Reviewed by Jennifer Joyce
It’s 1543 and Katherine Parr is widowed for the second time when her aging husband passes away after a long and agonising illness. Katherine and her 17 year old stepdaughter, Meg are called to court to visit Lady Mary. Still only 31, Katherine catches the eye of the king, who is seeking a new wife following the execution of Catherine Howard. Katherine doesn’t want to marry the king but has little choice in the matter, particularly as her ambitious brother urges her to become the next Queen of England, propelling the whole Parr family up the hierarchy.
Katherine finds herself becoming the sixth queen of Henry VIII, bringing timid Meg and their maid, Dot to court with her. The following years are spent dodging the king’s foul temper, hiding her disgust as she tries to provide another son for the king and attempting to keep in Henry’s favour as those around him conspire against her.
I quickly engaged with the characters within Queen’s Gambit and felt Katherine’s despair as Henry set his sights on her. Soon after her second husband’s death, Katherine meets Thomas Seymour and falls in love with him, however she isn’t permitted to marry for love. The king wants to marry Katherine and he always gets what he wants. I couldn’t imagine what it must have felt like to be so powerless, to have your life mapped out for you without any say in the matter. Religion and politics take over Katherine’s life and her marriage to Henry, and at times I feared what would happen to her (although from history, I partly knew) and her allies.
Although Queen’s Gambit chronicles Katherine’s marriage to Henry, I was drawn mostly to her maid, Dot, and found her story a joy to read. Dot often feels out of place, but never more so than her time spent at court. The daughter of a thatcher, Dot is significantly lower in rank than the other women who surround Katherine at court. Dot is of low birth, isn’t educated and is far from ladylike so she doesn’t fit in, but Katherine thinks of her as part of the family. Katherine, Meg and Dot have been through a lot together and Meg and Dot have a sister-like bond. I enjoyed the scenes with Meg and Dot, seeing how close they were, but I also enjoyed the new, fun relationship Dot has with another maid, Betty. Betty only plays a small part in the book, but she really lights up her scenes.
Queen’s Gambit is full of the glamour of court, but also shows the uglier side of being caught in the middle of a political battle. Those around Henry feel Katherine has too much power and influence so she must tread carefully to save not only her marriage but her life. The book is warm yet dramatic with romance and loss and I loved every page of it.
Elizabeth Fremantle’s Website