Queen’s Gambit is the story of Katherine Parr – fictional but also seamlessly woven with the facts that are known.
We begin with a prologue. At Charterhouse, London in February 1543, Katherine Parr is nursing second husband Latymer who is on his deathbed. Latymer reflects on the time when he became involved with the rebels and although pardoned, his family is still marked. Tragedy struck his family while he was away seeking pardon and his regrets are marring the end of his life.
King Henry sends his physician Huicke to attend Latymer which is seen by Katherine as a full pardon. Latymer’s death is a blessing for him but causes Katherine a heavy sense of guilt.
In March, Katherine and step-daughter Meg (Margaret) are summoned to court. Katherine meets her brother Will’s friend, Thomas Seymour, and also catches the King’s eye but she’s given a reprieve because she’s in mourning. This doesn’t last though and the King sends Seymour away and summons her to court.
What follows is her life as King Henry’s last wife and her life after his death.
Written in the third person we get to experience life in the Royal household from the point of view of Katherine, physician Huicke and also Katherine’s servant Dot. Huicke and Dot’s lives add further dimensions to the intrigue and politics experienced at the Tudor court. Dot’s loyalty and her romance with Will Savage add another emotional angle to the story whilst Huicke’s closeness to Katherine is a friendship that gives Katherine strength and a person to rely on. Through Dot’s eyes we see another side to the characters at court and the Royal family.
This is a time on the edge of the Reformation with King Henry being drawn back to Catholicism so the ‘new religion’ was whispered about. Katherine’s desire to move Henry towards banning Mass and having the Bible in English was almost her end … and Protestant Ann Askew has a part to play in Katherine’s story here too. The tension and secrecy is written so well that I experienced Katherine’s anxiety alongside her.
The historical characters are given personalities that fit really well with what is known, which adds towards making this a story where the reader can immerse themselves in the Tudor court and really feel a part of that history. The secondary characters also have their own stories which adds depth. It is obvious that Freemantle has researched in depth.
From the prologue in February 1543 to the epilogue in March 1549 I’ve spent time in the different Royal residences and in Newgate, experiencing the turmoil of court life and all its pomp and splendour. I’ve experienced many different emotions alongside our characters. I couldn’t wait to pick up Queen’s Gambit, even if for a short period each day. This debut novel is the first in a trilogy and I can’t wait to read more from Elizabeth Freemantle …this is historical fiction at its best. I just wish I could have learnt history at school by reading fictional novels …
I read a proof copy of Queen’s Gambit as part of the Real Readers programme.