The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson
Published: November 1st 2006 by Audiogo
Genre: Historical Fiction
Courageous, attractive, romantic, intelligent, Catherine Parr became the sixth wife of Henry VIII. Her story, as Carolly Erickson re-creates it, is page-turning drama: from the splendours of the Field of the Cloth of Gold to the gory last years of the outsize King Henry, when heads rolled and England trembled, Catherine bestrode her destiny and survived to marry her true love.
Catherine Parr attracted the king’s lust and, though much in love with the handsome Thomas Seymour, was thrown into the intrigue-filled snake pit of the royal court. While victims of the king’s wrath suffered torture and execution, Catherine persevered—until, at last, she came within the orbit of the royal fury. King Henry toyed with her, first ordering her arrested, then granting her clemency. She managed to evade execution, but she knew that the king had his wandering eye fixed on wife number seven.
She was spared by his death and married the attractive but dangerously unbalanced Seymour. Her triumph was shadowed by rivalry with the young Princess Elizabeth, whose lands and influence the lecherous Seymour coveted. Catherine won the contest, but at great cost.
‘The Last Wife of Henry VIII‘ by Carolly Erickson is a book that I have been looking to buy for ages, but I never managed to find out until I downloaded the Audible app and got a free trail. This was one of the books that I first bought on Audible!
This book centres around the life of Henry’s sixth and final wife; Catherine Parr from her childhood in the court of the young Henry VIII, to becoming his last wife, to her life after the king’s death until her unfortunate death. This author manages to capture the atmosphere and liveliness of the Tudor Court but also brings historical figures to live in a well-rounded way, where you can sympathise, hate, love, admire and loathe different characters.
The first part of the book focuses on Catherine as a child living with her mother and begins with Catherine witnessing the spectacle that was held in France in 1520; The Field of Cloth of Gold. I really like this perspective, as many historical fiction books that I have read on Catherine Parr, they begin with her second marriage and continue from there, but it was immense to be able to read about her from when she was a young child, and to be able to read about historical events from her point of view. It is also interesting as it shows Catherine having a familiar relationship with her namesake; Catherine of Aragon but this made sense as Catherine’s mother Maud was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine whilst she was married to Henry VIII.
I do not know much about Catherine’s first marriage, but from what I have read on Wikipedia and from reading about Catherine, sadly I do not think it was a love match as it was portrayed in the novel. The love between Catherine and her first husband Edward Burgh (who in the novel was nicknamed Ned) was really sweet to read and I must admit, I did actually shed a little tear when he died as I felt really emotional for Catherine with everything that she suffered within the last couple of months before Ned sadly died. Although, one thing that I shall point out in the novel, that before Catherine and Ned married, Catherine was originally supposed to marry Ned’s grandfather, but she refused and in the end, went to the king to make sure that she married the man she loved. This possibly could have happened at some point during the Tudor period, but it definitely didn’t happen for Catherine, she had to marry who she was told to marry.
That is another issue that I struggled to get my head around throughout the novel, is Henry VIII’s relationship with Catherine Parr. In reality and in the novel, Catherine Parr was a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, but in the novel, it shows Catherine being a lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn as well (which isn’t true!). With Catherine being a lady-in-waiting, it would inevitable that Henry and Catherine would cross paths, but the author depicted Henry taking a liking to Catherine after the first time of meeting her, and whenever Catherine needed something done for her, which she was not able to find a solution for, she would always run to the king to help her, and help her he did! I just felt frustrated every time there was a description of Henry VIII licking his lips whilst staring at Catherine.
Another bugbear of mine was when Catherine was married to John Neville, Baron Latimer, from what I understand, whilst she was married to John Neville, there was a lot of unrest especially during the Pilgrimage of Grace, when Catherine was held hostage with her stepchildren and probably was worried that she would be killed. However, in the novel she meets a ‘mysterious‘ man who she only knew as Tom and she began building up a relationship with him which leads up to Catherine sleeping with Tom and having an affair. With reading about Catherine and how seriously she took her faith, I think that it is definitely far-fetched that Catherine would have cheated on her husband at all, and definitely not with a stranger that she hardly knew anything about!
There are many characters throughout the novel that were highly unlikable, such as Ned Burgh’s father, who was very controlling and did not take kindly to his son being given greater favour than him, but also the fact that Catherine went behind his back to the king to get what she wanted; to marry Ned. Prince Edward, even though he was very young when his mother died, he comes across very spoilt as his father gives into him a lot and this is clear in one scene when Catherine is forced to hand over one of his wedding presents as Edward takes a liking to it. Also, Anne Boleyn was portrayed as a vain, arrogant, rude woman who took an instant dislike to Catherine Parr, but as I have previously discussed earlier in this review, that that is highly unlikely!
*Spoiler Alert* It turns out that the mysterious Tom, is none other than Thomas Seymour, Jane Seymour’s brother which makes him a brother-in-law to the King of England and uncle to Prince Edward. *End of Spoiler Alert* At first, Catherine and Thomas’s relationship is very sweet, loving and caring, but I always had that feeling that Thomas could not be trusted, that he was holding a secret to his chest. It becomes quite sad to read towards the end of the book with Thomas’s actions towards the Princess Elizabeth, as it would be viewed differently from 21st century eyes, but was seen as normal back in the 16th century. It must of been heartbreaking for Catherine, to see the man that she loved for many years, the man she was denied to marry as the king became enchanted and besotted by her, who she longed for, was now interested in Princess Elizabeth, rather than who she was but for what she could bring him; closer to the English Throne. You cannot help but feel for Catherine right at the end of the book, as she would have looked forward to being pregnant especially when she must have believed that she would never have a child of her own, but would be happy to look after any of her husband’s children. It goes incredibly sour with between her and her husband after Thomas’s behaviour with Elizabeth, but you cannot help but feel emotional whilst she lays dying from childbed fever after giving birth to her only child, a daughter; Mary. She becomes delirious accusing Thomas of a multitude of things, but it must of been such a scary time for her, knowing that she was going to leave behind her only child that she had been longing for over the years, she would never see her child grow up, but also once she died, would Thomas remarry straightaway? but the better question would be; who would he marry?
I did enjoy this book for what it was; a historical fiction book, meaning that the author did play around with dates, historical figures and events. Although there were many parts that irritated me and I wished that it had been written differently, it was still an enjoyable book.