Book Review: Intractable Heart, Judith Arnopp

This is a book, as it says on the front cover, about Katheryn Parr. If you haven't heard of her, then shame on you, she was the sixth (and final) wife of the infamous Henry VIII, who, as the poem* reminds us, survived.

The book is constructed of 4 sections, each written in first person point of view, but from a different person's perspective.

First we read from the perspective of Margaret Neville, step-daughter of Katheryn Latimer (maiden name Parr). From Margaret's perspective we witness the siege of Snape castle during the Pilgrimage of Grace, the death of Katheryn's second husband, and the family's move to the court of Henry VIII.

Secondly, we move to the perspective of Katheryn herself, as she is woo-ed by, and then marries the King. She becomes Queen, she deals with the hazards and intrigues of the Tudor court, at one point, even facing the prospect of arrest and possible execution herself. Being Queen didn't protect her forbears, it wouldn't have saved her either. She is intelligent though and as history tells us, she survived when Henry died. 

We change again, and the story is taken up by Thomas Seymour, brother to the late lamented Queen Jane, Uncle to the new, young, King Edward, and brother to the Lord Protector, whose wife has taken possession of the royal jewels, including some which belonged to Katheryn's mother. He then becomes (I refuse to believe that this is a spoiler, it's history) Katheryn's fourth husband, and sort-of, in a convoluted way, step-father to the Lady Elizabeth (princess at this point, sister to the King), he also has a ward of his own, Lady Jane Grey, and the four (Thomas, Katheryn, Elizabeth and Jane) live together for a while, until Elizabeth moves away, and Katheryn has a baby girl, named Mary.

We change perspectives then, for the final time, and the remainder of the tale is told from Elizabeth's point of view. This ties the whole story off.

I'm trying not to go into too much detail, I know that not everyone knows Tudor History as well as I do, as evidenced from when The Tudors was on television and I was in trouble for 'spoilers'... Grr.

I really liked where the changes in point of view happened. The story is taken over by the next narrator at a seemingly random point, but it explains the next part of the previous narrators story much better than would be possible otherwise.

It's really easy to read. The language is modern in that it is easy to read as modern English, but not so modern that it jars in the historical setting. The story flows well, it isn't slow and plodding, but it doesn't rush, it flows, like a steady river and I read it much quicker than I originally expected to, if you excuse the fact that I didn't read at all over the weekend!

If you don't know the story, then it's a very good introduction, it covers everything you would need to know, and doesn't go off on a tangent of complex detail that hinders the story. If I want that, I can read non-fiction. The female characters are strong, without having to kick people, but still as vulnerable to mis-treatment (their Royal status notwithstanding) in the patriarchal Tudor court as any woman in that era. Better still, Judith Arnopp has clearly done her research. It's fiction, so on the grounds that there are some things that we can never know, there has to be artistic licence to fill the gaps, but she has blended it quite well.

Overall, I gave it a 4/5.

*Before you ask, the poem to remember the fates of Henry VIII's six wives goes as follows:
Divorced, Beheaded, Died. Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. If you are not sure, here's what it means, all spelled out!

Divorced: Catherine of Aragon was his first wife, Mother of "Bloody" Mary Tudor, and subsequently divorced in a bitter, and lengthy battle with the Pope, which resulted in the formation of the Church of England, and the reigning monarch being head of the church.

Beheaded: Anne Boelyn, his second wife, Mother of Elizabeth I. It was Anne that Henry wanted to marry so badly that he tore the country apart (religiously) and divorced his first wife for. Alas, she failed to give him a son and was later executed (having had their marriage annulled) on charges of treason, adultery, incest, and according to some, witchcraft. She was expected to be burned at the stake, but Henry was "merciful" and paid for a 'skilled' executioner to come from France with a sword, and as Anne said herself, she only had a little neck.

Died: Jane Seymour, third wife, mother to Henry's much wanted son, Edward VI. Alas, she died shortly after giving birth. She was so lamented by Henry (who hadn't had the chance to grow tired of her by this point), that when he was married to Katheryn Parr many years later, he had a 'family' portrait painted of Himself, Jane, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth!

Divorced: Anne of Cleeves. Also referred to, rather cruelly, as the Flander Mare. She was allegedly ugly and smelled. Whilst he had been hunting for his fourth bride, he had offered for the lately widowed Duchesse de Loungeville, Marie de Guise, who is alleged to have quipped that she would love to marry Henry, if only she had a second head! She later married James V of Scotland and became mother to Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots! Henry had his marriage to Anne annulled and she became known as his sister. She remained in England, being granted Hever Castle (former family home of her predecessor, Anne Boleyn). Astoundingly, she had a good relationship with Princess (and later Queen) Mary. And not only outlived Henry, in peace and with head still attached, but also Katheryn Parr! Whilst I pity her the humiliation she must have faced, living in a strange country, being called hurtful things, I can't help feeling that she was the lucky one!

Beheaded: Katherine Howard. Cousin of the ill-fated Anne Boleyn, little Kitty Howard was just 16 when she caught the King's eye, probably pushed into a position of prominence by her greedy and ambitious family. Alas, flighty Kitty was beheaded for adultery (and therefore treason), as her cousin before her had been.

Survived: Katheryn Parr. Katheryn had been twice widowed, having married much older men. she had had no children and was presumed barren, but a fantastic (and experienced) nurse. Henry still wanted more sons, he himself had been the second surviving son, but he was in bad health. Katheryn, like the two wives immediately preceding her, bore Henry no children, although she did bear a daughter later. She outlived Henry, and went on to marry the man that she had been courting before she had caught the King's notice.

I do love history, and King Henry VIII and his multitude of wives has always been of great interest to me!    



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