The historical novelist talks about the inspiration behind her absorbing new Tudor tale, The Taming of the Queen, featuring King Henry VIII’s sixth wife.

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In this riveting Tudor history lesson disguised as a novel, Philippa Gregory (The White Queen) traces the relationship between Henry VIII and Kateryn Parr, his sixth wife, from the time of Henry’s marriage proposal in 1543 until his death four years later.

Most of us know Kateryn as the only one of Henry’s wives to have survived her marriage. Few of us know that she was also the first woman to publish work under her own name in English.

“I think the tragedy of Kateryn Parr is that she doesn’t really leave a legacy except for people who really go and look for it,” says Gregory.

In this awe-inspiring and intimate portrait we learn that Kateryn was a beautiful and sensual woman. She was scholarly, quick thinking, a natural diplomat and kind-hearted. Although twice widowed, at 30 she was young enough to bear the sons Henry craved—and desperately needed—to secure the succession.

She was also passionately in love with someone else.  

Henry was smitten. Kateryn was completely aware of the dangers she faced when his proposal of marriage arrived. Henry’s previous queen, Katherine Howard, lasted less than two years before she was executed. “He has buried four wives,” she muses, “why not another?”

She proves to be obediently tolerant of Henry's halitosis, obesity, ‘rotting body’, sweat-drenched clothing, and fumblings in bed. Over time, she grows to trust him and even manages to win over royal princesses, Mary and Elizabeth.

But she has many powerful enemies in the church, who feel their faith is being threatened, and she is accused of heresy—the punishment being death by fire on the stake.

“I called it The Taming of the Queen,” explains Gregory, “in a sense as a tribute to the woman who lived with a tyrant, in his court and in his bed – and came out completely unbowed.”

Gregory is unarguably the mistress of the Tudor court, displaying all its extravagance, political manoeuvring, religious unease and treachery.

Header image via Simon and Schuster
 

Read James Walton’s review

Buy The Taming of the Queen in our bookshop £12.99 35% off RRP

 

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