The Last of Days

Written by Paul Doherty
Review by Marilyn Sherlock

The Last of Days transports us to the final three months in the life of Henry VIII, as recorded by Will Somers, the court jester, on the orders of Henry himself. The jester had far more freedom to say what he pleased to the king or offer advice without incurring the king’s displeasure than any other member of the court, who could well lose his head for an incautious comment.

Paul Doherty draws us into the terrifying atmosphere of the court, where treachery and intrigue abound. Henry sees danger everywhere and uses Will as his eyes and ears to report what people are saying in the taverns and on the street as well as within the palace. With the putrid smell of the sickroom, as Henry’s ulcerated leg festers and his huge body decays, we are given a picture of Henry’s court far from the colour and festivities of earlier times. In all the doom and gloom only Will can cheer the king and even make him laugh.

This unhappy story is a far cry from Paul Doherty’s other series. I did not find it easy to get into and almost gave up once or twice. While the two main characters are well drawn, others such as Thomas Wriothesley, the Chancellor, and the princesses Mary and Elizabeth are without substance. Personally I would have preferred more about the court and rather less about Henry’s guilt-filled decline.