REVIEW: The Sixth Wife by Suzannah Dunn
Dear Ms. Dunn,
As I go back to write this letter, I find myself torn about this book. On the one hand, the back blurb does state that it will be about the last years of Katherine Parr, after she was widowed by Henry VIII and married a fourth husband, this time for love. And it is and we do see her quieter life in the countryside far from the intrigues of court. These are momentous times, filled with larger than life people about whom we still wish to read and about whom we still want to know. Yet, we learn little about what Katherine thought of these events. Yes, I know I’m not making much sense here. I want my cake and still want to be able to eat it too.
I like the use of Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk as teller of tale. Some things must remain a mystery to readers until later in the book or, due to lack of historical records, might not be able to be guessed at all so she will act as a conduit for us so that these unknowns can remain so. She was a historical personage in her own right so I enjoyed seeing her views on the events relayed here and her memories of the tumultuous times of Henry’s reign. The modern language didn’t bother me for as you said, Cathy just isn’t a ‘prithee’ kind of person. I like her no nonsense, take charge personality though it must have set the men of the time off to no end.
I would have liked to have got more of a feeling for how Kate viewed her world and her place and influence in it. I guess you skip over much of her early life for the reason that not much would be known of it since at the time, she was a minor player in history and not expected to be anything more. Cathy mentions how the world had changed so drastically from their mothers time to then and how much she is attempting to help those changes along, notably in the area of religious reform but at book’s end, I still never got an immediate sense for what Kate thought of all this only what Cathy thought.
Sudeley Castle seems quite magnificent and must have cost a fortune to kit out. After reading some current articles about it, it would appear that it still costs a bundle to maintain. I liked the glimpses and descriptions of great manors of the time and of daily life there. Wow there were a lot of retainers and servants in a household of the time! And yet again, this is supposed to be a book about great historical personages of the time not people dealing with their glazier or giving lessons on how to intensify the taste of strawberries. And yet also, the book is supposed to be about the life of Katherine during her last marriage and then she was not at court and aside from housing Elizabeth not really in the thick of daily life among the power brokers of the age. Sigh
I am slightly amazed that Cathy would be so outspoken having just survived Henry VIII’s reign and with continuing troubles in Edward’s – did she really call him Eddie? And Edward Seymour Ed? It makes him sound like some overworked middle manager with a henpecking wife who goes home to find the dog has piddled on his favorite lounge chair
Where did affair between Thomas and Cathy come from? Is there any data, information to possibly support this? I have read in many books that Katherine died raving at Thomas for supposed affairs but is there any reason you chose to have *this* couple have an affair?
Those were agonizing scenes of Kate dying and it must have been so heartbreaking to women of the time to see friends succumbing to childbed fever and be so helpless to save them. And also frightening to know next time it could be you.
I guess my main problems would be the affair and the fact that at the end of the book, I felt I had learned more about Catherine Willoughby than about the supposed subject of the book, Katherine Parr. If you wanted to show the world Catherine’s thoughts and feelings, then why not call it “The Tudor Duchess” or something like that? Since the book is called “The Sixth Queen,” I guess I expected Katherine to be front and center instead.