The Last Wife Of Henry VIII

Written by Carolly Erickson
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Erickson is well known to lovers of royal non-fiction. Only with her previous novel, The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette, did Erickson move into the genre of historical fiction. The newest novel is a welcome addition and should encourage Erickson to continue writing in the genre.

Catherine Parr is probably one of the least well-known and understood of Henry VIII’s wives. First and foremost, we know that she survived Henry’s slaughter or gross betrayal of his first five wives to become his final spouse. We know that she had a torrid affair with Thomas Seymour. Frankly, other than those two facts, I knew little about Cat Parr.

In Erickson’s talented hands, Cat Parr comes to life. She matures from a young child in Catherine of Aragon’s retinue, through her first two marriages, to dealing with the intrigues of Henry’s court. Through it all, Cat struggles to maintain her own intellect, dignity and self-respect, goals which become increasingly difficult as she is in a position to see Henry deteriorate both physically and mentally. Cat nurses Henry, tending to his suppurating leg wounds, managing her own disgust. She engages Henry in spirited discussions about religion and politics. Under Cat’s calm exterior lies a passionate woman: passionate about education, religious reform, her stepchildren, and the man she must leave to marry Henry. Through it all, she deals valiantly with her fears – justifiable in light of Henry’s paranoia – and manages to leave a legacy of poise, determination and intelligence.

Erickson creates beautifully drawn characters, not the least of which is Cat herself – but Henry and Tom Seymour deserve mention as well. Clothing, manners, music, politics and religion are all part of the whirlwind of Henry’s court, a court in which virtually no one remains unscathed. A highly recommended read.