The Last Wife of Henry VIII

This is yet another book that I borrowed from Smallkucing’s Mamarazzi, and like Empress Orchid and The Last Empress by Anchee Min, this book, entitled, The Last Wife of Henry VIII written by Carolly Erickson intrigue me to the point that I found the book really hard to put down. I finished reading all the three books within 2 days, and I must say, all of the books whisked me away into both Ancient China and Medieval England.
The Last Wife of Henry VIII tells the story of Catherine Parr, the sixth and last wife of Henry VIII of England. Catherine Parr, affectionately known as Cat Parr in the story brings you into the world where heads rolled everyday at the pleasure of the King and England trembles.
While history books reduced all Henry’s Queens into some sort of historical figure, this book tells the story of Catherine Parr delicately and emotionally while weaving historical facts into it.

From her childhood, Catherine Parr lives on the fringes of the court of Henry VIII, her mother was Catherine of Aragon’s (Henry’s first wife)lady-in-waiting.

As the years goes by, Henry bestows the favors of his friendship, and Catherine is lulled into a false sense of security by the King, never imaging that the king will one day set his lusty eyes on her as his sixth wife.

When his attentions become inappropriate, Catherine is happy to be free of this unpredictable court, deeply in love with her unprepossessing husband, Ned Burgh, although Burgh’s family estates are obtained through the intercession of the king.

When Ned dies in a tragic accident barely a year into their marriage, Catherine’s lands are claimed by her irascible father-in-law and his powerful contacts in the church. A marriage to John Neville, Lord Latimer, affords Catherine some sanctuary, her much older husband demanding little but her affection.

Catherine is challenged to protect her interests through religious turmoil and rebellion against the king, her husband growing fragile and incapable of running their affairs. Ambushed by a long-averted by need for affection, Catherine falls hopelessly in love with Thomas Seymour, uncle to the unhealthy young prince Edward, heir of Henry through Jane Seymour.

Although he has promised to marry Catherine after the elderly Lord Latimer dies, Seymour has ambitions of his own; it is Thomas Seymour, in fact, who delivers the news to his intended that Henry intends to marry Catherine soon after the beheading of the foolish Catherine Howard.

When Henry VIII of England fell in lust with Catherine Parr, he had just had his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, executed for deceiving him. He divorced his fourth queen, the German Anne Of Cleves, because he was not attracted to her. Henry dubbed Anne of Cleves the Flanders’s mare.

He’d lost his third wife, Jane Seymour, after she gave birth to his only legitimate son. Henry put aside his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and split with the Church of Rome in order to divorce her, so that he could marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn, only to have Anne executed for treason for betraying him.

Knowing that history, and apparently already engaged to Jane Seymour’s brother, Thomas Seymour, Catherine Parr was both reluctant to marry Henry, and aware that refusing could have serious consequences for herself and her family.

So Catherine Parr married Henry VIII of England on July 12, 1543, and by all accounts was a patient, loving, and pious wife to him in his last years of illness, disillusion, and pain.

Catherine Parr was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr, who served as Henry’s Master of the Household, and Maud Green. She was educated well, including in Latin, Greek, and modern languages, and she also learned theology. Catherine was first married to Edward Borough until he died in 1529, and then to John Neville, Lord Latimer, who died in 1542.

Catherine Parr helped reconcile Henry to his two daughters, Mary (Bloody Mary), daughter of Catherine of Aragon, and Elizabeth (The Future Queen Elizabeth I), daughter of Anne Boleyn. Under her influence, they were educated and restored to the succession. Catherine Parr also directed the education of her stepson, the future Edward VI.

Catherine was sympathetic to Protestant cause, and could argue fine points of theology with Henry, occasionally infuriating him so much that he threatened her with execution. She probably tempered his persecution of Protestants under the Act of the Six Articles. Catherine herself narrowly escaped being implicated with Anne Askew.

Catherine Parr served as Henry’s regent in 1544 when he was in France, but when Henry died in 1547, Catherine was not made regent for Edward. Catherine and her former lover, Thomas Seymour the regent. Thomas Seymour was the Edward’s Lord protector. He was Edward’s uncle and did have some influence with Edward, including obtaining his permission to marry, which they did on April 4, 1547.

Catherine gave birth to her only child, a daughter whom she called Mary, in August, 1548, and died a few days later of puerperal fever. There have been suspicions that her husband poisoned her in order to marry the Princess Elizabeth.

This book is a five star read, though I would not recommend this book to those who likes happily ever after. This book is no fairy tale, and has no happily ever after in it. This is not a story of a romance. It tells the story of a woman who was a Queen. A Queen who lives in the time where love is rather unreachable and power is the only thing that can give you the sense of security.

This is also not a novel for those who are squeamish, for there are parts where executions are described so vividly that it could easily give one nightmares.

Take this as an example. The author was describing the execution of Henry’s firth wife through the eyes of Catherine Parr:

Her hands shaking, she took off her hood and knelt down, crossed herself, and laid her head on the cold wooden block. The headsman took the heavy axe, lifted it, and brought it down with a loud thwack. I shut my eyes. I couldn’t watch. When I opened them I saw a ghastly sight. Blood was spurting out from the wounded neck, flowing down over the wooden block and onto the black gown, staining it crimson. The body was heaving, the hands and arms twitching and fluttering like wings of a dying chicken. But the head hung, limp and all but lifeless, mouth agape, and eyes staring, still attached to the body. The headsman lifted the axe a second time, and struck, and then a third. Finally the head fell onto the planking of the scaffold with a soft thud, the Queen’s beautiful long auburn hair reddened with gore.

If you put yourself in Catherine’s Parr’s position, I daresay that you could imagine the horror she felt, as she was the next one to be Henry’s Queen.

Yes, this is no happily ever after. This is life. This is history. And if you like realistic story and into historical fiction, you will like this novel.

Cleffairy: What would you do if you have no choice but marry a man who never even hesitate to chop off his wife’s head?

16 comments

    • Cleffairy says:

      I dun think the executioner wasn’t experienced. I heard it’s quite common for the head not to fall off the shoulder so easily if one’s head is chopped off by an axe. Cuz axe can be rather blunt… unlike sword.

  1. claire says:

    ouch.. cleff… so gory!! axed three times on the head? china only one time.. if tak jadi, the fella must be freed one.. yeeeee.. thank God we are not living in Henry’s time or any part of our history books..

    • Cleffairy says:

      Actually, it was 6 books in 2 days. I did nothing but lay in bed and read. But the rest is my usual mushy crap… din mention here. LOLOL… buat malu je if mention how I drool over those Harlequin and Mills Boon hunks!

  2. AngeLBeaR says:

    Hrm..if you like this then you sure love The Other Boleyn Girl (the story about Queen Anne, Henry’s 2nd wife thru Mary Boleyn’s eyes – whom had also been Henry’s mistress at that time) by Philippa Gregory. In fact, Phillipa has already have several books during the Tudor times. I must try and search for this one you read.

    • Cleffairy says:

      Ohh… that one I’ve read before. They even make a movie out of it… starring Natalie Portman. Movie adapted from the book by the same name… The Other Boleyn Girl. LOL…but I love these books and show la… call me cruel or sadist or wud la… but these sort of homewrecker, memang deserve their heads to be chopped wan.

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