The Taming of the Queen

Elizabeth Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Royal Reviews, The Sixteenth Century Leave a Comment

Title: The Taming of the Queen

Author: Philippa Gregory

Publisher: Levon Publishing, Ltd.

Copyright:  August 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1476758794


Format: E-Book, 465 Pages

Genres: Historical Fiction, Women’s Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction Inspired by Real Historical Figures

Price: $13.99 [Kindle], $30.62 [Audible], $13.99 [Nook], $26.09 [Barnes and Noble Audiobook], $13.99 [Google Play], $16.95 [Google Play Audiobook], $13.99 [Apple Books], $22.99 [Apple Books Audiobook]


Why would a woman marry a serial killer?

Because she cannot refuse…

Kateryn Parr, a thirty-year-old widow in a secret affair with a new lover, has no choice when a man old enough to be her father who has buried four wives—King Henry VIII—commands her to marry him.

Kateryn has no doubt about the danger she faces: the previous queen lasted sixteen months, the one before barely half a year. But Henry adores his new bride and Kateryn’s trust in him grows as she unites the royal family, creates a radical study circle at the heart of the court, and rules the kingdom as Regent.

But is this enough to keep her safe? A leader of religious reform and the first woman to publish in English, Kateryn stands out as an independent woman with a mind of her own. But she cannot save the Protestants, under threat for their faith, and Henry’s dangerous gaze turns on her. The traditional churchmen and rivals for power accuse her of heresy—the punishment is death by fire and the king’s name is on the warrant…

From an author who has described all of Henry’s queens comes a deeply intimate portrayal of the last: a woman who longed for passion, power, and education at the court of a medieval killer.


Portrait of Henry VIII, 1542. Hans Holbein the Younger. Private Collection.

The year is 1543 and all of Europe is in the midst of the Reformation.  It has been 26 years since a discontented but humble Augustinian friar posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg.  His name was Martin Luther and he transformed Europe as they all knew it.  Openly challenging the Pope Leo X and the magisterium of the Catholic Church, declaring that a man could find salvation through faith alone.  The Catholic Church responded with the Pope issuing a papal bull Exsurge Domine or “Arise, O Lord” to combat the Ninety-Five Theses and, in time, a Counter-Reformation was established.

King Henry VIII, possibly England’s most notorious reigning monarch, has been reigning for 34 years. He started out his reign as most monarchs in Christendom, adhering strongly to the Catholic faith as his parents and grandparents did before him. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church was the foremost and only acceptable religion of Europe and throughout the entire Middle Ages. He married his first wife and widow of his deceased brother, Katherine of Aragon, a beautiful young Spanish princess. She was a devout Catholic and, Henry was in the Pope’s good graces that he held the title: “Defender of the Faith.”

All of that changed in an instant when along came the dark-eyed beauty that many nowadays are mesmerized by, Anne Boleyn.  Henry knew immediately that he wanted Anne and that he had to have her, going so far as to forsake his own queen.  Anne refused to accept the title of “Royal Mistress” and knew that there was only one title that would truly suit her: “Queen of England.”  When he cast Katherine aside, he attempted to marry Anne but the Pope, who was under Katherine’s kinsman’s power, refused to issue an annulment to Henry.  What was Henry to do then?

Henry VIII’s Italian armor that was made rather large to accommodate the entirety of his person. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henry took a deeply devout Catholic country and created his own religion, the Church of England. Some English were excited and receptive towards this message of obtaining salvation through faith instead of good works. It was a major bone of contention. Other Englishmen were furious and refused to accept the new faith, some even going to their deaths, such as Henry’s once beloved friend, Sir Thomas More. A great protest known as the “Pilgrimage of Grace” began all over England and many who fought to keep their Catholic faith were put to death.

Essentially, the year of 1543 saw a great unrest in regards to religion.  There were still those who clung to the beliefs of the old faith, the Catholic Church, and there were others who fought for reform, the Church of England.  Henry VIII was created “the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England,” and all subjects were required to recite the “Oath of Supremacy.”  Furthermore, the establishment of the “Treasons Act of 1534” made it high treason to those who refused to recite the oath and there was only one punishment, death.  In the 1540s, there was a great tornado of religious conflict, causing there to be great dissension.


Spring 1543

The Hastings portrait of Queen Kateryn Parr. With auburn hair and intelligent gray eyes, she was considered a great beauty. Source: Art UK.

The thirty-one-year-old Kateryn Parr is recently the widow of John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer and she has come to the royal court. While there, she happens to catch the eye of the rather old and ailing corpulent King Henry VIII, who is determined to have her. When she is approached by the king with a proposal of marriage, Kateryn is very much taken aback and doesn’t really quite know what to say. Deep down, she is absolutely disgusted at the prospect of being the wife to such a man, a personage who has gone through five queens. After the king proposes, she smiles at him and requests that she has time to pray on the matter.

Quietly in her mind, she considers the options but knows that she cannot refuse the king…ever.  After seeing how Henry VIII has dealt with those closest to him throughout the years, she knows that it is foolish to ever be on his wrong side.  He executed two wives, divorced two wives, and had several of his friends beheaded, when they did not agree with his religious views.  Making a curtsey before the king, she quickly leaves the room to “accustom herself to the joy” but deep down, she is filled with utter revulsion.

In the dark of the night, she quietly quits her bedchamber and weaves her way through the palace to the room of the only man who she truly loves, Thomas Seymour.  He is tall and sleek, young and exceedingly handsome with dark eyes and a fine head of dark hair.  It is apparent from their interaction that they are lovers and that Thomas had hoped to finally marry Kateryn, who was just released from a marriage.  When he discovers that Henry has his dark beady eyes on Kateryn, he is furious and heartbroken but ultimately knows that there is no other way than the king’s way.  The lovers make love one last time, leaving both of them saddened.

Kateryn steels herself as she assents to marrying the king, delivering a pretty speech with such shrewd, clever words. When she ascends to the title of Queen of England, she has to walk on eggshells around her husband, careful to use every word with such cautious precision. She has seen many a queen fall from the grace of Henry and, she reminds herself of what happened to Katherine Howard. Even though her heart breaks from having lost Thomas (and he is never far from her thoughts), she throws herself entirely into this new marriage. Her ailing husband seems to strive to recapture the glory of his youth and the early years of his reign, when all was well. Kateryn witnesses as Henry toys with his subjects, who all seem to curry for his favor, pitting them against each other. While she finds some revulsion in it, she begins to understand the way that her new husband acts and why he does what he does.

Princess Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She would go on to become England’s first queen and was known by the infamous sobriquet of “Bloody Mary.” Devoutly Catholic, she had many Protestants killed during her reign. Source: David Williamson.

Kateryn proves to be a force of good as she reconciles Henry to his two long-neglected daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. In the past, he not only destroyed their mothers but he declared the two of them to be bastards. For years they had been treated as bastard children rather than actual legitimate children, something that would have likely hurt deeply. Kateryn was the glue to their relationship. Henry’s opinion of his daughters seemed to change, and the two of them went from being illegitimate to being reinstated into the line of succession, after his only son and heir, Edward. Despite the fact that she has to play-act through nearly all of their marriage, there is one avenue by which she finds consolation: the reformation of the Church of England. As mentioned earlier, the religious climate in England is one that is heated up and the king himself appears to be confused whether to reform the church or to follow the example of the old faith, the Catholic Church.

Princess Elizabeth Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. She would go on to become Elizabeth I, one of the most popular English monarchs and she ushered in an era known as “the Golden Age.” She as so adored that Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene” was all about her. Source: Unknown.

Kateryn is a forward-thinking woman and she is not only the wisest character in the story, but she is even a writer. She favors total reform and glories in the idea of the English people reading the Bible in their native language rather than the Latin mumbo-jumbo that has prevailed for centuries. She even keeps company with the infamous Anne Askew, a woman who claims to be a preacher and who reads the Bible in English, a dangerous thing for that time. While she is careful to watch her words and to throw herself into something that is altogether positive, Kateryn knows full well that she needs to tip-toe on eggshells around her tempestuous husband. If she displeases him, she could follow her predecessor to the block.

Before picking up a Philippa Gregory book, I know that I will be treated to a visual delight and step back into an earlier time.  That is exactly how I felt with The Taming of the Queen.  From the beginning, I found myself positively adoring the character of Kateryn Parr and pitying her for having to marry such a man.  The author did a fantastic job of explaining what a woman in the sixteenth century had to face, especially being married to a king who seemed to think of himself above all else.  From the description of the horrid stench of Henry’s leg to his flatulence to the fact that he wanted to make love to her made my stomach churn.

All in all, it was a fantastic read.  I enjoyed the descriptions of the religious unrest and the different factions fighting for favor with the king.  I think my favorite scene was the sea battle with the French fleet and how the Mary Rose sank.  Gregory fleshed out everything in such compelling terms that made me feel like I was there.  I felt like I stood on the battlements with Kateryn and watched it with my own two eyes.  What was interesting was the mention of the Mary Rose and it reminded me of The Other Boleyn Girl when Henry named the ship after Mary Boleyn.  I imagined it to be a sort of homage.  Great read and what a compelling Kateryn Parr the name even reflected historical accuracy.

Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley. Kateryn Parr’s lover. It is very possible that Seymour acted inappropriately and predatory towards Princess Elizabeth. Source: Royal Museums Greenwich.


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