Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Ericson

I've read a lot of historical fiction in the last few years based on the life of Henry VIII or one of his wives. It is a fascinating era. It was an era thick with intregue, church reform, fear, treason, excess at court, love, lust, political games, plague...
My favorite of these books is Margaret George's Diary of Henry VIII with notes by his fool Will Somer. It is by far, the best researched and most believable. (If you do seek it out, get over the sheer size of the book, it's easy to get into and you'll be amazed as you zip through it).
Carolly Ericson's book based on the life of Catherine Parr is the latest of these books to cross my path. Catherine Parr is one of Henry's wives that I knew very little about. She was the last (and the only wife to not be set aside by Henry in some fashion). She played the role of comforter and nurse to a man much older than her, that she did not love. After all, if the king of England decides you'll be his wife, than you darn well will be.
I quite enjoyed Ericson's narritive of Parr's life. She opens the story when Parr is just 7 years old, meeting the woman she was named after, Henry's 1st wife, Katherine of Aragon and closes with her death at the age of 36.
One reason I enjoy historical fiction is that these are stories about people who really lived. They helped shape our society. They made their mark on this earth and there is something about them that keeps us wanting to know who they were all these years later. Usually, historical books will promt me to do my own small research to begin to sort out fact from fiction. I certainly did that when I read another of Ericson's book, based on the life of Marie Antionette and plan on doing that again with the Parrs. It's not just Catherine's life that I wonder about, but also, those who played a supporting role, like her 1st husband, her brother, and a few of her friends. How much of their characters is supported by history and how much inventing did Ericson have to do? Just some things I find fascinating.

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