“The tricky business of a man setting aside his wife” in a Tudor marriage prefigures coming events at the court of Henry VIII in the latest from six-wives chronicler Dunn (The Confession of Katherine Howard, 2011, etc.).
It’s Wolf Hall revisited. While Hilary Mantel borrowed the name of the Seymour family’s historic manor house for the title of her Man Booker prizewinning best-seller, for English novelist Dunn, it’s the prime location for her closely observed sidebar-to-history account of Edward Seymour’s doomed first marriage to mercurial Katherine Filliol. Events are narrated by future royal wife Jane Seymour, who's 15 when Edward, her oldest brother, introduces his spirited bride to the household; Jane instinctively warms to Katherine’s impulsive nature. What follows is an overdetailed domestic portrait of Wolf Hall through two years of seasonal shifts, feasts and festivals while Katherine’s moods flicker and fade. Edward leaves for a while, to fight in France, and on his return, his wife bears him two sons. And then the family is torn apart by scandal. Jane, innocent but implicated by her friendship with her sister-in-law, tries to salvage her brother's marriage but the rift is irreparable. Katherine is sent to a convent while Edward tries to restore family respectability by placing Jane at court, as maid of honor to Queen Catherine, Henry VIII’s first wife. Jane therefore has a ringside seat when Henry, like Edward Seymour before him, declares his current marriage at an end—in order to marry Anne Boleyn, whose subsequent execution leads to Jane’s coronation.
Dunn embroiders a capable historical novel around the few known facts about Katherine Filliol, but non-Tudor obsessives may find her minute scrutiny of the Seymour marriage an overextended prologue to the more mainstream events.