Queen's Gambit: A Novelby Elizabeth Fremantle
This brilliant historical fiction debut takes you into the heart of the Tudor court and the life and loves of the clever, charismatic Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife.
Widowed for the second time at age thirty-one Katherine Parr falls deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. However, obliged/b>
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This brilliant historical fiction debut takes you into the heart of the Tudor court and the life and loves of the clever, charismatic Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife.
Widowed for the second time at age thirty-one Katherine Parr falls deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. However, obliged to return to court, she attracts the attentions of the ailing, egotistical, and dangerously powerful Henry VIII, who dispatches his love rival, Seymour, to the Continent. No one is in a position to refuse a royal proposal so, haunted by the fates of his previous wives—two executions, two annulments, one death in childbirth—Katherine must wed Henry and become his sixth queen.
Katherine has to employ all her instincts to navigate the treachery of the court, drawing a tight circle of women around her, including her stepdaughter, Meg, traumatized by events from their past that are shrouded in secrecy, and their loyal servant Dot, who knows and sees more than she understands. With the Catholic faction on the rise once more, reformers being burned for heresy, and those close to the king vying for position, Katherine’s survival seems unlikely. Yet as she treads the razor’s edge of court intrigue, she never quite gives up on love.
“Wildly entertaining…lively, gamey, gripped with tension…one of the best historical novels I’ve read.”
“Intrigue, romance, and treachery abound in Fremantle’s debut novel . . . . This compulsively readable fictional biography of the ultimate survivor is infused with the type of meticulous attention to historical detailing that discerning fans of Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory have come to expect in the Tudor canon.”
"Fremantle...navigates Tudor terrain with aplomb."
"Elizabeth Fremantle's rich narrative breathes vibrant life into Henry VIII's most intriguing, intelligent and least known wife, Katherine Parr."
"Queen's Gambit is an earthy, vivid portrait of Tudor England seen through the eyes of Henry VIII's last wife Katherine Parr and her loyal maid servant. Elizabeth Fremantle has added a richly written and engrossing novel to the endlessly fascinating story of the Tudors."
"Queen's Gambit is a lovely, sensual, subtle read, telling the story of Katherine Parr with both rich imagination and scrupulous attention to factual detail. After reading this historical novel, you truly comprehend what it would mean to be the sixth wife of a dangerous man wielding absolute power. Katherine is no selfless nurse here, nor religious fanatic, but a complex and compelling person who both men and women were drawn to. This is a very impressive novel."
"Beautifully written and finely observed, this suspenseful tale of Henry the Eighth's last wife expertly conveys all the dangerous intensity and passion of the Tudor court."
"With a painter’s eye for detail, Fremantle brings the dazzling, dangerous Tudor court to life and sheds an intriguing new light on Katherine Parr, one of history’s great survivors. An enthralling tale of power and passion, loyalty and betrayal."
“All those wives, their fates and Henry's transformation from handsome young monarch to debauched obese tyrant continue to fascinate…Now Elizabeth Fremantle has returned to Henry's court with her debut novel Queen's Gambit."
- Simon & Schuster
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- 6.50(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)
Read an Excerpt
The notary smells of dust and ink. How is it, Latymer wonders, that when one sense blunts another sharpens. He can pick up the scent of everything, the reek of ale on the man’s breath, the yeasty whiff of bread baking in the kitchens below, the wet-dog stink of the spaniel curled up by the hearth. But he can see little, the room swims and the man is a vague dark shape leaning over the bed with a grimace of a smile.
“Make your mark here, my lord,” he says, enunciating as if talking to a child or an idiot.
A waft of violets sweeps over him. It is Katherine—his dear, dear Kit.
“Let me help you up, John,” she is saying, as she shifts his body forward and slips a pillow behind him.
She lifts him so easily. He must have wasted quite away these last months. It is no wonder with the lump in his gut, hard and round as a Spanish grapefruit. The movement starts something off, an excruciating wave that rises through his body forcing an inhuman groan from him.
“My love.” Katherine strokes his forehead.
Her touch is cool. The pain twists deeper into him. He can hear the clink of her preparing a tincture. The spoon flashes as it catches the light. The chill of metal touches his lips, and a trickle of liquid pools in his mouth. Its loamy scent brings back a distant memory of riding through woods and with it a sadness, for his riding days are over. His gullet feels too thick to swallow and he fears setting off the pain again. It has receded but hovers, as does the notary who shifts from one foot to the other in an embarrassed shuffle. Latymer wonders why the man is not more used to this kind of thing, given that wills are his living. Katherine strokes his throat and the tincture slides down. Soon it will take effect. His wife has a gift with remedies. He has thought about what kind of potion she could concoct to set him free from this useless carcass of his. She’d know exactly what would do it. After all, any one of the plants she uses to deaden his pain could kill a man if the dose were right—a little more of this or that and it would be done.
But how can he ask that of her?
A quill is placed between his fingers and his hand is guided to the papers so he can make his mark. His scrawl will make Katherine a woman of considerable means. He hopes it will not bring the curse of fortune hunters to her door. She is still young enough, just past thirty, and her charisma that made him—already an elderly widower—fall so deeply still hangs over her like a halo. She never had the ordinary beauty of other men’s wives. No, her attraction is complicated and has blossomed with age. But Katherine is too sharp to be taken in by some silver-tongued charmer with his eye on a widow’s fortune. He owes her too much. When he thinks of how she has suffered in his name, it makes him want to weep, but his body is incapable of even that.
He has not left her Snape Castle, his Yorkshire seat; she wouldn’t want it. She would be happy, she has said many times, if she were never to set foot in Snape again. Snape will go to Young John. Latymer’s son did not turn out quite the man he’d hoped and he has often wondered what kind of child he might have had with Katherine. But that thought is always shadowed with the memory of the dead baby, the damned infant that was made when the Catholic rebels ransacked Snape. He cannot bear to imagine how that baby came about, fathered by, of all people, Murgatroyd, whom he used to take out hunting hares as a boy. He was a sweet lad, showed no sign of the brute he would become. Latymer curses the day he left his young wife alone with his children to go to court and seek pardon from the King, curses the weakness that got him involved with the rebels in the first place. Six years have passed since, but the events of that time are carved into his family like words on a gravestone.
Katherine is straightening the bedcovers, humming a tune; it’s one he doesn’t recognize, or can’t remember. A surge of love rises in him. His marriage to her was a love match—for him, anyway. But he hadn’t done what husbands are supposed to do; he hadn’t protected her. Katherine had never spoken of it. He’d wanted her to scream and rage at him—to hate him, blame him. But she remained poised and contained, as if nothing had changed. And her belly grew large, taunting him. Only when that baby came, and died within the hour, did he see the smudge of tears on her face. Yet still, nothing was ever said.
This tumor, eating away at him slowly, is his punishment, and all he can do to atone is make her rich. How can he ask one more thing of her? If she could inhabit his wracked body even for an instant she would do his bidding without question. It would be an act of mercy, and there is no sin in that, surely.
She is by the door, seeing the notary out, then she floats back to sit beside him, pulling her hood off and discarding it at the foot of the bed, rubbing her temples with the tips of her fingers and shaking out her Titian hair. Its dried-flower scent drifts over and he longs to bury his face in it as he used to do. Taking a book, she begins to read quietly, the Latin tripping easily off her tongue. It is Erasmus. His own Latin is too rusty to get the sense of it; he should remember this book but he doesn’t. She was always better learned than him, though pretended otherwise, never one to blow her own bugle.
A timid knock interrupts them. It is Meg holding the hand of that gawky maid, whose name escapes him. Poor little Meg who, since Murgatroyd and his men came, has been jumpy as a colt, which made him wonder what might have been done to her too. The little spaniel comes to life with a frenzied wagging and wriggling about the girls’ feet.
“Father,” Meg whispers, placing a spring-meadow kiss on his forehead. “How do you?”
He lifts his hand, a great dead lump of driftwood, placing it over her soft young one, and attempts a smile.
She turns to Katherine, saying, “Mother, Huicke is here.”
“Dot,” Katherine says to the maid, “will you see the doctor in.”
“Yes, my lady.” She turns with a swish of skirts, making for the door.
“And Dot . . .” adds Katherine.
The maid stops in the doorway.
“ . . . ask one of the lads to bring more wood for the fire. We are down to the last log.”
The girl bobs, nodding.
“It is Meg’s birthday today, John,” says Katherine. “She is seventeen.”
He feels clogged up, wants to see her properly, read the expression in her nut-brown eyes, but the detail of her is blurred. “My little Margaret Neville, a woman . . . seventeen.” His voice is a croak. “Someone will want to marry you. A fine young man.” It strikes him like a slap in the face—he will never know his daughter’s husband.
Meg’s hand wipes at her eye.
Huicke slips into the chamber. He has come each day this week. Latymer wonders why it is that the King sends one of his own physicians to care for an almost disgraced northern lord such as he. Katherine thinks it is a sign that he is truly pardoned. But it doesn’t make sense and he knows the King enough to suspect that there is an ulterior purpose to this gesture; although what it is, he’s not sure.
The doctor is a thin black shadow approaching the bed. Meg takes her leave with another kiss. Huicke draws back the covers, allowing a rancid stench to escape, and begins to palpate the lump with butterfly fingers. Latymer hates those kid-clad hands. He has never known Huicke to remove his gloves, which are fine and buff like human skin. He wears a ring set with a garnet the size of an eye over them. Latymer loathes the man disproportionately for those gloves, the deceit of them pretending to be hands, and the way they make him feel unclean.
Sharp bursts of pain peck at him, making his breath fast and shallow. Huicke sniffs at a phial of something—his own piss, he supposes—and holds it up to the light while talking quietly with Katherine. She glows in the proximity of this young doctor. He is too fey and girlish to be a threat at least, but Latymer hates him anew for his youth and his promise, not just for his gloved hands. He must be quite brilliant to be in the King’s service and still so young. Huicke’s future is laid out before him like a feast, while his own is all used up. Latymer drifts off, the hushed voices washing over him.
“I have given him something new for the pain,” she is saying. “White-willow bark and motherwort.”
“You have a physician’s touch,” Huicke replies. “I would not have thought to put those together.”
“I am interested in herbals. I have a little physic garden of my own . . .” She pauses. “I like to see things grow. And I have Bankes’s book.”
“Bankes’s Herbal, that is the best of them. Well, I think so, but it is rather scorned by the academics.”
“I suppose they think it a woman’s book.”
“They do,” he says. “And that is precisely what recommends it to me. In my opinion women know more about healing than all the scholars in Oxford and Cambridge together, though I generally keep that to myself.”
Latymer feels a bolt of pain shooting through him, sharper this time, folding him in half. He hears a scream, barely recognizing it as his own. He is dying of guilt. The spasm wanes eventually to a dull ache. Huicke has gone and he supposes he must have been asleep. He is struck then with a sudden overwhelming sense of urgency. He must ask her before speech deserts him, but how to phrase it?
He grabs Katherine’s wrist, surprised by his own strength, rasping, “Give me more tincture.”
“I cannot, John,” she replies. “I have already given you the limit. More would . . .” Her words hang.
He grasps her more tightly, growling, “It is what I want, Kit.”
She looks at him, straight on, saying nothing.
He thinks he can see her thoughts like the workings of a clock, wondering, he imagines, where in the Bible to find justification for this; how to reconcile her soul with such an act; that it could send her to the gallows; that if he were a pheasant got at by the dog, she would think nothing of a merciful twist of his neck.
“What you ask of me will damn us both,” she whispers.
“I know,” he replies.
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Meet the Author
Elizabeth Fremantle is the author of Sisters of Treason, Queen’s Gambit, and Watch the Lady, and has contributed to Vogue, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, The Sunday Times (London), and other publications. She has also reviewed fiction for The Sunday Express. She lives in London, England.
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'Queen's Gambit' is an enchanting and thrilling historical novel that tells the story of Katherine Parr, King Henry VIII's sixth wife, as she deals with the treachery and deceit of court life and attempts to rid her of the throne. In order to survive life at the palace, Katherine gathers a tight knit circle of women around her including her step-daughter, Meg, and Dot, a loyal servant. Although Katherine was forced to marry King Henry while her true love, Thomas Seymour, is sent to the Continent - she refuses to give up hope, life, or the idea of love. I'm not normally a big fan of historical fiction, but the description of this book drew me in. The reign of King Henry VIII is quite infamous and I thought that an inside look at what was happening inside the court - especially from a woman's perspective - would be fascinating. Any expectations I had before reading this novel were left far behind as the author plunged me into Tudor England and the little known life of Katherine Parr. The plot was intriguing and I loved learning all that I could about Katherine - as a person, her history, her beliefs and dreams. She was a fantastic lead character for the book. She's devoted, strong, intelligent, and kind, but she stands for what she believes in and won't give in to social pressures. The setting of the story was beautifully written. It felt like I was right alongside Katherine in Tudor England. The vivid descriptions and detailed imagery brought the characters and the setting to life before my eyes. The story was compelling, with fine attention to detail and the intricate ways of the English court of that time. The author wrote with such a natural pace that the book flowed effortlessly and I found myself engrossed from the first pages. This is a remarkable work of historical fiction that sheds much needed light on the person, the life, and the struggles of Katherine Parr - Henry VIII's last wife - who often gets looked over in history. Highly recommended for fans of Tudor England and historical fiction. Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and this book really hit the spot. It was a lot of fun to had these pieces into prior readings by other authors to get a more complete picture of life in King Henry's court.
Overrated. This novel drags badly when it goes into complex and too in depth detail of the religious complexities of the day; editing that more and staying focused on the already intriguing Katherine Parr's plight at court would have increased readability. I was greatly disappointed after reading other stellar reviews.
A Fantastic Historical Book! This book is traditional in giving the details to a Tudor lifestyle and stays true to the era. You do not need to be a Tudor historian to appreciate this book, nor do you need to know about Katherine Parr and her marriage to King Henry VIII. I love that the author writes this novel in a way that is easy to read, easy to follow, and develops the characters with such transparency, that you will want to read more about Katherine-one of the less known wives of Henry VIII. Because I am not an expert on Tudor history, Elizabeth Fremantle gave me a more intimate look into the life of Katherine Parr. The struggles Katherine endures with the loss of her husband, having a second chance at love with someone she can’t marry, and being forced to marry a man that she loathes, are just so unimaginable for one person to experience….and for it to be true….wow!! Elizabeth just weaves such a beautiful story that it really kept me spellbound throughout the story. I love the extra spice added into the storyline with characters, such as Dot (her servant) and Meg (step-daughter), and just gave the story some pause between the intense struggles Katherine experiences. Again, I realize this is historical fiction, and Tudor fans may be bothered by some of the interactions that take place (ie, Katherine and Thomas), but it still makes for an excellent read!! If you love historical fiction, love a book about love and relationships, and enjoy Tudor history, then grab this book!!-booksintheburbs
Enjoyed it and will be looking for other titles by her
I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.
Very Good Book - Page turner-Well written. Will be reading all of Elizabeth Fremantle Books !
It seems longer then it really is because the begining is very dry but thr end id worth it!!!
This is one of the most enjoyable and informative books I have read in a long time! I love this period of time and it was very enlightening to learn more about King Henry than I had known. He really was a disgusting old man and you will see how much his wife had to tolerate and "baby" him. The life of a queen is not all it is cracked up to be. It was a book I couldn't put down!
Goes to res three we should all meet at res four to see if we found her.