From her childhood, Catherine Parr lives on the fringes of the court of Henry VIII, her mother Catherine of Aragon’s lady-in-waiting. As the years pass, Henry bestows the favors of his friendship, and Catherine is lulled into a false sense of security, never imaging that the king will one day set his lusty eyes on her as his sixth wife.
When his attentions become inappropriate, Catherine is happy to be free of this unpredictable court, deeply in love with her unprepossessing husband, Ned Burgh, although Burgh’s family estates are obtained through the intercession of the king.
When Ned dies in a tragic accident barely a year into their marriage, Catherine’s lands are claimed by her irascible father-in-law and his powerful contacts in the church. A marriage to John Neville, Lord Latimer, affords Catherine some sanctuary, her much older husband demanding little but her affection.
Catherine is challenged to protect her interests through religious turmoil and rebellion against the king, her husband growing fragile and incapable of running their affairs. Ambushed by a long-averted by need for affection, Catherine falls hopelessly in love with Tom Seymour, uncle to the unhealthy young prince, heir of Henry through Jane Seymour.
Although he has promised to marry Catherine after the elderly Lord Latimer dies, Seymour has ambitions of his own; it is Tom, in fact, who delivers the news to his intended that Henry intends to marry Catherine soon after the beheading of the foolish Catherine Howard.
Catherine has watched Henry put aside one wife after another in his mad quest to beget a healthy male heir, watched him turn from handsome young king to a demanding, petulant ruler given to frantic bouts of paranoia that send his courtiers scattering in fear for their lives. Realizing her intractable position as Henry’s next conquest, Catherine knows real fear when she too fails to provide an heir; plots and rumors of heresy abound, the familiar drumbeat of a queen in disfavor.
Henry Tudor finally succumbs to the excesses of his body, his long reign ended. Finally, Catherine marries Tom Seymour only to find herself once more deluded, lulled by the tender phrases of a dashing husband who proves painfully false after all: “Even a queen can be the victim of her own illusions.”
Defined by her yearning for happiness, early widowhood, terrifying years as the Queen of England and the foolish wife of an overly-ambitious nobleman, Catherine is yet another victim of Henry’s appetite, a hostage of history and a treacherous, unpredictable court in a world where women serve as pawns for men’s ambition and lust for power.