Monday, August 19, 2013

Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour: The Queen's Gambit

Describe your research process for Queen's Gambit

Most of my research is reading – letters and primary sources like state papers, historical biographies, and social history as well as Early Modern literature such as etiquette books and herbals, which were manuals on cures, and even recipe books. When my nose is not between the covers of a book I am often to be found wandering about old houses like Hampton Court and Penshurst Place waiting for the muse to alight. Museums are an invaluable research resource as objects really help bring a sense of reality to the past that cannot be found in texts. I find portraiture helpful too and I take courses, the most recent was a course on Tudor and Stuart clothing, which helped me understand the construction of the very complicated clothing of the period but also the way clothing held symbolic values.

I make copious and detailed notes but once I begin writing I set them aside, relying on memory, because I don’t want my writing to lose its immediacy or be labored with factual detail. I then go back and fact-check later.

What is the most interesting thing you learned in your research for Queen's Gambit?

I learned so much that was fascinating but in particular the practices of execution in the period intrigued and horrified me. In 1532 Henry VIII brought in a new way to punish poisoners: boiling alive and we all know of the way traitors were hung, drawn and quartered; a barbaric practice. It took some people as long as two hours to die when burned at the stake and it was quite common practice for a bag of saltpeter (or gunpowder) to be quietly handed to the condemned soul by a well-wisher to speed up the process. For me these punishments highlight the violence of the era and the fear in which people lived.

Why do you think Henry VIII's wives have such an appeal to readers?

The mythology surrounding a man like Henry VIII and the way he treated his wives is intriguing in itself and the exploration of the lives of the women who lived in his shadow helps us to understand something of the cultural misogyny that colored all women’s lives at the time. But beyond that the mid-sixteenth century was a time in which some noble women, and certainly at least three of Henry’s wives, had access to the same education as their brothers. It was a time of great change and women were beginning to find their own individual voices. For example Katherine Parr published two books.

Who is your favorite of Henry's wives?

Of course I favor Katherine Parr who out-foxed her adversaries, published her own books, survived marriage to Henry VIII and was instrumental in educating the young Elizabeth Tudor. Having said that though all the wives’ stories are of interest to me.

What do you find the most interesting about the Tudor period?

The Reformation in the mid-sixteenth century was a time of great upheaval and I find those moments of change in history the most interesting. During the Tudor period we see the beginnings of our own culture in the rise of the merchant classes marking the end of the feudal system, the rise of painting and poetry culminating in the great Elizabethan playwrights whose work still resonates with us today. We also see the first women to reign in their own right in Mary and Elizabeth Tudor.

What is next for you?

My next novel, SISTERS OF TREASON, is out in the spring. Set about six years on from QUEEN’S GAMBIT it tells the story of the two younger sisters of Lady Jane Grey who were dangerously close to the throne and fell foul of Elizabeth I. I interweave their stories with that of miniaturist Levina Teerlinc who helps the girls negotiate the perils of the Tudor court. In the background we see the return to Catholicism, and all the horrors that entailed, with Mary I and the rise of Elizabeth into a supremely powerful yet flawed monarch.

I am working on the third book in the trilogy now, which will be about Penelope Devereaux and her brother the Earl of Essex and will explore late Elizabethan court politics through their stories. Penelope is a fascinating character who refused to be limited by the expectations of the time and even lived openly with her lover whilst her husband was still alive. I will also explore the story of Aemelia Lanyer a poet who was part of Shakespeare’s circle and thought to have been the ‘dark lady’ of his sonnets.


Publication Date: August 6, 2013
Simon & Schuster
Hardcover; 432p
ISBN-10: 147670306X

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.

View the Official Book Trailer:

Praise for Queen’s Gambit

"This is a superbly written novel... Fremantle is surely a major new voice in historical fiction and this book is the answer to the question about what Hilary Mantel fans should read while waiting for the final part of her trilogy." - The Bookseller

“Wildly entertaining…lively, gamey, gripped with tension…one of the best historical novels I’ve read.” - Liz Smith

"Elizabeth Fremantle's rich narrative breathes vibrant life into Henry VIII's most intriguing, intelligent and least known wife, Katherine Parr." - Anne Easter Smith author of A Rose for the Crown and Royal Mistress

"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." - Stephanie Cowell author of Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet

"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." - Nancy Bilyeau author of The Crown

"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." - Rachel Hore, author of A Place of Secrets

"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." - Elizabeth Wilhide, author of Ashenden

"Fremantle...navigates Tudor terrain with aplomb." - Publishers Weekly

"Sins, secrets and guilt dominate the landscape of British writer Fremantle’s debut...[her] emphasis is on intrigue, character portraits and the texture of mid-16th-century life. Solid and sympathetic." - Kirkus Reviews

“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.” - Booklist

Review: Katherine Parr is not one of Henry's Queens that you usually read about. Most of the attention gets focused on Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. 

Elizabeth paints a picture of a woman who had already lost two husbands and was now facing the attentions of the King Henry, even though she doesn't particularly want them.

It is hard to imagine someone not wanting to be Queen of England, but when faced with the past wives of Henry, it is easier to understand. Wives cast aside or killed...such were the ways of King Henry's court.

This story brings Henry's last wife to light. She's survived marriage to him.  Elizabeth Fremantle shows us the strong, intelligent woman that Katherine Parr was.

This book is an intimate portrait of a Queen that doesn't get her share of time in the spotlight. She's a footnote in books about Elizabeth because of the rumors about an affair with Thomas Seymour and the young princess.

Definitely a must read for Tudor fans.

Rating:  5 flowers

About the Author

Elizabeth Fremantle holds a first class degree in English and an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck College London. She has contributed as a fashion editor to various publications including Vogue, Elle and The Sunday Times. QUEEN'S GAMBIT is her debut novel and is the first in a Tudor trilogy. The second novel, SISTERS OF TREASON, will be released in 2014. She lives in London.

For more about Elizabeth and her future projects see  You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.


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