St Martin’s Press, $19.99, 383 pages
Katherine Parr has long been passed over by historians. She appears to come and go quietly without the fanfare heaped upon more notorious Queens of her day. Yet this intelligent woman had a life before and after her time on the throne. In Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr, the Last Wife of Henry VIII, Linda Porter distinguishes this Royal as one who was never ambitious for the crown, yet proved herself up to the task; always adhering to her motto, “To be useful in all I do.”
Rather than repeating the tired clichés, Porter hones in on Henry when he was no longer the pleasure-seeking young man, but an aging King, looking for a trusted companion – someone who understood his wishes for his Kingdom. Sound in mind and motive, Katherine brought stability to the throne. She was a beloved and most influential stepmother – playing a central role in shaping England’s future Queen Elizabeth.
Given the religious hostility of the time, and the fate of the wives who came before her, what impresses is how she kept her head (literally) while navigating her royal responsibilities and dodging the King’s displeasure. Dutiful in her first three marriages, after Henry’s passing, she was free to marry for love, but the union with her reckless old flame, Thomas Seymour brought humiliation and disappointment. Tudor enthusiasts will enjoy this book that covers the life and times of a clever woman who is finally getting the recognition she deserves.