Friday, October 16, 2015

The Taming of the Queen

            The post-Pilgrimage of Grace religious upheaval late in Henry VIII’s reign finds credence in another of Philippa Gregory’s prolific Tudor series. The protagonist in this story is Kateryn Parr, the sixth wife of England’s most notoriously wedded monarch. While most readers know her fate, the author puts a spin on the tangle of rival factions and also describes the reasoning behind the madness of the King of England.

Why would anyone knowingly marry a serial killer? In the most recent installment of Philippa Gregory’s Tudor Court series, The Taming of the Queen, the answer to that question becomes all too clear: because he is the KING! Kateryn Parr, the final Queen in the reign of Henry VIII, is the subject of this latest piece of historical fiction. Picking up shortly after the execution of Katherine Howard, King Henry’s fifth wife, this book introduces the world to the little known Queen Kateryn.  With most of the attention given to the more eccentric and flashy queens like Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragón, little has been published about Queen Kateryn until recently. I was pleasantly surprised to find that she is just as noteworthy as the more scandalous wives of King Henry.

As the story begins, thirty-year-old widow, Kateryn Parr, is in a secret affair with Thomas Seymour. After involuntarily catching the eye of the king, she is forced to end her secret affair and marry a man old enough to be her father…A man who has notoriously buried four wives - King Henry VIII. Kateryn is fully aware of the danger she faces. She is attentive to the fact that the previous queen lasted only sixteen months, and the one previous scarcely half a year. As much as her logical reservations tempt her to quickly turn tail and run, she knows that her fate would be much worse if she did. In her mind, either way, she is a dead woman walking.  She decides to accept the King’s proposal and marries him, much against her better judgement.
She takes some comfort in the fact that King Henry initially adores his new bride. She is kind and gentle with the infamous wife killer, even as he suffers from a chronic leg injury that skews his attitude and judgement in a most violent and sporadic way.  Kateryn slowly begins to trust him and makes great efforts to unite his extremely fragmented royal family. Her success leads her to be allowed more freedom. She uses this new found trust to create a free thinking study group at the heart of the court, and even rules as Regent in the absence of the King.

As trusted as she seems to be, are her efforts enough to keep her safe? As her influence as a religious reformer grows, suspicion of the Queen runs rampant amongst the anti-protestant movement that is sweeping the country. Kateryn dangerously stands out as an independent woman with a mind of her own, as evident in being the first woman to publish in English. Her exertions and sacrifices, however, are for naught as Henry’s perilous gaze turns on her.  Persuaded by the clergy and other power hungry rivals, Kateryn finds herself accused of heresy. The punishment for such a crime is death by fire, and her husband, the king, has signed the warrant…

(As those who regularly read the Lit Writ know, it can be safely assumed that Philippa Gregory is my favorite writer in this genre. So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I feel I must preface the following commentary by divulging that bit of info.)

After finishing the previous book in this series, a small part inside me was sad to say the very least. Like an addict, I searched frantically to find my next historical fiction fix. After reading several other authors, who were fantastic in their own right, I was still left feeling a little empty. Then, much to my joyous elation, I saw The Taming of the Queen on an upcoming release list and immediately put it on hold. While this is not my favorite book in the series, I am happy to report that I learned more from this work than from any of the others.

Kateryn Parr is a little known force in the long list Henry’s wives. She was well educated and strong willed. Considerably older than most of Henry’s brides, Kateryn was the perfect match for an aging and debilitated Henry. She managed to bring his royal children all under the same roof…a feat unsuccessfully attempted by others in the past. While Henry was easily swayed by his mates in religious matters, she was the first to have the royal authority to translate and publish religious works into the common tongue – an allowance that almost cost her her life. Ultimately, in a great disservice to her legacy, history would push her aside in favor of more “Hollywood- ready” queens like Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon.  This, however, does nothing to diminish her spirit and achievements throughout her reign.

As I close yet another series by Philippa Gregory, I am sadden by the fact that it is over, while none the less excited that I was able to delve into such a little known Queen who pleasantly surprised me with her tenacity and bravery in the face of a monstrously evil force like King Henry VIII. I highly recommend not only this book, but the entire series to anyone interested in this time period. I give The Taming of the Queen 4 stars and look forward to devouring whatever dynasty Philippa Gregory decides to tackle next.

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