The Sixth Wife
Reviewing a Jean Plaidy (aka Victoria Holt/Philippa Carr) novel is rather like asking a teenager at a family barbecue how she likes her grandmother’s pineapple cake. If the teen offers criticism, oh what impertinence! Yet if she raves, always there lingers the suspicion that she is mouthing platitudes for the sake of dear ol’ Granny—even if she isn’t.
So it is with Plaidy’s novel, The Sixth Wife, originally published in 1953. Plaidy brings to life Katherine Parr, King Henry VIII’s final spouse. The young Katherine is already a widow for the second time when she falls in love with Thomas Seymour. Her hopes for happiness are dashed, however, when the king’s roving eye falls upon her. Forced into a dangerous marriage, she navigates in a calm, motherly way through the storms of the king’s shifting moods, which swing ever wilder as the years pass and she shows no signs of pregnancy. The king’s death saves her from a trumped-up charge of treason, and within a month she’s married to Thomas Seymour. Happiness eludes her, however, as rumors about a relationship between Seymour and Katherine’s stepdaughter, the future Queen Elizabeth, grow ever more vicious. The Dowager Queen, a betrayed and melancholy creature, dies giving birth to a daughter.
The Sixth Wife is a powerful, living portrait of the characters of the era—and a novel that shows no sign of aging.