Four different voices tell the story of King Henry VIII’s final wife. And it works! Awarded four stars on Goodreads.
First, a little background. Queen Katherine Parr is usually portrayed as a keenly intelligent and dutiful wife. Married three times to much older men – including Henry VIII – she was known as a skilled caretaker and faithful companion. Her fourth, short-lived marriage – to Thomas Seymour, brother to former Queen Jane Seymour and uncle to Henry VIII’s successor, King Edward VI – is usually portrayed as the major passion of Katherine’s life. She and Thomas were involved before Henry VIII chose to make her queen.
What I like most about Arnopp’s novel is its construction. There are four sections, each narrated by a different character.
– First, there is Katherine’s step-daughter from the second marriage. From her we witness Katherine’s loving and supportive presence and extreme kindness.
– Katherine herself narrates the second section of the book, describing her initial horror at being chosen to marry the King, then slowly transitioning into a dutiful commitment to being both a good wife and Queen.
– After Henry VIII’s death, Thomas Seymour takes over as narrator — and his character was the most interesting to me. Instead of his customary portrayal — as someone deeply in love with Katherine Parr but having to step aside for King Henry — Arnopp’s Thomas is a scheming, ambitious egotist who cares primarily for pleasure and his own personal advancement. And that sets up the story of Thomas’s famous “flirtation” with Katherine’s step-daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I.
– Princess Elizabeth is the fourth narrator, lamenting the errors of her own relationships with both Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour and using those experiences to formulate her own, new and carefully constructed public demeanor.
The combination of these four voices paints a believable and very human portrait of Queen Katherine Parr, because it’s based on a small group of historical figures who juggle the same conflicting emotions and responsibilities we all face — ambition, duty, romantic passion, love, mistakes, and bad judgement.
More about the historical novelist Judith Arnopp.