Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Queen's Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr.
Anyone fascinated by the turbulent history of Henry VIII’s court is aware that the last of his six wives, Katherine Parr, was lucky to have made it out alive. Elizabeth Fremantle tells her story in Queen's Gambit, a richly detailed novel chronicling Katherine’s rise and near fall at court.
Twice a widow, Katherine is deeply in love with the dashing Thomas Seymour when she catches the King’s eye and has no choice but to wed him. As a staunch and outspoken Protestant, Katherine realizes she is in danger when it becomes clear that Henry is reverting back to his Catholic beliefs and has surrounded himself with advisors who think she is a heretic. Her outspokenness about her beliefs sets her on the same path as Anne Boleyn, and Katherine has to use her wits to avoid losing her head.
Fremantle’s portrayal of Katherine rings true. She is a woman who tries to take advantage of her position as queen to move her reformist ideas forward. However, she must also gauge the king’s volatile moods and coddle him when necessary to stay in his good graces. She is an astute and highly intelligent woman who is also full of compassion—every inch a queen.
What is more interesting about this novel is the story of her faithful maid, Dot Fownten, who is like a daughter to Katherine. Largely lost to history, Dot—who is listed in historical records as Dorothy Fountain—is resurrected in this novel to offer a different perspective of Katherine and the Tudor court. As a lowborn woman, she moves in different circles around the court. What she experiences adds further depth the story.
Queen's Gambit is an engrossing tale worthy of comparisons to Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir. As Tudor fictions fans are aware, there is no shortage of books chronicling Henry VIII and his wives. This one is a standout—well-written, carefully researched, and enjoyable from start to finish.