on 19 March 2013
This is a beautifully written book that had me enthralled. Fremantle shows a totally different axis to Katherine Parr and court leading to her marriage to King Henry VIII. Although this appears to be written from the female perspective, mainly of either Katherine or her maid Dot, it lacks none of the masculinity in the brutal coldness of ambitious men and women surrounding Court.
This book is full of complexities in the relationships between the women and men at court and with various staff from the kitchens upwards. We know the history of this time, we know the outcome, but Fremantle views it in a refreshingly different way. This was not just an historical account of Katherine Parr and Henry VIII, it promotes the reader to see a delicateness in the way the behaviour of King Henry is seen and managed by the Queen. It personalises their lives drawing the reader into each personality with feeling and understanding.
If you like historical novels where the individual lives of the characters gives detail to historical events then you will not be disappointed. I recommend this as a good read.
Katherine Parr had the distinction of outliving her husband Henry VIII. This remarkable - and most definitely not guaranteed at the time - fact means that she is among historical fiction's more neglected Tudor wives. Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and even Katherine of Aragon are difficult to compete with. This is a pity for at least two reasons: firstly, I was named after Katherine (or Katharine) Parr so I'm unashamedly biased and, secondly, she was a remarkable woman in her own right. Not only did she manage to outfox and outlive a man who almost certainly wanted to cut her head off at least once, Katherine also had an intellectual and religious curiosity that made her stand out in those days, among women and among reformers. She was the first Queen of England to publish her own writings. She finally managed to make her own marriage choice (her fourth) after having been widowed for the third time. Henry VIII's death left her free to marry Thomas Seymour, uncle to the new king and chief among the court's peacocks.
In Queen's Gambit, Elizabeth Fremantle has taken on this extraordinary figure who lived more fully in her fewer than forty years than most women of her age and I think she has done Katherine Parr proud.
The novel has an intriguing manner to it. Narrated in the present tense, we are placed very much at the heart of the action. Although told in the third person, we are permitted inside the most private thoughts of Katherine. We witness, initially, her grief and guilt as her second husband Lord Latymer dies and her efforts to bring out of herself her grief-stricken and traumatised stepdaughter Meg Neville. In the background even at this early stage is religion - not the nature of one's beliefs but what religion makes men do in its name. In this case we learn of something terrible that happened to the women of our novel during the Pilgrimage of Grace, when the Catholics of the north rose up against the reforms of Henry VIII and Cromwell.
We are able to see a little further than even Katherine can because her story is shared with that of her most faithful servant Dot. And Dot is also the confidante of young Meg. She knows more than Katherine about certain elements of Meg's story while Dot remains in the dark about the fears in Katherine's mind. Interestingly, as the novel progresses, Dot learns to read and through this she also becomes aware of some of the wider issues facing Katherine. So many words were committed to paper in secrecy, in heresy and in treason.
This dual narrative takes us through Katherine's life from the death of her husband Lord Latymer and through her courting by Henry VIII and beyond their marriage. The core of Queen's Gambit has to be the union with the old, obese, diseased and pus-dripping king. Here is a monstrous ogre, violent in the night, guilt ridden in the morning but progressively jealous and angry as the marriage continues further than his attention span allows. Henry is a man who loves deeply but briefly and hates unfailingly. We marvel at Katherine's courage, even her compassion, and swallow our bile at what she has to endure.
Henry is a memorable figure in Queen's Gambit. This is no Hollywood Henry VIII. He's horrifying. Other figures stand out too, most of them from the royal family and especially the royal princesses (or bastards as Henry liked to think of them) Mary and Elizabeth. These are complex young women, in need of a mother all the more because of their father. They aren't static. They change under Katherine's friendship but not always for the best.
Dot is perhaps inevitably a less interesting figure but her perspective is a useful one, not least for giving us a glimpse of what life was like at court, providing an alternative opinion of the behaviour of some of the characters in that court, especially Thomas Seymour and Elizabeth, much of which was intended to deceive. It's good to know Katherine (and Meg) has such a friend.
The immediacy of the present tense narrative and the urgency of the prose gives Queen's Gambit a modern feel. I liked this a great deal. It gave a familiar story a sharp edge and a sense that these events really did happen, they were this frightening and, even though history tells us what happened, there is still a feeling of tension underlying the events, reminding us that it could have ended so differently.
It's time again to visit Sudeley Castle and pay my respects to a figure who has intrigued me my entire life. Thanks to Queen's Gambit, this interest has been refreshed and invigorated. I'm grateful for the review copy.
An historical fiction with a good sense of reality and clever character construction.
Elizabeth Fremantle has done an excellent job with Queen's Gambit and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Court of an elderly Henry VIII, now obese, crippled and repulsive, and watching his sly campaign of capturing Katherine Parr. Their relationship reads like a game of chess and, to a great degree, that's exactly what it was. There are times when Katherine isn't safe around Henry and she's scared, nervous and waiting for him to make his move and maybe send her the way of Anne Boleyn. There's a great feeling of intrigue and tension throughout the novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the cat and mouse as Katherine uses her wit and intelligence to outsmart Henry without ever once giving away her true feelings.
There's always been speculation over the relationship between Katherine and Thomas Seymour, it's well know that she married him after Henry's death but; what was their relationshiop prior to that? Queen's Gambit is all about the fear, suspicion, politics and game playing surrounding the Tudor court with Katherine right at it's heart.
The strength of Queen's Gambit is how well Elizabeth Fremantle has bought the era and characters to life. There's been some good research done and a great deal of time spent on setting the stage. Wouldn't be too surprised to see a sequel because the ending of the book is wide open and perfect for a continuation.
Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle for me was a book which I loved from the first page as straight away you are taken into the life of Katherine Parr and her young maid Dot who I could not stop myself from smiling when she was narrating her own views of what was happening around her.
Why I loved this book so much was that the author not only give a book which was for me like a rich tapestry filled with historical detail but more than that we see the very famous characters who we all have read about in our history books but with this author she humanised them in my opinion. She showed us the characters as ordinary people who were forced into a life due to their parentage and who or what they were born into.
There has been so many books written on this era of time involving King Henry VIII and his many wives and of course his treatment of each one of them but why this book was so different was that Elizabeth Fremantle give us readers a fresh new look and through using the very likeable Dot as a character who narrated her own look at this time showed what this time was to a spectator of how Katherine Parr had to do what she was commanded other than her own wishes but also showed how Dot puts her own life in danger for the sake of her love for her mistress who showed nothing but kindness to her. Dot was actually Dorothy Fownten who was a maid to Margaret Neville as a child and then went unto Katherine Parr when she became Queen and later went unto marry William Savage. This was one of the main reasons which I loved this book so much, every character within the book actually existed at this time and the author cleverly used each character in her book and created a wonderful book of fiction which made it for me a wonderful way to learn actual history of our Royalty during this era.
Why I also like this book so much the author was not afraid to show Henry as a weak and feeble man due to his size and his constant pain but also showed how people never said `No' to him and Katherine Parr was not afraid to say no which made her more desirable to him. The constant tension through the courtship of Katherine and Henry is evident throughout and as Katherine showed her strengths towards Henry made her more of a catch for him, it actually made him want her more and as we all know he always got what he wanted in the end.
This book has been compared to Phillipa Gregory and Hilary Mantel but for me the author Elizabeth Fremantle has went far beyond any author I have read as yes the author showed her knowledge of history which was excellent and she showed this through her writing but she was still able to show these famous people who we still talk about after so many years, as people who just wanted to feel loved like those of all walks in life from the richest to the poorest.
The Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle is a book which I highly recommend to anyone who like me has a love not only of history but of reading a book filled with tension and fear but one which showed what life was truly like for these figures in history.
I have read and enjoyed Philippa Gregory's Tudor series of novels so I was keenly anticipating this debut novel by Elizabeth Fremantle which focuses on Henry VIII's sixth and last wife, Katherine Parr. My knowledge of Katherine was rather limited given that other queens especially Anne Boleyn tend to hog the Tudor stage!
This is an impressive debut novel with assured, confident writing. We see the many aspects of Katherine's character - she was so much more than a nursemaid to the ailing king - with her contribution to religious reform, her survival instincts, her desire for love even after two marriages of convenience. Complementing Katherine's story is the tale of her chamberer, Dot Fownten (Fountain), whose life has been colourfully reimagined by the author. Whilst I enjoyed hearing about Dot's life, I did find myself wanting to know more about Katherine and what made her tick.
A handy list of the main characters with some extra biographical information is included at the back of the novel along with a basic Tudor timeline - ideal for Tudor novices.
Queen's Gambit will appeal to fans of romantic historical fiction with moving accounts of Katherine's love for Thomas Seymour. They say love is blind and this must certainly have been the case for Katherine, an intelligent, perceptive woman, to overlook/remain blissfully ignorant of all of Seymour's machinations. The novel works well as a light read and is an impressive debut, the first of what should be a popular trilogy of novels set in the Tudor era.
This book is so skillfully written I find it difficult to believe it is a debut novel.
I would say it is by far the best historical novel that I have ever read and I have
read a fair few.
Opening in 1543 and written in modern idiom this is an easy and intelligent read that
romps along charting the marriage of Katherine Parr to Henry VIII. Henry is obese,
smelly , mean spirited and extremely bad tempered. There is tension, intrigue, and
drama aplenty as events unfold around Katherine in Henry's court. Throughout it all
she maintains her dignity - though I don't know HOW.
Historical fiction marries with fact to make this an extremely enjoyable read and I
reallyt recommend and cannot wait for her next. Absolutely brilliant.
on 11 June 2013
I was kindly given a free copy of this book by Simon and Schuster for review purposes.
It isn't often that I read historical novels (although between the ages of 15 and 18 I became slightly obsessed with novels set in and around King Arthur's Camelot) but there was something about Elizabeth Fremantle's novel that really attracted me. I have vague memories of studying the Tudors in both Primary School and Secondary School and the time period always captured my imagination, especially the reign of King Henry VIII. There were certain things about him that fascinated me such as the amount of wives he managed to work his way through, the fact that he refused to acknowledge his daughters as legitimate, and perhaps most importantly, his role in the Reformation and as head of the Church of England. So of course, I couldn't miss an opportunity to read a novel set in the time of his reign.
Elizabeth Fremantle's debut novel, 'Queen's Gambit' is the tale of Katherine Parr, King Henry VIII's sixth and final wife. Widowed for the second time at the age of 31, Katherine dreams of marrying again, for love this time rather than the match-making that is rife in the court of King Henry. When she meets Thomas Seymour, brother-in-law to the King and close friend of her brother, Will, she thinks she's found herself the perfect match. She has begun to feel things she never felt for her previous husbands, is enjoying life and love. But the King has other plans.
On the lookout for his next potential wife, Henry Tudor finds himself drawn to Katherine's intelligence, wit and kindness. And so he begins an attempt to seduce her, showering her with lavish gifts and attention. When he eventually requests her hand in marriage, Katherine can do nothing but say yes. To refuse would be impossible and could cost her her life. And so she must once again marry a man she can not and does not love and cast the handsome and charming Thomas Seymour aside. And so begins Katherine Parr's tumultuous marriage to one of the most hot-headed monarchs in England's history.
'Queen's Gambit' covers a span of five years and follows Katherine from the deathbed of her second husband Latymer to her own deathbed several years later. And what a crazy, action-packed five years those were for Katherine. Being wife to Henry Tudor isn't all that glamorous. He's a flabby, ageing grump with ulcerous legs who leaves the stench of decay in a room long after he's gone. Katherine must be both nurse-maid and bed-mate to Henry as well as the gem on his arm to be paraded in front of his court. She must be mother to his three children (all of whom lost their own mothers to Henry's short temper) and Meg, the stepdaughter she raised with Latymer, as well as trying to give Henry another son. But most of all she must be careful. She must not let Henry see her secret desire for Thomas Seymour, but most of all she must keep her Reformative notions private.
Katherine is a staunch Reformationist. She doesn't believe in Transubstantiation, she wants the bible to be printed in English, no longer only accessible to those of the highest education. She reads the banned texts of Luther and other Reformationist thinkers and meets secretly with Anne Askew, who would later be burnt at the stake for her opinions.
Katherine is a brave woman, a strong woman who manages to stay true to her beliefs and succeeds in outliving her tyrannical husband. And despite everything she goes through, she manages to never give up on love, on her love for Thomas Seymour.
Elizabeth Fremantle's depiction of the chaos, intrigue and romance of the court of Henry VIII is exquisite. Reading her novel, I felt as though I had truly been transported back in time, was getting a sneak peak into the lives of public figures who have always felt so distant, so faded when presented to me in non-fiction format. I can't imagine just how much research must have gone into this novel. It felt flawless, seamless. There wasn't a single point where I paused in my reading to wonder if something was factually accurate. I simply suspended my belief and went with the flow, which is something only the best novels can get me to do.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, even found myself staying up late into the night to finish it, which is something I haven't done in a long while and is a good marker of how much a book manages to grip me. I would recommend this novel to anybody with even the slightest interest in the history of the Tudors. And I think it's a great gateway into the genre for anybody who doesn't usually read Historical fiction.
Opening in 1543, four years before Henry VIII dies, this follows Katherine Parr as she buries her second husband, falls in love and then, unexpectedly, finds herself courted by the ailing and ageing king.
This straightforward telling of the last two marriages of Katherine Parr feels like a book aimed squarely at fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir's historical novels. It doesn't have the political intelligence of Sharon Penman's books, or the literary flair of Hilary Mantel, and is far more `romantic' in tone with its focus securely on female characters and their relationships with the men in their lives. There's an `upstairs, downstairs' feel to the book as we follow Katherine herself and one of her serving maids, Dot, - and Katherine is even allocated a `gay best friend' in typical rom-com fashion.
This is good as light and easy reading as it makes no demands on its readers, and is written in very modern idiom: a man's breath `pongs'; girls have `teenage crushes'; someone has a hand over `her gob'; a woman is described as `bossy'; and another has `a swarm of screaming sprogs' . There's an awful lot of `huffing' and `spitting' going on which might have been productively culled by a stricter editor (`Katherine emits a little huff', ` "Huh", she huffs', `Elizabeth huffs loudly', ` "The girl is nothing but trouble", spits Anne', ` "Scared are you?" he spits', ` "She knows Greek", Elizabeth spat under her breath').
So this is an amiable and enjoyable read and the relationship, especially, between Katherine and Thomas Seymour is done well. Recommended for light and relaxing reading.
on 9 May 2014
Lately historical novels have been written in the first person and become very egotistical in a manner that those of us who grew up reading the less strident novels of writers like Jean Plaidy and Anya Seton find alien to the eras of the women they depict - or at least I do. I bought Queen's Gambit expecting it to have that same superficial strength and be short on background detail, but I could not have been more wrong for this is the richest in background detail, feeling and atmosphere, that i've read for decades. From the first page the sensitivity, honesty and balance of Elizabeth Fremantle's story was engrossing and exciting with a terrifying sense of the darkness amidst the glitter of King Henry's court; a nightmare passage between comedy and horror trodden by all his courtiers. Katherine is a brave, independent spirit but dedicated in duty and honour. The story illustrates her in all her virtues and flaws; she must navigate as the wife to a despot king who has already murdered 2 of his wives and discarded two more. Katherine's weaknesses are her love for Thomas Seymour - an historically unworthy suitor - and her passion for religious reform at a time when the old King is wavering between the old ways and the new. The book has some unexpected and very funny passages in it; but the sensitive depiction of the story of Katherine Parr - to me previously the least interesting of Henry's queens, has brought her alive and turned her into a heroine. I've read many historical novels over a period of 43 years but alongside Anya Seton's Katherine this is surely the best. I can hardly wait for her next book - she's going to keep a lot of history devotees happy in the years to come.
on 19 March 2013
A historical novel with Katherine Parr, final wife of Henry VIII, at its centre. The book follows her from the time of the death of her second husband, focusing on her marriage to the King and her love for and eventual marriage to Thomas Seymour. The novel also sees the world through the eyes of Katherine's faithful maid, Dot.
I enjoy a historical novel from time to time and particularly like those which focus on women - if these are working class women, all the better as I don't believe history should belong to the rich and powerful. So while I was pleased to receive a copy of Queen's Gambit I must also admit to wondering whether the world needs another novel about a wife of Henry VIII. Surely everyone knows the details of all their lives inside out by now, both from non-fiction and fictional imaginings. However, once I made a start on the book I changed my mind within the first fifty pages. The world did need another Tudor novel and this was it.
Katherine Parr is the wife of Henry that I knew the least about before I read the book - I had read about her life during their marriage in other works, but had only a sketchy idea of her life before and after that time. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. The Katherine portrayed in Queen's Gambit is warm and personable, knows her duty but also feels the call of love. She is also more than aware of the precarious position of anyone at Court, even the Queen, should the King be displeased.
Dot, the maid, is equally well drawn and springs off the page like a person you could bump into in the street. She too is an attractive character who makes up in common sense and loyalty what she lacks in book learning. The book realistically portrays the position of women in Tudor times - whether high or low a woman needs to find a husband to be able to live securely. Love comes some way down the list of requirements for a planned marriage and indeed from the evidence of this novel, only serves to cause trouble and destabilise many unions.
I really enjoyed the details of Tudor domestic life described in the book. The novel brought home the dangers of everyday life in a time with no reliable medicine and little understanding of how illnesses were transmitted. Life could be snuffed out in a matter of hours due to accidents and infections, despite the efforts of doctors and herbalists like Katherine herself.
The central role of religion in Tudor life is also emphasised, though for those at Court this is as much an issue of politics as of worship. If I have a slight criticism of the book it's that I didn't feel that the role of religion was central enough, given Henry's formation of the Church of England and his punishment of those who did not agree with the new Church.
Queen's Gambit is an engaging novel with two warm and realistic heroines, a gripping plot (all the more so for being so closely based on reality) and a finely drawn setting. It's a must read for lovers of historical fiction and would be a good starting point for those who have up till now not been fans of the genre but are looking for a great novel with which to start.