Book Review: “The Son that Elizabeth I Never Had: The Adventurous Life of Robert Dudley’s Illegitimate Son” by Julia A. Hickey

cover260109-mediumWhen we study the life of Queen Elizabeth I, the image of a virgin queen who never married tends to come to mind. Of course, she had a man who she favored above all others, Robert Dudley, but he married several times to Amy Robsart and Lettice Knollys. It was with Lettice Knollys that Robert Dudley was able to produce his heir, aptly named Robert Dudley Lord Denbigh, who unfortunately died at a young age. Robert Dudley was left without a legitimate heir, but he did have another son, albeit an illegitimate son, also named Robert Dudley. Julia A Hickey has decided to examine the life of the illegitimate Robert Dudley in her book, “The Son that Elizabeth I Never Had: The Adventurous Life of Robert Dudley’s Illegitimate Son.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. I am always in the mood to learn about someone from the Tudor period I have never heard about before. I did not know that Robert Dudley had an illegitimate son and that he might have been married before he married Lettice Knollys, so I was excited to learn more about this mysterious son.

Hickey begins her biography about this often forgotten Dudley by exploring the origins of the Dudley family and how his father was able to rise from the ashes to become Queen Elizabeth’s favorite. I think she did a decent job explaining Dudley’s history, but Hickey tends to jump around instead of staying in chronological order with specific issues, which is a pet peeve for me. I also felt like this background information went on for a bit too long, but that might have been because I had just recently read a biography about Dudley, so most of the background information was not new to me.

Robert Dudley had fallen in love and allegedly married one of Elizabeth I’s maids of honor, Douglas Sheffield, who was Robert “Robin” Dudley’s mother. Robert Dudley would later marry Lettice Knollys to the ire of Queen Elizabeth I and had a son named Robert Dudley to add to the confusion, known as Lord Denbigh or “the noble imp.” After Robert’s legitimate son, we see the rise of Robin Dudley, as he became an explorer and trader in the silk industry. We also see Robin Dudley dealing with romantic scandals, notably leaving England, his wife Alice Leigh, and their growing family to flee to France with his mistress and future wife, Elizabeth Southwell. Robin and Elizabeth were married even though Robin never divorced Alice, thus committing bigamy and making him an enemy of the Stuarts, especially King James I.

Robin was also allegedly involved in the Essex Rebellion but only stayed in prison for a short time. He tried to gain legitimacy through a court case arguing that his parents were indeed married, but it failed spectacularly. Besides the scandals, Robin was an adventurer and deeply fascinated with navigation; his most notable work, The Secrets of the Sea, was the 1st atlas of the sea ever published. It was interesting to see how Robin’s life transformed as he worked in Italy until the end of his life and how he dealt with living during the reigns of Elizabeth and the early Stuarts in different ways.

I wanted to learn more about the early Stuart kings and the different issues that Hickey included in this book that were unfamiliar to me. Robert “Robin” Dudley lived quite a fascinating life, and I think he would have made his father Robert Dudley proud with his adventures to new lands and the book The Secrets of the Seas. Suppose you are also interested in learning more about Robert Dudley and his illegitimate son. In that case, I recommend reading “The Son that Elizabeth I Never Had: The Adventurous Life of Robert Dudley’s Illegitimate Son” by Julia A. Hickey.

Book Review: “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

cover260113-medium (1)When we think of those who made an impact in history, we tend to think of those who have been born to a married couple and therefore were considered legitimate children, especially when it comes to royal children. However, we know that illegitimate royal children, like William the Conqueror, greatly impacted history. Illegitimate royal children may have been barred from becoming king or queen of their respective countries of birth, but that does not mean they didn’t impact how their home country was governed. One of these children who affected politics during the Tudor dynasty was Arthur Plantagenet, the illegitimate son of Edward IV. In her latest book, “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle,” she explores the life of this man who gives us extraordinary insight into the running of Calais and how Henry VIII treated other family members.

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed the previous books I read by Sarah-Beth Watkins, and when I heard that she was writing a new book about Arthur Plantagenet, I was thrilled to read it. I have only heard about Arthur Plantagenet as a side character in other biographies and novels during Henry VIII’s reign, so I was looking forward to learning more about this man.

Watkins begins by exploring the possible birth dates and Arthur’s birth mother, which is a difficult challenge because Edward IV was known for having several mistresses that we know about and probably others who have remained secrets in history. While some illegitimate children were not acknowledged by their royal fathers, it looks like Edward IV accepted Arthur and allowed him to have a good education that would have followed his legitimate sons’ education regime. After the shocking death of Edward IV and the reign of Richard III, we see Arthur establishing himself in the court of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York; we have records of Elizabeth of York taking care of her illegitimate half-brother. Arthur was so close to Elizabeth of York that he attended her funeral.

Arthur’s rise during the reign of Henry VIII focuses on this title. We see how Arthur started as a Spear of Honour and worked his way up to Viscount Lisle after Charles Brandon became Duke of Suffolk. He was a Knight of the Garter, the Vice Admiral of the Tudor Navy, and finally became Lord Deputy of Calais. Arthur was married twice to Elizabeth Grey and Honor Greenville, and although Elizabeth was the one who gave Arthur his daughters, Honor was the one who we know the most about because of the Lisle Letters.

With the title of Lord Deputy of Calais came significant responsibilities for taking care of France’s last remaining English city. Arthur Plantagenet had to deal with your average repairs, preparing the town for battle, civil disputes, religious quarrels, and plots against King Henry VIII. The time that Arthur and Honor were in Calais was a tumultuous time for England and Henry, and we get to see how Arthur felt about these issues, like the Pole family drama, through his Lisle letters. The connection with the Pole family led Arthur to become a prisoner in the Tower of London for two years as he was connected to the Botolf plot to take the city of Calais for the Pope.

Watkins brings the life of Arthur Plantagenet to the forefront and gives this hidden illegitimate Plantagenet his time to shine. It was a fascinating read, especially learning about how Calais was maintained and about the Botolf plot, which I had never heard about before reading this book. If you want an excellent book that introduces the life of Arthur Plantagenet and his role during the reign of King Henry VIII, I would highly recommend you read “Arthur Plantagenet: Henry VIII’s Illegitimate Uncle” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.

Book Review: “Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen” by Mickey Mayhew

cover258870-medium (1)Throughout history, there have been a select number of cases of monarchs becoming prisoners either in war or in times of peace. One of the most famous cases of a monarch’s imprisonment during the 16th century was the case of Mary Queen of Scots. While there have been many tales of her infamous imprisonment and execution, there has not been much attention to the men and woman who acted as Mary Queen of Scots’ jailers. Who were the men and woman Elizabeth I put in charge of guarding the Scottish queen while she was in England? What were the conditions of her imprisonment, and what were the castles and manors like when the queen arrived? Mickey Mayhew explores these questions in his book, “Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have heard good things about Mickey Mayhew’s previous books that Pen and Sword Books have published, so when I saw this title, I wanted to read it. I have not read many books about Mary Queen of Scots’ imprisonment in England, so I was looking forward to learning something new.

Mayhew begins his nonfiction book by exploring Mary Queen of Scots’ origins and how she ended up being a prisoner in England. Next, he looks at the jailers in charge of Mary’s well-being while she was in England. Mayhew focuses on jailers in this book: Sir William Douglas, Henry 9th Lord Scrope, Sir Francis Knollys, Thomas Howard 4th Duke of Norfolk, Bess of Hardwick, Ralph Sadler, Sir Amyas Paulet, and Sir Drue Drury. Remarkably, we as readers get background information about every jailer and how their time with the prisoner queen affected them differently. For example, the imprisonment was so much of a strain that it tore the marriage between Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and Bess of Hardwick apart. We also see how the conditions of the castles and manors that Mary was housed in affected her mentally and physically. Some places that Mary was housed in included Carlisle Castle, Bolton Castle, Tutbury Castle, Sheffield Manor Lodge, and the infamous Fotheringhay Castle.

Like any prisoner, there are always escape attempts and plots afoot, and Mary Queen of Scots was no exception. Mayhew explores the famous schemes like Ridolfi and Babington and more minor attempts by Mary and those loyal to her. He also explores how jailers lived their lives after Mary Queen of Scots died. He concludes by examining how each jailer has been portrayed in literature and film/TV shows.

The one thing I wish Mayhew had not done in this book would have been to call Mary I “Bloody Mary” and Elizabeth I “Elizabeth Tudor.” Elizabeth I and Mary I were queens like Mary Queen of Scots, and their nicknames, especially Mary I, should not define who they were as rulers.

Overall, I think Mayhew did an excellent job making the topic of Mary Queen of Scots’ jailers exciting for his audience. It was a well-researched book that allows you to view Mary’s imprisonment and jailers differently. If you want to learn more about Mary Queen of Scots and her jailers, I recommend reading “Imprisoning Mary Queen of Scots: The Men Who Kept the Stuart Queen” by Mickey Mayhew.

Book Review: “London, A Fourteenth-Century City and its People” by Kathryn Warner

60747108._SX318_The city of London has been around for over two millennia, and with each passing century, it changes ever so slightly. From the Roman Londinium to medieval London, we see the city grow from a settlement of between 30,000 to 60,000 people to a bustling town of around 80,000 to 100,000 people. With growth comes changes to the city that would become the capital of England, and one of the most significant periods of transformation for the capital was during the fourteenth century. What was life like in fourteenth-century London for the average citizen of this sprawling city? Kathryn Warner attempts to answer this question in her latest nonfiction book, “London, A Fourteenth-Century City and its People.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I am always fascinated by learning about how people from different centuries lived their everyday lives, so when I heard about this title, it piqued my interest.

London was an international melting pot for Europe, so Warner used many stories to show the city’s diversity. To narrow down the information used in this particular book, Warner explains to her audience that she would only use tales from the reigns of Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III. This book is broken down into bite-sized chapters exploring different aspects of London life, from government and religion to medical, housing, and marriage. This may sound like your average time traveler guidebook, so those of us living in the 21st century can understand the fourteenth century, but Warner gives this genre a bit of a twist.

Instead of focusing on the different aspects and what was considered normal for citizens to eat or wear, Warner looks at unique cases that correspond with the elements that defined fourteenth-century London. They give great insights into how deadly the time was and how the average London citizens dealt with the legal restrictions of everyday life. Every aspect of fourteenth-century life had consequences for those who broke the rules, from charging too much for a loaf of bread or a mug of ale to stealing clothes or building violations. We also get great insight into how women and children were treated, the darker aspects of life, and how they were approached.

The one issue I had with this book was that it showed the cases that were the exceptions to the rules instead of showing what the standards were. Although I am glad Warner included the information she did, like her glossary, nicknames, and the introduction of surnames, I did want more facts to make this book feel complete. I wanted to know what the typical fashion was like for Londoners and what they ate during a normal day. What did a typical day look like for someone who lived in London during the fourteenth century?

“London, A Fourteenth-Century City, and its People” by Kathryn Warner is a well-researched and captivating look into London’s past for those who love learning new facts about medieval Europe. If you like learning new factoids about medieval London, you will find this book rather entertaining.

Book Review: “Lords of the North (The Saxon Stories Book #3) by Bernard Cornwell

2679014King Alfred and Uhtred have achieved a massive victory over the Danes, and as a reward, Alfred has allowed Uhtred to be free of his allegiance. Now, Uhtred travels north to his home, yet fate throws this hero another curveball. He encounters an enslaved person who claims to be the King of Northumbria named Guthred. This chance meeting sends Uhtred on a journey across the seas against his will and to finally face off against Kjartan the Cruel, who captured his stepsister Thyra. Bernard Cornwell takes his readers on another whirlwind adventure into 9th century England with Uhtred of Bebbanburg in the third novel of the Saxon Stories series, “Lords of the North.”

We are reunited with Uhtred in 878, a few months after the great battle from “The Pale Horseman.” Alfred has given Uhtred freedom from his oath, and he travels north to his home with the former nun Hild. Fate throws Uhted another curveball as when he is on an escort mission; he encounters a young, enslaved man named Guthred, the man who holy men believed would be king of Northumbria because of a message from Saint Cuthbert. Uhtred is made Guthred’s right-hand man, and Uhtred falls in love with the king’s sister Gisela. With Guthred, the audience sees the more extreme side of 9th century Christianity with Christian relics and saints that the young king believes will make him a great king like Alfred.

Fate is inevitable and has a path that Uhtred cannot escape, filled with betrayal and heartache. He is making a name for himself when fortune’s wheel takes another turn, and he is betrayed by Guthred and is sold to Sverri, a Danish trader, who uses Uhtred as an enslaved person. Uhtred spends two years on Sverri’s ship with another man, Finan the Agile, who would become Uhtred’s friend. At the end of the two years, Uhtred and Finan are rescued by Ragnar the Younger and Brida, who are now working with Alfred. This is a blessing in disguise because Alfred has a new mission for Uhtred to work with Father Beocca to make peace with Northumbria and Guthred. During this mission, Uhtred and Ragnar realize they have the opportunity to save Ragnar’s sister Thyra from Sven and Kjartan the Cruel.

The third novel in the Saxon Stories series gives the audience a chance to see Uhtred at the lowest point we have seen him so far, as an enslaved person. It is a story of revenge in multiple ways, and the way each revenge plot is executed is thrilling. I also enjoyed Cornwell’s new characters in this novel; the devout Christian convert King Guthred, the beautiful yet strong-willed Gisela, the survivor Thyra, Uhtred’s best friend, loveable warrior Finan, and Kjartan’s bastard son turned ally Sihtric.

I loved that the narrator of this series is an older Uhtred who is reflecting on his adventures as a younger man. It adds more depth to Cornwell’s tales of the Danes and the Saxons in 9th century England. If you have enjoyed the first two books in the Saxon Stories series, you are in for a treat with “Lords of the North” by Bernard Cornwell.

Book Review: “Raleigh: Tudor Adventurer (Elizabethan Book #3)” by Tony Riches

61016647._SY475_A man who wants to get ahead in any royal court must have an impeccable background and a willingness to serve his monarch no matter the obstacles thrown their way. It takes an extraordinary man who doesn’t have a pristine background to make it in the ruthless world of a royal court, but some men made names for themselves. One such man was an adventurer, a poet, an explorer, and a courtier. He came from humble beginnings and rose to prominence to become known as one of the last true Elizabethans. The man was Sir Walter Raleigh, and his story is told in Tony Riches’ latest novel, “Raleigh: Tudor Adventurer.”

I want to thank Tony Riches for sending me a copy of this novel. I have enjoyed his previous books in his Elizabethan series on Sir Francis Drake and Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, so I was thrilled when a new story about Sir Walter Raleigh was announced. I previously read a novel about Sir Walter Raleigh’s mother this year, so I was looking forward to an adventure with her son.

Walter Raleigh began his career as a law student who was not passionate about the law. He is ambitious and eventually attracts the attention of Queen Elizabeth I herself; it is in her court that he becomes a courtier and, finally, her Captain of the Guard. His dream was to set sail on the open seas with his brother. He finally gets his chance to sail the high seas, but it is not as glamorous as he envisioned, but he is hooked on the thrill of the adventure.

Some look down on Raleigh because he is not part of a noble family, but he rose through the ranks to become one of the Queen’s favorites. His good looks and charisma attracted the attention of many young ladies, including Bess Throckmorton, who would later become his wife. However, the bulk of this novel focuses on the adventures and investments Raleigh was known for. From Ireland and Cadiz to the New World and the search for the legendary City of Gold, Riches takes his readers on swashbuckling journeys full of perilous battles and high rewards.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Raleigh’s relationships with everyone from Queen Elizabeth I to his wife, Bess Raleigh. The audience gets a chance to see the inner workings of Elizabeth’s court through the eyes of someone who knew what it meant to be on Elizabeth’s good side. I also enjoyed the poetry that Riches weaves into this narrative to give his audience a better understanding of what Raleigh might have felt during crucial moments in his life. My one issue with this novel was that some of the battles and scenes during Raleigh’s expeditions felt a tad rushed to me, and I wish Riches developed these scenes a bit more.

Overall, I found this novel satisfying to read and a real treat for any Tudor fan. If you have enjoyed the previous Elizabethan series books or are looking for a stand-alone story about Sir Walter Raleigh, I would propose you read “Raleigh: Tudor Adventurer” by Tony Riches.

Book Review: “The Colour of Rubies: A Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery” by Toni Mount

61035582._SY475_The year is 1480. Intrigue and murder lurk everywhere at the Palace of Westminister, where no one is safe. A mysterious letter and the men who want the letter back lead to the murder of one of the clerks from the Office of the King’s Secretary. Under the orders of powerful men at court, including King Edward IV himself, Seb Foxley must join his wayward brother Jude as one of Secretary Oliver’s clerks to uncover the truth of the conspiracy against the crown. Can the brothers work together to decode the truth and save the life of the king’s beloved heir in time? Seb Foxley’s latest adventure is told in book ten of Toni Mount’s Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery series, “The Colour of Rubies.”

I want to thank Toni Mount for sending me a copy of the latest Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mystery novel. I previously read books 8 and 9 in this series, “The Colour of Shadows” and “The Colour of Evil,” and I enjoyed both novels. When I heard that there would be a tenth novel, “The Colour of Rubies,” I was excited to read it.

We begin the new Seb Foxley adventure with Jude celebrating his birthday as he navigates his new life as a husband and a clerk at the Office of Secretary Oliver. There is trouble in paradise as Jude and Chesca disagree on how she was able to supply a bountiful feast for Jude on his birthday, which was far too extravagant for the salary of a lowly clerk. Seb decides to cheer his brother on the day after his birthday by bringing him a gift, and then Jude decides to show Seb where he works. The brothers discover the murder of one of Jude’s fellow clerks and a mysterious letter written in a foreign language.

Lord Hastings gives Seb the arduous task of finding the murderer of the clerk, who they believe is one of the clerks, by entering into the Office of Secretary Oliver and living like a clerk. Seb befriends several clerks while discovering there is more to this case than a simple murder of a clerk. It has to do with the life of King Edward IV’s heir and an international conspiracy to hurt the king. To add to the confusion, Jude and Chesca’s marriage spat and its connection to the king and work piling up at Seb’s workshop while he is away, and his feelings for dear Rose.

If you have read the other Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery books, “The Colour of Rubies” by Toni Mount is an absolute must-read. I loved every page of this novel. It was thrilling, from the new characters and interactions between Seb and his household to the danger and intrigue that Seb experiences at court. If you are a fan of this series, you will love how Mount evolves Seb’s relationships with Rose and Jude. When you think the case is solved, Mount throws in a couple of curveballs that make you wonder how Seb, Jude, and the rest of the Foxley household will survive.

Book Review: “The House of Godwin: The Rise and Fall of an Anglo-Saxon Dynasty” by Michael John Key

52652202When we think of the past, especially those close to a thousand years past our current time, we tend to think about kings and conquerors who transformed the political landscape of certain countries. However, kings and conquerors would be nothing more than mere men if it was not for advisors and allies that stood by their sides or against them. For example, for nearly a century, the men and women of the House of Godwin were at the center of Anglo-Saxon politics and helped or hindered the path of those who wished to sit on the throne of England. The House of Godwin might not be a familiar family for those who are not familiar with Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest. Still, Michael John Key takes on the challenge to tell their story in his book, “The House of Godwin: The Rise and Fall of an Anglo-Saxon Dynasty.”

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I have heard of the House of Godwin, but I only knew about some family members, like Earl Godwin and Harold Godwinson, who would become King Harold II. I wanted to learn more about this family and what kind of influence they held before and after the Norman Conquest.

Key begins by showing his readers how Godwin became Earl Godwin through the reigns of Swein Forkbeard, Edmund the Confessor, and King Cnut. Godwin married a Danish noblewoman named Gytha, and they would go on to have at least eight children, the eldest being a son named Swegn; Swegn was seen as the black sheep of the family and caused quite a few headaches for his father. When Cnut died, Earl Godwin helped navigate the succession squabble to get Harold Harefoot to the throne to become King Harold I.

After Harold I’s death, Godwin decided to take matters into his own hands as he proposed a marriage between Edward the Confessor and his daughter Edith. Under Edward’s reign, we see the rise of the eldest sons of Godwin, Harold, and Tostig, but we also see the Godwinson family in exile. Godwin would win his earldom back, but when news reached him that his eldest son Swegn died, he died soon afterward. Harold would become the head of the family, the chief advisor to Edward the Confessor, and eventually the king’s heir.

Since the events of Edward’s succession and Harold’s reign were the catalyst for the Norman invasion, Key spends a few chapters looking into the events that led to the monumental year of 1066. He also looks at critical battles, especially the Battle of Hastings and how they allowed William the Conqueror to become King of England. Key also examines the relationship between Harold and Tostig, which would help bring the Godwinsons crashing down.

I think Key does a decent job of diving deep into the archives as he tries to find the truth of the 11th century. There were points where it was a bit dry for me, but I did appreciate the charts and maps that he included to help illustrate the wealth and land holdings of the Godwinsons. Overall, I think it was a solid yet complex introduction to the Godwinsons and their legacy. Suppose you want to learn more about Anglo-Saxon England and one of the most influential families of that period in history. In that case, I recommend you read “The House of Godwin: The Rise and Fall of an Anglo-Saxon Dynasty” by Michael John Key.

Book Review: “Of Blood Descended” by Steven Veerapen

60293344._SY475_The year is 1522, and London is in a jovial mood. King Henry VIII and his wife Catherine of Aragon are to play host to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V as he visits England. As one of King Henry VIII’s most loyal advisors, Cardinal Wolsey had the great honor of hosting a grand masque featuring King Arthur and the Black Knight for the distinguished company. Unfortunately, as preparations for the luxurious masque are in full swing, Wolsey’s historian is horrifically murdered. The only one who can solve the case is Anthony Blanke, the son of John Blanke, the trumpeter before the masque is ruined, and Henry VIII discovers the truth. The story of this case is told in Steven Veerapen’s latest novel, “Of Blood Descended.”

I want to thank Steven Veerapen for sending me a copy of his latest novel. I am always in the mood for a good Tudor mystery, and when I heard that the main character was the son of John Blanke, I was intrigued to see how Veerapen would portray his story.

Veerapen begins this novel by introducing Pietro Gonzaga, Cardinal Wolsey’s historian, and his family as Gonzaga is on the cusp of revolutionary discovery. We then cut to Anthony Blanke returning to London after his father, John Blanke’s death. He is reluctant to go back to court and all of its intrigues, but it is necessary as Cardinal Wolsey himself summoned him. Wolsey is hosting a grand masque in honor of King Henry VIII and the Imperial Emperor Charles V; the theme is King Arthur and the Black Knight, and he has decided to cast Anthony as the titular Black Knight.

Progress with the masque goes smoothly until someone discovers Signor Gonzaga’s body after being brutally slain. Gonzaga’s murder sets the stage for a whirlwind chase to find the murderer, but the monster leaves a trail of blood behind him, and no one is safe. The action, intrigue, and mysteries will keep you guessing until the final pages to figure out who the mastermind was behind it all.

I loved the mystery behind the murder and how Veerapen was able to weave the Arthurian legends and prophecies with the story of the Tudors. I enjoyed the cameos from Thomas Boleyn and Anne Boleyn, but my favorite cameo was Henry VIII’s historian Polydore Vergil, who does not appear that often in Tudor historical fiction. I thought Anthony was such a fascinating protagonist as he gave a different perspective on the diversity of London life. Even though characters like Anthony Blanke, Sister Jane, Mark Byfield, and Harry Gainsford are entirely fictional characters, they feel like they would fit exceptionally well in the Tudor world.

I thoroughly enjoyed every twist and turn that Veerapen included in this novel. I hope to see more stories with Anthony, Jane, Mark, and Harry. If you enjoy Tudor murder mysteries, you will be enthralled with “Of Blood Descended” by Steven Veerapen.

Book Review: “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr” by Elizabeth Fremantle

18950719To be married to a king may seem like a dream, but reality can be cruel. Take the wives of Henry VIII. After saying ” I do,” each wife had to deal with complex challenges after saying “I do.” We all know the poem; divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived, but does that define these queens? After the death of her second husband, Katherine Parr must choose between Henry VIII and Thomas Seymour, the man who has captured her heart. She must navigate love, court intrigues, and the treacherous religious landscape of England in the 1540s to survive. Katherine’s life as Queen of England and how close she came to a disastrous fall from grace are explored in Elizabeth Fremantle’s first novel, “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr.”

I have heard about this particular novel for years, and I have wanted to read it for a long time. Katherine Parr is my favorite wife of King Henry VIII, but sadly there are not many novels about her. When it was announced that this novel would be turned into a new movie called “Firebrand,” I knew now was the perfect time to read this book.

“Queen’s Gambit” begins with Katherine Parr at the deathbed of her second husband, Lord Latymer. Their relationship was full of love, but it was also stained with tragedy as Katherine was left alone to fend off the Pilgrimage of Grace, which scarred both Katherine and her stepdaughter Meg for years to come. With the death of Lord Latymer, Katherine returns to court with Meg and her beloved maid Dot, where she falls hard to the debonair Thomas Seymour. Their love can never be as another man has his eyes on the desirable widow, and no one ever disobeys King Henry VIII. Katherine Parr marries the king and becomes his sixth wife, a queen of England.

As queen, Katherine’s life might seem like a dream, but dealing with an ailing husband and trying to promote her religious views without losing her head is a balancing act. I thoroughly enjoyed how Fremantle portrayed Katherine and her time as queen and eventually the wife of Thomas Seymour. Her relationships with Henry VIII, Thomas Seymour, Anne Askew, Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward are complicated but well fleshed out. I also enjoyed the additional characters that Fremantle included in Katherine’s tale, especially the loyal to a fault Dot and Huicke, the king’s physician whose friendship would become invaluable to Katherine.

This was my first time reading a book by Elizabeth Fremantle, and I cannot wait to read another story. Fremantle does a superb job of telling Katherine’s story in an engaging and thoughtful manner. It was so interesting that I did not want this novel to end.

Katherine Parr was not just the final wife who survived King Henry VIII’s last years. She was a wife, a loving stepmother, a widow, a woman in love, a caring friend, a writer, and a reformer. Her life was full of risks, tragedies, and love. If you love Tudor historical fiction novels, you will adore “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr” by Elizabeth Fremantle.