The Sixth Wife: The Wives of Henry VIII

The Sixth Wife: The Wives of Henry VIII

by Jean Plaidy


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Dangerous court intrigue and affairs of the heart collide as renowned novelist Jean Plaidy tells the story of Katherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII’s six queens.

Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, was both foolish and unfaithful, and she paid for it with her life. Henry vowed that his sixth wife would be different, and she was. Katherine Parr was twice widowed and thirty-one years old. A thoughtful, well-read lady, she was known at court for her unblemished reputation and her kind heart. She had hoped to marry for love and had set her heart on Thomas Seymour, the dashing brother of Henry’s third queen. But the aging king—more in need of a nurse than a wife—was drawn to her, and Katherine could not refuse his proposal of marriage.

Queen Katherine was able to soothe the King’s notorious temper, and his three children grew fond of her, the only mother they had ever really known. Trapped in a loveless marriage to a volatile tyrant, books were Katherine’s consolation. But among her intellectual pursuits was an interest in Lutheranism—a religion that the king saw as a threat to his supremacy as head of the new Church of England. Courtiers envious of the Queen’s influence over Henry sought to destroy her by linking her with the “radical” religious reformers. Henry raged that Katherine had betrayed him, and had a warrant drawn up for her arrest and imprisonment. At court it was whispered that the king would soon execute yet another wife. Henry’s sixth wife would have to rely on her wits to survive where two other women had perished. . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780609810262
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 02/22/2005
Series: A Novel of the Tudors Series , #7
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.67(d)

About the Author

Jean Plaidy, one of the preeminent authors of historical fiction for most of the twentieth century, is the pen name of the prolific English author Eleanor Hibbert, also known as Victoria Holt. Jean Plaidy’s novels had sold more than 14 million copies worldwide by the time of her death in 1993.

Read an Excerpt


Spring had come to England. There were marsh marigolds along the banks of the river, and in the royal park the saxifrage showed gold and green on the damp sweet-smelling earth; the buds were bursting open in the hedgerows; and the songs of the thrush and the blackbird filled the air.

In his royal palace of Greenwich, his "Manor of Pleazaunce," the best-loved of all his palaces because it was his birthplace, the King was aware of the coming of spring. He was melancholy and he knew the reason for his melancholy. It was little more than a year since his fascinating but unfaithful wife had, at his command, lost her head. A whole year! It was a long time to be without a wife.

The small eyes seemed to sink into the puffy face, the mouth grew prim, as he thought of all he had suffered at the hands of his wives. The first and second had deceived him; he had divorced one and beheaded the other; the third had died giving him his son; the fourth he had not loved at all and had lost no time in divorcing her; and the fifth—that faithless wanton, Catharine Howard—whom for the last year he had been unable to banish from his thoughts, had walked out to Tower Green on a February day of last year and laid her head on the block.

This was an unnatural deprivation for a man to suffer; and, he reminded himself, if I am a King, I am also a man.

And the remedy for his melancholy? A wife.

The King must look for a sixth wife.

Blustering March winds buffeted the walls of a mansion close to the Charterhouse Priory in the City of London. On one of the window seats, her tapestry in her hands—although she was paying little attention to the design she was working—sat a woman. She was small and her hair, which was fair and abundant, showed beneath her hood of black velvet; her gown of the same material was richly embroidered, but in dark colors; and the skirt was open in the front to display her silk petticoat, which was a somber shade of purple; the long veil flowing from the back of her headdress proclaimed her a widow. Her face was charming, but the charm came from its expression rather than a regularity of features; at the moment it seemed to wear a borrowed beauty; her cheeks were flushed, her eyes bright, and it was as though this beauty had snatched away ten years of her thirty and made her a young woman of twenty again.

She was in love; and the eager glances which she cast down at the courtyard suggested that she was waiting for her lover.

Why should she not have a lover? She had married twice to please her family. Why should she not marry this time to please herself?

Soon he would come riding into the courtyard. He would look up and she would wave her hand, for there was no subterfuge in her nature, and she would not hide her feelings. He was quite sure that she loved him and that he had only to ask her to become Lady Seymour and she would most readily agree.

He was the handsomest man in the King's court. It was not only her love that told her this. Others said the same; even his enemies—and he had many—granted him that. He was the brother-in-law of the King; and he was a favorite of the King, for all knew that the latter liked to have about him those who were gay, young and handsome. Some thought that Thomas Seymour had become too ambitious since his sister Jane had married the King; others said that favors won through a female relative and not as a reward for a man's prowess, were built on flimsy foundations. Thomas, they said, lacked the ability of his elder brother, Edward, Lord Hertford. Edward had crafty diplomacy to set against Thomas's charm. Edward was cautious; Thomas was reckless.

It mattered not, Katharine, the widow, assured herself. He was the most charming, the most delightful of companions. He was the only man she would ever love, and he loved her too. He was going to ask her to marry him and she—widow of a few months though she was—was going to marry him.

Contemplating her third marriage must naturally make her think of the other two. They had been no real marriages. She smiled now, a little tenderly, thinking of the poor frightened child whom they had married to Lord Borough of Gainsborough, an elderly widower, with children who had seemed to Katharine quite old. Her Mother had arranged that match, and she and her sister and brother had always obeyed their mother without question. Katharine could not remember her father, for Sir Thomas Parr had died when she was only four; and in the capable hands of his wife, Maud, he had left the care of his children.

Lady Parr had been a stern mother, continually scheming for the advancement of her children; and when young Katharine had been told she was to marry the rich Lord Borough, it had not occurred to her to protest.

And perhaps, Katharine told herself, as she threaded her needle with crimson silk, she had not been so unfortunate, for my Lord Borough had proved to be a kindly man, gentle and tender, and not so demanding as a young man might have been. She had been sorry when at the age of fifteen she had found herself to be a rich widow.

The first widowhood had been allowed to last only two or three years when another wealthy widower had been found for her. John Neville, Lord Latimer, was an excellent match, so said her family; and recognizing in him the same kindly tolerance which had made her first marriage less frightening than it might so easily have been, and finding friendship with his grown-up children, Katharine had allowed herself to be married a second time—indeed, she had had little say in the matter—and had taken up residence in the beautiful mansion of Snape Hall, or sometimes in another of his houses in Worcester, or, when they visited London, here in the mansion near the Charterhouse.

With Lord Latimer she had attended court and had become acquainted with the Princess Mary, who was of an age similar to her own; they had interests in common and had found pleasure in each other's company.

She had been a good wife to Lord Latimer; she had nursed him in sickness and she had astonished him with her wisdom, since but for her he might have come to a tragic end. He had taken an active part in the "Pilgrimage of Grace," that insurrection against the reforms of the King and Cromwell, and it was only by great good fortune that he had escaped the King's wrath; and this was due to his listening to Katharine's entreaties that he should not join in the second rising.

Katharine could shudder now remembering those times, but they were behind her since she was widowed for the second time. She was still young—only in her thirty-first year—and she was rich, possessing several stately mansions and the fortunes inherited from two husbands. She was also in love.

Sir Thomas Seymour was quite different from either Lord Borough or Lord Latimer. The flashing eyes, the chestnut beard, the curling hair, the great stature, the booming voice, the air of jaunty recklessness, the sailor's oaths which rose to his lips at the least provocation, set him apart; he was a man in a thousand. Perhaps she was rather foolish, she a widow of thirty, to love the most charming man at court. She would certainly have been had she not been sure that her affection was returned.

As she stitched she thought of their meetings in this mansion. Lord Latimer had been a Catholic, but she even during his lifetime had been attracted by the New Religion. She had friends who were interested in it; and how she had enjoyed their conversations, the books which had to be smuggled to her apartments because they were forbidden reading. She had never talked to Lord Latimer of her feelings for the New Religion. How could she when he was a staunch Catholic and supported Rome with such fervor that he was ready to disobey the King and risk his life to do so? She had been taught that it was a wife's duty to follow her husband in all things. But when Lord Latimer had died there seemed no longer any reason why she should not admit to herself that she had these Protestant leanings.

She had first become interested through her conversations with a friend named Anne Askew, the daughter of a squire of Lincoln. Anne was fervent in her beliefs and Katharine felt that she herself could never be so pious. Her intentions were noble, but worldly matters came between her and her piety. She smiled as she paused in her work to smooth the folds of her velvet gown; she enjoyed wearing beautiful garments and rich ornaments.

It was at a religious gathering which she had arranged should take place in this house that she had first become aware of Thomas. He had looked incongruous at the gathering; he had not seemed in the least devout; his extravagant clothes and gay manners set him apart. Did he come for religious reasons? She doubted it. He came because the meetings were anti-Catholic and antagonistic to those—such as the Duke of Norfolk, Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and Sir Thomas Wriothesley—who wished to wrest the King's favor from himself and his family.

Katharine was not interested in his reasons for coming; she only cared that he came; and from the moment he had selected her for his attention, she had to admit that the religious purpose of the gatherings seemed to lose its importance.

At that moment her woman, Nan, came into the room.

Nan was younger than Katharine by a year or two; dark-haired and pretty, she had been with Katharine since her marriage with Lord Latimer; she was a very loving servant.

There was a cloud in Nan's eyes today because she knew the reason for her mistress's elation, and it disturbed her. Nan felt that Katharine judged all men by the two she had married, and innocently thought that Sir Thomas Seymour was a younger, more handsome and more charming version of Lord Latimer.

"Well, Nan," said Katharine, "how do you think the pattern goes?"

Nan came and surveyed it.

"Very well, my lady."

"It is cold today. But the spring will soon be here. There are signs of it everywhere."

"They are saying, my lady, that the King feels the effects of spring."

"The King?.

"Yes, my lady. And it is rumored that he looks for a new wife."

"Oh, yes." Katharine glanced down at her embroidery. Her mood had become solemn. There was not a lady at court who did not become solemn at the thought of the King's last marriage, which had ended so tragically just over a year ago.

"It seems such a short while ago that we had a Queen," went on Nan. "We thought the King was happy at last. And then quite suddenly . . ." She paused and shivered. "She was so pretty," she went on. "I do not think I ever saw anyone quite so pretty. Queen Anne Boleyn was more striking to look at—more fascinating too, they say—but I do not think I ever saw one so dainty, so sweet to look upon as Queen Catharine Howard."

"Don't speak of it, Nan. It is . . . upsetting."

But Nan went on: "I remember how she ran screaming down the gallery at Hampton Court when the King was at chapel. I can't forget the sound of her voice."

"It is best forgotten, Nan."

"But I shall never forget. I was there at the end. I should not have gone, but I could not help it. I had to go. And I saw her walk out and lay her pretty head on the block . . . like a child who had learned her lesson. They say she practiced how she should do it while she was waiting in her cell. And now, my lady, the King looks for a sixth wife."

"A sixth wife!" said Katharine. "How I pity her . . . whoever she shall be. But what are we saying? This is no affair of ours. The King grows older—although doubtless it is treason to say so. Let us hope he is putting all thought of another marriage from him. And, if he should marry, now that he is older, there is less likelihood of his fancy's straying."

"It did not stray from Catharine Howard, my lady."

"Let us not speak of it. Do I hear the sound of horses' hooves in the courtyard?"

She looked out of the window, smiling, for riding into the courtyard was Thomas Seymour.

Reading Group Guide

1. Katharine urged her second husband, Lord Latimer, to downplay his religious convictions in order to avoid the king’s punishment. How far does she follow her own advice to keep dangerous opinions quiet from the court? Does she become bolder as her years with Henry pass? Why?

2. Katharine and her sister Anne agree that the wedding ring around Katharine’s finger is akin to a noose around her neck. Does this overstate the case? Does Katharine also derive benefits from the throne? Based on Katharine’s experience, is marriage to Henry a survivable state–or was it luck that saved her in the end?

3. In describing Henry’s style of leadership, Plaidy says that Henry threatens the nobility and courts the commoners. The reader experiences Henry’s reign through the eyes of the court. How do you imagine a commoner would view Henry VIII?

4. When Katharine asks the king for favors, Henry is pleased to be able to grant her that which he himself quietly wants, allowing him to feel at once benevolent and relieved. Do you think Katharine is aware of this dynamic? Does she orchestrate this dialogue to any degree, or is she sincerely appealing for favors on her own behalf?

5. Do Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward–bound by their relationship to the king but by little else–consider themselves a family? How would you describe their life in the palace? Having seen Henry’s queens come and go, why do you think the royal children allow themselves to become so attached to Katharine Parr?

6. Discuss Katharine’s friendship with Jane Grey. Why is the queen so fond of the young girl? Is Katharine a good role model for Jane? If Jane were to become Edward’s queen, what lessons from Katharine would help her in her role? Are there any ways in which Katharine’s example would be detrimental to the pair?

7. Dr. London’s plot to forge documents implicating Katharine as a heretic is foiled when Katharine takes a hand in her own fate, sending a message to those who would destroy her that this queen will not easily be put away. Does this bold and intelligent image ring true throughout Katharine’s reign as queen consort?

8. The author often takes us inside Henry’s head to witness the suspicions, longings, and justifications that lead him to act so unpredictably. Does this narrative device work to make him more sympathetic as a character, or more dangerous? Do his feelings about conscience and fraternity with God sound like insanity, or are they understandable as the musings of a man accustomed to great power?

9. Elizabeth has many of the characteristics that made her father a strong and respected ruler. Does she also have qualities that could lead her to repeat Henry’s cruelty? What do you see as weaknesses?

10. Anne Askew is in many ways a dangerous friend for Katharine to have. Why does Katharine risk so much to help her? Does Katharine relate to her friend’s religious zeal, or is she just trying to help a friend in need? Is she in any way responsible for Anne’s fate?

11. Henry VIII is described as a man of many moods and a fierce will. Henry himself repeatedly declares, “A king is still a man.” Amid his many personas–sensualist, sovereign, diplomat, conqueror, husband, patient, father–can you identify one “real” Henry? How would he describe himself? What might Henry the man have been like if he were not king?

12. After reading Wriothesley’s warrant for her arrest, Katharine despairs until Thomas Seymour urges her to fight for her life. Why does she not fight before this? Does she realize her advantage in having found the lost scroll, or could she have made more of the opportunity?

13. What does Thomas find so alluring about Elizabeth? How big a part of the appeal is her place in line for the throne? Without her political stature, would Thomas have risked so much to seduce her? How do Katharine and Elizabeth compare in his eyes?

14. Why does Surrey deliberately provoke the king with his words and actions? Is he motivated by the same kind of reckless delirium that Katharine sometimes feels–or is something else driving him? Does he harbor a real desire to take power from Henry, or does he court danger out of restlessness?

15. By her fourth marriage, Katharine is an experienced wife–but naïve in the ways of romance. Why does she not see hints of Thomas’ indiscretions earlier? Is she foolish to trust him? If she had known about his proposal to Elizabeth, do you think she would have married Thomas? How could she have saved herself?

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Sixth Wife: The Wives of Henry VIII 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
jengo More than 1 year ago
I love historical fiction and found this to be a great read. Katherine Parr's life was inherently suspenseful. Well worth your time!
RGrandis More than 1 year ago
I've been buying all the books I can by Jean Plaidy to my mother. She loves that kind of historical romance an she reads them, one by one, with pure delight. The books reach us in Rio de Janeiro in just 3 days - pure delight again!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a great read, and one of the few written from the perspective of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII's 6th wife.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Plaidy's 'The Sixth Wife' was one of the best. I especially enjoyed it because there are not too many historical novels written about her. Plaidy gives us the a very plain picture of the life of Queen Katherine Parr. I would recomment this novel to everyone!
Anonymous 12 days ago
I don't know why this myth persists. Yes, he died very young, at age fifteen, but he was healthy up until then. It was true he was not tall and broad like his father, instead taking after his small mother, but he was not weak. Henry was very proud of the boy, and probably relieved rather than disappointed that Edward wasn't into dangerous sports; Edward was the healthy, legitimate son Henry had waited 20 years for, so he surely wanted to keep him safe.
shsunon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Katherine Parr escaped with both her neck and her life as the final wife of the monstrous King Henry VIII. She went on to marry the love of her life only to find he was not quite the man she thought him to be.
ejgrogan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another great work by Jean Plaidy that should not be missed.
SelimaCat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The writing was pretty lousy--slow, pedantic, lots of telling rather than showing. I'm no historian, but the history seemed different than I'd read elsewhere, which made me suspicious of the scholarship. Satisfying neither as history nor fiction, I'd recommend looking elsewhere.
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miss_dobie More than 1 year ago
As with all previous books of Jean Plaidy that I have read, this also is a "must read." What a wonderful storyteller she is! Puts you right into the center of all the action, all the drama, and you go through all the emotions appropriate of the moment. A real page-turner, too. Again, brava!!!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved 'The Sixth Wife!' it was so detailed and written so beautifully. Katherin Parr's story is one I loved learning.
CCANCELL More than 1 year ago
Great ending to the story of the wives of Henry VIII, for those of us who were not familiar with the details of all of the stories to each wife this one actually surprised me on how close Katherine Parr came to loosing her head and the way she survived to tell the tale. This story is a great follow up to Katharine of Aragon and Murder Most Royal.