Thursday, February 9, 2012
The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson
Moving in and out of the intrigues of the court of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr is a far more intelligent woman than most, though she had no desire to be involved in the snake pit of court politics. Widowed young then married for convenience to a boring man much older than herself, Catherine never has the children she deeply wants, but does find love with the slick and ambitious Thomas Seymour whose vying for power puts their love in danger if not their lives. Having attracted the attention of the aging Henry VIII, Catherine becomes an unlikely queen and is forced to deal with a husband who is paranoid and religious leaders who would like to see her head end up like that of previous wives. Surviving through her brains, Catherine finally is able to be with her beloved Thomas, but his interest in the princess Elizabeth threatens their happiness.
Catherine Parr was the only wife of Henry VIII to manage to stay married to him until his death, though not easily. There is plenty of documented history where she was very nearly assigned the same fate as her predecessors as her enemies at court tried to use Henry's paranoia to eliminate her. Catherine seemed to be impressively smart though, an author and theologian and capable of keeping her head in a poisonous atmosphere. The most interesting feature to what seemed like a smart woman for her time is her relationship with Seymour, a man who later was executed and who abandoned her during her pregnancy, which she died from by most accounts. He seems like an anomaly who she may have been infatuated with, as she was willing to risk the disapproval of court by marrying him a very short time after Henry's death. By most accounts she was in love with Seymour before the king showed interest and agreed to marry him more out of duty than anything else.
If Erickson takes liberties with her history, she can be given a free pass since Catherine is no where near as well documented as Henry's more famous wives, particularly the ones who lost their heads. Catherine is to be admired though, as a woman who was very much of her time and in some ways ahead of her time in regards to her learning.