Catherine Parr number six in Henry’s Medieval Wife Roulette..

Queen's GambitQueen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Being courted by a king is something I assume most women would love unless of course that king were Henry VIII and as most people know he had a bit of a reputation. Stopping nothing short of changing his kingdoms religious faith to suit his own needs to rid himself of wife numero uno, he wasn’t exactly a welcome suitor.
I suspect wife number six Catherine Parr wasn’t exactly overjoyed at being picked as next in line for Henry’s version of Medieval Wife Roulette.
Fremantle has written a subtle mixture of fiction and fact. I am glad she clearly mentions the fictitious part, because there is nothing worse than an author depicting gossip/myth and unsubstantiated rumour as facts in an historical setting.
Keeping the fiction in mind I am glad that certain aspects of Henry’s reign of nothing short of terror are alluded to. He was a very volatile man with bouts of paranoia and anger. Depending on who was the flavour of the week in his court, and whispering chinese whispers in his ears, would determine who might end up in the Tower next.
The truth is not one person was safe from his almost manical mood swings. He chose those he held dearest to be condemned at the whim of mere wisp of suspicion. Like the Queen in Alice it was often ‘Off with his/her head’ and bring on the next one. I believe that people who actually lived during his era would speak a story of true fear and darkness.
That same fear is something which Catherine Parr doesn’t fully comprehend at first in this story. She is naive enough to believe that the intelligent and educated Henry wants someone just as academically solid by his side. Well he does, except if you’re a female or if you disagree with him of course. He teaches her humiliation and indeed is described as both physically and mentally abusive to Catherine.
Fiction aside for a moment I do think Fremantle has managed to capture a side of Henry that many historians like to gloss over. It is easy to laugh and be merry at the children’s rhyme that is used in schools to learn the fate of the wives. Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded and survived. Not so merry for the victims.
What is apparent is the lack of choice Parr has as a woman. Not once in any of her four marriages is she granted any kind of free will.
Although the reading matter was interesting and I do love to read about that era, some of the writing and chapter switches seemed a little disjointed. The boundaries of fiction were also bent a little with the rise of Dot above her station, which would have been very unlikely.
Overall I enjoyed the read and after having read her take on Elisabeth I as a young girl would be interested to see what the author would come up with in regards to that era.
I received a free copy of this book via Netgalley.

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