When selecting this book please beware… Both the title and
the cover illustration are deceiving as both clearly suggest that the focus is
Henry VIII’s sixth wife and Queen, Katherine Parr. However, this novel’s central character and
narrator is Catherine Willoughby Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, one of Queen
Katherine’s ladies in waiting as well as her close friend. Here Dunn presents the perspective of
Catherine Brandon on the tumultuous conclusion to the reign of Henry VIII and Queen
Katherine’s subsequent hasty marriage to Thomas Seymour following the death of
King Henry. Dunn dubs Lady Catherine “Cathy”
who is suspicious of the motives behind the marriage to Seymour and suspects
that Seymour desires the marriage as it puts him close to the young Princess
Elizabeth with whom Queen Katherine lives.
Cathy tries to protect both Queen Katherine and Princess Elizabeth by
living with them at Sudeley Castle, but in the end finds herself entangled in a
physical relationship with Seymour that forever severs her friendship with
Queen Katherine who is devastated at the betrayal of her husband with one of
her closest friends.
I was disappointed in The Sixth Wife for several reasons but
primarily because Dunn opted to pit these two influential women against one
another. I have always found Queen
Katherine to be the ultimate survivor, a true reformer while remaining
nurturing and warm. The suggestion that an
improper relationship existed with Princess Elizabeth is one thing, given her
age mixed with Seymour’s lethal charm, but to think that Catherine Brandon
would betray her in such a way was very difficult to swallow. The young bride of the aging Duke of Suffolk
has always fascinated me and from what I have encountered she too was an
intelligent woman and a devout reformer.
I would rather read more about these women claiming their power and
influence rather than succumbing to the charms of a soulless climber. And while I commend Dunn’s use of Catherine
Willoughby as her narrator, I can’t help but think that Dunn wasted an
opportunity to give her reader more than a historical love triangle; something
just one step above a romance novel.
Again I was disappointed with Dunn’s use of modern
nicknames, though not as distracting as they were in the Queen of Subtleties, they are nevertheless so unnecessary and
really seem to dumb the whole thing down.
I was surprised to read that Dunn herself has said “I don’t write
historical fiction,” and so perhaps I should strike her works from my reading
list. However, I must say that to me
Dunn’s statement seems more like an excuse for writing bad historical fiction
because clearly she frames her novel within a historical context and choses her
narrator to be an actual figure at the Tudor court. What Dunn does not give her reader is a novel
that provokes further research or opens the reader’s eyes to a fresh
Unfortunately, I cannot recommend The Sixth Wife without
these reservations and while I enjoyed Dunn’s use of Catherine Brandon as
narrator the story that she creates is empty.
This review qualifies for the following challenges: