Probably the title tells you right off the bat that this book has to do with Henry Tudor, AKA Henry the Eighth, he of the six wives. But before you decide that you already know as much as you want to about Henry and his wives, this historical fiction novel is by Jean Plaidy (1 September 1906 – 18 January 1993), the prolific author who wrote and published almost 200 novels under various pseudonyms (one for each genre she wrote), and whose real name was Eleanor Hibbert. Her historical fiction is based on extensive research and her novels are rich in both description and characterization. This book about Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Katharine Parr, is no exception. I couldn’t turn out the light the other night until I finished reading it — 3 a.m. is a bit late for me but I couldn’t help myself.
Katharine Parr had had two husbands and been widowed twice by the time she was thirty-one. Both marriages had been arranged for her with wealthy, older men, and now she looked to enjoy life with a lively young suitor, Thomas Seymour. A bit of a wag and womanizer, Seymour was ambitious and, while he found Katharine comely enough, it was her wealth as much as anything that drew him to her. Until the king takes an interest. Katharine does nothing to encourage the king but he commands her to court, keeps her near, and when he proposes, well, one can’t say ‘no’ to the king even though saying ‘yes’ brings any wife of his close to the axe. Especially if she proves unable to provide a son and heir, and so far, Katharine has been childless.
Plaidy takes us through Katharine’s perilous journey with a capricious husband who craves her gentle hands to tend his ulcerous legs one moment, then, when health is somewhat restored, becomes terribly dissatisfied with a wife who has not yet provided him with an heir. Then, there are those among the court who seek to get rid of her due to her private support of the New Religion as well as to further their own causes. But Katharine is clever and has staunchly loyal ladies around her — she manages to evade her enemies time and again, sometimes by the skin of her teeth. But Plaidy takes the tale beyond Henry’s death, and reveals the political complications and personal unhappiness that follow her to her own death one year beyond the King’s.
The story is well told, fraught with suspense despite prior knowledge of a well-documented and well-known history. The tactile and visual descriptions, the perilous situations deftly conveyed, and the lady’s untenable position, make this strange love story vivid and palpable. There are many historical novels about the Tudor queens, religious upheaval, and wars, but Plaidy’s work is historically grounded while still making the times and characters incredibly real. I’ll definitely be looking at more of her historical fiction novels. This one is a winner. * * * * *