By pondering the mistakes of her predecessors, Kateryn Parr, sixth wife of King Henry VIII, manages to keep her head.
Gregory, who has written extensively about the Tudors and other British dynasties, now turns her attention to the end of Henry’s reign. The king, though grotesquely obese and suffering from gout and a suppurating leg wound, still fancies himself the warrior, huntsman, and seducer he was in his youth. Kateryn Parr, a widow at 31, is commanded shortly after her husband’s death to come to court, where Henry immediately makes his matrimonial intentions clear. Although she loves Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Queen Jane, who died giving birth to Henry’s heir, Prince Edward, Kateryn knows she has no choice but to marry Henry. As consort, Kateryn strives to avoid, by word or deed, any indication she is other than Henry’s loving helpmeet. Although well-aware that none of his other wives had any control over his mercurial whims—not even best-beloved Jane, who died alone while Henry was off hunting—Kateryn is not planning on providing any ammunition to those who would see her replaced, like the love letter that led to Katherine Howard’s execution or the arrogance that made Anne Boleyn a target. She concentrates on studying and promoting her pet projects, advocating for Scriptures in English and supporting the Protestant Reformation, while appearing never to overtly disagree with the growing faction hoping to restore papism. With a male heir in place, both Princess Mary and Princess Elizabeth are relegitimized thanks to Parr. However, she is warned, by Thomas and others, that if Henry wants her gone, no amount of discretion can save her life. Gregory puts readers at the scene with visceral details like the annoying sounds Henry makes while gorging himself and the smell of his never-healing leg that seeps into Kateryn’s dreams.
Although Kateryn’s studiousness makes for some dull reading, the pace picks up as her intellect becomes her greatest liability.