Attractive, wealthy and influential, Katherine Willoughby is one of the most unusual ladies of the Tudor Court. A favourite of King Henry VIII Katherine knew all his six wives, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth and his son Edward.
Katherine becomes the ward of Tudor knight Charles Brandon. Her spanish mother Maria de Salinas is Queen Catherine of Aragon’s lady in waiting, so it is a challenging time for them when King Henry marries Anne Boleyn.
Following Anne’s downfall, Katherine marries Brandon and becomes Duchess of Suffolk. After the short reign of Catherine Howard and the death of Jane Seymour, Katherine and Brandon are chosen to welcome Anna of Cleves to England.
When Katherine’s friend Catherine Parr becomes the kings sixth wife they work to promote religious reform. Katherine’s sons are tutored with the future king, Prince Edward, but when he dies and Catholic Mary is crowned Queen, Katherine’s protestant faith puts her family in danger.
Katherine’s true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the Tudor Trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
I came accross this book as part of research into a piece I am looking forward to writing in the next few months and it intruiged me. I don’t believe I had ever heard of Katherine Willoughby before, but from the blurb I could see exactly where she fit in the legendary story of the six queens, as daughter of Katherine of Aragon’s dear friend Maria Willoughby and wife of one of Henry VIII’s closest companions the Duke of Suffolk. A woman close to the heart of the story, but rarely in the limelight.
I enjoyed the pace of the book, taking us from Katherine as the nine year old ward of the kings friend watching the politics of the court begin to ripple out accross the country, a teenager learning her own opinions and then marrying the Duke, through motherhood and becoming a woman with her own interests, growing into her religious beliefs and the consequences of speaking out about those beliefs. Riches doesn’t dwell too long in one place, keeping up the tempo and allowing the charecter to grow as the story progresses. He dwells equally on joy and pain giving us a balanced and lovely read about a very interesting woman.
The Queen that Riches went into the most detail about was Catherine Parr, the queen I knew the least about, which was enlightening. For example I was unaware that Catherine Parr was the first english woman to publish under her own name in english, and at first thought that surely that can’t be so? I went and looked this up afterwards, and the crucial bit appears to be ‘under her own name’ and ‘in english’ (Christine de Pizan being italian). I knew that she looked after the Princess Elizabeth after her husbands death, and had heard a whiff of improriety but knew little about her marriage or her family.
I liked that the story viewed the six queens, and even Henry himself as peripheral charecters and did not centre on the court itself entirely, which makes for a refreshing viewpoint on the tudor reign. Her position allows us a good look at what is happening without her being too personally involved throughout the first half of the book. i was intruiged by the political impact of the religious views of each of his wives, and by the way that this in turn made one half of the country safe and the other at risk – the political conflict between the bishops was partiularly interesting.
It is clear that Riches put a lot of time into researching Katherine Willoughby, even going so far as to visit her at her final resting place ( https://tonyriches.blogspot.com/2019/09/death-of-katherine-willoughby-duchess.html ). His writing leaves me wanting to visit the rose Gardens of Grimstorpe for myself – something which appears to be absolutely possible ( https://www.grimsthorpe.co.uk/ ) and I may actually have to do at some point. I suspect I would have a willing accomplice in my history loving sister in law.
Riches brings the story to life with charm and moves along the tale in such a way that something is always happening to keep you interested. It was an enjoyable read which I recommend to anyone who enjoys Tudor historical fiction, or even anyone who enjoys a pleasant book to while away the day with – This particular book kept me company post-night shifts, a special achievement known more simply as ‘able to be read in zombie mode, and still enjoyable’.