"But seeing those words that were first written, and scratched out, and rewritten again in print and bound into a book, I know that I love the process of writing and publishing. To take a thought and work on it, to render it into the clearest form possible, and then to send it out into the world - this is work so precious and so joyful that I am not surprised that men have kept it to themselves." Kateryn Parr
Quotation from The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory.
It is 9pm on a Saturday night and I have just spent a lovely afternoon and evening curled up reading Philippa Gregory's latest Tudor novel. I have been a fan of her work since I read Wideacre when I was 18 and I always look forward to her new releases.
The Taming of the Queen is the story of Katherine Parr, or Kateryn as she is known in the book - the unfortunate woman who is chosen to be Henry VIII's latest wife. She is famous for being the one who outlived him, who managed to survive marriage to a wife-killer, but she is also the wife most equal to him for intelligence and personal ambition.
At the beginning of the marriage Henry loves his clever wife, encouraging her to debate with him and speak her mind, but as he begins to tire of her, as he tired of all his wives, her scholarship and opinions start to irritate him and an irritated Henry is a dangerous man to be around - Kateryn has to talk herself out of trouble on more than one occasion.
There is an on-going sense of duress throughout the book - you can feel the net closing in around Kateryn as her enemies plot against her and she has no idea if she will be the next queen killed. To add to this duress, all the gifts her husband presents her with in his generosity belonged to someone else. She is expected to wear Anne Boleyn's crown, Katherine Howard's furs and Jane Seymour's hood - and be grateful for them. All her gowns have been worn be former queens, former wives and she is acutely aware that she is simply the latest in a long line of royal playmates. After sitting for a royal family portrait she realizes that she could as easily find herself on the scaffold as on the queens' throne.
There are a few historical milestones mentioned in this novel - the sinking of the Mary Rose is described in tragic detail; the execution of Anne Askew, the first woman ever to be tortured in England because Henry changed the Law specifically to stretch her on the rack (such a nice man!); and the swinging back and forth between the papist and reformist religions, depending on what mood Henry is in and who are his favourites at the time. It is all so very precarious. Laws are changed in a moment, just to accuse and condemn someone; people are favored one day and in the Tower the next.
In spite of all this though Kateryn Parr steadily moves towards her own ambitions of pushing for a more tolerant and reformed Church. She works with theologians to translate prayers and religious texts, believing that common people have a right to understand the word of god and read the bible in their own language. This is partly what gets her into such trouble.
Having said that, Katherine Parr was the very first woman in England to write and publish her own work, under her own name and for breaking that glass ceiling, every woman author since owes her a huge debt of gratitude. I certainly have a special fondness for her and I admire her greatly for achieving her ambition in such dangerous circumstances and for paving the way for the rest of us to follow in her footsteps down the path to publication. It's not easy to publish now - it was downright life-threatening then.
The Taming of the Queen is such an interesting book and like with all Gregory's novels, the history is told in an entertaining and vivid way so you learn as you read. It's a decent size, weighing in a 425 pages and it will have you gripping the edge of your seat as Kateryn negotiates her way through a marriage that could turn deadly at any moment. If you like Tudor novels, you will enjoy this one.