Six Tudor Queens: Katharine Parr, the Sixth Wife by Alison Weir

This is the final book in Alison Weir’s Six Tudor Queens series retelling, in fictional form, the stories of the wives of Henry VIII. Katharine Parr, the subject of this sixth novel, has never interested me as much as some of the other wives, yet this book has turned out to be my favourite of the series, not just for what we learn about Katharine herself, but also for the depiction of the political and religious situation in England during the later stages of Henry’s reign.

I have read other novels about Katharine Parr, such as Elizabeth Fremantle’s Queen’s Gambit and Philippa Gregory’s The Taming of the Queen (interestingly, every author seems to choose a different spelling of her name!), but none of them go into as much depth and concentrate almost solely on her time as Henry’s wife and her relationship with Thomas Seymour. This book starts at the beginning, with Katharine’s childhood, and then takes us through her entire life, devoting plenty of time to her earlier two marriages, first to the young Edward Burgh and then to John Neville, Lord Latimer. I particularly enjoyed the section of the book where Katharine is married to Latimer; although it’s not a passionate romance, Katharine comes to love and trust her husband and they have a happy nine years together despite the religious turmoil going on around them (the uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace takes place during this period and provides one of the most exciting episodes in the novel).

Although Lord Latimer remains faithful to the Catholic Church, Katharine becomes a supporter of religious reform. When Latimer dies in 1543 and the King, having recently had his fifth wife beheaded, asks her to marry him, Katharine reluctantly accepts, knowing that turning down his proposal would be very unwise and hoping that her influence at court can further the cause of the reformers. Over time she becomes quite fond of Henry, engaging in lively debates with him on the subject of religion, but there is always an undercurrent of danger and Katharine knows that if she is to avoid the fate of her predecessors, she can’t allow her sympathies for the new Protestant religion to become too obvious. Somehow, Katharine manages to survive and outlive the King, free at last to marry Thomas Seymour, the man she really loves…but their time together is tragically short and marred by Seymour’s inappropriate behaviour with the young Princess Elizabeth.

I loved reading about Katharine’s life before she became Queen, as so much of this was new to me – and unlike the book on Anne of Cleves, where Weir admits that she invented a lot of Anne’s story, this one seems to be more grounded in historical fact. Once the novel moves on to her marriages to Henry VIII and Thomas Seymour, I was on more familiar ground and found these sections slightly less interesting to read – particularly as I have never liked Thomas Seymour and wished I could reach into the pages of the book and stop Katharine from marrying him!

Something that has intrigued me throughout this series is the way in which Alison Weir has chosen to portray Henry VIII. She shows him in a much more positive light than usual, to the point where she almost seems to be absolving him of any responsibility for his actions, putting the blame on the people around him instead – Thomas Cromwell, Bishop Gardiner, even some of his victims such as poor Katheryn Howard. On the one hand, it’s interesting to see a more nuanced depiction of Henry, but on the other I’m not convinced that his wives would all have viewed him as favourably as these books suggest!

Katharine Parr herself is portrayed as an intelligent, well-educated and compassionate woman; her previous marriages and experience of life have given her a maturity and common sense that some of Henry’s other wives lacked. She makes an effort to befriend her stepchildren and plays an important part in persuading Henry to restore his daughters Elizabeth and Mary to the line of succession. She gains the King’s trust and is named regent while he is away on a military campaign, as well as becoming the first queen to have books published in English under her own name. Katharine’s life is maybe not as dramatic as some of the other wives’, but because I liked her so much I was able to become fully invested in her story.

Now that this series has come to an end, Alison Weir is moving further back in time with her next novel to tell the story of Henry VIII’s mother, Elizabeth of York, in The Last White Rose.

Thanks to Headline for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

Book 41/50 read for the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

11 thoughts on “Six Tudor Queens: Katharine Parr, the Sixth Wife by Alison Weir

    • Helen says:

      I like Katharine too. Her story isn’t as dramatic as Anne Boleyn’s or Katharine Howard’s and I wasn’t sure how Alison Weir would hold my interest over 550 pages, but I really enjoyed it!

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    I really must start this series soon(ish) once I finish some of my other long running reads. At least I’ve *finally* finished both the ‘Divergent’ and ‘Hunger Games trilogy’s – finally! I’ve read a handful of Weir’s works so far and have yet to be disappointed with any of them.

  2. GoAnnelies - In Another Era says:

    Katharine Parr (or however you spell it indeed!) is actually my favourite wife (together with Anne Boleyn, I just cannot not love her). She was the first queen to publish a book, she tried to influence her husband on religious manners and when it got hot under her feet she was smart enough to not get tried. She did influence prince Edward, the lady Elizabeth and the lady Jane Grey on religious matters and even had some friendly relationship with the lady Mary. In some way you could think of her of one of Henry’s most queenly wives, next to Catherine Of Aragon.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, she was very queenly and she achieved such a lot! I really liked the way this book spent so much time on her earlier marriages too, which I knew almost nothing about.

  3. BookerTalk says:

    My knowledge of this queen is sketchy at best – she’s less ‘colourful’ than the other five and her reign wasn’t marked by as much drama so I suppose thats why she hasn’t been the focus of as much attention. I did read one of the CJ Sansom books (Lamentation) which is based on the loss of a religious book Katherine has written which, if found, could put her in danger. Highly readable if you’re interested.

    • Helen says:

      It’s a shame Katharine doesn’t get more attention, as she accomplished quite a lot in her time as queen, even if she didn’t have such a dramatic life as some of the others. I have read Lamentation and I agree that the Shardlake books are very readable. I’m hoping to read the last one, Tombland, soon.

  4. whatmeread says:

    Yikes! The general consensus among historians is that Henry was pretty much a monster, especially later in life. Did Weir get any better at writing fiction through this series?

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