Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife – by Alison Weir – independent book review – Historical Fiction (England)

NOTE: I received early access to this book through netgalley in exchange for writing an impartial review. Thank you Ballantine Books. (Scheduled Publication: May 11, 2021)

I now feel as though I have met Katharine Parr, and I like her, a lot!

Author Alison Weir’s Katharine is a fully-fleshed out woman — intelligent, proud, caring — but NOT perfect. KATHARINE PARR: THE SIXTH WIFE IS a very satisfying conclusion to Weir’s six-novel series on the wives of England’s King Henry VIII. Awarded four stars in Goodreads but 4.5 stars is probably more accurate.

As someone who has read a lot of historical fiction over the decades, I am accustomed to uneven execution. Sometimes I find historical novels nothing more than a recitation of facts and events, supplemented by semi-believable dialog. Other times, I find historical detail overwhelms story. So when I find a novel like this one, that strikes just the right balance of historical authenticity, dialog, and full character development — it’s a REAL treat!

Covering 30 of Katharine’s 36-year life, THE SIXTH WIFE begins with the death of Katharine’s father and ends with her own — all from her point of view. Over that period, we watch her slowly evolve from a dutiful, but inconsequential daughter to a woman wise, strong and decisive enough to be a good queen.

We also see her move closer and closer to the center of political power, through four very different kinds of marriages:

  1. Sir Edward Burgh
  2. John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer
  3. King Henry VIII, King of England
  4. Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley

Danger abounds. Katharine’s life span coincides with Tudor England’s struggle to find a suitable path from Roman Catholicism to Church of England, which presents Katharine and many of her friends with the ongoing threat of heresy.

Weir’s Katharine is a complex person. An author of multiple religious books, a steady friend, and loyal to her family of origin. Loving and kind to Henry VIII’s children – she is often credited with bringing them altogether as a family for the first time. Certainly all of her stepchildren (including King Edward VI, Queen Mary I, and Queen Elizabeth I) loved and respected her. But she was also capable of harsh rebukes, envy, and pettiness.

Author Alison Weir (courtesy of her website)

Katharine’s longest romantic relationship, with husband #4 Tom Seymour, is interesting and believable. Though instantly attracted to one another (they meet while she is still married to husband #2), Katharine dutifully puts her feelings aside when the King comes calling. And after Henry’s death, when Katharine and Tom are finally free to marry, her romanticized ideal slowly shifts to seeing him for who he truly is — ambitious, self-absorbed, and always putting his own needs ahead of everyone else’s. I found this portrait of Seymour much more intriguing than the way he is normally portrayed, which is attractive, popular, and charismatic.

If you are a lover of historical fiction, interested in Tudor England, or just partial to good biography — this is well worth your investment of time.

More about the very prolific author and historian, Alison Weir.

You may be interested in my reviews of the previous books in this exceptionally well-done historical series, Six Tudor Queens:

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession

Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen

Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait

Katheryn Howard, The Scandalous Queen