The Sixth Wife
by Suzannah Dunn
The Sixth Wife is the story of Katherine Parr, the sixth and last wife of Henry VIII, told through the eyes of her best friend, Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk – she was married to Charles Brandon and they had two sons.(she also had two more children in a later marriage and lost both sons by Charles on the same day to sweating sickness) The writing style is different and sometimes feels quite modern. But, once I got over the initial feeling of it being hard to read (she uses a LOT of commas. A silly complaint, I know), I really began to enjoy the book. At first I was confused by the two C/Katherines, but again, once I got into the story, it got easy.
Suzannah Dunn has kept the book mostly true to history (as I know it and I’m quite new to Tudor history), with the exception of one major storyline – Catherine has an affair with her best friends husband, Thomas Seymour. Of course, I suppose it’s possible that it did happen, but there is no mention, not even a whisper, of it in the history books, so I’m going to put it in the historical ‘fiction’ category for now. I never really did understand how the affair started. Cathy hated Thomas but after one brief, stolen kiss, she suddenly seems unable to stay away from him or get enough of him and so the affair begins.
One thing I did notice is how Dunn seemed to pair women into groups to show their differences and similarities. Kate and Cathy – Elizabeth and Jane (Grey), each of the older ladies taking on a mother role to one of the younger. This is another book in which I didn’t like Elizabeth (not a huge fan, sorry *waits to be stoned*) and it almost feels as if the author didn’t like her either. From her very first appearance in the story it seems as though Dunn doesn’t want her readers to like the young princess, writing her as sneaky and flirtatious, though very smart and aware.
While the idea of writing about Katherine Parr though another person’s story is interesting, it didn’t give me the insight I desired. Some people say there isn’t much to say about Kate and that history doesn’t tell much, but what it does tell is HUGE. She survived Henry VIII.(massive in itself!) She married Thomas Seymour even though people knew he was a ‘social climber’ having persued a young Elizabeth first. She married for love and believed her husband did the same. She died in childbirth leaving behind a child who was lost in history. If it weren’t for Katherine, who acted as a mother to Elizabeth, oversaw her education, etc., the Queen who was so popular during her rule and even today, would not have been the woman she became. Kate was a massive influence on her and, I believe, molded her into what she became.
So, in the end, I think the book was more about Catherine than Katherine and if the title had been different I might have enjoyed it more (wierd, I know, but I was looking for more Kate). However, the good outweighed the bad so I’d give it a 3/5.