Biographer and historical-novelist Erickson (The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette, 2005, etc.) tackles the latest in her sequence of female royals.
Erickson, who specializes in the lives of long-deceased European royalty, turns to the familiar lives of Henry VIII’s six wives. Through the eyes of No. 6, Catherine (Cat) Parr, the reader snatches glimpses of all five predecessors in a story that filters out the complicated and dull bits of history, leaving only highlights, romance and action. Parr, born of royal blood herself, is blessed with extraordinarily modern insights, freedom of thought and initiative. At age 16, she rejects the elderly suitor arranged for her in favor of his grandson. After a prophetic dream, she becomes “the lady who saved the North for the crown” by exposing religious fraud and seemingly invoking a miracle. Although married twice before becoming queen, she and Henry enjoy a flirtatious relationship dating back to her teenage years, when he was in his prime—“his figure magnificent even from the rear.” Their paths cross repeatedly while he works his way through two other Catherines, a pair of Annes and a Jane in search of a robust male heir. By the time Cat becomes his wife, Henry is fat, with rotting legs and little remaining virility, while she, despite her principles, has a lover, Thomas Seymour. After Henry’s death, Cat marries Tom, though rumors swirl of his involvement with teenage royal heiress Elizabeth. Cat ends up duped, deserted and dead from childbearing.
With errors of speech and geography, Erickson delivers a rattling, frothy narrative of questionable historical accuracy.