Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

The Queen’s Gambit is a chess opening in which a pawn is temporarily sacrificed to give the player a strong center presence. In The Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle, the life of Elizabeth Parr, sixth wife of Henry VIII, becomes a chess game after her marriage. In order to keep her position and her head, she must plan carefully, stay at least one move ahead of her enemies, and arrange her allies carefully around her. To succeed at this game, she needs the loyalty of her maid-servant, Dot, illiterate and lowly-born, who understands the importance of keeping the Queen’s secrets, even at great danger to herself.

Katherine Parr was thirty, twice-widowed and childless, when her modesty and common sense caught the eye of King Henry VIII. His proposal of marriage could not be refused.  Katherine was forced to put aside self-interest to marry a husband who was by this time elderly, sick, bad-tempered and dangerous. Henry was a man who could suddenly turn on those close to him and order anyone, even his queen, banished, arrested or executed. Katherine endured some close calls, but with the help of servants and friends and her own intuition about the King’s moods, she was able to outwit her enemies and outlive the king. In this book her story is told from two points of view, Katherine’s and Dot’s.  Each was a woman who rose above her station. Katherine, of aristocratic but not royal blood, became Queen of England. Dot, the uneducated daughter of a thatcher, became the Queen’s most trusted retainer. Together they navigated the chess board of the English Court, the gossip, the intrigues, the back-biting, the maneuvering for favor.

After Henry’s death, both Katherine and Dot married for love. Dot created a happy home and family, but Katherine’s fourth husband, Thomas Seymour, proved to be a social-climbing philanderer. Neither of Katherine’s positions, Queen and Dowager Queen, could provide happiness or safety. After careful strategizing in Henry’s Court kept her alive, she died at age thirty-six, as so many sixteenth century women did, in childbirth.

Check out The Queen's Gambit at the library!