The Sixth Wife

Written by Suzannah Dunn

Set during the reign of England’s Edward VI, Suzannah Dunn’s fictionalized account of the final two years of the life of Henry VIII’s last queen, Katharine Parr, is a delightful read. Told from the point of view of Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, it follows Katharine’s marriage to Thomas Seymour through to its tragic end.

Catherine is a lively narrator who doesn’t hold back her opinions and finds herself drawn deeper into her closest friend’s life than she ever imagined. Through her, we see Katharine the Queen and Katharine the woman. But we also learn about court life, political intrigue and about Catherine herself, former ward of Henry’s younger sister, Mary.

Do not let the modern language fool you; this novel is steeped in history, with key period details adding depth and tantalizing glimpses of major historical figures of the era, including both Princess Elizabeth and Jane Grey. The characters are true to their times, drawing the reader into their lives as the story rolls along at a good pace.

It is a tale many readers know well, yet seeing through Catherine’s eyes makes it new and different. It is her story as much as the queen’s. Though not always a sympathetic protagonist, she is an effective one, giving the novel energy without overshadowing Katharine, its true heart. Together they dispel some of the myth of the oppressed woman in history, while at the same time reminding the reader that before modern medicine, childbirth was one of the most dangerous things a woman could experience, whether born well or not.

I found this book hard to put down, so ably did Ms. Dunn cast her literary spell. Readers who love the Tudor period, women’s history or just a jolly good yarn should pick up this splendid example of historical fiction.