Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson

Genre: Historical Fiction
Copyright: 2006
Pages: 326
Book Source: Own purchase

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 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.

To celebrate my 1st Blogoversary two lucky readers can take their pick from a choice of 6 books in this month's spookalicious competition. Check this blog post for details. International entrants welcome.


  1. Excellent review Teddyree, sounds like an interesting and entertaining read.

    Glad you enjoyed.


  2. This one sounds good. I haven't read one on Catherine Parr yet. Thanks for the review.

  3. Carolly Erickson seems to take quite a bit of literary license with her fiction, which, like you, I don't mind. I wonder if it's because she is primarily a non-fiction writier and her fiction is her way of stretching the boundaries. I would imagine a lot of nonfiction writers experience moments of, "Wouldn't it have been interesting if X or Y would have happened?" while they're working. She just found a great way to *make* it happen! :-)


  4. I always adore reading about Henry VIII! The novels written about him and his court are always great to read. I have to say that this one does sound so good and i like the cover aswell. This one is going to be put on my tbr list. :) Thank you for your great review.

  5. Sounds good.I haven't really read or heard much about the last wife.
    But honestly, an affair while married to a king who likes to chop heads off

  6. Even though the book sounds interesting I think I will put it away for now. I have to rest from all the Henry VIII books and concentrate on other periods and countries for now. But I will definitely keep it on my wish list for later.

  7. Lea ~ thanks so much, this was an entertaining read, not heavy going as far as historical fiction goes.

    Book Shelf Monstrosity ~ actually this may have been my 1st on Catherine Parr too.

    Lezlie ~ have you read any other Carolly Erickson novels? I've read The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette and enjoyed it but havent read any of her non-fiction.

    Nina ~ thanks, I really enjoy Carolly Erickson's writing style and the embellishments dont bother me but I guess HF purists may not appreciate.

    B ~ I know, for an intelligent woman, ughh what was she thinking LOL

    Lilly ~ I can understand the OD'ing on the tudor period, but I think I may try The Tudor Rose soon.

  8. Teddyree ~ Yes, I've read a few. This one, The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette, The Tsarina's Daughter, and her new one The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots. She's not my favorite historical fiction writer, but she's always good, light entertainment. I have not read any of her non-fiction, but I keep thinking I should so I could compare.


  9. Superb review. I love the sound of this book!

  10. Nice review! This is one I keep meaning to pick up for my shelf but haven't yet. It sounds good!

  11. Not my sort of read, but boy, don't you make it sound good!

  12. I do like Henry VIII-era books. We here so much about Catherine and Anne. This sounds interesting. He must have been quite vile by the time she married him. Never marry a man that can have your head cut off!

  13. This looks like something I would read. Lots of intrigue with great historical context. Sounds like fun!

  14. Lezlie ~ I popped over to your blog & checked out your reviews of Carolly Erickson's books, I think I may give Memoirs of Mary a try. A lot of readers who dislike Erickson's embellishments with historical fiction love her non-fiction work.

    Kate ~ thanks for popping in and commenting!

    Dar ~ will look forward to your thoughts when you do pick it up :-)

    J.Kaye ~ thanks muchly lol

    Bookmagic ~ I agree, I was nearly gagging when I read about the vile stench from his ulcerating legs, his obesity & grossness, not to mention his paranoia & general obnoxious disposition. I would have run the other way LOL

    Alyssa ~ this is a light, fun historical read. Well, as fun as it can get when reading about the Tudor period & wives losing their heads lol

  15. Hi Teddyree!

    Excellent review, interesting reading that's for sure! lol. Loping of heads....haven't read anything like that for a while.

    Dottie :)

  16. This one is certainly one I would like to pick up and read sometime. Especially as I know next to nothing about Catherine. Excellent review!

  17. I really loved this book! It was a nice way to end Henry VIII reign. I felt as though it completed my picture of that time.

  18. oh good review Teddy! I think that quote at the end gives great insight about Catherine and the book. Haven't much about her, so will check this one out. thanks!

  19. From what I've read of Erickson's books (The Secret Diary of MA and The Secret Life of Josephine), I'd have to agree with what Lezlie said above. I always say that I don't mind when an author stretches the facts so long as they lend themselves to the story, enhancing it rather than taking away; so I would probably enjoy The Last Wife of Henry VIII. I didn't like the addition of mystical elements to Josephine Bonaparte's childhood in Secret Life of Josephine. There were parts that were just too far fetched for my taste. I read and loved Gulland's Josephine B. trilogy, and Erickson's version of Josephine just seemed like a weak imitation. But overall, her books seem like they are good for a light historical read.

  20. Dottie ~ LOL lopping heads is standard reading in Henry VIII's reign.

    Staci ~ it's not a meaty read, just a nice, light overview of Catherine's life and much of Henry's rule. I found Cat quite fascinating to read about, not a simpering airhead :-)

    Alaine ~ that's a good way to word it, this one does summarise the reign of King Henry & complete the picture while giving a fascinating look at Catherine.

    Jenny girl ~ yes that quote does sum up the type of person Catherine was, & for the most part I liked her. Let me know what you think if you happen to read it!

    Allie ~ couldn't agree with you more! I like historical fiction to be firmly grounded in history but I'm not a stickler about embellishments as long as they enhance the story rather than detract from it and for me it can't cross the line into the ridiculous or unnecessary. That said, I think Erickson could have stuck to fact regarding Catherine's husbands and the story wouldn't have been any less interesting.


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