflicts that Katherine faces in the novel depend on the contemporary culture and standards. You can’t understand Katherine’s motivations and feelings without understanding the context of the 16th century. I think that the emphasis on her religious devotions and the wellbeing of her soul were the central considerations for Katherine and understanding this made me understand more about what drove her to make the choices she did – she wasn’t being stubborn on purpose, she really believed she was saving her soul, and that of her husband. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – “Katherine of Aragon: the True Queen” by Alison Weir”