The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory



BLURB: “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…”

REVIEW: I have read all of Gregory’s novel and was hugely excited to read this latest novel, which focused on Katherine Parr – my favourite of Henry VIII’s wives after Anne Boleyn. I was lucky enough to hear Gregory give a talk about this book on the day of its publication in the UK, and knowing how much she enjoyed writing it and how connected she felt to Katherine made the experience of reading the book even more enjoyable for me, particularly as Gregory is one of my idols when it comes to writing historical fiction. I mentioned in the review of the last book I read on Katherine Parr how frustrating I have always found it that she so rarely makes an appearance in the work of historical fiction authors, so it was refreshing to be able to read about her once again. I thoroughly enjoyed Gregory’s portrayal of Katherine; she comes into her own as a romantic, stubborn, and highly intelligent woman with a passion for reform that develops throughout the novel, so that the reader is also taken along on her discovery of the latest Protestant ideals. She is also a hugely sympathetic character; her relationship with the tyrannical Henry involves constantly walking on eggshells, just as it does for the rest of the court, and Katherine is perhaps the most successful of all of Henry’s queens at learning to manage the balance of power. She learns, mostly through terrifying trial and error, when to speak her mind and when to stay silent; when to use her body and when to use her mind; and, most importantly, that to keep safe and in the King’s affections, she must be an obedient wife. The extent to which Katherine has to go to protect not just her own life, but also the lives of her friends and beloved sister Nan, will horrify modern readers – particularly during a shocking scene when Henry abuses Katherine and derives huge sexual pleasure from the act. As a woman, I am always sickened to think of the ways in which women were treated and how they had to demean themselves to avoid such treatment in the future, and I feel that this is shown most clearly in this novel, rather than in some of Gregory’s earlier works. I was in triumph with Katherine at the end of the novel when she is bought the news of Henry’s death and can finally move on with her life; even though I knew how the story would end, I still had tears come to my eyes as I truly felt Katherine’s relief and pride that she had been the one to survive – though my sadness was perhaps added to by the fact that, as any historian will know, the rest of her life was certainly not always a happy one. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.