The Queen’s Gambit – a fascinating debut by Freemantle

One of the great things about our local library is that they cheerfully get hold of new books on request. This does save me some money, and means that I haven’t got such huge numbers of books all over the house (or rather, I still have, just different books…enough to build a defensive barrier should the need arise)

Anyway, I was interested to read about a new Penguin book by Elizabeth Freemantle which dealt with the story of Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr. Having worked my way through dozens of books on the Tudors (Plaidy, Gregory and the rest) I thought that I would put the library system to the test. I am glad that I did!

This is an excellent book which deals with the life of a woman from the loss of her second husband, in interesting circumstances, to her own death following the birth of her daughter. This does more than merely recite the facts of her life and times, it deals with her guilt over her actions and feelings for Thomas Seymour.It is impressive as it deals so well with the sense of danger and the ups and downs of court life. The descriptions of the aging king, with his whims and severe changes in mood, are shown as reverberating round a court where no one is safe, no one can feel completely secure. Hints and rumours, jealousies and ambitions affect the queen and those close to her. Katherine is seen as determined to survive, but frequently having to conceal her true interest in the developing Protestant faith. She is an intelligent woman, keen to use her position to investigate and write about her beliefs and new views.  This is a narrative that depends on hints and signs, the physical impediments of huge jewels and grand clothes, the flowers and cures of a woman vastly more sinned against than sinning.

The element of this book that stood out is the character of Dorothy. An unusually trusted servant, her love and loyalty is severely tested as well as her own attachment to William. Her story runs parallel to Katherine’s and provides a different view of Tudor life. The research supporting this novel is obviously detailed, but it is not overwhelming to the reader and is skillfully woven in. Apparently this is Freemantle’s debut novel; I would certainly track down and read another when she publishes another.

Meanwhile, back to constructing the great wall of books …