This just isn’t Katherine Parr’s month, at least for me. After reading (or skimming) Her Royal Destiny, which did have the courtesy to advertise itself unashamedly as a bodice-ripper, I bought Carolly Erickson’s second historical novel, The Last Wife of Henry VIII, this weekend.
The verdict? It’s great historical fiction–if you don’t know much about Katherine Parr.
Actually, this novel starts out very promisingly by getting the age of Katherine Parr’s first husband right. (Erickson correctly depcits him as a young man, not as an old one.) From there, though, it’s downhill. First there’s the episode where Katherine Parr almost single-handedly quells the revolt in the North. (“‘Here is the lady who saved the North for the crown,'” a pleased Henry VIII announces.) Then there’s Katherine’s sister-in-law, Anne Bourchier, who’s tortured for heresy in front of Katherine and who dies of her injuries. I can’t tell whether Erickson is confusing her with Anne Askew or is just taking wild poetic license; in any case, Anne Bourchier lived into Elizabeth I’s reign and apparently died of old age. Finally, there’s the dramatic ending, where poor Katherine gives birth during a siege, complete with cannon fire, while Thomas Seymour runs off.
Nary an author’s note in sight.
Oh, and there’s even shades of Braveheart: Henry VIII scares young Katherine by threatening to revive the droit de seigneur with her.
The sad thing is, Erickson writes quite well. Her characterizations are strong–I especially liked those of Katherine’s wise-cracking brother and of her sweet-natured, bumbling second husband–and the novel’s a page-turner. I would have enjoyed it thoroughly if I could have forgotten all I knew about Katherine Parr or if I didn’t give a flip about historical accuracy.
Next on the reading list? I dunno, but I do have a copy of Prophecy for the Queen by Dilys Gater, which whatever its merits or demerits at least is in great big type.