Reviewed by: Sarah Gristwood
Author: Elizabeth Norton
Price (RRP): £9.99
Every school child once knew the roll call of Henry VIII’s wives – ‘Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived’.In fact Catherine Parr’s reformist religion brought her close to a more dramatic fate, when in 1546 her enemies came within an inch of getting her arrested, and perhaps executed, as a traitor and heretic.
Before the recent rash of biographies, Henry’s last queen had suffered a degree of benign neglect; less because of her comparatively brief tour of wifely duty than because she seemed to have lived a life more ordinary than her predecessors. But is that really true?
Already twice widowed when she reluctantly married Henry, Parr soon emerged not only as a published author but as a political animal shrewd enough to be appointed regent in Henry’s absence. It’s ironic she should survive the most famously dangerous husband in history only to make a final marital mistake; but Elizabeth Norton’s eminently readable biography presents her unfortunate choice of Thomas Seymour not just as a woman being fooled by a handsome face, but also as an alliance of those disenfranchised by the new regime.
Norton’s strength is her use of original sources, such as Catherine’s letter about a heated meeting with Protector Somerset: “It was fortunate we were so much distant; for I suppose else I should have bitten him.”
Not bad, for a woman often dismissed as Henry’s most placid queen.
Sarah Gristwood is the author of The Girl in the Mirror (HarperPress, 2011)
Linda Porter challenges the conventional view of Catherine’s marriage to Henry VIII