Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: The Taming of the Queen


Philippa Gregory
The Taming of the Queen
By Philippa Gregory
Touchstone, August 2015

About the Book

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.

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 . . .

My Review

Kateryn is a scholar, curious, witty, eager to learn and more eager to write and share all that she’s learned so that her subjects may come to the word of God on their own terms. But Bishop Gardiner and other courtiers do everything they can to push the king back toward the Church of Rome. Henry plays them all like a puppet master—he refers to them as nothing but dogs scrapping in a yard—and by keeping them at each other’s throats and always off balance, he keeps himself in control. He is a master manipulator of the highest order, but one who, like all manipulators, leaves havoc in his wake.

After the infamous Anne Askew preaches in the queen’s rooms and Kateryn dares to voice her opinions too loudly, her enemies converge, and Henry uses this as an opportunity to bring her to heel. History tells us that Kateryn survived by using her wits and submitting to her megalomaniac of a husband, who must subjugate women and others to make himself feel powerful. But Gregory takes us through it scene by scene, and the result is a pleasant retelling of a familiar tale.

Although I have not always been a fan of Gregory’s work (see my review of The White Princess), I thought this a solid book. This tale still has some of Gregory’s trademark repetition (see my review of The King’s Curse for more examples), which gets old, and this book is even more steamy and graphic than usual. It opens like a true bodice ripper, and yet Kateryn and several other characters do shine. I especially enjoyed the fool, Will Somers, who was anything but foolish and came to be a close, if quiet, ally of Kateryn’s.

Gregory focuses a bit more on the precise theological matters that were in dispute than most, which only emphasizes the ridiculousness of the king’s games as he changes his mind on a whim. The end is overly drawn out and Henry as the villain who explains his evil ways over and over gets tiresome while we wait for Kat to have her chance of a happy ending. Overall, though, an enjoyable retelling of the Kateryn Parr story.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer, www.rhendersonpalmer.com 


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