Genre: Historical Fiction
A novel about Catherine Parr, The Last Wife of Henry VIII. The least known of Henry VIII’s six wives was the cleverest of them all. Alluring, witty, and resourceful, she attracted the king’s lust and, though much in love with the handsome Thomas Seymour, was thrown into the intrigue-filled snakepit of the royal court. While victims of the king’s wrath suffered torture and execution, Catherine withstood the onslaught, even when Henry sought to replace her with wife number seven. She survived her royal husband, and found happiness with Seymour---but it was shadowed by rivalry with the young Princess Elizabeth, whose affection Seymour coveted. Catherine won the contest, but at great cost.
This was a quick, entertaining read following the dramatic life of Catherine Parr from childhood to her death. Told from Catherine's point of view it spans the history of all of King Henry's wives giving the reader a brief overview of much of Henry's life as king & the ill-fated outcomes of each of his marriages. Cat is familiar with the workings of King Henry's court from a young age, her mother being Catherine of Aragon's lady-in-waiting. She finds favour with the King over her lifetime not only for her fairness but her wise & often refreshingly honest counsel until she finally becomes his sixth & last bride.
Erickson takes some liberties re-creating Catherine's life but as this is a work of fiction I wasn't bothered by the inaccuracies, if anything I found the embellishments added to the romance & drama. However if you're pedantic about an author taking artistic licence with history, then this may not be the novel for you. To give you an example, the novel recounts Catherine's 4 marriages, the first to Ned Burgh (Cat's one true love according to Erickson) then John Neville, King Henry VIII and finally Thomas Seymour but Catherine's first marriage was actually an arranged one, to the elderly Edward Borough.
Catherine was quite the humanitarian, skilled with herbs & poultices, well educated & level headed, although I did wonder at her intelligence when she recommenced her affair with Tom Seymour while married to Henry, obviously passion outweighed the possible loss of her head. She skillfully manages the delicate & often dangerous dance between honesty & protecting herself & those she loves. I thoroughly enjoyed her often un-complimentary thoughts about Henry's character & her opinion of his former wives and I actually laughed at her audacity in voicing some of those thoughts. The following response from Catherine to King Henry, regarding his marriage proposal is a wonderful example of her temerity (and she managed to keep her head lol)
"I still feel fear and revulsion at the memory of you putting your hands on me, kissing me, when I was a young girl. I still feel the fury and anguish I knew when my beloved Ned died, a victim of the heartless demands of your court! I feel sorrow for poor Queen Catherine of Aragon, that noble and gracius lady, and for poor foolish Catherine Howard, and even for the one you call the Witch. They all got entangled in the deadly web of the court, and in the end the great spider at the heart of the web devoured them! As he will no doubt devour me!"
Plenty of page-turning action in this one, the usual court intrigue & treachery, religious turmoil, pilgrim revolts, accusations of heresy & treason. All in all, a fascinating look at the last woman standing.
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